Challenge: To create female crime boss who could hold her own in Victorian London’s seething underworld.
Enter Red Nell. She sprang up, fully formed. A rough, wildly eccentric character so scary she could frighten the scales off a cobra. She had to be potent, so I made her fireplug sturdy with a blunt face, and a presence that made innards congeal with the force of her green stare.
She needed to be colourful, so she wears a soldier’s battered scarlet tunic over layers of striped and tartan skirts. Her hair, which gives her her name, is hennaed to shocking red in honour of the flaming tresses of her youth. On her head, always perches one of the fantastic hats brought as tribute those daring to seek her favour.
She needed a crucible to forge her ferocity, so I made Red Nell a merry Irish tinker until her fierce drives for survival reared to life in the desperate Irish potato famines. Driven, with her family, like hordes of other famished skeletons, up on the London docks, she had to win or die. Her empire began with a fence’s body buried in a cellar. Illiterate though she was, she kept track of every penny skimmed from street vendors, every inch of territory wrenched from her bitter arch rival, Teapot, who had the face and instincts of a moray eel.
And, like any ambitious Victorian, Nell, eventually peeps over the limits of her slum domain at larger world, glimpsing unimaginably vaster opportunities for profit by doing things with ships and land and mines. Her own illiteracy and ignorance may keep her down but the next generation, blood of her blood, must be taught.
So Red Nell embarks upon a madly unorthodox enterprise via Mrs. Gresham’s seedy Ladies’ Academy and unsuspecting Amelia Radmore’s charity dedicated to rescuing starving urchins from the streets….
You can meet Red Nell, if you dare, in The Tomorrow Country, my historical novel found at: www.gailhamiltonwriter.com (Or Amazon.ca)