The #TFBookClub reads ‘The Conviction of Cora Burns, set in BIRMINGHAM

6th September 2019

Thank you for joining us as we read The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby, set in BIRMINGHAM (September/October 2019).

We hope you enjoy reading this intriguing debut novel, taking us on a dark journey through Victorian Birmingham.

We will be chatting about the book throughout September and October 2019, so if you are reading it with us, please come and join the dialogue!

The #TFBookClub is your book club – we are here to help you discover new titles that will transport you to interesting locations via top literature for some exceptional #literarywanderlust.

As you read, please come and chat and share your thoughts in several ways:

  • Here on our dedicated blogpost, leave your thoughts in the Comments section below
  • On TWITTER using #TFBookClub
  • On INSTAGRAM using #TFBookClub
  • On PINTEREST following this link 
  • And once you’ve turned the final page, we’d love it if you could write your own review, which you can do on using the Add A Review tab. Help us to build the #TFBookClub and the TripFiction website!


And keep a look out for a short film from our friends at Great Escapations, made with author Carolyn Kirby and bringing Cora Burns to life…..

Andrew and Tina for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: LisaRowsell

    Posted on: 30/10/2019 at 9:19 pm

    I’ve now finished the book, and found it a very emotional read. I was very unsure about what to make of Cora at the start of the book, and as I got further into the book I felt I had a much better understanding of who she was, and why she became the way she did. I’ve always been fascinated by the era the story was set in, and feel more familiar with it now, and look forward to reading the authors next book.


  2. User: Priscilla Stubbs

    Posted on: 16/10/2019 at 5:39 pm

    I found this this book very disturbing, so much so that I had to put it down for short occasions. The author certainly gave you an insight into the life of people in the Victoria era. I found the back and forth timeline a bit confusing and I will read it again as perhaps parts of it will make a bit more sense. I enjoyed the parts about nurture versus nature, as this is still being discussed in the modern era. It was well written and the characters and settings were well described. Overall an excellent read by a talented author.


    1 Comment

    • User: andrewmorris51

      Posted on: 17/10/2019 at 4:38 am

      Thanks for your considered comment, Priscilla. It certainly is a thought-provoking novel, isn’t it! And so well written, especially for a debut. Look out for Carolyn’s follow up. Set in Poland.


  3. User: LisaRowsell

    Posted on: 16/10/2019 at 5:38 pm

    I’m currently halfway through the book, and so far have found it gripping, emotional, and very thought provoking.


    1 Comment

    • User: andrewmorris51

      Posted on: 16/10/2019 at 5:39 pm

      Thanks for the comment, Lisa. We hope – and believe – that you’ll enjoy the second half too!


  4. User: JessicaRabbit31

    Posted on: 13/10/2019 at 4:55 pm

    I was very excited to read this one as Historical Fiction is my favourite genre, especially when it’s a dark, gothic Victorian novel full of mystery.

    At the forefront on the story is Cora Burns who is lost and misunderstood and was raised bereft of a loving and affectionate family. It is set in 1885 when Cora leaves gaol to seek employment at the Larches which is the house of a scientist. Here she works as a tweeny.

    The narrative is multilayered and flits back and forth in time. This really creates some background information about the protagonist who is fearless, intelligent and ambitious. She is born with bad blood and never really feels like she belongs. The only person she feels a real affection for is her childhood friend Alice Salt who she is desperately trying to get back into touch with.

    I particularly enjoyed the medical research into human nature and the debate on nature vs nurture which I found insightful. I have read a lot of historical fiction but this book is unlike any that I have read in this genre.

    Overall The Conviction of Cora Burns is depicted beautifully and the writing is flawless. It gives the reader a real insight into life in Victorian times. Initially I was disgusted with Cora however her character was so well written that I really did have a soft spot for her and I desperately wanted her to find solace. Cora is a heroine that I won’t forget about in a hurry.


    1 Comment

    • User: andrewmorris51

      Posted on: 13/10/2019 at 6:00 pm

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful feedback on ‘Cora Burns’. The characterisations, historical context and scientific research are impressive for a debut novel, aren’t they? And for lovers of TripFiction, the sense of Birmingham towards the end of the 19th century is palpable. Glad you enjoyed this #TFBookClub read so much. TF’s Andrew


  5. User: Lesley Morton-Evans

    Posted on: 13/10/2019 at 3:54 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading Carolyn Kirby’s debut novel telling the story of Cora Burns. Wow, what a colourful character amidst a dark and eerie world.
    Some of the locations mentioned were familiar to me and Carolyn Kirby’s evocative & descriptive writing immersed me into the Victorian era. I could feel the tension & struggles of the working people. Not only did the book give a good insight into the social history of Birmingham and no doubt other industrial cities, it provided a story that I had to know the outcome of. Where would Cora’s path lead her, and would justice be served?
    A great book club choice with so many topics that could be discussed from nature verses nurture to the power of female friendship. I will definitely recommend this to my book club.
    Thank you Trip Fiction for sending me my copy. I shall look out for further books by Carolyn Kirby.


    1 Comment

    • User: andrewmorris51

      Posted on: 13/10/2019 at 6:05 pm

      Thanks for your positive feedback on ‘Cora Burns’, Lesley. We agree with everything you say, and are so pleased that you want to recommend the book to your own book club. We’ve got to know Carolyn quite well, whilst filming the short promotional film for her book on location in Birmingham. Have you seen the film? Have a look on TF blogs and search, or we can send you a link. And I hope this isn’t breaking any confidences,but look out for Carolyn’s follow-up novel, which will be set in Poland…..


  6. User: Melanie77

    Posted on: 04/10/2019 at 9:02 pm

    I found this a compelling, if disturbing and unsettling read. Cora Burns as a character is complex and multi-layered and I found myself at times horrified by her and at others willing her to succeed. I enjoyed the debate within the book about “nature versus nurture” and thought the storyline explored this theme in a very clever way with a complex and multi-layered plot. At times though, I think it was a little too clever for me as I struggled to keep up with the narrative going back and forth through time and had to keep flicking back to see whereabouts the story was in the timeline.

    Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable historical crime novel which I thought was beautifully written. It made me want to read on and it very clearly evoked the world of the asylum, prison and workhouse in Victorian Birmingham. I’m still not sure how I feel about the character of Cora Burns. Without wanting to post any spoilers, I’m not sure if she got justice in the end. I’d be interested to see if anyone else has any thoughts on whether the ending of the novel was satisfying for them and whether Cora’s story ended in the way she deserved. One thing is for sure though, I’m still thinking about her and her character will stay with me for a long time.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 07/10/2019 at 11:00 am

      Thanks for your comment Melanie! It’s really interesting to know what you think about it. One of my favourite things about a book is when one of the characters stays with you after finishing it – Cora is definitely one of those!


  7. User: readerofbooks

    Posted on: 29/09/2019 at 6:16 pm

    Gosh, this is a raw book, both emotionally and socially. The world of asylums and workhouses is always traumatic, and by telling the tale of Cora Burns it became a personalised example of the terrible life in these institutions. As a debut novel Carolyn Kirby has hit the heights. Very well written, characterisation spot on. I don’t think we’re meant to love Cora but we can certainly empathise with the situations she finds herself in. Somehow, in a world without compassion and friendship, she manages to find strength, and keeps going. As for the location I don’t know Birmingham at all, but I doubt the workhouses, asylums, and poor districts were any different elsewhere in England in the 1880s. Would very happily read Carolyn Kirby’s next book.


  8. User: Janine Phillips

    Posted on: 29/09/2019 at 8:43 am

    A tad confusing with the back and forth, however, I was soon hooked and really enjoyed this book. Well written and thought provoking.


  9. User: Sara Hill

    Posted on: 27/09/2019 at 6:18 pm

    I enjoyed reading this book if “enjoyed” is the right term for such a disturbing narrative.
    It was a bit confusing following the story line as it moved from 1874 to 1886 but it all came together with an unexpected ending.
    The author brought alive Cora’s difficult childhood in the workhouse and subsequent employment in the asylum’s laundry. It seemed inevitable that she should become pregnant and have a traumatic birth. It was hard to read of her ignorance as she gave birth alone.I
    was so pleased that Cora’s life improved as the story unfolded . It was not easy reading but well worth it even if it did keep me awake for several nights!
    I felt the story telling was vivid and was intrigued by the intertwined plot and how it all came together by the end and I look forward to Carolyn Kirby’s next book. I presume she is already researching her next best seller,


    1 Comment

    • User: readerofbooks

      Posted on: 29/09/2019 at 6:20 pm

      Yes, ‘enjoy’ always seems an odd word, a totally wrong word to use for books like this. I read a lot of World War Two biographies, many of them Holocaust/Jewish based, and ‘enjoy’ makes a mockery of their tragedy. I wish I could find another word that gives them justice.


  10. User: Rachel Hall

    Posted on: 25/09/2019 at 7:58 pm

    Many thanks TF. I really enjoyed this book and for me it was a four star read. I wrote a review which I have posted to Goodreads and Amazon and contains my thoughts and included it below:

    An examination of nature vs nurture in Victorian Birmingham with a gritty and flawed protagonist.

    Carolyn Kirby’s debut is historical fiction of the most satisfying kind, teeming with atmosphere and exquisitely rendered with a flawed, complex and fiercely determined protagonist. A multilayered narrative weaving back and forth between decades fits together like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle to illustrate one extraordinary young woman’s journey.

    1885 and Cora Burns prepares to leave Birmingham Gaol with plenty of attitude and her only chance of a future beyond crime or destitution dependent on the promised offer of employment as a between maid (‘tweeny’) in a gentleman’s house. The Larches is the home of an amateur scientist and prison photographer by the name of Thomas Jerwood and his bed-ridden, neurotic wife. Told from her earliest days that she was ‘a bad lot’, Cora was born in gaol to a convict and immediately transferred to the adjoining Union workhouse and her chequered history includes a spell working within the laundry asylum ahead of her own internment.

    One pivotal vicious act as a workhouse resident in 1874 incited by her sole friend and fellow resident, Alice Salt, is shrouded in doubt with Cora’s own memory of the events surrounding it confusing and disturbing. Fearing that this incident might explain much of her inner turmoil and quick recourse to violence Cora seeks a definitive answer to just what did happen with Alice meanwhile sparing few thoughts for her convict mother, Mary. However Cora’s interactions with Mr Jerwood, his raving wife who calls her by the name of Annie and the young ward within the house, Violet, leave her with far more questions than merely the puzzle of her own past. When Violet befriends Cora and the Master engages his new hired help in testing the moral fibre of his young charge through a series of somewhat scientific experiments, Cora determines to discover just what is going on and how the composite images her employer fixates over fit into the story. Beginning to suspect that she and young Violet are perhaps mere cogs in Jerwood’s scientific investigation she determines to obtain answers.

    Together with Cora’s search for Alice, clarification of the childhood act that defined her, the mystery of just what is going on within The Larches and why the Master specifically chose to employ Cora, intrigue is maintained throughout the novel via an array of different threads. Culminating is a meaningful denouement the result is an undoubtedly ambitious novel executed with sensitivity. The scientific treatises of Thomas Jerwood are interwoven throughout Cora’s own of story and includes his published essays detailing his investigations to statistically measure human nature and attempt to demonstrate that there is a connection between physiognomy and felony. Throw in the 1885 research journals of Dr Farley, an assistant medical officer at Birmingham Asylum, and his early attempts at hypnotising long-term patients including Mary Burns and the result is a fascinating multi-narrative look at past and present in the lives of a mother and daughter. By including Jerwood’s essays and Dr Farley’s research notes directly instead of providing a more simplistic summary it brings much to the atmosphere and period feel of the story.

    Whether it provides an answer to the question of whether Cora was ‘born to bad’ and predestined to a criminal life or whether it dictates her future lies within our gritty young protagonists hands. Whilst Cora might be a complicated and flawed heroine it is hard not to have sympathy with all that she has experienced and vie for her overturning the odds and coming out on top. Resourceful, hard-working and shrewd, her actions as a workhouse teenager are admittedly heinous. As the novel progresses the reader to start to see and appreciate how the bigger picture it is all slotting together meaning the book is one that rewards readers perseverance. The end result is not only an thorough understanding of the central character but goes some way to mitigate for her actions and undoubtedly to explain much of the violence within her.

    A novel and heroine to remember, an exploration of class structure in the Victorian era and a fascinating look at early look at heredity, life experience and upbringing on human development by attempting to measure a persons character statistically.


  11. User: Jane Willis

    Posted on: 23/09/2019 at 12:04 pm

    I’m going to find it really hard to discuss this book without giving away any spoilers, as my feelings about the book in general and Cora in particular changed so much with each stage of the story. I started off, though, disliking her so much I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue reading the book – I’m glad I persisted with it though.
    The timeline was pretty confusing with Cora’s current story and that of her childhood intertwined, and also interspersed with medical reports and magazine extracts, so it got rather confusing at times, not helped by the fact that some sections were in a very small font italic type making them difficult to read.
    I felt the book had much more of a sense of time than one of place – although some places could be identified by name, what the book did best for me was to capture the essence of just about any Northern or Midlands industrial town or city of the era. For me, the scene setting was the best part of the book and in my mind I could see, hear and (unfortunately in some parts) almost smell the places that were being described.
    Looking forward to reading how everyone else found it.


    1 Comment

    • User: andrewmorris51

      Posted on: 23/09/2019 at 4:50 pm

      Hi Jane
      Thanks for your very thoughtful feedback on our current #TFBookClub read ‘The Conviction of Cora Burns’. As author Carolyn Kirby says at the end of this promotional film we’ve put together….’I hope you come to understand Cora, if not to like her.’
      She is definitely a morally ambiguous character, isn’t she! And there are several other complex themes introduced into the story, so I completely understand your comments.
      Thanks again for taking the time to let us know your thoughts about Cora Burns, and we’re looking forward to hearing what other Book Club members think about the book, its characters and setting.
      TF’s Andrew


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