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Novel set in Trinidad, Colorado (the period and setting beautifully evoked)

13th November 2015

Honeyville by Daisy Waugh, novel set in Trinidad, Colorado (1913/14).

IMG_2746This is a clever way of dreaming up the plot for a novel. Choose a fairly obscure historical event and switch the spotlight from the men at the centre of the action (it’s almost always men, isn’t it?) to the women on the periphery, at the same time drawing out the parallels between both. Daisy Waugh has chosen to focus on the 1914 miners’ strike in Colorado which culminated in the Ludlow Massacre, when the National Guard and personnel from the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company attacked a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families. What seems to have really fuelled Waugh’s ire and prompted the writing of this novel was the discovery of a newspaper article from the time, in which the writer, making a typically snap judgement on events, chooses to denounce the wives of Trinidad’s elite for their attitude to the miners. Waugh could, with some justification, have written directly about the miners and their plight, but she chooses instead to focus on the lives of two women, both connected in different ways to the events.

The narrator is Dora Whitworth, a prostitute from one of the more exclusive brothels in town, who has encountered both union leaders and management in her working role and watches the events unfold from a distance. At the time, Trinidad, Colorado was the only place in the West where prostitution was legal and, as a result, a thriving red-light district has grown up, much to the disgust of the nice ladies of the town. It is from the ranks of this elite that the second main character emerges. Inez has been raised by her wealthy aunt and uncle and spends her days doing voluntary work at the local library and drinking tea with the other affluent ladies. In normal circumstances these two women would never have encountered each other, much less become friends but fate throws them together when they are trapped in a drugstore, while a brutal murder is committed outside. Inez faints (well, she would, wouldn’t she?) and Dora takes command of the situation, dragging her off to a local bar for some bourbon.

From that point on, the story fairly rattles along and it’s not one you’re going to find easy to put down. Dora is very engaging as a narrator and, as the story unfolds, you find yourself desperately hoping that things will work out for her. Inez is harder to sympathise with – there’s a bit too much of the spoilt-little-rich-kid-playing-revolutionary about her for me to like – but where I think this novel really comes into its own is in the way that Waugh cleverly draws the parallel between the miners and the prostitutes. Both groups are cruelly exploited, cheated of their earnings, even treated as less than human, but only one of the two groups normally make the spotlight and I congratulate the author for addressing this oversight.

Waugh, in this novel, also brings the settings to life in such a vivid way that you can almost smell the disinfectant which pervades the air in the brothel. She clearly knows her stuff and has done her research. She tells us, in Acknowledgements that much of the town of 1914 Trinidad is still standing, just boarded up and ignored, as if America just wanted to turn its back on the shameful past and forget about it. Now, if anything would tempt the visitor to go and have a look, surely that is it …

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

Over to Daisy for a QA session:

TFYou have chosen an event in mining history and explored it from the female perspective. What drew you to this period and event initially?

DWHoneyville is my third novel set in early 20th Century US. I started in glamorous Hollywood, with Last Dance With Valentino. The next novel, Melting the Snow on Hester Street, was set half in the slums of  New York and half in the wealth of Hollywood. My third novel leaves Hollywood behind, and deals with miners and prostitutes, struggling together through a long winter in a small town in Southern Colorado, 1913.

It became increasingly difficult for me to write about the extraordinary wealth of that period without also telling the story of the cost of that wealth on the mass of ordinary people. The catalyst for the narratives in both Melting the Snow and Honeyville are real life tragedies: the Triangle factory fire in New York (Melting the Snow)  in which over a hundred young women were burned to death after the factory they had been locked into (to prevent skiving and theft) went up in flames; and the Ludlow Massacre (Honeyville) in which the Colorado National guard turned its fire on the families of striking miners who were cowering in a makeshift tent, too afraid to move.

TF: You have brought together two women, from different sides of the social divide. This really helps to bring the story alive from different perspectives. How did you come to use this angle for your story?

DW: Well I am always more interested in the female angle in any case. Added to which, Trinidad, where the story is set, was a town of great wealth and great poverty: also the only town in the West with legal prostitution. It was such a macho town, the coal industry is a macho industry, the miners’  strike was generally such a macho affair — I wanted to ask: while the strikers, the unionists and the capitalists were turning the streets of Trinidad into a blood bath ((all of the convinced they had God on their side) – what about to the women?  How did they survive in the midst of this – macho nonsense?

TFHow did you choose the names for your characters?

DW: Actually – the names came with the characters. They could never have been called anything else.  I don’t remember being in any doubt.

TFHow familiar are you with the setting of the book? And how did you carry out your research?

DW: I am certainly familiar with that period in American history, having read an enormous amount, and also travelled widely in US researching this and my previous novels. I also stayed a while in Trinidad, interviewing descendants of the tragedy – from both sides of the argument. I spent several days hidden away in the basement of Trinidad’s local newspaper (still running), where original editions from that period are still stored. It was pretty magical.

TFWhat are you working on at the moment and will locale be an important feature?

DW: A completely new departure. I am writing a series of light hearted, contemporary mystery novels set in South West London (where I live).  The first one is completed but not due out for a year, however, and though I would love to offer more details I had better not just yet.

I am also reading tarot. And if you will allow a short plug for my new business here SW13Tarot. Anyone who would like their cards read, please check out the link (Note: I read Tarot under my married name.)

TF: How did the cover of the book come about and how much input did you have?

DW: I don’t think the cover provides a terribly accurate representation of the book within! The cover looks a bit like a Mills and Boon, which the book most adamantly is not. Never mind –  the words are still the words – and I am very proud of them.  Unfortunately the girl on the cover looks like a 1940s movie star, whereas  the book is about a corset-wearing, ageing hooker, and the story is set in 1913.

TFWhat books do you currently have on your TBR pile?

DW: Mostly I have books about the Tarot on my pile. I am always studying further. The only novel I am currently reading (and enjoying enormously) is The Wimbledon Poisoner. Yes, it’s a little dated and it’s hopelessly misanthropic but  it’s incredibly funny! I find myself laughing aloud on almost every page.

Thank you to Daisy for answering our questions. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and via her website.

And come and connect with the Team at TripFiction via social media: TwitterFacebook and Pinterest and when we have some interesting photos we can sometimes be found over on Instagram too.

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  1. User: Linda

    Posted on: 15/11/2015 at 10:58 am

    Looks really good. I must investigate