Thursday, 9 April 2015

The Royale, Bush Theatre, London

When men campaigning for parliamentary reform in the eighteenth century planned to hold public meetings in defiance of government attempts to silence them, they were warned that they would be responsible for any bloodshed that resulted. When the suffragettes fought back against the government’s refusal to grant women the vote, they were blamed for antagonising the opposition and bringing their brutal treatment on themselves. And when Jay “The Sport” Jackson, the protagonist of The Royale, steps into the boxing ring to fight the white heavyweight champion of the world, it is with his sister’s warning ringing in his ears: if he wins, he’s going to get African-American people killed. 

In Marco Ramirez’s brilliant play, we see Jackson struggle to balance his personal desire to beat the fighter known as “the great White Hope” against the threat of widespread reprisals. For this is America in the age of Jim Crow – racial segregation – and it’s been a struggle to even get the reigning champion to agree to fight a black man. With violent incidents already erupting, Johnson’s own life is in danger, and his family has been threatened.

I was interested in a play about boxing because my forthcoming novel – Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery – introduces Dan Foster, a Bow Street Runner who is also a pugilist – a bare knuckle fighter. Dan is sent to Somerset to investigate the murder of a gamekeeper. The murder is connected to protests about a recent enclosure, which has deprived local people of their ancient rights to gather fuel and food. The enclosure movement took away people’s homes and livelihoods, creating a poverty-stricken workforce forced to work for low wages. The anti-enclosure protesters faced imprisonment, transportation and execution – so the theme of what people risk when they stand out against oppression resonated with me. 
With a minimalistic set, the action of The Royale is played out with a stomping rhythm. The actors move with grace and speak with passion. Nicholas Pinnock as Jay is a wonder, and there are fine performances from Ewan Stewart, Gershwyne Eustache Jnr, Clint Dyer and Frances Ashman. This is theatre at its best, and I’d be recommending you to book your seats just as fast as you can, but the whole run has sold out – and deservedly so.

I was lucky enough to see the matinee performance on 8 April 2015. Even luckier as I came away with a souvenir! There’s a scene where Jay is given a book sent to his eleven-year old nephew in which racists have written a threatening note. Jay tears out the page, screws it up and throws it to the ground. When the play ended I noticed it lying near my feet and picked it up! It’s now slotted inside my copy of the programme – which is, incidentally, astonishing value for £3.50 as it contains the full text of the play.

Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery will be published by SilverWood Books in May 2015.

Find out more about The Royale at the Bush Theatre Website

Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Bristol Suffragettes

To celebrate the  release of the SilverWood Selection Box, Lucienne Boyce answers some “frequently asked questions” about how she came to write The Bristol Suffragettes...  

SilverWood Books have put together a selection of tasters from books by ten of their authors. The SilverWood Selection Box, which is available as a free ebook, contains an amazing pick of genres, with extracts from historical and fantasy novelist Helen Hollick's advice for authors, Dave Ebsworth's Spanish Civil War novel, poems by Michael Brown, Roman-nut Alison Morton's alternative fiction, time slip by Anna Belfrage, Iceland-obsessed Edward Hancox, Adrian Churchward's political thriller, serving police offer Sandy Osborne's romantic comedy about a girl cop, and Harvey Black's Cold War series. And, of course, I’m delighted to say, The Bristol Suffragettes, which is a history of the suffragette campaign in Bristol and the West Country.

At the end of this blog, you will find links to the other authors' blogs/websites. 

What sparked your interest in the local suffragette movement?

Until a few years ago, I had no idea the suffragettes were so active in Bristol. Then one day I was browsing at a market stall in Bristol’s Corn Exchange where they sold old photographs and postcards. I came across a picture taken in 1913 of a group of women standing under the banner: “Women’s Suffrage Societies: Land’s End to London”. The women were wearing badges in their hats, and rosettes and sashes, and carrying decorated shoulder bags. Of course, the picture was in black and white and I didn’t know what the colours were, but I was intrigued. Who were these women, were why they dressed in uniform, and what were they doing?

And they were suffragettes?

No! As a matter of fact it turned out that the women I was looking at were not suffragettes: they were a west-country contingent of law-abiding suffragists and they were taking part in the Suffrage Pilgrimage of summer 1913. They are wearing the colours – red, white and green – of the non-militant National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) who organised the Pilgrimage. Travelling from all corners of the United Kingdom, hundreds of women walked to London, giving talks and holding meetings in towns and villages on the way, to meet in a mass rally in London’s Hyde Park on 26 July 1913. The west country route started at Land’s End.

During their pilgrimage, the NUWSS women faced violence and hostility. In Cheltenham they were pelted with eggs and mobbed. In Cirencester, students dressed up as women and drowned out the speeches with their heckling, while many of the suffragists were attacked and had their clothes torn. In Portsmouth, pilgrims were subjected to obscene insults. The opponents of women’s suffrage didn’t always distinguish between militant and non-militant campaigners!

But I soon realised that it was an important distinction. The women in the photographs were not suffragettes. They didn’t break the law and they didn’t go to prison for the cause. And at first I didn’t think much of it. Like many people, I’d thought of the suffragette campaign as being something that happened in London: the battles around the House of Commons, demonstrations in the Ladies’ Gallery, the Hyde Park rallies, hunger strikes in Holloway. But while I was trying to find out about the picture, I began to come across incidents in Bristol: windows broken, buildings burned, politicians attacked – and women in Horfield Prison on hunger strike and being forcibly fed. The more I looked into Bristol’s suffrage history, the more names and events I discovered – not the big names, and not the headlining events (although some did hit the headlines!). And it was those less well known women I wanted to commemorate.

You’ve included a fold-out map and walk in the book. Why did you think that was important?

The more I discovered about what happened in and around Bristol, the more intrigued I became. I’d be walking past the Colston Hall and I’d think, oh, suffragettes hid in the organ here. Or along Small Street, and I’d recall that here suffragettes broke the Post Office windows. The thought that I was walking in the suffragettes’ footsteps fascinated me. So the walk is an invitation to readers to join me in that walk. There are also some free, downloadable walk “add ons” on my website that you can do as additions to the walk in the book, or as stand-alone strolls. And I often do guided walks so you can literally join me if you wish! – the next one is for the Bristol Walking Festival on 10 May. (Details in my Diary.)

The walk add-ons are part of what I call my Bristol Suffragette Project. I’m constantly adding to the website – there are extracts from some of my talks, and the Spotlight On feature which commemorates women – and men – who were active in Bristol and beyond: Lillian Lenton, Edith New, Ellen Pitman and many others. And if you have a suffrage story to share – with or without a Bristol connection – I’m always delighted to hear from you.

Where can I obtain a copy of the SilverWood Selection Box, and find out more about the other authors?

The SilverWood Selection Box is available for free from 

And priced 99p from

And you can “hop” from my blog post to the blogs/websites of the other authors in the Selection Box and find out all about their marvellous books by following these links:-