Novel excerpt

Annie in the factory – excerpt from the novel in progress

I threw out the first four chapters of the novel I’ve been working on for the past year because I realized I needed to start the story later, when the protagonist Annie and her younger sister Mavis arrive in Granville (later Vancouver).

Some of it may still appear in bits and pieces as flashback in the completed manuscript, or maybe it’ll just silently inform my own writing as the story progresses.

Here’s an excerpt from the novel in progress so you can get an idea about it.  It’s from a short scene that I turfed. 

The setting is in a wool mill in Bradford, 1883.


Annie looked out the window to see the crows flying past, their voices cutting a sharp note through the din of the machinery. Any songbirds that might have added a sweeter tone had long since abandoned Bradford after they’d started falling to the ground dead from the surpherous filth that spewed out of hundreds of factories all day long.

From down the row, the foreman’s gravelly voice broke her reverie and triumphed over the clanging and whirring of spindles and  steam engines.

“Here! Morag! What be the  meaning o’ this?” he said, and shoved a piece of cloth under the girl’s nose.

He stank of sweat and stale beer and they could all smell him long before he was could sneak up and give them a hard time. He was especially cruel to the new girls and enjoyed seeing them wither under the lash of his tongue and, when he deemed it necessary, the four-tailed whip called the cat.

But Bert seemed happiest keeping them all in a state of apprehension. Until he wanted them for his own pleasure. And he always did. It was just a matter of time.

“We canna be selling this crap,” he said. “Maybe you think if it’s not good enough I’ll let you keep it for yourself and you can be a fancy lady?” he sneered.

“Fix it right smartly or you’ll be shown the door. This is the third time this week you’ve been told and I will na say it again”.

Morag whimpered like a dog who’d been kicked, and hunched over her work as if it would protect her from the ugliness of it all. She was a thin girl, no more than 14, like Mavis, with dirty hair and filthy clothes. And she smelled of old pee and smoke just like the rest of them. 

Morag was a new girl, still mourning her mother’s  recent death. Out of the corner of her eye Annie could see her wiping her eyes from time to time throughout the day and she knew she’d been crying. She hadn’t yet built up a tough skin to withstand the likes of Bert. And he knew it. Like most of the girls there, Morag had come from a farm not far away, and her father had been a good one, only beating her when she needed to learn a lesson.

Bert smiled to himself. Yes – he liked them like this.  Easily rattled. He would be back.

Annie heard Bert’s footsteps coming her way and willed him to keep moving. But he stopped right behind her, watching as she worked her machines. She stiffened and bent to her work feeling him watching her. She shivered inwardly, remembering the way his hands ran over her like water, his lips covering her mouth so that she could hardly breathe.

She said a silent prayer and willed him to move on and pick on one of the other girls – anyone but Mavis.

Bradford, England, Historical research, Industrial revolution, Novel excerpt, Women, women's history, Yorkshire

Bradford – where Annie comes from


I’m going to visit the city of Bradford next week – now the curry capital of the UK, so I’ll definitely be trying out curry and banghan bharta.

But the main reason I’m going, is because the protagonist of the novel I’m working on comes from there.  Her name is Annie and she was one of thousands of girls and young women who moved to Bradford to get work in a woolen mill. Here is a picture of what I imagine her to look like.

Originally Bradford was a small market town, with a population of about 7000 people. Up until about 1800, women came from the surrounding villages to sell their spun wool and cloth. But as technology developed, the home-spun work these women did couldn’t compete with the hundreds of yards of fabric that could be produced every day in the mills of Bradford.

It ended the century’s-old spinning and weaving tradition in the countryside. As a result, thousands of girls and women migrated to Bradford from the surrounding towns to get work in the factories, swelling the population to nearly 200,000 by 1850.

By then the city had earned a reputation for being the wool capital of the world, but at a cost.  There were frequent outbreaks of typhus and cholera and mill workers in the city had a life expectancy 20 years.

More than 200 chimneys spewed out sulphurous smoke, polluted the waterways with dyes and other chemicals and had the dubious distinction of being the most polluted city in England.

Annie and her sister Mavis are only 10 when they get pawned off by their orphanage, and sent to work 12-14  hours a day in one of the textile factories in Bradford