Saturday, 15 August 2020

Author Guest Post and Book Spotlight: Secure The Shadow by Marion Grace Woolley

Double Exposure
A few years ago, I ran a consultancy in the UK helping voluntary organisations to register with the Charity Commission. I’d deal with all sorts of organisations, from animal welfare to those championing rare medical conditions.
One day, I got a call from a group who wanted to register a charity with a very long name. When I asked what they did, the reply was even more unusual. They were a group of volunteer photographers who went into hospitals to take photographs of stillborn babies, as a last memento for grieving parents.
A couple of years later, I was having a drink with an old school friend, and the conversation drifted towards another friend of ours who kept a picture of their stillborn child on the bookshelf. This disturbed my friend, but I thought it seemed like such a natural thing. Having been through all the same steps as any other mother – pregnancy, morning sickness, childbirth – to then be expected to hide all reminders so as not to make others uncomfortable. It didn’t really seem right. Why shouldn’t you talk about it?
This sent me off on a journey of discovery, focused on photography and our relationship with mortality. Our desire to sanitise death is not something that has always been. The fact that I was surprised there was an organisation photographing stillbirths today says a lot. A hundred years ago, everybody was taking pictures of the dead, and it wasn’t considered strange.
Secure the Shadow is split between Victorian Bristol and modern-day Gloucestershire. It weaves together the evolution of photography, and how we’ve used it to save precious moments from the ravages of time.
The research for this was quite intense. I’ve written about 1850s Iran, Iron Age Ireland and 1930s Australia, but I must admit, the Victorian era isn’t one I’ve always felt that drawn to. However, if you’re talking about the invention of photography, it’s a time period you have to visit.
I learned so much that I never expected to. I can now list ‘spotting a genuine post-mortem photo,’ on my CV. And there are a lot of popular fakes. Several taken by Lewis Carroll, who had a creepy penchant for posing young girls, including Alice Liddell, the original Alice in Wonderland, as though they were unconscious.
Starting out, I knew absolutely nothing about the chemical process of early photography. I was more interested in the emotional development of the characters than in photographic development. Thankfully, a few lovely people were generous enough with their time to sit and explain it all to me. One of those was Mike Robinson, a photographer who consulted on Crimson Peak, and who very patiently explained to me how they created the spirit photographs that Dr. McMichael shows Edith in his study. I knew they weren’t real, but I didn’t understand how they were done in the days before Photoshop.
A long time ago, photographs were taken on a glass or tin plate, covered in chemicals. As the chemicals dry, they become less light sensitive, so it’s important to take a picture as quickly as possible. The plate would be exposed, the image taken, the lens cap replaced. Then, if you wanted to conjure ghosts, you’d simply drag in your actors and expose the plate very briefly to a second image. A double exposure. Because the chemicals were already drying, and the exposure time was lower, the image would appear much fainter.
Very simple once you know how it’s done, but imagine you’d never seen that before and had no idea what cameras were capable of. You can forgive people for being fooled.

It’s always nice to learn something as you write a book, and a privilege to be able to bring science to life through the stories we weave. People often say, ‘write what you know,’ but I prefer the idea ‘write what fascinates you,’ because you can always learn what you don’t know along the way.  

Secure the Shadow
In 1824, a young man buttons up his redcoat and goes to war. Amidst the blood and devastation, he discovers a magical power which can save memory from the ravages of time.
1867 and a woman, living above a watch shop, meets two men who will change her life forever. As she ventures further into a world of séance and mysticism, she must decide whether to trust her own eyes.
In the present day, a rebellious artist finds herself photographing stillbirths for a living. At Little Angels, it’s not about what you can take from a picture, but what you can give.
The story of three lives, spanning the history of photography and our relationship with mortality.
Secure the shadow, ere the substance fades.

Amazon UK           Amazon US 
Marion Grace Woolley is known for dark historical fiction including Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran and The Children of Lir. She balances writing with her work in international development and her hobby as a piano tuner. Marion currently lives in Rwanda.
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