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Eloise Williams

publishing April 2017

Available for pre-order here

‘A darkly delicious romp through the backstreets of Victorian Cardiff. I loved it!’ Emma Carroll, Frost Hollow Hall, Strange Star
‘Keep an eye out for this firecracker, folks - it’s gorgeously raw, dark and Dickensian.’ Lucy Strange, The Secret of Nightgale Wood

Have you seen her?

1899. All Nansi knows is that she and her mother were running away from someone, and then she was being fished out of Cardiff docks with no memory of how she got there. Her mother hasn’t been seen since. With nobody else to turn to, she works for Pernicious Sid at the Empire Theatre. She loves it when she gets the chance to perform and dreams of being a star, but Sid also makes her steal, sneaking into rich houses dressed as a maid, telling her the money will pay for a dectective to find out who she is. Life is hard but Nansi is a fighter, determined to protect her friend Bee and, most of all, to find her mother.

Everything changes when Constance and Violet join the theatre. At first it looks like Violet might be Nansi’s big break, but it’s Con that holds the real secret. Who can Nansi trust? As she starts to get closer to the truth, she's soon on the run for her life.

Can she save her mother? Can she save herself?

Eloise Williams's wild, dark Victorian thriller has a brave, complex heroine who will break your heart and make you cheer. 'It's hard to drown when you're as good at swimming as I am...'

cover design by Anne Glenn

chapter heading artwork by Guy Manning

Eloise has written about the inspiration for the book:

Why did you write this book?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Cardiff. I was born in St David’s Hospital in Canton, opposite the place where Ivor Novello was born, and then moved near Victoria Park. We moved about the South Wales area when I was growing up, but in the holidays I would get to spend long days riding my bike through the sunlit streets of Llandaff where my Nana Brenda lived, walking to The Dell to play, running around the gardens of Insole Court. Lots of happy memories.

When I left home I went to live in Cardiff and worked in Howells Department Store on St. Mary’s Street for a couple of years. As part of the induction you were taken to see the old quarters where the sales people and servants used to live, which was fascinating! It is also built with a church at its centre, because they weren’t allowed to knock it down – it’s still there if you get a chance to go and have a look. I was enchanted by the history.

In my early twenties I was lucky enough to get a place at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. I began to study Victorian Theatre, looking into the work of Sir Henry Irving (a great Victorian actor and the first to receive a knighthood) and Ellen Terry (the leading Shakespearean actress of the Victorian Era). My dissertation was on Henry Irving’s influence on the writing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That’s where I started thinking about foggy streets, villainous characters and, of course, gaslights!

Cardiff has that feeling of excitement for me. It has history woven into every part of it and it changes so regularly. The people are among the kindest I have ever met and the City is one of the most beautiful and vibrant. It has a very special place in my heart.  

Is this book autobiographical in any way?
My Grandad Arthur Warren Howe – known as Warren - was from Cardiff. His father was a ship’s pilot and his mother played the piano for the silent movies at the Empire Cinema, which was formerly the Empire Theatre, and features largely in the book. They lived on Clarence Embankment and watched the regattas from their bedroom window. The docks area of Cardiff and the theatrical history of Cardiff must be running through my veins I think.

His wife, my Nana Brenda, and he had five children and they were all brought up in Cardiff. Including my mum – the one with the long, red hair.  

I, like Nansi, wanted to be an actor when I was young. I was very lucky that I followed the path of my dreams and appeared on the stage many times. I’ve performed on the stage at the beautiful ‘armadillo’ – The Wales Millennium Centre – with the fantastic Hijinx Theatre. I’ve been an Ugly Sister at the outstanding Chapter Arts Centre, and an Elizabethan peasant in a play about Shakespeare at The Sherman. I’ve sung in Cameron Mackintosh’s ‘Les Miserables’ within Cardiff Castle’s walls and I’ve been involved in lots of great productions and projects right across the city. Without all those experiences, I don’t think Nansi or Gaslight would have been possible.