• West Cork Literary Festival 2021

Maybelle Wallis

Location: Wexford


I’m a paediatrician, living and working in Wexford, Ireland. I trained and spent the early part of my career in London and later worked in Birmingham and the surrounding area.

I began to study Creative Writing with the Open University in 2011 and completed 3 modules with distinction. I also took part in Debi Alper and Emma Darwin’s Self-Editing Course. I’ve written over 70 short stories which are on my website ChateauxEnEspagne.com. I belong to two writing groups, TCWG (tcwgshortstories.wordpress.com) and Write Club (formerly South Wexford Writers).

My main interest is writing historical fiction but I also write contemporary short stories.

Current project

My debut historical novel HEART OF CRUELTY is being published by Poolbeg Press on 21st October as the first of a 3-book series.

My narrator Jane Verity, working as the housemaid to a coroner, must convince him to act against a dangerous serial abuser. It is a Victorian Gothic novel in a similar genre to Laura Purcell’s novels such as ‘The Corset’, or the work of Essie Fox or Sarah Perry, and owes a massive debt to ‘Jane Eyre’.

It’s set in Birmingham in 1840 where Jane, reduced to the workhouse after a failed elopement, encounters Coroner Doughty. He is instantly attracted. As she becomes his maidservant and cares for his depressed wife Harriet, she learns about his inquests and the dark secrets of the workhouse Chaplain, who is also Doughty’s influential brother-in-law. While Doughty struggles with his passion for Jane, she must convince him to act, even though the truth will destroy his marriage and his career. 

I’m writing a sequel set in Dublin during the Famine.

Writing sample

The pile of waste bones from the slaughterhouse had been dumped in the yard and lain uncovered and stinking for days. As we sunk our hands into it brown rats swarmed out and I gasped, fearing they would bite me, but they fled to their burrows in the workhouse walls. We dropped the bones in the ramming-bin and between us both worked the heavy iron rammer up and down, grinding the bones into meal. We went on for hour after hour.

The kinds of labour that bore little profit for much effort, not enough to support life, were given to those who existed by the feeblest of margins in the workhouse, under the control of the Guardians of the Poor. The bone-crushing work, normally given to the men, was meant to punish Clara and I, for we had both offended by complaining of Reverend Glyde, the workhouse Chaplain.

Siviter, the workhouse Master, watched us as we slowed, jeering at what he called our idleness and swishing his cane. Rows of small windows peered down from the high black walls: on one side the dormitories and the workshops, on the other side the infirmary and morgue. Before us was the chapel with its cross; behind us rose the boundary wall.
The fragmenting bones squirted putrid marrow up at us. Sweat soaked the armpits of my dress; my shoulders were burning, my hands blistering. The bone-meal had to be shovelled into sacks and a new load of bones fetched. It had been just after six o’clock in the morning when we had started; now the chapel bell was striking ten.

‘Are yer hungry in yer bellies now, yer idle bitches?’ Siviter demanded. ‘There’ll be nought for yer today, no bread nor water, only work. Let yer lying tongues go dry, teach yer a lesson.’

It was the day after Ash Wednesday, when we had already endured a fast, but we made no reply, and kept on banging the iron rammer down, its thuds reverberating in the stone enclosure.

‘Idlers like you get a night in the lock-up,’ gloated Siviter.

I had been in there once before, for some infringement of rules I had not understood, hungry, thirsty and alone in the fetid gloom behind the iron door.

‘I won’t.’ I let go the rammer and stood doubled over, my hands dropping to my thighs. ‘It’s not right.’

‘Get back on the job yer!’ Siviter lashed out with his cane. ‘I’ll kill yer, lazy drab!’

The blow jarred my spine and cold needles of pain shot down into my legs. I heard a man shout. As I tried to straighten up, another whack of Siviter’s cane caught my head and knocked off my cap.

‘Jane!’ Clara cried out, but she did not come to me.

The pain was immense. I put my hand to my head; it came away wet, and red. I knew Siviter had not finished. I was overwhelmed by the grotesqueness of the scene: the hideous walls of the workhouse yard, the fetid reek of the bones, the blood filling my palm. His next blow sent me crumpling forward so that I lay curling my arms over my throbbing head, my face to the slimy cobbles, one eye open to the red rivulet of blood that trickled between them. As I heard Siviter’s cane whistle again through the air, there came another shout from across the yard.

Siviter stopped.

‘Coroner Doughty, sir, good morning sir,’ he called out, and to Clara and I he muttered that we should get back to work.

I could not move.

‘Mr. Siviter.’ A cold, clear voice came closer to where I lay. ‘Mr Siviter!’

‘Good morning to yer, sir, Dr Doughty, sir, a fine morning too.’

Then I saw darkness and heard nothing.

After a time I smelt a gentleman’s cologne, and found I was lying on my side. My head throbbed as something pressed it down against the cobblestones.

My first sight of Doughty was of his wrist emerging from a white shirt-cuff, of his black coat sleeve, and the corner of his handkerchief. He was kneeling beside me on the filthy cobbles of the Workhouse courtyard, applying pressure to my wound. As he lifted the handkerchief I raised my eyes to his: wide-open, dark, intent on mine. His face was close and as I looked up I could see the dark hairs inside his nostrils and the tiny black dots left by his clean-shaven beard. A frown creased his forehead.

‘She’s conscious again, but still losing blood.’ He pressed the handkerchief to the side of my head again. ‘Speak to me. What’s your name, m’dear?’


‘Jane what?’

‘Verity.’ I closed my eyes again.

‘Well, Jane Verity, you must go to the infirmary. Are you able to get up?’

Doughty grasped my upper arm, trying to raise me with one hand while holding the handkerchief with the other. I opened my eyes but as I lifted my head and shoulders the darkness came back. I leaned in to the handkerchief, drooping my head against his hand with a sigh. The scent of his cologne revived me a little.

‘Malingering, sir.’ Siviter was still close by.

‘Get help,’ snapped Doughty.

Siviter sent Clara to find his wife, the Matron. If I made no effort it would count against me later, so I heaved myself up and around, resting on hands and knees like an animal. My breath came fast and shallow, hindered by the pain in my back. The coroner cursed, for his handkerchief was dislodged by my movement and my blood dripped on the ground beneath. I was dizzy and wanted to sag down again to the stones.

‘You’ve already given me sufficient work for one day, Mr Siviter. I have one inquest to hear in this place, and have no need of more.’ Doughty pressed the handkerchief back into place with a hand either side of my head.

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