See best-selling author read from new Georgian crime novel at Forest Gate’s Wanstead Tap
PUBLISHED: 17:24 23 February 2017 | UPDATED: 17:24 23 February 2017
Notorious criminals often capture the public’s eye but Edgeworth Bess has been largely sidelined until now.
The Georgian femme fatale’s true story of criminality, punishment and love, set in 1720s London, will be brought to life by Jake Arnott at the Wanstead Tap in Forest Gate on February 28 at 7.30pm.
Drawing on the real-life story of Bess – whose real name was Elizabeth Lyon – The Fatal Tree focuses on how she became embroiled in prostitution and pickpocketing before falling in love with famed jail-breaking thief Jack Sheppard.
“They are the sort of Bonnie and Clyde of the underworld,” said 55-year-old writer Jake.
His book aims to address the “tart with a heart” and “one-dimensional” characterisations of Bess that have previously prevailed.
“She wasn’t a victim, she was a survivor,” he added. “She was in many ways more active than him.”
The character narrates her past from a Newgate prison cell, near to the Old Bailey, where she is expected to hang for her crimes.
Readers are immersed into a bawdy, sexualised world, still largely unaffected by the prudent confines of the Victorian era.
Here, criminals converse in a secret vocabulary known as “flash” in order to confuse their victims.
Emerging long before cockney rhyming slang, the language was an “obsession” of the upper- and middle classes in the 1720s.
“It saw an explosion because there was [established] journalism and a real interest in criminal narratives,” explained Jake.
His novel treads a careful balance between historical re-telling and page-turner, with a helpful glossary.
“It is almost like a western, I did not want to lose that,” said Jake.
Historical eras such as He Kills Coppers and The Long Firm are the writer’s best known books.
Both have been developed into TV series and with grittier Georgian dramas such as Taboo currently in vogue, does he hope for another screen adaptation?
“The film and TV world is a strange place – let’s wait and see.”
The Fatal Tree is out now, priced at £16.99. published by Sceptre. An Evening with Jake Arnott costs £5. 352 Winchelsea Road, E7 0AQ. Visit thewansteadtap.com