Maison Jules Verne

Liz and Nellie: New Novel for Teens

Liz and Nellie cover imageWhile conducting research for a novel set in the late 1800s, Shonna Slayton, an author for young adults, came across the story of Nellie Bly’s solo trip around the world in 1889 and was amazed. She dug a little deeper and discovered there was another woman reporter, Elizabeth Bisland, who raced against her. Now she was doubly intrigued. She just had to retell their tale. The result is her new novel out now in both print and ebook, Liz and Nellie.

Shonna kindly agreed to treat us to a guest blog for ‘Nellie Bly in the Sky’. You can read more about Shonna and her other novels below in the author’s bio.

When did you first learn about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland?

Nellie Bly’s name popped up while I was conducting research for another novel. I was fascinated to learn of a young reporter going around the world, unchaperoned, in the Victorian era. I had never heard of her before.

After reading her account, I found out that the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine was reading about Nellie Bly’s trip that morning on his way to work. He thought the New York World newspaper made a mistake sending her east. So he called in one of his writers, Elizabeth Bisland, and asked her to race Nellie, boarding a train headed west that night.

My imagination was lit. I wanted to get their forgotten story out there to more people. Thus my obsession with Liz and Nellie began.

Many people already know who Nellie Bly was, but who was Elizabeth Bisland?

Elizabeth Bisland was also a reporter. She freelanced for a number of newspapers, including the same paper as Nellie Bly, but at the time of their race, Bisland was working for Cosmopolitan magazine, primarily as their book reviewer, though she did write other types of articles.

Shonna Slayton

Shonna Slayton

Which reporter do you relate to the most?

In temperament I most closely relate to Elizabeth Bisland. She did not call attention to herself the way Bly seemed to, rather she diligently went about her work, even when she felt out of her element.

However, I admire Nellie Bly for her courage and her insightfulness. Often she wrote about the marginalized in society, writing about them so others would see them. She was quite an inspiration.

Why did you write this book for teens?

Most books about Nellie Bly are written either for children or adults, but Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland are wonderful examples for teens. They did big things when they were young. They helped open paths for women. They were agents of change. All the buzzwords we toss at teens nowadays for how they should think and act, these ladies were doing back in the 1800s. They were bold. They were daring. They made a difference. And they were real people!

You normally write stories with a fairy-tale twist. Were you tempted to put magic into this story?

The story of Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland didn’t need any embellishing. I used their actual words as much as possible, as obtained from their newspaper and magazine articles. The text is more literary than how I normally write, reflecting the conventions of the 1800s. I tried to modernize the text somewhat, to draw in today’s audience, and I toned down Elizabeth Bisland’s highfalutin’ vocabulary.

Of all the places they went on their trip, do you have a favorite?

One of my favorite scenes is when Nellie Bly makes a detour to meet Jules Verne at his house in France. She is curious about him as a fellow writer, and she is curious about what he thinks of her taking on his fictional character. He is quite charming and goes out of his way to make Nellie feel special.

Last words?

Liz and Nellie was a lot of fun to put together. My characters always feel real to me, but in this case they truly are real. I hope readers enjoy meeting these historical figures as much as I have.

Author Bio:
Shonna Slayton writes historical fairy tales for Entangled TEEN. Cinderella’s Dress and Cinderella’s Shoes, set in the 1940s are out now. Spindle, a Sleeping Beauty inspired tale set in the late 1800s, will be out October 2016.

She finds inspiration in reading vintage diaries written by teens, who despite using different slang, sound a lot like teenagers today. When not writing, Shonna enjoys amaretto lattes and spending time with her husband and children in Arizona.

The best way to keep in touch is by signing up for her monthly newsletter. She sends out behind-the-scenes info you can’t read anywhere else. Sign up is on the sidebar of her website Shonna Slayton.

 

 

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A Chain Around the Earth – Acknowledgements

Nellie and her bag“To so many people this wide world over am I indebted for kindnesses that I cannot… thank them all individually.  They form a chain around the earth. To each and all of you, men, women and children, in my land and in the lands I visited, I am most truly grateful. Every kind act and thought, but if an unuttered wish, a cheer, a tiny flower, is imbedded in my memory as one of the pleasant things of my novel tour.” Nellie Bly 1890

I’m with Nellie. My trip couldn’t have been so successful … or even ever happened…without the ‘kindnesses’ shown by so many. I send my heartfelt thanks to the countless people en route who helped me along the way and also to all those who generously donated to UNICEF  through my Footsteps of Nellie Bly page.

Acadia

Acadia

I must first acknowledge the support from my husband David Stanton and daughter Acadia. David helped me design my itinerary, plot the flights and pack my small suitcase so everything fit. Best of all they both believed in what I wanted to do.

My Chain Around the World
UK

WIJlogoAlso on the home front, thank you to Anna Barfield and Janet Goodman for the lovely bubbly send-off at Heathrow. Barbara Richardson, Liz KhanSusan Lacy, Christina Watson, Vicky Webster, Dinah Nichol and Patsy Puttnam also spurred me on, as did everyone in my freelance writing course at City Lit led by Susan Grossman. Alan Taylor contacted our RGS logofriend Nikhil Hirdaramani who introduced me by email to his lovely friends in Colombo. I am delighted that Women in Journalism endorsed my trip and the Royal Geographical Society registered it.  Many thanks to  Michael Blunt, Vice-President of Corporate Communications at oneworld Alliance who asked his airline colleagues en route to offer assistance if necessary. Happy to report that I never needed to call on them because everything went smoothly. Nellie Bly herself travelled with a similar ‘letter of introduction’  from ocean liner officials.

USA

Peat O'Neil (r) and David Stanton at the Newseum, Washington DC.

Louisa Peat O’Neil (r) and David Stanton at the Newseum, Washington DC.

Louisa Peat O’Neil gave me good advice from the start. She’s alwaysnellie-bly-daredevil-reporter-feminist been an inspiration. Back in 1980, she embroidered Rainbow of the Road on my bright yellow backpack and sent me off.  Alice Robbins-Fox, a terrific travel companion who keeps me on track, met me in New York City to share the journey and her birthday. Sally Emery made connections there and helped us plot urban itineraries. Victoria Fulmer offered to come around the world with me…as long as it was on a private jet. Pat Streifel and Vim Maguire helped pave the way. Dolly McCo80days_cover_largey and Arnold Blystone took me to explore Nellie’s birthplace in Cochran Mills, Pennsylvania. Donald and Marilyn Schlief kindly offered their apartment in Washington, DC so we could visit the Newseum that features Nellie Bly. Kristina Heintz‘ birthday card to me featured a dancing girl with the words ‘she could no longer deny the gypsy in her soul.’ Perfect. My trip was enriched by the writing and research of Brooke KroegerNellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist  and Matthew GoodmanEighty Days.

SRI LANKA

The Stapels family and guide at the Royal Botanical Gardens.l

The Stapels family and guide at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Thanuja Kanchana Camlo Lanka Tours met me at the airport in Colombo and managed to extract my credit card from the machine that swallowed it – rescuing my source of funds for the rest of the trip.

Lakmini, Jevon and Devin Raymond; and Steffi and Moahan Balendra pulled out all the stops to show me the best of Colombo. Nushka Nafeel wrote about Nellie for the Sri Lanka Daily News.

The Stapels family — Bernie, Redda and Julia from Germany — invited me to join them and their guide in Kandy and together we visited the Royal Botanic Gardens that so impressed Nellie.

Adler Hostel (r) in Singapore's Chinatown

Adler Hostel (r) in Singapore’s Chinatown

SINGAPORE

Folks at the Adler Hostel  helped me to map out itineraries taking in all of Nellie’s sites. Stephen Wang at the Your Singapore Tourist Information Office provided tons of history and organised a tour of the Fullerton Hotel with Florence Minjout who shared her knowledge about Singapore in the 1890s.

Windy and I at the Umbrella Seat

Windy and I at the Umbrella Seat

HONG KONG

Sanford Lee, Windy Chiu and Chung of the Hong Kong Tourism Board based at Victoria Gap joined my quest to find the umbrella seat where Nellie rested on her way to the peak. Windy and I trekked to the top and found it!

GUANGZHOU, CHINA

Jenny at the Hilton near Yuexi Park

Jenny at the Hilton near Yuexi Park

With the generous help from the team at the Customs Hotel, I was able to find obscure Nellie sites.  Business man Joe Yang not only gave me directions, but delivered me to the Nanyue King’s Tomb Museum. Jenny at the Hilton Hotel near Yuexiu Park gave me a map, advice and sent me off in the right direction.

JAPAN 

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Yoshihisa and Yoshie Togo in Hakone.

Yoshihisa and Yoshie Togo whisked me off to Hakone with spectacular views of Mount Fuji and Kamakura with the Great Buddha Diabutsu.

In which Nellie Meets Jules Verne

AMIENS, FRANCE – 23 November 1889

Nellie risked a time-guzzling deviation only 8 days into the race, sacrificing two nights of sleep, to accept an invitation to the home of Jules Verne –  the author who inspired her own voyage. It meant going to Amiens, France.

“Oh how I should love to see them,” she said upon learning of the invitation when she arrived in London. “Isn’t it hard to be forced to decline such a treat?”

Jules and Honouring Verne at home with their dog Folette. Amiens 1894

Jules and Honorine Verne at home with their dog Folette. 1894

Two days later she received a memorable welcome from Jules and Honorine Verne. “Jules Verne’s bright eyes beamed on me with interest and kindliness, and Mme. Verne greeted me with the cordiality of a cherished friend,” Nellie recalls. “Before I had been many minutes in their company, they had won my everlasting respect and devotion.”

Nellie’s visit with the Vernes lives on today at the Maison Jules Verne, a living tribute to the French author attracting visitors from around the world. Many rooms reflect the descriptions in Nellie’s own book Around the World in 72 Days.

Nellie’s description of the Verne’s salon is framed and hung there for all to read:

“The room was large and the hangings and paintings and soft velvet rug, which left visible but a border of polished wood, were richly dark. All the chairs artistically upholstered in brocaded silks, were luxuriously easy…”

Here at the  Maison Jules Verne, for the first time, I was quite literally following in Nellie’s footsteps. Nellie Bly and I were in the same room …separated by 125 years.  I guess I might have asked Mr Verne the same questions:

Have you ever been to America? Answer: Once to Niagara Falls. I know of nothing I long to do more than to see your land from New York to San Francisco.

How did you get the idea for your novel? Answer: “I got it from a newspaper.”

It was an article in Le Siècle newspaper showing calculations on travelling around the world in 80 days that Jules Verne discovered the basis of his novel. They had not taken into account the difference in the meridians which gained a day for Phileas Fogg and meant he won his bet. Had it not been for what he called ‘this denouement’, Jules Verne told Nellie he would never have written Around the World in 80 Days.

By candlelight they visited the author’s study which remains just as Nellie saw it. She was surprised by its modesty. So was I. “One bottle of ink and one penholder was all that shared the desk with the manuscript.” The tidiness of his manuscript impressed Nellie giving her the idea that “Mr Verne always improved his work by taking out superfluous things and never by adding.” Great advice for all writers and something I must keep in mind as I write this blog.

Jules Verne's home today

Jules Verne’s home today

Before she knew it, it was time to leave her new friends the Vernes. They shared a glass of wine in front of a roaring fire before bidding each other farewell.

The race was on.

Jules and Honorine Verne diligently followed Nellie’s progress around the globe and sent her a congratulatory telegram when she reached America. That fleeting visit made a lasting impression.

Amiens railway station where Nellie was met by the Vernes.

Amiens railway station where Nellie was met by the Vernes.