My own sister was born when I was three and a half. My delight wore off when I realised she was getting more attention than I was.
She had dark brown hair and big brown soulful eyes. I was mousy and sulky looking. She seemed good at making friends, I was rubbish at it. She, despite being a tomboy, was given pretty frilly clothes. I, despite being a romantic daydream, was given practical ones. Was I jealous of her? Yes. Were we close as children? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. Whenever we shared a bedroom, I’d tell her or read her stories. When there was a thunderstorm, she’d climb into bed with me. When bullies picked on me, she’d offer to beat them up. Otherwise, except in the holidays, the gap was too large to cross for us to be close.
It wasn’t until we were twenty-two and nineteen, when she moved from the family home to start her first job, that we ended up sharing a house and became closer. We could argue without anyone going off in a sulk or feeling misunderstood – they were honest, open arguments which we worked through until we had a win-win resolution.
I think she’s dippy. She thinks I’m bossy. But it doesn’t matter.
I know we’re both extremely lucky in this regard. I know plenty of siblings who can’t say the same. But as for us, my sister is one of my very best friends. One day, we’ll go on a mad-old-lady road trip together. Although I’m not entirely sure which I trust least: her driving or her navigating…
All this got me thinking about two of my characters who are sisters. I’m working on the sequel to The Wrong Sort to Die at the moment which will be called Death in the Last Reel. The main character, Margaret Demeray ‘started out’ (in a book sense), as the annoying younger sister of Katherine Demeray in The Case of the Black Tulips which I co-wrote with Liz Hedgecock. The gap between these two sisters is nearly nine years. By the time it’s 1911, they are very close but maybe it wasn’t always so. The following is a bit that didn’t make it past the editing for book 2 though it may get into book 3, where something Fox says reminds Margaret of a moment from her childhood:
When Margaret had been aged seven, the family went on holiday in the New Forest. Running off on her own, she’d found a perfect, climbable young oak, just waiting for her. She removed her shoes and stockings, knowing any damage to them might give her away afterwards, then climbed.
Thirty years later, she recalled the bark scraping her bare legs, the ache in her arms and the freedom of feeling hidden in the leaves with no one to tell her what to do. She saw Aunt Alice and Katherine hunt for her, their voices anxious and strained. ‘Meg! Meg! Where are you?’
It was Katherine who spotted the shoes and stockings at the bottom of the tree and peered up into the branches. ‘Come down this instant!’
‘Oh Kitty, you come up. It’s marvellous!’
But Katherine refused. She’d stood there hands on hips, with the all the dignity a sixteen year old can manage, looking snippy.
At the time, Margaret had been convinced that her big sister had wanted to climb the tree but was too boringly absorbed in being nearly grown-up to let herself try.
But now that Margaret thought back with an adult mind, Katherine’s remembered face was not so much angry as hurt and terrified.
So, thinking about this and because I’ve got a small request at the end, I thought I’d interview both Katherine and Margaret to see how they’re similar or different, and what they both remember of the incident in the New Forest.
It’s January 1911
What is your full name? Do you have a nickname (if so, who calls you this)?
Katherine: Katherine Mathilda King née Demeray. My immediate family call me Kitty sometimes. Not my husband though.
Margaret: Margaret – I’m not telling anyone till I have to – Demeray. Only my father, sister and aunt call me Meg.
Where and when were you born?
Katherine: Fulham, 4th May 1865
Margaret: Fulham, 16th January 1874
Where do you live now, and with whom?
Katherine: In a house in Bayswater with my husband James, 16 year old son Ed and four domestic staff.
Margaret: In a flat in Bayswater with my cat Juniper.
What is your occupation?
Katherine: I’m a private investigator working with Connie Lamont.
Margaret: I’m a pathologist in St Julia’s Chest Hospital for the Poor.
How would you describe your childhood? How much schooling have you had?
Katherine: Our mother died when I was fifteen. Until then everything was very happy. But then our father took me out of school on the grounds that a middle-class girl didn’t need a formal education as she’d never need to work, she just needed to find a husband. He continued teaching me at home but it was very eclectic and patchy as he tended to go off for months on his travels. Aunt Alice took over as much of our nurture as she could. She was only in her early thirties and I now realise she set aside any matrimonial hopes to help raise us. I fear I gave her a hard time but I was heartbroken about losing Mother and bitter about leaving school.
Margaret: I was six when Mother died and I barely remember her. Father, while good fun sometimes, always seemed very distant. As Katherine says, he was forever going off to do research for his books and when I was thirteen, he disappeared for years and we thought he was dead. I gave Aunt Alice a hard time too. She seemed so very determined we be ladylike and it was so very dull. I can’t thank Katherine enough for arguing the case for my staying on at a good school till I was eighteen, and when Father disappeared and the money started to run out, asking our uncle to pay the fees.
Did you ever climb trees as a little girl?
Katherine: no. But I remember Margaret doing it. It was less than a year after Mother had died and Father took us to the New Forest, then retreated into his room to write his books. We were all so miserable. And then one day, Margaret disappeared. She was only little. I thought someone had abducted her or she might be lying injured somewhere and we’d never find her again and that would be another person lost to me. It was one of the worst few hours of my life.
Margaret: I’d forgotten that completely until recently. I can only say that at the time I just too young to realise how anyone else might feel. I suppose I was partly running from all the grief that was dragging us down which I couldn’t understand or manage. All I can remember of that day is feeling free for a while – light – as if a weight had dropped. To be honest, it was one of the best few hours of my life. I’m really sorry.
Did you have any role models?
Katherine: I had people I didn’t want to be like. I didn’t want to be as diffident as Aunt Alice or as judgmental as Aunt Leah but… actually my role model was our lodger Mina Robson. Her life had gone a bit wrong, but she just picked herself up and did something rather than wait for someone to rescue her. She quietly gave me the courage to do the same when I decided to find a job against Aunt Alice’s wishes.
Margaret: I could name any number of famous female doctors, but the honest truth is that Katherine is my role model. If she hadn’t had the courage to get a job and then start working with Connie, I daresay I’d have settled for trying to find a rich husband rather than think a woman could do anything more interesting and then doing it.
When did you have your first kiss, and who with?
Katherine: proper kiss? It was with my husband James when I was 25.
Margaret: I’m not telling but I certainly didn’t wait till I was 25.
What is your greatest fear?
Katherine: failing the people I love.
Margaret: losing the people I love.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Katherine: nice clothes. We went through a long time of having to alter old dresses and trying to change a skirt designed for a 1880s bustle to a simpler 1890s style was no mean feat. I don’t know what we’d have done without Aunt Alice.
Margaret: Yes. Nice clothes all the way. And hats. And handbags. And shoes.
Would you be able to kill?
Margaret: to protect someone or stop an evil? Yes. I wouldn’t want to, but I think I could.
What three words would others probably use to describe you?
Katherine: determined, short and (unfortunately) carroty-haired
Margaret: principled, fiery and (if you ask Fox) impetuous
What smells do you associate with your childhood?
Both: Ada’s baking!
Katherine: no-one made cakes like she did.
Margaret: Even thinking of it now makes my mouth water. Come on Kitty, let’s find a tea-shop.
Now it’s your turn:
Liz Hedgecock and I would love to do a Q&A about the Caster & Fleet series. For this – we need some Qs of course.
We’d love to know from anyone who’s read the books whether you have any burning questions about the process, the plots, the spin-offs – serious, curious or plain silly. Please either comment below or email me at email@example.com. (In case you don’t know: we have six books in the original series which is set in 1890s London, featuring Katherine Demeray and Connie Swift, plus a Christmas novella. We got so involved in our books that we individually took two side-characters and decided to find out what happened to them in spin-off series. I just have one in the Margaret Demeray series (so far – hoping the second will be out later this year) set in the 1910s and Liz now has four in the Maisie Frobisher series set in the 1890s. All are available on Amazon.)
Words copyright 2021 by Paula Harmon.
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4 thoughts on “Sisters, Sisters (chatting with the Demerays)”
It is very hard to believe that Katherine and Margaret are sisters. They are so different.
I suppose with so many years between them and K probably being a partial mother figure to M for a while, and their educational experience so different it’s maybe inevitable. Plus I think that times and opportunities for women had changed so much between when K was a young adult and M was. My sister and I are very different in some ways and very similar in others!
Question for both you and Liz – I believe you took it in turns to write a chapter for ‘your’ character and then passed the story back. Did you at any time feel restricted by where your fellow author had led, or was it easier knowing you had to follow the designated path.
Good one! Will add it to the pile!