Author Interview: Maybelle Wallis


Welcome Readers to a Tuesday edition of Author Interviews. Today we talk to Dr. Maybelle Wallis about history, workhouses, writing and her book, Heart of Cruelty. Grab a cup something hot and get comfy. 


JMR-Welcome to the Books Delight, Maybelle. Tell our readers where you live, what you do for fun and what does the perfect day look like?

MW- Hello Jeanie! It’s great to join you. I live in Ireland, on top of a hill in Co. Wexford. It’s known as ‘The Mountain’ locally. There’s forestry uphill and downhill from the house so the views are getting smaller as the trees grow up, but there are glimpses of the sea, which is about 12 miles away.

I suppose that on a perfect day there would be no Covid, and I’d be able to see my son, who lives and works in Manchester, UK. We had planned to fly to Heidelberg for a meet-up in May, which we had to cancel.

Otherwise in my spare time I love exploring the beautiful Irish countryside with my partner. I also have a friend who goes open air swimming and in the summer we swim in the river at St Mullins in Co. Carlow, or in the sea at Ballinesker beach - gorgeous though really cold. I used to be a scuba diver but nowadays the gear is too heavy for me to manage.

JMR-Maybelle tell us about your favorite historical time period? Why?

MW- I am fascinated by 18th and 19th century history. It was a time when science and reason replaced superstition, and when there were huge changes in technology and medicine, as well as in politics and economics that laid the foundations for the modern world.

JMR-Which historical female do you most admire? Why? If you could ask her one question, what would it be?

MW- One day I would like to write the fictionalized biography of Marie Paulze Lavoisier, the wife of Antoine Lavoisier, the French chemist who developed the concept of the chemical elements. She was taught by him and became an able scientist. She documented their chemical experiments and, some years after he was guillotined during the Terror, she published his final work. I would ask her “how much of the work was yours and how much was Antoine’s?”

JMR-You are a medical doctor, how did you come to write both short stories and novels?

MW - Writing, whether correspondence about patients, guidelines for colleagues, or articles for medical journals, is a regular part of my day job. But I’ve wanted to write fiction ever since reading my way through most of the fiction section of my local public library as a teenager. When my son went off to university in 2011 it gave me the chance to study Creative Writing with the Open University. I got involved with some writing groups and it all went on from there.

JMR- Your novel Heart of Cruelty was just released, tell us about it.

MW- It’s set in 19th century Birmingham, England, where I lived and worked for about 20 years. Here and there, the built environment of Birmingham recalls the Industrial Revolution with its foundries, canals, and terraced houses, and where I worked in the NHS hospitals there were former workhouse buildings that had been converted to offices. My starting point was Dr Doughty, a Coroner and his inquests; I wove in a story about institutional abuse which was partly informed by my experiences in child protection and partly by some big news stories of the modern day like Jimmy Savile and Harvey Weinstein; My female lead, catalysing the situation into a crisis, owes a lot to Jane Eyre.

JMR- Your book is not the typical romance and it explores some very dark themes. What do you want the reader to take away from it?

MW- It’s about a woman finding her voice and speaking up for herself and others. I want the reader to question whether a happy romantic ending is actually in her best interest. I’ve also tried to show how hard it is for victims of abuse to be heard and believed; how privilege and status insulates perpetrators from being challenged, and how even the formal use of language in a court situation may work against the victim.

JMR- Some of my ancestors spent much of their lives in and out of the Crumpsall workhouse in Manchester, England. Life was pretty brutal for them and the working poor. I imagine there was little joy to be found. What surprised or shocked you the most while researching your book?

MW- That’s so interesting that you have researched that workhouse. I was appalled at the way that the Poor Laws amounted to a politically driven persecution of the poor; that paupers, who were often old and /or ill, were treated worse than convicted felons, and given longer hours of forced labour and shorter rations. My opening scene in the workhouse yard was inspired by a scandal about the Andover workhouse where paupers were so hungry that they were gnawing at the rotting bones that were supposed to be ground up for bone-meal.

JMR- I read your very interesting blog post about the Alpha-male found in many romance novels. You don’t like him. Why? What, if any, responsibility to we have as writers to do away with this stereotype?

MW- I don’t think we can, or should, do away with the stereotype, but, hey, we writers have the power over our characters! In my novels I aim to ration the men on their alpha attributes and burden them with flaws – and we can give these men a tough time. Didn’t Charlotte Bronte burn Mr Rochester in a fire? In my WIP I am working on a young Irish doctor who is passionate about his work and about the cause of Irish nationalism but goes off the rails because of it and gets into a lot of trouble.                

JMR- What’s your next project?

MW- I’m writing a sequel to Heart of Cruelty in which I might get Jane and Doughty back together; the working title is City of Famine. It’s set in Dublin during the Famine years. At that time the rich led a glittering lifestyle just a few streets away from the worst slums in Europe, Irish nationalist political activity was severely suppressed, and pandemic disease was rife, with cholera adding to famine fever (typhus/ typhoid). Against that background Dublin was actually a centre of excellence in medical teaching renowned throughout Europe, and I’m working a little medical history into the book. I’m experimenting with a number of story threads - the relationship between Jane and Doughty; the young Irish doctor (Joseph) battling the cholera epidemic; Joseph’s love story; and a third doctor who is a secret poisoner. It’s only at first draft stage so the story might get slimmed down in the final version.

JMR- Tell our readers how to find you on social media and the web.


On Facebook:

Twitter: @DrMWallis

Instagram (I’m not very good at Instagram!)

My website is: and subscribers receive a monthly newsletter ‘The HistWriter’

JMR- What question were you hoping I’d ask but didn’t?

MW- I wanted to brag about my study and my bookshelves, including a small but growing collection of 19th century medical textbooks…

JMR- Thank you Maybelle for a great interview. The Books Delight wishes you the best of success with your writing. Readers, I've included a link to Heart of Cruelty below, please check it out.

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