Taxine – Fruit of the Yew

Anyone looking at my recent Google search history, would assume I’m about to do something very, very bad. They would be advising my husband to inspect his coffee before drinking it and cautioning him not to eat anything I’ve cooked. (Not that he would anyway. Cooking is not my forte).

My search history is full of poisons. Arsenic, antimony, strychnine. You name it, I’ve considered it as a means to dispatch my victims. Writing a murder mystery requires a lot of research to find a credible method of poisoning and one that would have been easy to procure in Victorian times.

In the end, it had to be taxine – it’s qualities were just right for The Fressingfield Witch. Taxine is an alkaloid compound, handily present in the yew tree. Most parts of the yew are poisonous (except for the fleshy red seed covering). The seeds are particularly high in taxine. Dried seeds and leaves retain their ability to poison for several months.

The body absorbs taxine quickly and in extreme cases, death can occur before any other symptoms are seen. Usefully, a victim can recover especially if given an emetic in the earliest stages, thus giving the author a nice degree of flexibility.

Using taxine puts me in good company with other writers, notably William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie. Shakespeare added yew to the witch’s cauldron in Macbeth and Christie poisoned Mr Fortescue with taxine in ‘A Pocket Full of Rye.’

It’s surprisingly under-used in books, all things considered. Writers tend to favour arsenic as it was so easily available in Victorian times. It was also a popular choice for real murderers. Mary Ann Cotton, Florence Maybrick and Madeleine Smith all used arsenic to kill. In fact, Suffolk murderess Mary Cage used it and it was the newspaper account of her trial that provided the inspiration for Vote for Murder. I dabbled with antimony poisoning in that one too.

Anyway, a relevant excerpt from The Fressingfield Witch:

“The fruit of the yew has long been my friend. I harvest it myself, then dry it and store it safely away, always wearing gloves. It is a powerful toxin. My mother taught me not to take risks.”

 

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A writer’s life – The pros and cons of a broken wrist

I painted the kitchen this weekend – well seven eighths of it to be exact.  My task was rudely interrupted by the failure of my footstool to stay intact.  After twenty year’s loyal service, it split in two while I was cutting in around the carefully masked cooker hood.  I shattered my wrist while the ceiling received a liberal stroke of ‘white with a hint of bamboo’ as I fell.  On reflection, I came off worst.

Determined to make the best of it, I compiled a list of pro’s and con’s.  For every downside, there must be a balancing upside.

I can’t type.  What’s the point of a one handed touch typist? Woman up.  You can type one handed.  Lucky you not to have broken your right hand.
Much worse, I can’t go to the gym Walk the dog then.  And while you’re about it, consider the deficiencies in your latest plot line.
I’ll get fat! Good point.  No chocolate or biscuits for you until the cast’s off.  Make that dog walk a mile longer.
But my wrist’s smashed up.  I might need an operation. Then you can use that experience in your writing.  No event is ever wasted!
Fine – but I’ll have to go into hospital (inconvenient) and the cast will be on even longer (not known for my patience). Refer back to the previous answer.
Whatever.  But I can’t drive for six to eight weeks?  That’s a threat to my monthly book club and the new ALLI writer’s meet I hoped to join. Big deal.  Suddenly too good to ride the bus, are we?
It hurts. I’ll give you that one.  No pain without gain, they say.
On the plus side, I’ll have more time for reading, writing and research if I’ve got nothing better to do. Now you’re talking.  You’ve got a ‘Writing’ magazine upstairs with the plastic wrapper on.  Time must be at a premium.

And so the internal dialogue rumbles on.  Yes, it’s a nuisance, but sometimes when you are trying to squeeze too much in, life takes control and bites back. I’ll have less time for the physical things.  DIY must take a backseat and I don’t suppose I’ll swing a kettlebell for a while – but it’s given me an unexpected six weeks to catch up with a spot of reading and time to research my new murder mystery. A wrist with a twist, you might say.

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Location #1 – Christchurch Park

View of Ipswich from Christchurch Park GainsboroughVote for Murder is set in two main locations; Stonham Aspal during 1851 and Christchurch Park, Ipswich in Edwardian times.  Suffragette Louisa Russell, cousin of Millicent Fawcett, lives in Ivry Road on the outskirts of Christchurch Park.  These two areas, together with Henley Road and Fonnereau Road, account for many settings within the book.

Christchurch Park was the former site of an Augustinian Priory disbanded by Henry Viii during the dissolution of the monasteries.  It was acquired in 1545 by Edmund Withipoll and later in the 18th century, by Claude Fonnereau.  In 1892 Felix Cobbold gave it to the City of Ipswich.

There are various monuments set within Christchurch Park, both the Brett Fountain donated in 1863 and the Burton Drinking fountain, gifted in 1895.  The same year The Cabman’s shelter was moved from Cornhill to Christchurch Park.

Vote for Murder was set in 1911.  One scene in the book describes Louisa walking past the Martyr’s Memorial:

“…The cross-topped monument stretched skywards casting a lanky shadow over the path ahead. Recently completed, the carved round pillars caught the light of the morning sun and the carved inscription stood fresh and clear.”

The Martyr’s memorial was erected in 1903 following a campaign through The East Anglian Daily Times to provide a symbol to remember the protestant martyrs.  The Ipswich martyrs were a group of men and women put to death during Queen Mary’s reign for their refusal to recognise the Roman Catholic doctrines.  Many were burned at the stake.  There are nine martyrs named on the memorial, all of whom are mentioned in Foxe’s book of martyrs.  They were reported to have met their deaths with bravery and spirit.

A cenotaph dedicated to the men and women who fell in World War I was placed in Christchurch Park in 1924 joining the Boer War memorial erected in 1906.  Further features of the park include a fountain, an ice house and an Arts and Crafts shelter known as ‘The Bandstand’.  Prince Albert visited Christchurch Park in 1851, the same year that Mary Cage was hanged in Ipswich Gaol.

Christchurch Mansion, a red brick Tudor House, still houses the museum in which furniture, paintings, and pottery can be found.  Exhibits have a strong Suffolk theme with displays by John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough and cases of Lowestoft porcelain.

Nowadays Christchurch Park is a busy, family orientated area, ideal for indulging in outdoor pursuits, sports and the Arts.  The Park enjoys strong support from The Friends of Christchurch Park.

“Oh may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia.”

(Inscription on the memorial to the Ipswich Martyrs)