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Award-winning Scottish author’s latest novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai

Daisy Chain, published by Two Roads, can be obtained here:

Don’t judge a book by its cover, “is a hackneyed idiom first coined by 19th century novelist George Eliot. And so is Maggie Ritchie’s latest novel Daisy Chain. The cover, designed by l Scottish artist Dorothy Johnstone, looks rather quaint at first glance and evokes a sense of innocence and naivety. Yet turn inward and the award-winning author takes readers on a dark, mysterious and at times cruel journey, with an unexpected twisted narrative.

Daisy Chain is a novel that Eliot, Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters would have written had they been born in the 20th century in Glasgow, raised listening to the Bay City Rollers and The Clash. Don’t be fooled by the musical juxtaposition, the novel’s main protagonists, Lily and Jeanie, like rock and pop groups, couldn’t be more different. Lily, the only daughter of two loving middle-class parents, and Jeanie, one of ten children from a broken home in an underprivileged working-class environment. Class differences aside, the two girls bonded to school in spirit, friendship and ambition: Lily to be an artist, Jeanie to be a dancer.

Award-winning Scottish author's latest novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai


Maggie Ritchie is a journalist who received a scholarship to do her research for Daisy Chain in Shanghai. Her first novel, Paris Kiss (2015), won the Curtis Brown Prize, was a finalist for the Scepter Prize and shortlisted for the Mslexia First Novel competition. The German edition appeared on the bestseller charts, and the novel was also translated into Czech. Her second novel, Looking for Evelyn (2017), was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize for Best Published Novel 2018.

The author was inspired by real-life artist Eleanor Allen Moore, a pioneering woman painter who defied convention to find her way into the men’s world before leaving Scotland for Shanghai in the 1920s.

“Eleanor Allen Moore was a talented artist in a group known as the Glasgow Girls,” said award-winning author Curtis Brown. “The Glasgow Girls, who were students and teachers at the Glasgow School of Art at the turn of the last century, rose to fame at the forefront of the Scottish Art Nouveau movement, only to fade into obscurity, their groundbreaking work being shunned by the art world.

“They were rediscovered in the 1980s, and it was at an exhibition in 2010 that I first saw their work. I was swept away by their romantic book illustrations, their embroidered panels and their striking paintings, among others. Self-Portrait of Eleanor Allen Moore was chosen for the poster of the exhibition, which caught my eye. With a keen eye and bouncy, I had to know more about her, and I was not disappointed. Her incredible life inspired my heroine who, like the true artist, attended the Glasgow School of Art before coming to China with her husband, a doctor and their daughter. “

Award-winning Scottish author's latest novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai

Self-portrait of Eleanor Allen Moore

After the success of her first two novels, Paris Kiss and Looking For Evelyn, the writer received a scholarship from the Society of Author for the research of her third book, and embarked on an adventure in search of life. exotic artist in the bustling metropolis, and follow in his famous footsteps.

“Eleanor and her husband, Dr. Robert Cecil Robertson, and their baby daughter Ailsa traveled to Shanghai in 1925 to have Robert make a public health appointment,” Ritchie said. “At first it was a difficult and dangerous time as there were serious anti-alien riots. Eleanor’s husband was even kidnapped once but managed to escape the kidnappers’ car with a hole in it. bullet through his coat.But when things calmed down, it was possible for them to explore the Yangtze Delta region in their houseboat and visit the ancient walled towns of Soochow (Suzhou) and Wusih (Wuxi).

“I stayed in (the old) French concession, just off Huaihai Road – Joffre Avenue in Aliénor’s time – and I was overwhelmed by the European-style buildings and the boulevards lined with plane trees. They reminded me of Paris and Madrid. Like Eleanor, I admired the shops along Nanjing Road E., known as Bubbling Well Road, and the department stores she would have frequented, such as Sincere and Wing On’s. alleys and see the sights, sounds and smells that would have become familiar to him.

Award-winning Scottish author's latest novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai

“Chinese Children” by artist Eleanor Allen Moore

“The first sight that Eleanor would have been greeted with upon arriving after six weeks on a Glasgow steamboat was the imposing grandeur of the Bund’s trading houses, banks and grand hotels. The opposite bank of the Huangpu River fascinated me and the curve of immaculately preserved Beaux-Arts buildings. This is where wealthy foreign taipans in search of pleasure did their business before relaxing at the Shanghai Club’s Long Bar, ordering cases of champagne by the dozen. They and their wives and mistresses had fun with a social whirlwind of sparkling balls, betting on thoroughbreds at the Shanghai Race Club, and dancing in posh nightclubs where jazz bands played the night away. “

Shanghai came to be known as “the Paris of the East” and the New York of the West “during the 1920s and 1930s. But at the same time, the metropolis also had a dark and seedy side. It was once a dangerous place, with a criminal underbelly ruled by warlords and vicious gangs.

“Much like Glasgow at the time, there was a huge disparity between the rich merchants and the poor who worked long hours for pitiful wages in factories, pulled rickshaws and served foreigners, and the rich Chinese with their westernized first names, their women and girls dressed in the latest Parisian fashion and combed and styled hair, “said the 57-year-old author.

Award-winning Scottish author's latest novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai

“Chinese actor” by artist Eleanor Allen Moore

“As I marveled at the fake Tudor villas of Frenchtown and the luxurious Art Deco hotels, I began to understand why Shanghai in 1921 saw the birth of the Chinese Communist Party, as did the popular protests and radicalism from Glasgow to the same period led to it becoming known as “Red Clydeside”.

Despite this backdrop of turmoil, Eleanor bravely braved the walls of the old Chinese city of Shanghai, rushing into street scenes of people playing cards or mahjong over green tea, as they still do in parks, and lilongs I walked around. She also ventured into the famous opium dens to draw those who smoked languidly inside.

“Eleanor painted the landscapes and cityscapes they sailed to. So it was a pleasure to travel to Suzhou, by high speed train, not by boat, and see for myself these picturesque canals, pagodas and arched bridges. I also visited Hangzhou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. site and was taken with the gray-blue expanse of West Lake and Sky Mountain Phoenix.

Award-winning Scottish author's latest novel takes place in 1920s Shanghai

“Suzhou” by artist Eleanor Allen Moore

“I was so happy to have had the opportunity to experience this and get a glimpse of 1920s Shanghai with the help of Patrick Cranley of Historic Shanghai and John D Van Fleet of the Royal Asiatic Society of Shanghai. Patrick told me everything about the lives of foreign women like Eleanor, who with their cars, their servants, their amahs, their drivers and their gardeners, enjoyed great freedom in relation to household chores and the care of children. But unlike other expatriate brides, Eleanor took advantage of this time to observe and paint the world around her.

“Eleanor’s independent spirit and courage was typical of the colorful Glasgow Girls, who clashed with a respectable society, and I brought elements of their strong characters into my novel, which covers a period of dramatic change from 1909 to 1929 and moved between Kirkcudbright in southern Scotland, Glasgow and Shanghai.

“There are many more amazing Glasgow girls, each of them innovating in their own inimitable style and lively the way they wanted. I hope I managed to capture their courage and adventurous spirit in my book, and I would love if their art could be admired once more, and if more people could experience the charms of old Shanghai. “

Will Scott is a Shanghai-based journalist and author of “Pavel Is a Geordie”.

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