Everyone has heard of Jack the Ripper, who killed five women, but what about the Ogress of Reading Amelia Dyer?

She was a baby farmer and murderer who took, it is believed, more than 400 young lives.

Debut author Eithne Cullen, who lived in Enfield for many years before going east to Waltham Forest, has published her first novel, titled The Ogress of Reading. 

It is a mixture of fiction and fact to explore Amelia Dyer’s crimes and the lives of those affected by them. 

I spoke to her to find out more…

How old are you and what do you do for a living?

I was a teacher for 37 years and retired last year. I am using the time I have now to concentrate on myself, my hobbies and my writing. I turned 60 in 2017. 

Tell me about the book and why you wrote it

I have been writing stories and poems for a while and belong to some writing groups, which I find very helpful.

In 2016 I spotted a call out for a project called Dangerous Women. At this time, I also heard Michael Gove announce that he was closing some prisons, Holloway included, and they would be converted to flats. I came up with the idea of writing about the dangerous women who had been held in Holloway Prison. The piece became a monologue, spoken by the prison, called Slopping Out.

What was your writing process?

While I was writing this piece, I read about lots of the women who were executed in Holloway. There were a lot of amazing stories there. Among the stories of women who killed their husbands and lovers, I came across stories about a group of women who were described as baby murderers and baby killers; it seemed to be a well-known crime in Victorian times. One of these baby killers was Amelia Dyer. She confessed to killing four hundred babies and was hanged for her crimes. 

I was really intrigued about the fact that we’ve all heard of some famous murderers but couldn’t understand why we hadn’t heard about this monstrous woman who admitted to killing 400 babies. There was a ballad written about her, called The Ogress of Reading, and I thought the title was a great one for the book. 

Was it hard to get published?

At this time, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s Pen to Print initiative announced the theme of their book challenge, for a book based on a real person. I decided to write about Amelia Dyer. I was shortlisted which meant I was able to work with a mentor who helped me to get over any writer’s block and encouraged me to tell the story I wanted to tell the way I wanted to tell it. I would say this is good advice for anyone who wants to write. 

Will you write another book – any ideas?

I am already working on my second novel, which is fiction, and is called Never Not in My Thoughts. 

The Ogress of Reading launches on January 18 at Barking Library.