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Monday, 29 August 2016

Devil’s Porridge: the munitionettes who risked their lives to make it

My new murder mystery book, Devil’s Porridge, involves munitionettes who mixed the volatile substance known as Devil’s Porridge So, following on from my previous post about the munitions factory where they worked, I thought I might share with you some of my research into the women who produced the ammunition which helped to win the First World War.
Gretna munitions factory was a massive place which employed something like 30,000 workers, many of whom were the women and girls the newspapers had nicknamed munitionettes. These munitionettes risked their health and their lives in the munitions factories during the Great War, although no recognition was given to them at this time.
Cordite Section Mossband
HM Factory Gretna was established to produce Cordite RDB a propellant required for the manufacture of bombs. The end result, the cordite, was produced at the Mossband end of the factory site and resembled spaghetti. However, my novel, Devil’s Porridge, focuses on the opposite end of the site at Eastriggs where the devil’s porridge was mixed. This was the paste that was used to make the cordite.
Devil’s porridge was the name given to the paste which the munitionettes kneaded and mixed with their bare hands as if they were making a massive loaf of bread. The mixture they were kneading, in the large lead tubs, was gun-cotton and nitroglycerine, a highly explosive substance.
The name ‘devil’s porridge’ was coined by Arthur Conan Doyle, in an article, he wrote for the Annandale Observer, published in December 1916. He said: “The nitroglycerine on the one side and the gun-cotton on the other are kneaded together into a sort of devil’s porridge. The least generation of heat may cause an explosion. Those smiling khaki-clad girls who are swirling the stuff round in their hands would be blown to atoms in an instant if very small changes occur. The girls smile and stir their ‘devil’s’ porridge, but it is a narrow margin between life and death.”
Not only did the munitionettes risk their lives mixing the devil’s porridge, they also risked their health. Fumes from the acids they used affected their breathing and caused their hair and teeth to fall out, although I think there was less risk of their skin turning yellow which was caused when munitionettes worked with TNT (trinitrotoluene) and led to them being called ‘canary girls’. As far as I can tell, HM Factory did not work with TNT.
Some quotes from munitionettes:
“I remember once a girl was killed in the factory, up at Broomhills, the acid point. They said dirt had gotten into the gun-cotton and that was what caused it.”
“The acid plant was a nasty place. Whiffs of acid would keep coming over every now and again, and use to fairly take your breath away. My gums were all poisoned with the acid and I had to have all my teeth taken out.”
“We worked in three shifts and we went to work in trains with wooden seats. We changed into overalls and hats to cover all our hair and shoes that must not touch the ground outside where we worked.”
Munitionettes going into the railway station on their way to work
The munitionettes came from all levels of society and from all over the country, to work at Gretna Munitions factory, and afterwards, they returned to their previous lives because there was no longer a role for them in peacetime Britain. Their contribution to the war effort was soon forgotten and it is for this reason I have dedicated my new novel, Devil’s Porridge, to their memory.
Most of the action in Devil’s Porridge, takes place in Gretna township, one of the new towns built to service the factory workers, and in a mixing station at the Eastriggs end of the site, hence the name, Devil’s Porridge. I have incorporated munitionettes, Irish navvies, the women police who patrolled the factory, and I’ve thrown in a German spy for good measure. Naturally the sabotage, assassination, and murder elements of the plot are solely fictional, but quite a lot of factual information has been woven in, and I hope you won’t see the join between fact and fiction.
My next post will cover the two new townships, Gretna and Eastriggs. Following that I will do a post covering the involvement of the newly formed Women’s Police Service, and the ‘lady police’, at Gretna Munitions Factory.
Chris Longmuir
You can buy Devil’s Porridge here:

If you would like a free short story featuring DS Bill Murphy from my popular Dundee Crime Series then visit my website or click here and fill in a form to tell me where to send it.
Meet Bill Murphy long before he became a policeman. Get a taste of the child that made the man.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Pauline Barclay’s New Book: The Wendy House

I have been a friend of Pauline Barclay ever since I was part of Famous Five Plus which she organised and managed. That group is no longer operational but we have remained friends ever since. She now runs the fabulous blog Chill With a Book it’s worth taking a look at it because she recommends great books. So when she told me she was publishing her new book The Wendy House on 3 September, I begged her to let me see the cover, and now I’m sharing it with you.

So, here it is:

Cover Reveal: The Wendy House by Pauline Barclay

When Nicola changes overnight from a bright, happy young child into a sullen, rebellious girl, ceasing to show interest in anything or anyone around her, her parents struggle to understand why. As she develops into a difficult, troubled, hostile teenager they put it down to hormones, believing it will pass. Yet Nicola goes from bad to worse and no matter how much her mother tries to reach out to her, it seems she is hell bent on self-destruction. When she leaves home at seventeen, rushing into the arms of a man ten years her senior and quickly becoming pregnant, her despairing mother almost gives up on her. A decade later, the events that stole Nicola’s childhood and changed the course of her life threaten finally to destroy her. She knows if she is to cling on to her sanity she must tell her mother the dreadful secret she has carried all these years, but her fear that she will be met with disbelief, hostility and branded an evil liar drives her to the edge.

A heart-rending story of betrayal, secrets and gripping fear.

Publication Date: Saturday 3rd September
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Family-Noir

The Wendy House is available in Kindle for pre-order on all Amazon sites including

A little about Pauline

I am from Yorkshire, but have lived in several different locations including, Suffolk, Surrey and Holland.  Today, I live on one of the beautiful volcanic islands of the Canary Isles with my husband and our two gorgeous rescue doggies.

Years ago I gained a BA (Hons) degree from the Open University, today I spend my time writing fiction. I have five books published, plus a 20 minute short festive story.

My passion is to write about events that happen in life and change everything for those involved as well as those caught up in the maelstrom. I want my characters to sit at your side, steal your attention and sweep you up in their story. Stories that will bring tears to your eyes, have you laughing out loud and sometimes, what they share with you, will stay  in your hearts for a very long time.

Twitter: @paulinembarclay
Instagram: @paulinebarclay

Monday, 22 August 2016

Devil’s Porridge & Gretna Munitions Factory

Illustration of part of Gretna Munitions Factory snapped at the Devil's Porridge Museum, Eastriggs
I’ve set my new murder mystery book, Devil’s Porridge, in Gretna and I thought you might want to know a little about the munitions factory where two of the murders (fictional) take place.
In August 1916, 100 years ago this month, H.M. Factory, Gretna, Britain’s largest First World War cordite producing factory, became fully operational. It was a highly secret facility, codenamed Moorside, situated in a remote area which, it was thought, would prove difficult for German planes and Zeppelins to reach.
The site chosen for Gretna Munitions Factory was a large, sparsely populated, green field area, on the shores of the Solway Firth. The land was acquired by the Ministry of Munitions at the start of the First World War, and various farms situated there were taken over by compulsory purchase orders.
The first surveys of the site were completed in early 1915. Construction work commenced in August 1915, with work going on around the clock. Several thousand Irish navvies were drafted in as construction workers, 600 rail trucks loaded with building materials arrived daily, and there were approximately 30,000 people working on the site at any one time. Production in some areas started in June 1916, and the factory became fully operational in August 1916, producing over 800 tons of ammunition each week. The women and girls responsible for producing this ammunition were nicknamed munitionettes by the newspapers.
The factory was two miles wide and over nine miles in length, beginning at Dornock/Eastriggs in Scotland, and following the coast of the Solway Estuary to Mossband near Longtown, in England. It had 30 miles of road, 125 miles of railway track, 34 railway engines, 100 miles of water main, a water treatment plant handling 10 million gallons of water every day, a power station, a telephone exchange, bakeries producing 13,000 loaves and 14,000 meals daily, and a laundry for approximately 6,000 items on a daily basis.
There were thirty Paste Mixing Houses – six to each nitroglycerine section – where nitroglycerine and guncotton were mixed together into cordite paste at the Dornock end of the factory. To make the paste, the munitionettes kneaded the guncotton and nitroglycerine together with their bare hands in large lead tubs, the result resembled dough or thick porridge, and earned the name Devil’s Porridge. The end product, the paste, was then transferred to the Mossband area to make into cordite, a propellant which had been in short supply prior to the construction of Gretna Munitions factory.

The factory was self-sufficient with its own water mains, steam boilers, a hydraulic plant, a refrigerating plant, a power house for generating electricity, and a railway system within the site which also connected up with the main North British and Caledonian Railways. In addition, two new towns, Gretna and Eastriggs, were built. I will talk about them in my next blog post.
Most of the action in my new book Devil’s Porridge, takes place in Gretna township, one of the new towns built to service the factory workers, and in a mixing station at the Eastriggs end of the site, hence the name, Devil’s Porridge. I have incorporated munitionettes, Irish navvies, the women police who patrolled the factory, and I’ve thrown in a German spy for good measure. Naturally the sabotage, assassination, and murder elements of the plot are solely fictional, but quite a lot of factual information has been woven in, and I hope you won’t see the join between fact and fiction.
My next post will cover the two new townships, Gretna and Eastriggs. Following that I will do a post covering the involvement of the newly formed Women’s Police Service, and the ‘lady police’, at Gretna Munitions Factory.

Chris Longmuir
You can buy Devil’s Porridge here:

Friday, 5 August 2016

Murder, Mystery, and Munitions: Devil’s Porridge hit Amazon’s shelves this week

This book has been nagging me to write it for a long time now, but I kept putting it off to write other books. However, it’s been niggling at me, and nagging me, demanding to be written.

I suppose one of the reasons I kept putting it on the back burner was the simple one, that it wasn’t one of my Dundee crime books. All my previous murder, mysteries have been set in Dundee, either in the present day, or in the past. But this one is set in Gretna, where the government built a massive munitions factory in 1916.

My main character is Kirsty Campbell, you might remember her from The Death Game as Dundee’s first policewoman in 1919. This time I’ve taken Kirsty back two years to 1917, and based her in Gretna as one of the lady police who were based there during the First World War. Ever since I read about these policewomen providing a service in Britain’s munitions factories, I’ve been fascinated by them, and that’s one of the reasons this book nagged me to write it.

Devil’s Porridge is a complex story with quite a lot of characters, and I write in my usual multi-viewpoint style. It’s about my pioneering policewoman, Kirsty Campbell, who teams up with Beatrice Jacobs, a Belgian refugee, who is on a spying mission at Gretna for MI5. They come together to protect Sally, a young munitionette, who has witnessed the aftermath of a crime when the Silverwood Munitions Factory, in East London, explodes. Sally, who lost her home and all her possessions in the explosion, which flattened most of Silvertown, is sent to work at Gretna. But the killer, the man she can identify, is at Gretna as well. In the process of protecting Sally, Kirsty and Beatrice become embroiled with saboteurs, Irish revolutionaries, a German spy, and a killer without a conscience.

I’m not telling you any more about the story because I don’t want to spoil it for you. But Chill with a Book described it as ‘a criminally good read’.

Chris Longmuir

You can buy Devil’s Porridge as an ebook or a paperback:

UK – ebook      – paperback
US – ebook      - paperback

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Devil's Porridge coming soon

Murder Mystery and Munitions

East London, January 1917:

"He pulled her into his arms and kissed her long and hard before he strangled her. With a last glance at the fire, he turned and ran for the door to escape the inevitable explosion."

Sixteen-year-old munitionette, Sally, witnesses the saboteur escaping from the explosion at Silvertown Munitions Factory. When their paths cross again at Gretna Munitions Factory, he knows she can identify him, and that he dare not hesitate to kill again.

The explosion has set off a lethal chain of events, and when policewoman Kirsty Campbell, and MI6 agent Beatrice, join forces to protect Sally, they find themselves following a murderous trail that entangles them with saboteurs, Irish revolutionaries, a German spy, and a plot to assassinate the King.

The body count is rising. The clock is ticking. And the stakes are higher than Kirsty could ever have imagined.

Read the first chapter here.

Chris Longmuir

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Tarting up Night Watcher

Night Watcher was not my first book, but it was the first one I published on Kindle as an ebook. Initially, I did what we are not supposed to do, I designed my own cover. You see, publishing to Kindle was a new venture for me and I had no idea how it would work out. I might not even sell a single book.

However, to my astonishment, it sold quite well, and before long I decided to invest in a professional cover, and I found the amazing Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics. I was pleased with that cover, but as I went on to publish more books in the Dundee Crime Series, there was a subtle change in the covers I commissioned. The covers of the later books were moodier, and darker, to suit the kind of stories I tell. Night Watcher no longer fitted the mould and stood out as different from the others. The image was still all right, but the fonts had changed and there was a substantial difference to the overall look.
Dundee Crime Series

This difference niggled at me for a while, and then I decided to commission a completely new cover. The theme would be much the same, but the fonts and layout would be tailored to fit in with the other covers in the series.

Cathy Helms worked her magic again and produced a stunning cover as well as a poster for the series which I could use on the web. I hope you like the result.

Chris Longmuir

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Scottish Art’s Hidden Treasure – Hospitalfield House: A visit by the Society of Authors in Scotland

Society of Authors' members on the visit

Hospitalfield House has often been described as Scottish art’s hidden treasure and thought by many to be one of the finest country houses in Scotland. I was lucky enough to be asked to arrange a visit there for members of the Society of Authors in Scotland.
Hospitalfield House
The organisation of the visit was a fairly smooth process due to the helpfulness of the staff. Scott Byrne, in particular, was instrumental in ensuring the visit went smoothly. He arranged the guide, the coffee and cake before the tour, and lunch afterwards. Thanks to him the visit was an outstanding success.
I couldn't resist this view of the first-floor landing leading to the rooms

Twelve members of the Society of Authors booked for the visit and we gathered outside the house before the commencement of the tour. Most of us were strangers to each other but we soon gelled into a friendly group over coffee and cake. Then the tour guide, who said he was a volunteer, provided an in-depth talk on the history of the house and its artefacts as he guided us through the various rooms.
A few of the wonderful tapestries on display

You will find Hospitalfield House in the seaside town of Arbroath which is also known for its abbey where the Declaration of Independence, officially known as the Declaration of Arbroath, was signed in 1320. The house was founded, in 1260, by the monks of the abbey as a leprosy and plague hospice. By 1325 the building and land was leased, by the Church, to two farmers, a provision being that they build a byre and a barn. But the Reformation in the 16th century spelled the end of the ownership of Hospitalfield by the Church.

The Fraser family assumed ownership of the house and lands in 1664 when the Reverend James Fraser, of Arbroath parish, bought Hospitalfield and made it his home. The house remained in the Fraser Family until the death of Patrick Allan Fraser in 1890.

Patrick Allan Fraser was a renowned artist, curator and collector, and a philanthropist who supported and encouraged the arts. He and his wife were childless and on his death Hospitalfield was left in trust to support and encourage young artists. The trust still carries the original name The Patrick Allan-Fraser of Hospitalfield Trust, and the aims are the same  - to run Hospitalfield as a cultural organisation for artists and for education in the arts. This aim is met by a variety of programmes.
Where else would you find writers but in the library
But, enough of the history, the house is magnificent. It certainly lives up to its name as one of the finest country houses in Scotland, and I was fascinated by the number of heads and faces carved into the stone facade of the house. Inside we were conducted through room after room containing statues, oil paintings, antique furniture, tapestries and lots more. Words cannot express the magnificence of what we viewed and the photos I’ve included here only show a very small selection of the treasures we saw. I can only advise you go to Hospitalfield and look for yourself.
One of the carved heads overlooking the front door
At the end of the tour a lovely buffet lunch awaited us. Healthy salads quiche and meats, followed by less healthy scones with spread with strawberries and cream. I think it safe to say a good time was had by all.
The lunch must have been good, the plates are empty
After lunch a visit to the fernery

Thank you, Hospitalfield for a lovely experience.

Links to Hospitalfield House

I can strongly recommend a visit to Hospitalfield.

Chris Longmuir