In this two-part author spotlight, I would like to introduce Kim Forester who has just independently published her non-fiction book Inside Broadmoor (Secrets of the Criminally Insane – Revealed by the Chief Attendant) based on the journals kept by her Great Great Grandfather Charles Bishop Coleman who worked at Broadmoor Prison for the criminally insane in the last half of the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century.
I have read it and it is a very interesting read indeed!
Who are you and what do you do? (Tell us a little bit about yourself)
My name is Kim Forester and I was born in the South East of England, although I now live in East Anglia. My early years were spent in Berkshire and my teens in the West Country. As an adult I moved back to Berkshire and amongst other jobs, worked and travelled for an American company in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and the USA. A further move, to West Wales, saw a challenging change of direction for me, working for the Crown Prosecution Service with Dyfed Powys Police in a joint unit assisting victims and witnesses of crime. For family reasons I recently moved to East Anglia, and continue to work full time at a power station in the renewable energy industry – for me, writing has to fit around the day job!
What is your book about?
A work of non-fiction, my book ‘Inside Broadmoor (Secrets of the Criminally Insane – Revealed by the Chief Attendant)’ is about the staff, patients and their crimes at the most famous hospital for the criminally insane in the world, between the years of 1873 and 1912. It has at its core, the starting point of my Great Great Grandfather Charles Bishop Coleman’s notebooks and diaries. He began as an Assistant Attendant and worked his way up to the top job of Chief Attendant during his 38 years service, during which he wrote about and recorded his time at the Hospital between those years. Each of the 180 entries I have included in the book is a ‘jumping off point’ for the sad, grisly, and sometimes redemptive tales of individuals who served time at Broadmoor during those years.
Why did you choose to write your book and who or what was the inspiration behind it?
The work did not begin as a book. I started researching on behalf of my Mother, purely from a shared interest in our family history. We knew very little about Charles before finding his papers and photographs following the loss of my Grandmother. We knew that several people in our family had worked at Broadmoor of course, but not what that really entailed. There is another book on the subject written by Berkshire Records Office Archivist, Mark Stevens, but his book finishes around the time my book begins. My family and I felt that by publishing, we would be able to open up this shadowy world further for others to explore should they wish. Sometimes, in genealogical research a small clue can take you in a whole new direction and Broadmoor continues to fascinate today. My Great Great Grandfather worked there during the crimes of ‘Jack the Ripper’ and today the Hospital holds the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’. We are endlessly intrigued by the darker side of human nature, probably because it is so alien to the vast majority of us.
What kind of research did you do?
Researching for this book was time consuming, detailed and required a lot of checking and double checking as you can imagine. When you are writing about the real lives of people (even those who passed away many years ago), it is important to do your best to try to get the facts as accurately recorded as possible. Where Charles’ notes helped me in this was because he listed dates, crimes and names. Once you have this information, you can work backwards and forwards through archives, court proceedings, contemporary newspaper reports, gaol records and any other ‘titbit’ of information you can find before bringing it all together to give a more rounded picture of an individual and their crime whilst not forgetting their victim(s). This has to be done for each individual and with 180 in the book you can see why it was such a big project and took several years.
What was the biggest challenge in writing the book?
The biggest challenge was probably to avoid temptation and also to know when to stop. One of my many research trips was to the Berkshire Records Office in Reading, but not to look at patients records. I used their files to double check what Charles Bishop Coleman recorded relating to his own service. I had contemplated asking to see certain individual’s records but ultimately decided that this would move me too far away from the core idea of the book, which was the viewpoint of Charles himself. The Medical Superintendant and his team of doctors of course recorded their opinions of patients at Broadmoor, but whilst fascinating, it seemed too much of an intrusion for me as a non-medical individual to expand upon this avenue of research.
Thank you Kim for a truly interesting insight into your book and your life.
Watch out for Part two of Kim’s Spotlight where she reveals some exciting news about her Great Great Grandfather’s journals.
You can purchase this fascinating book and find out more about Kim at the links below: