We Can Do This

The Book of Skulls

Genderbending period crime feature and novel in development

Logline : A cross-dressing Victorian doctor and her assistant track down a killer phrenologist..

Premise

In 1870’s Edinburgh; a time when there are no female doctors, a doctor’s assistant discovers that her boss is female. The two women use early forensics to help the police to catch a killer phrenologist.


Inspiration

Sofia Jex-Blake and Mary Edith Pechey-Phipson
Sofia Jex-Blake (portrait by Samuel Laurence 1865) and (Mary) Edith Pechey-Phipson (by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, 1870s - NPG)

The Edinburgh Seven were a group of women (Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell), instigated by Sofia Jex-Blake,who were the first women ever to matriculate at a British university.

Sofia Jex-Blake
New painting of Sofia Jex-Blake

Study for The Edinburgh Seve
Study for The Edinburgh Seven

Inspired by the Edinburgh Seven I created The Book of Skulls in 2010, a video game for the interactive writing section of my MA in Screenwriting. Liz Moiliette, student doctor investigates a series of gruesome murders in Edinburgh's Old Town. Over the course of the game the protagonist discovers clues which seem to lead to a phrenology obsessed antagonist. But all is not what it seems… is the killer even human?

Liz had all the feistiness of the Edinburgh Seven distilled into one person but she also had an action figure's weapons such as a rope disguised as a bustle on her dress and an umbrella with a dagger point.


Dr James Miranda Barry and Danzer
Dr James Miranda Barry, his servant Danzer and the dog Psyche

Dr James Miranda Barry
New painting of Dr James Miranda Barry

I later came across James Miranda Barry, who in 1812 graduated in Edinburgh as a doctor disguised as a man. Barry had been born Margaret Bulkley and took on their uncle's name. Only on their death was it discovered that they were female and had possibly given birth to a child.

Liz Moiliette and Dr Florian Blyth
Liz Moliette tries to check Dr Florian Blyth's wound after a mugging

Using the storyworld of The Book of Skulls, I went on to create the characters Dr Florian Blyth and Charles Okora, inspired by Dr Barry and Danzer. The new aim was to write a pilot for a TV series that could also stand alone as a feature. I'd recently done a MOOC in Forensics and dropped the sci-fi elements for a more real forensics based plot. Liz also changed, becoming less of an action figure and more cerebral. I introduced fellow student Indian woman Amuyla Patel and intergrated gay couple reporter Hector Findlay and student Campbell Preeble.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The author Conan Doyle was a medical student at Edinburgh University. His lecturer Dr Joseph Bell was also a police surgeon and is said to be the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's fellow student and serial killer Thomas Neill Cream is also said to be a possible inspiration for Holme's nemesis Professor Moriarty. This gave me the idea for having a lecturer as an antagonist. I then created Dr Paul Love, a lecturer and phrenologist (phrenology is a pseudoscience concerning the shape of people's skulls).


The Book of Skulls
Dr Love adds a new specimen to his phrenology collection


Exhibition

Medical Inspirations

21st Oct to 7th Nov, (week days 10am to 4pm) 2019

Chaplaincy Centre, University of Edinburgh, 1 Bristo Pl, Edinburgh EH8 9AL

The exhibition will feature paintings from Doctresses,cartoons by my Great Aunt Helena Sutherland of her stay in Raigmore Hospital in the late 60's, and (online) video interviews with current female medical students studying at Edinburgh University.

More info on the Doctresses Facebook page