The Conviction of Cora Burns
Carolyn Kirby

The Conviction of Cora Burns

WINNER - Bluepencilagency First Novel Award

RUNNER-UP - Daniel Goldsmith First Novel Prize

LONGLISTED - MSlexia Prize

The Conviction of Cora Burns is a thriller set in 1880s Birmingham about a troubled young woman, Cora Burns, who uncovers the dark secrets in her past through an encounter with new ideas about Nature versus Nurture.

Cora has always struggled to control the violence inside her. Does this temperament come from the mother she never knew, a convict who gave birth to her in gaol? Or is Cora a product of her harsh upbringing in the workhouse? Whatever the origins of her impulses, Cora fears that they may have led her, when she was herself a child, to kill a little boy.

But does the blame really lie with Cora’s childhood friend Alice Salt? Alice was there when the boy died then disappeared. Years later, when Cora is imprisoned for an assault on own her baby and tormented by grief and shame, she resolves to know the truth that only Alice can reveal. Cora’s sole clue to finding her workhouse “sister,” is a bronze medal cut in half and engraved with the word “SALT.”

On her release, Cora finds herself working as a servant in the home of Thomas Jerwood, a gentleman-scientist obsessed with his study of heredity. Here Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment into upbringing and character. But are there two identical girls called Violet? And is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora?

Then, when she finds a set of coins in Thomas Jerwood’s collection that are just like her own half-medal, Cora’s hidden past begins to unravel. Is she as cold and selfish as the man who now seems to be her father? And is she as vulnerable to madness as her mother who was also Thomas Jerwood’s servant and who has spent the past twenty years in the asylum? Cora’s turmoil culminates in the discovery that Alice Salt only ever existed in her own imagination. The crimes in Cora’s past are hers alone.

But Cora realises that although her complex nature may be inborn, her grit is her own. With ingenuity and determination she finds a way to help Violet, and in doing so grasps an opportunity to create a hopeful future for herself and her son. Personality is not, after all, an unalterable product of biology and upbringing because Cora finds, in the end, the strength to change.

Book Details:

  • Author: Carolyn Kirby
  • Published Year: 2019
  • Rights Sold
    • UK: No Exit Press
    • US: Dzanc Books
Carolyn Kirby

Carolyn Kirby

Carolyn Kirby studied history at Oxford University and novel writing at Faber Academy. Her novel Half of You, a thriller set in 1880’s Birmingham, follows its troubled protagonist’s search for the roots of her scarred personality amidst the origins psychiatry and new ideas about ‘Nature versus Nurture.’ As the dark secrets of her past unravel, Cora must decide if her own nature is an unalterable product of biology and upbringing or if she has the strength to change. The book was runner-up in the Daniel Goldsmith First Novel Prize in 2017. Darcy Nicholson, one of the...
More about Carolyn Kirby

Book Reviews

  • "The Conviction of Cora Burns is a striking debut. Rich in gothic darkness and period detail, the brutality of Victorian Britain is exquisitely drawn. A beautifully-written story which enveloped me from first page to last."
    Amanda Jennings, author of Cliff House and In Her Wake
  • "Kirby's talent shines through her deft prose...I think this is a fantastic novel from an incredibly exciting new voice. I think fans of Sarah Waters would love this bold debut."
    Emily Elgar, author of If You Knew Her
  • "An assured debut - atmospheric, dark and emotive. The story is sure to stay with readers long after turning the final page."
    Sam Carrington
  • "Carolyn Kirby creates an unforgettable character in the spirited and fascinating Cora Burns. The voice transports us to the world of late nineteenth century Birmingham and we are drawn into Cora's dark mystery from the first page. A truly haunting and original début."
    Jacqui Lofthouse, author of 'Bluethroat Morning' and 'The Modigliani Girl'
  • "A poignant reflection on the possibility of personal redemption and the potential within each person and society, to recognize and cherish human dignity and shed the injustices of the past."
    Alice Hatcher author of The Wonder That Was Ours
  • "Carolyn Kirby is a born storyteller - a Charles Dickens for the 21st century."
    Jay Neugeboren, Author of Imagining Robert and The Stolen Jew
  • "Carolyn Kirby’s unforgettable debut is a painstaking, kaleidoscopic, deeply unsettling, deeply thrilling, expansive, provocatively masterful novel."
    Charles Blackstone, author of Vintage Attraction
  • "Kirby’s superb psychological thriller just about garrotes you in suspense. Is violence a product of nature or nurture? Can we shape who we are, and once shaped, can we ever change?"
    Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow
  • "A gripping historical thriller with a compelling protagonist. I loved the period detail and can't wait to read more from Carolyn Kirby."
    Sarah Ward, Author of the DC Childs novels
  • "Unique and utterly engrossing."
    Emily Elgar, author of If You Knew Her
  • "Downton Abbey meets Elizabeth Gaskell."
    GJ Minett, author of Lie In Wait, The Hidden Legacy and Anything For Her
  • "An intriguing story of loss, doubleness, and sinister scientific experiment. Carolyn Kirby conjures up the nineteenth-century in a way that will surely satisfy all devotees of “Vic-lit."
    Gaynor Arnold, author of Girl In A Blue Dress
  • "In a novel that deftly illustrates so many social horrors, Kirby delivers a complicated picture of Cora that defies easy Characterization ... The suspicion and risk that permeate Cora’s few choices reveal the disproportionate power accorded to the wealthy and to men, even when their deeds display wanton inhumanity."
    Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword Magazine
  • "A fascinating and evocative journey through the heartbreaking secrets of Cora’s past, and a memorable exploration of nature versus nurture."
    Rachael Edwards, author of Darling
  • "It’s an absorbing read, packed full of period detail and it’s great to read such an assured debut."
    Sarah Ward, Crime Pieces
  • "If you enjoy a historical novel with a gothic feel, with a strong heroine uncovering secrets from her past and one which makes you think about personality and heredity, then do try this….It is a gripping story, a haunting and original debut and full of period detail. Cora is a sympathetic and feisty character. Finding out about her crime and background give the story a strong narrative flow but I liked the addition of essays and scientific papers from Jerwood on his experiments in human nature. "
    NB Magazine
  • "Kirby’s assured debut depicts the travails of a displaced daughter in Victorian England….the language is atmospheric and perfectly pitched, and the dialogue is spare and evocative.An ambitious effort that, despite its imperfections, will keep readers riveted.  "
  • "This richly woven Gothic tale is an atmospheric treat."
    Heat Magazine
  • "Kirby writes with skill and gusto."
    The Times
  • "Even at its darkest it is beautifully written, the research is meticulous and the complex Cora makes a flawed but affecting heroine. A great historical novel with bite."
    Sunday Mirror
  • "A gripping story, a haunting and original debut and full of period detail."
    New Books Magazine
  • "This brilliant book is a masterful piece of literature that will pull you in from the very beginning with its intelligent discourse about personality and behavior."
    Historical Novel Society