Victoria Shepherd

Author of A History of Delusions: the Glass King, a Substitute Husband and a Walking Corpse, published by Oneworld, June 2022

Read a review of the book in the Washington Post:

Historian (rep. Luigi Bonomi at LBA Books

Audio producer of documentaries and long-form narrative series for BBC and others.

Read starred review

Festivals and events 2022:

The book

A History of Delusions; the Glass King, a Substitute Husband and a Walking Corpse is a social history exploring an intriguing psychological phenomenon, told through the lives of ten people from the past who have lived inside an alternative reality. Published June 2022 by Oneworld/July in the U.S. (Simon and Schuster).

Publicity contact: Margot Weale at Oneworld (For U.S. Katelynn Dreyer

The glass king

My interest in delusions sparked when I stumbled across the early modern phenomenon of ‘Glass delusion’ by chance while researching another documentary for BBC Radio 4. A bizarre royal anecdote jumped off the page: the fourteenth century King Charles VI of France had wrapped himself in blankets because he lived in mortal fear of shattering when he sat down. It’s an absurd image, but unsettling also and I became curious to learn about others who had experienced fixed, false beliefs. I have been trying to understand delusions better ever since. Why do so many of us construct an alternative reality for ourselves? Why do we cling to false beliefs seemingly for dear life, despite abundant contrary evidence from those around us, risking ridicule? What do delusions offer us? Are they protective? I set off into the archives of London and Paris in search of answers from the past. I found a Paris housewife in the early 1920s who believed her husband had been murdered and swapped for a double; a woman from the 1880s who believed she was already dead and James Tilly Matthews a British diplomat in France in the 1790s during the Revolution who conceived a paranoid conspiracy theory that a gang of Jacobin sympathisers were using invisible magnetic forces to overthrow the Westminster government. A documentary for BBC Radio 4 looking at Glass Delusion followed, and then a ten-part series with clinical psychologist Professor Daniel Freeman which included Freeman’s compelling conversations with people who have experienced delusions in recent years.

This book goes back into the past in search of historical accounts of delusions. What were the real lives and struggles behind the bizarre psychiatric case studies in the archives? These individuals were separated by hundreds of years, but there were common features to their delusions, and they began to speak to each other. Again and again I met people navigating a wretched existence, a reversal of fortune or a unreconcilable conflict…

A short biography

I’m a born and bred south Londoner wandering in the area where social history and psychology meet. I’m currently writing a book about the antiquarian, George Fabian Lawrence.

I have an M.A form UEA in creative writing.

My short film documentary ‘2 Princelet Street’ was selected by the National Film School Docs programme. It traced all the owners and residents of a Georgian town house in Spitalfields, East London, where the eighteenth century silk designer and botanical artist Anna Maria Garthwaite lived as commemorated by a blue plaque

Long-form narrative storytelling for audio

Much of my archive of over a hundred credits as producer of history/science documentaries can be found on BBC Sounds.

Highlights: ‘A History of Delusions’, presented by Professor Daniel Freeman (10×15′ series co-produced with Eve Streeter), ‘This Old Heart of Mine’, presented by Giles Fraser (5×10′ series) ‘The History of the Future’ (10×15′ series) ‘A Natural History of the Banker’ presented by Andrew Ross Sorkin ‘The Glass Delusion’, presented by Adam Phillips and ‘Experiments in Living’ presented by Juliet Gardiner; ‘The Periodic Table’ (5×15′) presented by Chris Addison; ‘Headstrong and Proud’ (10×15) presented by Michael Crick, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, presented by Salman Rushdie.

I also made numerous features as a reporter for R4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’, including an exploration of the Chelsea townhouse of Thomas and Jane Carlye, a survey of the eighteenth century tokens left with the babies at the Foundling Museum, and a search of William Gladstone’s personal library in North Wales looking for evidence that he really did read a book a day.

Strands: I’ve produced ‘Open Book’; ‘The Film Programme’, ‘Night Waves’ (Free Thinking) for Radio 3, Men’s Hour and was Senior Producer/Editor for the BBC Radio 4 strands ‘The Kitchen Cabinet’ with Jay Rayner and Gardeners’ Question Time.


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