‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfil it’ George Santayana
History Interpreter – Writer – Speaker – Researcher
The Jesuits say ‘give me a child until they are seven and I will show you the man’, or woman of course. When I was seven I spent my time making up impossibly large families in ‘my famerley book’ (spelling was not a strong point). I also wrote long stories or played complicated, extended games of schools. Although I enjoyed ‘dressing up’, I hadn’t yet started donning period costume but most other aspects of my current life were there in embryonic form.
Although I have, I hope, a reputation as an academic historian, I believe good history is for everyone. As The History Interpreter, I aim to bring history alive in a variety of ways. I am passionate about encouraging young people to become interested in the past, especially through living history or family history. Many of my ideas are shared in my booklet Harnessing the Facebook Generation: ideas for involving young people in family history and heritage. I spend part of my time as my alter ego, Mistress Agnes, living in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, managing the Swords and Spindles team of historical interpreters. My social history book Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of our seventeenth century ancestors, emerged out of this experience. I am particularly interested in the role of women in the past and helped eighty ladies recall their memories of the pivotal period 1946-1969. These have been merged together in Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own. Details of my non-fiction books can be found here.
I have also written two historical novels and a couple of short stories, winning the Trip Fiction short story competition in 2020. The first novel, Barefoot on the Cobbles, was published in 2018. Inevitably the novel is set in the past, in this case in the early years of the twentieth century. The story is based on a real tragedy that lay hidden for nearly a century and includes murder, shipwrecks, disease and some lighter moments! Rooted in its unique and beautiful geographical setting, here is the unfolding of a past that reverberates unhappily through the decades and of raw emotions that are surprisingly modern in character.
My second novel, Sins as Red as Scarlet, tells the true story of an earlier Devon tragedy. It is set in the seventeenth century, where the characters encounter plague, war, religious turmoil and witchcraft trials. This novel also has a modern strand and we follow sixteen year old Martha as she researches the history of her home town and draws parallels between her own life and those of the former inhabitants of the community.
I enjoy dissecting small, rural communities and trying to understand how they functioned in the past. In this respect, I maintain my own one place studies for the North Devon villages of Buckland Brewer, Bucks Mills and Bulkworthy. No, I am not working my way through the alphabet! I am also studying the isolated community of Thockrinton in Northumberland. I am a founder member and former chair of the Society for One-Place Studies and I have written guides to that peculiar blend of local and family history that is one place studies Ten Steps to a One-place Study is my introductory guide.
I also research my own family history, with an emphasis on putting the lives of my ancestors into a wider context. I am responsible for the latest edition of the classic family history handbook Family Historian’s Enquire Within. I teach family and local history classes and am a tutor for Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd. who offer a range of online genealogical courses.
I work closely with historical organisations in my home county of Devon and I am the chairman of Devon Family History Society and the convener of their virtual meetings. The Isle of Wight Family History Society have done me the honour of appointing me one of their vice-presidents. As historian for The Braund Family History Society I have immersed myself in the origins, genealogy and biography of this west country family and have written several books about them. I am also a long-standing member of the Guild of One-Name Studies and their regional representative for Cornwall.
You can read about my chaotic historical life on my blog at Latest News from the History Interpreter. Here you will find my ramblings about history, genealogy and writing, as well as accounts of my various travels hither and yon. If you want to keep up to date, do click ‘follow’. You can also follow me on Twitter @janetfew but beware, I have no idea where I am going.
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The material, both written and photographic, on these pages is the copyright of Janet Few unless stated. Text and illustrations on this site may be used for personal reference only. If you wish to use any of the material on this site for other purposes, please seek the written permission of Janet Few © 2012-2021.
‘The past is history not destiny’ US President Clinton speaking of the situation in Ireland – December 2000