Rubbing Shoulders with Authors and some Technological Challenges

DSCF2644.JPGTo commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (allegedly) and also World Book Day, I spent an afternoon in our local independent book shop, Walter Henry’s of Bideford, in the company of other local authors. Putting an author in a bookshop really does need some kind of government health warning, especially as they also sell rather lovely wooden toys. I just wanted to rush out and buy copies of everything all the other authors had written. You can see the one I did buy in the picture alongside some of my own but there are several more on my wanted list.  It was lovely to see our books on display. Thanks to fellow author Ruth Downie for the honourable mention in her blog about the afternoon. This week I have been in author mode, working on my forthcoming online ‘writing up your family history’ course for Pharos Tutors and putting the finishing touches to my booklet about how to inspire young people to get involved in family and local history. You would not believe how many historical novels there are for children and I could only include a selection.

I have also, possibly, been inspired by my fiction writing colleagues to branch into the world of novel writing. It was either write a book or do an MA in experimental archaeology. I decided the latter may have to wait as it a) costs money and b) might be too restricting a time commitment. So research has begun, watch this space but probably not for a very long time.

Then there have been some technological challenges. I was invited to make a short video for World Book Day and to mark the launch of Libraries Unlimited. This was a bit of a performance, not least because I was in seventeenth century clothing and wanted a background that lacked things like light switches. I was born in the wrong decade for video taking to be an everyday occurrence and I don’t have a mobile phone. That’s a lie, I have an ‘emergency phone’ that does just that, makes phone calls and inevitably is never about my person in an emergency. It is pay as you go and I think I have put £15 of credit on it since I moved 10 years ago. Anyway lacking a phone or tablet, I enlisted my partner in crime to take the video using my camera. The first take was quite good but we had turned the camera sideways and I had no idea how to turn the resulting video back the right way round (I later learned that this can be done). Not wanting to give my adoring public cricks in the neck we did take 2. Not quite a good as take 1 but take 2 it had to be as by then I was near the deadline and I still had to work out how to send it to the person who was collating them. That took two attempts too.

Then finally finding the frustration of my internet dropping out at vital moments (which it has been doing for the past few months) I telephoned my provider and spent half an hour allegedly ‘fixing’ this. This involved a great deal of turning the router on and off, watching for lights on the router and reporting back to the person on the other end of the phone. Imagine the scenario, no mobile phone remember so I am on the landline in bedroom one. ‘Please turn off your router’, I am asked. I leap off the bed run along the landing corridor, launch myself at the spare bed in bedroom three. Stand on my head to get under the bed (which is heavily populated by my book stock), turn off said router, rush back down the corridor to report that mission is accomplished. ‘Have the lights gone out?’. Back down the corridor, launch self at bed, stand on head, etc. etc. This scenario was repeated numerous time over the course of the next half hour. At the end, some improvement in internet consistency but it has been decided that I need a new ‘super fast’ (that will be a relative term) router so the whole procedure was a waste of time.

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Who Do I Think I Am? and other genealocial bits

Like many other family historians I am in ‘recovering from ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ mode. This year for the first time I was involved in set-up Wednesday. What magic to see an empty, cavernous space transformed with the fastest blue carpet laying team in the world. Can you believe that every show has its own carpet, which is thrown away afterwards? I did try to think of a use for many square metres of very thin blue carpet but failed. This year I spent a short time on the Pharos Tutors stand. I am really looking forward to tutoring my forthcoming courses, first Maps and Mapping and later in the year a Writing up Your Family History course. In preparation for this I am a Pharos student and I chose to participate in Chris Paton’s  Scottish Research Online course. That would work well if I had any Scottish ancestry. I have borrowed the ancestors of my children and grandchildren for this and it was great fun starting from scratch, in one case with a birth in the 1980s. On Saturday I was helping on the Methodist Heritage stand. Do check out their family of websites if you have Methodist ancestry (or even if you don’t).

13012661_10154167130690972_8930781838012254071_nThere was debate this year about the wisdom of charging for the talks on the day. Previously, you could pay in advance if you wanted to ensure a seat but spare seats were available at no charge on the day. A number of the speakers I spoke to (who are not paid to speak) were concerned about the impact on their audiences and many sessions did seem to have depleted numbers. Several said they would not offer to speak again but I suspect that when the call for papers comes out they will have forgotten their indignation. I was pleased to have a healthy turn out, despite being scheduled at the end of the day. My (or rather Mistress Agnes’) Life of the Tudor Housewife session was very well received. Thanks to Debbie Kennett for the photographic evidence. Master Christopher was also operating this year.

Along with others, I somehow felt that this year’s show lacked its usual buzz, maybe because I was worn out before I started, pictures taken on the weekend certainly make me look every year of my newly achieved decadal landmark age. Even my sessions on the ‘experts’ desk failed to lead to any eureka moments, with most of my enquiries resulting in ‘you’ve tried all the right things’ type comments – maybe this is because this year’s punters were better informed.

As always, the best part of the event was meeting friends and networking. Lovely to catch up with John Reid, his was one talk I might have paid to hear but annoyingly it was scheduled at the same time as mine, although I did catch most of his Richard III DNA talk, I don’t know what I did to deserve it but this year I had a coveted (well maybe) invitation to the FindmyPast reception – I did honest – I have the email to prove it. So off I went to the champagne reception on the Thursday. A slightly embarrassing moment when my name didn’t appear on the magic list – maybe my acceptance didn’t reach them. Fortunately I was recognised by Myko Clelland (it isn’t what you know) and I was in. Was it wise to consume champagne when I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and I rarely drink? Probably not. I wasn’t much tempted to soak it up with the seriously strange ‘canapés’. Still, very pleased to have been invited and please can I come again next year? Announcements about forthcoming additions to FindmyPast suggested that there would soon be a significant Australian record set online.

CoverI was chuffed to find that Remember Then: women’s memories of 1946-1969 and how to write your own had been made book of the month by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. I also acquired a copy of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, where it was the lead review and very complimentary it was too. I promise no money changed hands. I also delivered my first talk of the book to a small but very appreciate audience at one of my favourite nearby local history groups and nearly 50% of the audience bought copies.

As a legacy from last year’s car accident, I underwent what is know as a ‘procedure’ this week. I will spare you the gory details but it began something like this. ‘I am afraid your last blood test was 11 days too long ago, we need to take blood.’ The nurse then had to go off duty with a back spasm. Her parting shot to her colleague – ‘Can you take blood?’ ‘Err, well I haven’t done for years.’ I don’t think he was joking. Not exactly inspiring confidence!

Must just mention the fascinating outings to The Black Country Living Museum and Sarehole Mill which bridged the gap between the Guild of One Name Studies conference and Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Every family historian should visit living history museums. I am just compiling a short worldwide list for a forthcoming booklet – suggestions welcome. At my newly acquired great age no wonder I am shattered, although I did manage loose 4lb (to add to the 6 I’d already lost this month) over the course of the proceedings.

Badges, Pikachu and other Conference Musings

I am currently in what passes for a lull between the Guild of One-Name Studies’ Annual Conference and Who Do You Think You Are? Live, where I am being an ‘expert’, helping on stands and in the guise of Mistress Agnes, presenting. The best part of these events is of course meeting up with old friends, making new contacts and generally catching up on what is new in the genealogical world. All this comes hot on the heels of extended birthday celebrations, with 26 people staying and other day visitors. Wonderful of course and thank you everyone but hardly great preparation for a very hectic week.

First the Guild conference where somehow I ended up in an organising role, not sure how that happened! An initial problem was when the delegates’ badges mysteriously disappeared between the neighbouring county and my home, despite being posted, at huge expense, using guaranteed next day delivery. We set off for Birmingham minus the badges and our poor badge-making volunteer made a duplicate set and left home on an earlier train in order to get them to us on time. Once at the venue, it transpired that we were one of three conferences on site for the weekend. The Unitarian church were inconspicuous but it was immediately clear that we should be wearing furry ears or other outrageous garb in order to fit in with the UK Anime and Geek Culture Convention Kitacon Carnival (probably best not to ask) whose presence added a rather different dimension. Their event seemed to involve a great deal of posing for photographs and late night revelry. It is very hard to keep a straight face whilst speaking to Pikachou.

Having already replaced one of the speakers due to ill health, sadly another substitute was needed following a car accident. Trying to find alternatives for 25% of your conference speakers, especially when you have called in favours to create the programme in the first place, is not easy but wonderful people came forward and that was solved. So, grateful thanks to those who stepped in and best wishes to the incapacitated speakers. At 11pm on Friday night we ran the gauntlet of the audience escaping from an Adele concert and returned to the caravan. On returning to the venue at 7.30am the next day, we found that our registration desk, complete with conference packs and badges for our day delegates had disappeared into thin air. Frantic searching by the staff, including examining CCTV and raiding the bins failed to locate the material. In the end it took 24 hours to discover that the night staff had ‘helpfully’ donated our items to the Unitarians. You would have thought that the fact that the bags were emblazoned ‘Guild of One-Name Studies’ might have been sufficient clue as to which conference party the stuff belonged to but no.

The food was actually good but the first lunch, a buffet, was served without tables being made available. Buffet, in this instance, should not be translated as sausage rolls and sandwiches but a proper meal, with things like curry on offer. A tad tricky to consume whilst standing, especially for those with mobility problems. We solved this by moving to an adjoining room. In the end though, the two key conference elements, the presentations and the interaction with fellow delegates, scored highly, with several people saying it was one of the best programmes ever and there was a marked reluctance for people to leave the conference dinner table for over an hour after the meal had ended.