Daisy – a Writer’s Progress

You know that theory, the one that believes that declaring your aims publicly helps you to achieve them; a bit like New Year’s Resolutions I guess. If the whole world knows you are trying to give up smoking, lose weight or run a marathon, then you feel you have a greater obligation to deliver. So, this is where I nail my own proverbial colours to the mast. A few people know that, since my last writing project finished, I have been toying with moving from non-fiction to fiction. I had a story in my head; I may still write it one day but then, suddenly, a new story has taken hold and won’t let me go. The characters and their lives have been whirling through my brain for a few months; I’ve tried to push them aside whilst other things needed attention but they hammer at my being when I least expect it. So, you heard it here first, one day there will be a novel, if I live that long. It was this or study for an MA in experimental archeaology – I may still do that. This is, in theory, cheaper and will be a more flexible commitment and anyway it just won’t wait. I don’t want to be the next best seller – that’s probably just as well – I just want to tell a story that is clamouring to escape.

I haven’t written fiction since my angst-ridden teenage years but I owe it to the heroines of my story to try to resurrect any talent that I may have had then, phoenix-like, from the ashes of my later middle years (I refuse to say old age). There will be no spoilers but from time to time, I will be blogging progress reports. Don’t expect tallies of thousands of words a day – oh well, if you must ask, 637 words so far. Predictably, this is a story set in the past, not the seventeenth century as you might expect but the more recent past, so I have plenty of research that needs doing along the way and progress in terms of words on pages will be slow. Periodically, you may see impassioned pleas for help from experts in x, y and z. The current x, y and z are diptheria, living with an anorexic adult child and coroner’s court procedure – any takers? You may even read of the harvest that I garner as a result of these research labours, or the frustrations as I furrow stonier ground.

My characters were all real people, dangerous I know. There will be none of this ‘any resemblance to real people living or dead is purely coincidental’ lark. The main events actually happened but the very raw, very real and in some ways very modern emotions, like the dynamics between the characters, I am having to weave from my imagination, empathy and best guesses. From the clues I have given, some of you will know whose story I am going to tell. I promise that I will try to deal fairly with all who tiptoe through my pages, or indeed crash boldly across my keyboard. I will not be altering the facts that I can uncover but this will be fiction not family history, so I will be inventing likely incidents and encounters to paint on to the factual canvas. Look out for the #Daisy to join the journey.



Maps, Surveys, Displays and Other Historical Randomness

I’ve been here, there and almost everywhere over the last few weeks. Trying to find various far flung places is not always easy and sometimes our not so trusty sat-nav fails us (see below for some of the gory details). Mapping our ancestors and the communities of the past is just as important as knowing where we are going in the present. Although it is not a course of my own devising, I am pleased to be tutoring the ‘Maps and Surveys – Locating your Ancestors’ course for Pharos Tutors, starting on 9th August. There may still be spaces, so please do book. The course is primarily about British sources but it is all online, so those of you with British ancestors can study it wherever you are in the world. Apart from a general overview, we shall be looking in detail at one of my favourite sources – the 1910 Valuation Office Survey, as well as the tithe maps and apportionments and enclosure maps. Do join me!

I certainly needed a map on several occasions recently. When we go out swording and spindling, which we’ve been doing a great deal lately, we take a vehicle of suitable dimensions – you try getting eighteen pikes (no not the fish) into a Nissan Micra. So not in the Nissan Micra then but for reasons we won’t go in to, in a vehicle with no way of charging the sat-nav. This means that, in fear of the battery running out, we delay turning on the sat-nav until we get to the point where we are almost lost. Sat-nav set for a school in south east Devon, via Crediton, to avoid as much rush hour traffic as possible and we are on our way. We get well beyond Crediton before we feel the need to turn on the sat-nav for advice. We follow Sally sat-nav’s exhortations to go right, left and ‘turn around where possible’ with only a few slight hiccups when we reach roads that have been built since she was last updated. Suddenly we appear to be miles away from where we should be. I resort to a map (once a girl guide …..) and we arrive with minutes to spare – good job I am genetically programmed to leave what is normally ridiculously early for any event. Later we realise the problem. Even though we were well past Crediton, we had asked to go via Crediton and that is what the sat–nav was trying to make us do – lesson learned.

Amongst all the school bookings have been talks to grown-ups. One was at Devon Rural Archive. We needed a map to find that one too but what a gem. A really great set up, a full house and a very appreciative audience for my seventeenth century gardens presentation. A visit is definitely recommended. Then there was a talk to a Somerset WI who were celebrating their 85th birthday, a yummy birthday tea as well on this occasion! We decided to combine this trip with picking up a ‘collection only’ chest of drawers that I had purchased on eBay. Again we have the large pike-carrying non sat-nav charging vehicle. First finding the industrial estate where the chest of drawers is hiding, comparatively straight forward. Next, getting the chest of drawers into said vehicle – Ah. I had sensibly measured the space at home where it was to go and it fitted. Had I measured the vehicle. Err…. that would be a No. Well, in the end, with much manouvering, we inserted said chest of drawers into said vehicle. Had it been a centimetre larger in any direction we would have been in trouble.

Our local history society has been on display at various events in the village and beyond lately. A few days ago we were part of an open day at a nearby iron age hill fort. Actually getting to the display area by the fort was a logistical nightmare. We needed to get a table, display boards and various books and papers to what was effectively the middle of nowhere. You will note also that this was a hill fort, the clue is in the name. Our Iron Age forebears liked to have a commanding view. We did find the nearest point on the road with the aid of maps, directions and signs erected by the organisers. Sat-navs are no use for hill forts surrounded by woods. We then had to get our equipment along the footpaths to the hill fort. Chris manfully agreed to risk life and vehicle by driving along a bridleway but it was still a jolly long way to transport our belongings. I can verify that I am just too short to comfortably carry a pasting table half a mile without it banging on the uneven ground. Having been blown away at the recent Buckland fete, on this occasion, we were adamant that our display needed to be under cover and out of the wind. Sure enough, we were provided with a large tent, with jolly, retro curtains. Unfortunately, this was a hot day with no sign of wind or rain, so any perusal of our display was limited by how long the public could endure the heat and humidity in the tent! Luckily, we were helped by landrover transport on the way back to civilisation.

We now seem to have summer at last, just as I planned to do things to the house and garden that require temperatures of under 30 degrees, not that I am complaining. I also have visits from small persons to look forward to over the next couple of weeks – hurrah!

Harnessing the Facebook Generation: ideas for involving young people in family history and heritage and other news

Busy, busy, busy. What with the job I must not mention, now almost completed and Swording and Spindling like mad it has all been very hectic. It is especially satisfying to have spent five days in schools in the last fortnight and to have been so well received by staff and students (they all asked us back next year – what more could we ask for?). In the same fortnight, two talks for adults as well, so much for ‘retirement’.

TDSCF3191hings have taken a bit of an Australian turn lately. I spoke to the Society of Australian Genealogists about causes of death. Sadly this was not an all expenses paid trip; my presence was merely virtual. In addition, the Australian company Unlock the Past have published another of my booklets Harnessing the Facebook Generation: ideas for involving young people in family history and heritage, something I feel very strongly about. It can be purchased from the publishers.  It is also available as an ebook and it should soon be on sale in print form from UK and Canadian outlets. It is always exciting to hold the actual copies in your hand, even though you know what is inside! Australia are going to have their own Family History Expo in October; the down under equivalent of RootsTech or Who Do You Think You Are? Live. Unfortunately I won’t be going but if you are in the right hemisphere, do give it some thought.

I have also been ‘Racing’ for Life in aid of Cancer Research. Despite the temperature suddenly soaring to 10 degrees above anything I had encountered so far in what has laughingly passed for our summer, I survived. I was under strict instructions not to ‘race’; really difficult when you are as competitive as I am. So no trying to come in under 40 minutes as I usually do. Still I did get round the 5km in under three-quarters of an hour, so I guess I just have to grow old gracefully and be content with that. There is still time to sponsor me.