Songs, Books and other Daisy News

Well what a wonderful weekend it has been. Firstly, Friday night when my friend Liz Shakespeare visited Buckland to share her story of Edward Capern The Postman Poet. Edward, who penned some of his work sitting in what is now my kitchen, wrote songs as well as poems and Liz was accompanied by Nick Wyke and Becki Driscoll who played for us in appropriate style. Add to that the excellent food and a great evening was had by all.

Saturday afternoon’s interesting Devon Family History Society meeting saw Philip Browne talking about ‘The Unfortunate Captain Peirce and the Wreck of the Halsewell East Indiaman.’ I am afraid that this well-presented session, with its account of some painstaking research got rather lost in the other excitements of my weekend. Definitely worth checking out the book of the talk.

Daisy and HollyhocksThe first draft of the cover for Barefoot on the Cobbles aka #Daisy has been done. It isn’t quite ready to meet its public yet but I am very pleased with it – thank you Blue Poppy Publishing. It does however, thanks to Clovelly Archive, incorporate this photograph. Having a cover somehow makes it all seem more real.

The equally brilliant news is that Barefoot has a companion song! A few years ago, I was commissioned to work on the history of a local shipping disaster that took place in Clovelly in 1838. This resulted in a meeting with Princess Ann but I digress. My brief was to trace the descendants of the victims. This was harder than it sounds as many were young unmarried men. In the course of the research I got to know Dan Britton, whose family members were amongst the victims. He wrote a haunting song The Storm about the tragedy and this became the title song on an excellent album Safe Harbour, which Dan, together with the other half of his duo, Chris Conway, launched last year. A few weeks ago, Dan got in touch with a family history query and I said I was working on a novel that was partly set in Clovelly. Almost as a throw away line I suggested that this too might make a song. I sent a brief synopsis along the lines of ‘it is about a murder, motherhood, the Devon landscape, a shipwreck, the women’s suffrage movement, WW1, the death of a child, oh, and a few lighter moments.’ I also sent a couple of draft chapters. Almost within minutes came back some incredible lyrics. The uncanny thing was that somehow Dan had included hints of things that I was intending to write but hadn’t actually told him about.

At a concert last night I heard Daisy’s song performed live for the first time. I thought I was going to cry but I managed not to. We are not yet sure where this will lead but Dan says that this might be the start of a new album for Chris & Dan and we have spoken briefly of the possibility of a joint launch next year. I think it is a case of watch this space. I would also like to pay tribute to Liz Shakespeare for being unfailingly supportive and generous, despite the fact that I do seem to have inadvertently pinched her idea for a literary/musical collaboration.

The word ‘launch’ in the preceding paragraph is a sobering reminder that I do actually need to have something to launch! With this in mind, I have sort of half-heartedly been playing along with the NaNoWriMo November novel writing challenge, which is supposed to encourage people to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I suspect that I could probably write 50,000 words in a month if a) I did nothing else at all and b) I wasn’t too fussed about the quality. The month began well and I did 4000 words in five days but I have now slowed to a more manageable rate and am probably accomplishing an average of 500 half decent words a day of the novel. I am slightly distracted by writing things like blogs. I guess if I counted other writing I would be coming close to the 50,000 words in a month target. I would also probably get on faster if I didn’t spend so much time counting words! It has at least meant that the pretty much finished sections of Daisy are now nearing the half way mark. Remember this week’s Victorian privy research? In the course of this, I discovered that today was world toilet day. Seriously doubting that this is really a thing but Twitter says it is, so it must be so. (PS Yep. It’s a thing. It is to encourage folk to think of those in the world without access to decent sanitation so it not only is a thing but a good thing!)

I am discovering the drawbacks of basing a novel on fact. I have just found out something new about the life of one of my main characters. I could re-write the best part of a chapter, a chapter I am quite pleased with, or I could just ignore it – still debating that one. As I write this, I am being told by one of my beta readers, aka a fisherman of my acquaintance, that I have donkeys carrying luggage down hill, when they would only carry it up. I feel some re-writes coming on.

By the way, on 8th December, I shall be with some other cool authory types in Green Lanes shopping centre, Barnstaple trying to sell some books that I have actually finished writing. Do come and say hello if you are local.

Now to fiddle about Tweeting because I decided that I wanted the Tweeted link to this post to be my 3000th Tweet #OCD.



One-place, One-name and Other Presentations

Over the last few weeks I have been hither and yon, speaking at a variety of venues and having the opportunity to learn at the same time. Firstly, the annual conference for the Society for One-place Studies. This was held in Manchester. I end up in Manchester more often than I’d like. Please don’t take this personally Manchester, you are bigger than a very small market town – too big. The Friday afternoon was to be spent on a guided tour of Manchester’s religious heritage. To begin with we did get a tad lost leaving the car park. Said car park cost more than I had earned that week but hey. The instructions were to ‘meet under the map’ at Manchester Victoria station. Map? What map? We wandered high, we wandered low, scanning the concourse for something that resembled a map. We asked a handy charity promoter who claimed he’d been there all week but had no knowledge of a map. Just as we were wondering if we were even at the right station we spotted the map. Clearly we weren’t wandering high enough. The map is set in tiles by the entrance and is of seriously impressive proportions. In our defence it is considerably above the eye-line but 0/10 for observation skills. Considering that this was Manchester and the last weekend in October, the weather was uncharacteristically kind. It didn’t rain and there was even a hint of sunshine. The tour itself was excellent and it was a pleasure to learn something about the city from an expert. This just highlights how much you miss just wandering around on your own (maps for example).

The next day was the non-conformity themed conference, with several thought-provoking presentations. Owen Roberts from Methodist Heritage did us proud, explaining the various resources they and their family of websites can offer. We heard about the impact of non-conformity on World-war 1 conscription and about Huguenot resources. The round-table discussion was very valuable and a chance to learn about the latest mapping opportunities. I finished off the day with my presentation about the impact of non-conformity on communities and their inhabitants. As a speaker, there are always talks you particularly like giving and others that, when they are requested, make you wish that you had taken them off the list. This non-conformity one is new for this year and when I was first asked to do it I wondered if I could really make something of it. At first I couldn’t. Then I realised that I didn’t need to talk about sources for non-conformist research at all. Light bulb moment! Shove all that boring stuff in a handout the size of War and Peace (abridged version) and talk about what really interests me: people. So this is a talk about how having options for worship makes a difference to people and places. At the moment I am quite liking this one.


Gratuitous picture from the early C20th – just because I can!

This was also my last conference as chair of the society. I really needed to step back from a few things to make time to do the other things properly. I felt that it was time to let someone else take the helm. I shall still be very much involved in one-place studies, an area of research that I am committed  to and I wish the new committee well. Next on the one-place agenda is a presentation of my online Discovering Your British Family and Local Community in the early 20th Century course for Pharos tutoring. This starts in January. Put it on your Christmas list why don’t you?

Home from Manchester to some more local presentations, mostly in Mistress Agnes mode. Then it was down to the soft south of the county for a Guild of One-Name Studies’ seminar about west country migration. We were rather cosily crammed into a conveniently located venue but this was another excellent day, with a programme of experts on various aspects of the subject. I always enjoy being part of a conference or seminar as this has the bonus value of being able to learn from others. What was particularly pleasing about this day, was the way in which our presentations dovetailed together, without any prior consultation. My contribution was about motivations for migration from north Devon. This is an old favourite and I have given it many times, although I vary the case studies.

Just four more talks to give before the Christmas break then, after that, it will be the mayhem of 2018 with 30 events booked already. To say nothing of Daisy. There are some very exciting Daisy developments, which I hope to reveal very soon. She also has some more finished chapters, which will probably be as much of a relief to Blue Poppy Publishing as it is to me. This week has seen me describe Victorian privvies, research C19th Methodist Sunday School songs and wallow in the horrors of a WW1 trench. Writing is never dull!

Gunpowder, Guys, Birthdays and Pink Things

I have no problem in remembering remembering the 5th of November as it is my granddaughter’s birthday. This means I have to run the gamut of Christmas cards in order to purchase a birthday card. Choice is obviously limited at this time of year but why, oh why, is everything with granddaughter on it pink? She doesn’t like pink, she likes yellow. Even abandoning the relationship section in favour of the number section doesn’t help, here the choice is pink or blue, still no yellow. Having purchased a less than ideal, slightly pink, slightly blue, emphatically not yellow, card with a 4 on, I head for the checkout. I avoid the self-service section, that way madness lies. Remember, living as I do, several miles from the nearest supermarket, I am rarely let loose in the shops (my personal shopper aka a fisherman of my acquaintance hand delivers my requirements) so it is all a learning curve. It seems I have purchased sufficient items to be given a green plastic token, with which I can vote for a local charity for the supermarket to support. I stared at the plastic frame containing the columns of green tokens indicating where others had cast their votes. I made an informed choice. Do you think I could work out where to post the flipping token? I tried going in from the top. No, not a hint of a slot in which to post the token there. Eventually, after several minutes, I spotted a whole series of slots along the front. Who knew that shopping could be so challenging?

DSCF4227This year, some bright spark (could be a potential pun in there somewhere) decided that the village would have a guy competition, with each organisation creating an appropriate effigy, which was then to be displayed in the run up to bonfire night. After a bit of discussion, the history group chose local postman poet Edward Capern. I was proud that the letters he was holding were addressed to genuine village residents of the 1860s but I am getting ahead of myself. First, imagine the scene. Four ladies of a certain age attempting to stuff a pair of trousers with empty lemonade bottles (whose idea was it to create his limbs from bottles?) with slightly inappropriate results. We were a little early to put our creation in situ, so he sat in my kitchen for a week. No matter how many times I mentally warned myself that he was there, I never failed to jump in surprise when I saw him sitting in the rocking chair. Next was the hilarious attempt to install him in my neighbours’ garden. We accomplished a smooth lift from kitchen chair to garden chair (I’ve watched Casualty I know how these things work). Ok, so getting him out of the house was more of a challenge; his legs only fell off twice in the process. In the interests of the environment he is not being burned (too much plastic) so, now the day is passed, he will be dismantled into his constituent parts. Will all his limbs fit in my recycling box?

A Visit from Author Wendy Percival

Today I have a visitor to my blog. Please welcome Wendy Percival, author of the Esme Quentin series of genealogical mysteries. Wendy featured in my historical novel advent calendar last December and you may have seen her article in Family Tree Magazine recently. Here is a chance to learn more about her and her work.

What made you decide to write about a genealogical sleuth?

Wendy Percival

I’d just stared researching my family history and I was also writing short stories at the time, but I wanted to start a novel. The idea of buried family secrets being at the heart of a story appealed to me and it made perfect sense that the central character who’d unravel the secret – whatever it was – would be someone with the knowledge to do so. Around that time, a call had gone out in the publishing press for older female protagonists, rather than the twenty-somethings which were dominating the market. So Esme was born.

The North Devon landscape features in your work; how important is the setting to your writing?

I always love reading books when I recognise locations I’ve been. But from a writer’s perspective, it helps, I think, for the setting to fit the story in some way.

The first Esme story, BLOOD-TIED, is set in Shropshire, where I began my family history research and the idea for the story evolved. The fictional town of Shropton was inspired by the historic town of Shrewsbury, with its fabulous old buildings and narrow alleys where many of my ancestors lived. It has a huge impressive park which became the setting for Esme’s sister Elizabeth’s attack. The beautiful Long Mynd, a heath and moorland plateau in the Shropshire hills, also featured and as Esme stands on the top, gazing into the mist and fog which has engulfed the area and obscured the view, it became a metaphor for Esme’s confusion in discovering her sister has a secret past.

Book Wendy PercivalAs for the other books, the South West Coast is magical and having lived here for so many years now, I wanted to embrace it for its drama and atmosphere, so it was the perfect setting for the second story, THE INDELIBLE STAIN, where a museum ship, telling the story of 19th century Devon convicts “banished from British shores”, is moored in the harbour.

I used the north Devon coast again in the latest book, THE MALICE OF ANGELS, adding in another local landmark, with its true wartime history, while applying a little artistic licence by moving it a bit closer to the coast!

Tell us something about your own genealogical adventures.

The first “adventure” started with the discovery of a death certificate from 1868 in the proverbial “box of old documents in the attic” belonging to my husband’s late parents. At the top it read, “Paddington” but then we realised it was Paddington, New South Wales, not London, England! As nothing was known about any family member going to Australia, in modern times, let alone in the 19th century, it was very exciting. The steep learning curve to unravel the story behind it took several years but I found the process fascinating and I was hooked!

Since then, I’ve uncovered stories of illegitimacy, bigamy, convict transportation, many sad stories and some shocking ones. The latter being my 3x great grandfather who was hauled up in front of magistrates accused of “assault and cruelty” to my 3x great grandmother, in collusion with the housekeeper, with whom he was having an affair, resulting in at least one child.

I love using the process of family history research to learn more about social history of the times, and the thrill of uncovering “secrets” which our ancestors must have assumed would be long forgotten. One of those is the discovery that my maternal Great-grandfather was living a double life – two “wives” and two families – for several years in London in the 1880s, until my great-grandmother found out and he was given his marching orders. He and his “alternative” wife ran off to Australia and went on to have many more children.

It is exciting to hear that the third full length Esme Quentin Novel, The Malice of Angels, is now available. What can you reveal about the plot?

It begins with Esme being approached by Max Rainsford, an old colleague of her late journalist husband, Tim, who died years before in tragic circumstances while investigating a story. Max wants Esme’s help on a cold case murder of an old soldier that he and Tim had worked on when they were rookie reporters. Esme’s not keen to rake up the past so declines.

But circumstances force her to get involved when, while researching into the mystery of a friend’s aunt Vivienne, a nurse who disappeared during WWII, she stumbles upon a disturbing connection between Vivienne’s past and Max’s murder case, and its implication of a link to Tim’s death.

Esme has to decide which direction she wants to go – back away from her distressing past to avoid the hurt it will cause her? Or face her demons to discover the truth?

If you could go backing time, what period would you choose and why?

There are lots of periods of history which fascinate me – around the civil war, Tudor times (I loved C J Sansom’s Shardlake novels), early 1800s, 1920s – but with so much of my family history research taken from the Victorian period and feeling that I “know” those ancestors best, I’d love to go and “walk with them” in their time and develop that familiarisation.

Apart from writing and family history, what fills your time?

Reading, obviously! Gardening, catching up with friends, walking, especially the coast path and exploring the fantastic locations here in the South West in our campervan. Occasionally I have a sudden urge to be “creative”, usually with textiles or making jewellery with Fimo (a cross between plasticine and clay) and/or beads. And I’ve recently started to learn to play the ukulele!

Will we be hearing more about Esme in the future?

I’m sure I won’t be able to keep Esme down for long. She’s bound to stumble upon some buried secrets sooner or later – you know what she’s like! In fact, I’ve an idea brewing already…