Ancestral Ill-health and a bit about Books

It has been a busy week, with some fascinating family history discoveries. As some of you will know, I have been publicly somewhat scathing about the works of fiction that are strewn across the internet, purporting to be someone’s family tree. Not wishing to delve too deeply into people who die before they are born, have children at the age of two, or are allegedly living in three different countries at one and the same time, I attempt to avoid these. Occasionally there may be a nugget of usefulness of course and my recent foray on to did lead to a photograph of my great great grandfather’s brother. I have a picture of g-g-grandfather and there is a likeness. I also found two people whose online trees bore some resemblance to reality and I was able to offer the owners copies of family photographs. One even replied, so I guess that is a bonus.


John and Thomas Dawson

My Ancestry DNA test is currently languishing in the lab waiting to be processed. Yes, I am going to join the ranks of those irritating testees who do not have a tree on Ancestry. I have however added my ancestral surnames to my profile back sufficiently far for any fourth cousins to look for a common ancestor.

I am, as anticipated, making use of some of the original documents that can be accessed via Ancestry, notably collections from London Metropolitan Archives. It was via some workhouse admissions’ and discharge registers that I discovered that my great great aunt had been in the county asylum. Coincidentally, my ‘In Sickness and in Death: researching the ill-health and deaths of your ancestors’ students were discussing asylum records this very week and even better, one has kindly volunteered to look up some potential records about great great aunt that are not online – aren’t people lovely? Now, if any kind soul is at the London Metropolitan Archives with a spare five minutes to investigate her stay in another asylum………

The great thing about running online courses is that you learn so much from your students. You may have spotted a Facebook post from me that referred to the list of 1832 cholera epidemic victims in Manchester. The transcription of this dataset is cunningly hidden away on FindmyPast and what a gem! For the benefit of those not on Facebook, here is the entry for 16 year old Elizabeth Aspin ‘No. 177, Elizabeth Aspin, commonly called Crazy Bess, aged 16. Residence Back Parliament-street. Employment: woman of the town. Constitution: stoutish. Natural susceptibility: subject to diarrhoea after drinking. Predisposing cause: alternately starved and drunk, often sleeping in the street. Exciting cause: drunk on the Reform celebration day the day before her attack, cried passionately when Laurence was taken to the hospital. Locality, crowding, filth &c. for the locality see case 181. Dates of attack and event: seized Friday, August 10th, at 11 pm, recovered August 30th. Communication or non-communication: no known communication with Laurence nor any body else.’ Further research suggests that she was baptised in Manchester in 1817, daughter of Thomas and Ellen and that she survived the epidemic, marrying George Townley in Radcliffe, Manchester in 1836 and moving to Salford.

Advance notice of a couple of book signing/buying opportunities. I will be giving a talk about Barefoot on the Cobbles as well as selling and signing books at The Wine Box in Torquay at 2.00pm on Friday 8th November – wine and books – how can you resist? I am especially pleased about this, as part of the novel is set in Torquay. I will also be at Torrington Craft Fair on 7 December with copies of all my books. A few people have asked if they can get copies of my books at RootsTechLondon. I will have a limited number copies of Remember Then, as that is the subject of my talk but I am travelling in on public transport so will only have other titles if you ask in advance. I need to know by 9 October. I could mention that the festive season is only however many weeks away but I won’t.


News from the Cobbles for fans of Barefoot

I hope no one is reading this expecting Coronation Street spoilers. There have been some lovely communications regarding Barefoot on the Cobbles lately. Firstly, two lovely readers, without internet access, took the trouble to write me letters saying how much they had enjoyed it. I also had an email from a reader from New Zealand who not only praised the book but said I had inspired her to write the story of her own family history tragedy. I have also been contacted by two relatives of the minor characters in the novel. One leading to ongoing research into the family, which may turn out to be intriguing.

This has been interspersed with precious time spent with my descendants; there may be more about that later. I have also started another run of my In Sickness and in Death course and the students are wonderfully active, sharing stories of the ailments of their ancestors. One of the best parts about Pharos courses is the interactions between the students. This has all taken my mind off a few recent technical hitches. Yesterday a very forbearing audience sat through a presentation that really did need the accompanying slides, when my laptop (and a backup laptop) failed to communicate with the projector. I am also juggling external hard drives, in an attempt to recover files that have been damaged due to a corrupted memory stick. Fortunately they were backed up and I realised before I overwrote the complete files for another back up. A salutary lesson not to rely on memory sticks/data sticks/flash drives, call them what you will.

In the course of checking files to see if they were damaged, I came across I passage that I wrote for part of Chapter 1 of Barefoot but which was left on the cutting-room floor. I thought you might like to read a little about Polly as a young girl.


Polly Wakely leaned back on the Devon bank that edged the lane leading from Horns Cross to Peppercombe. Her two younger sisters, tired of gathering bluebells, sat beside her. All had severely plaited hair and identical rough, linen smocks. Polly, on the brink of womanhood, had abandoned her bonnet in an act of defiance. She was meant to be shepherding her sisters home from school but the temptation to linger in the spring sunshine, to stretch the time between the agonies of the classroom and the drudgery of chores at home, had got the better of her. Polly did not begrudge having to mind Ada and Ethel, in fact she quite enjoyed it. She hoped that she might have children of her own one day, in an unfathomable future that seemed impossibly far ahead. The role of chaperone to the younger members of the family had, until recently, been the task of her older sister, Jane. Jane, shy and retiring had found it difficult to discipline the two youngest girls but Polly was firmer. Despite their very different personalities, the Wakely sisters had always been self-sufficient, content with each other’s company and united against the taunts of their classmates.

            A small group of children turned the corner and spotted the Wakelys. Here was an easy target.

            ‘Yer ma tellin’ fortunes today then?’

            Polly was not as feisty as her eldest sister, Lydia, now working away in service but she had had years of practice standing up to bullies and defending her own. She knew that the comment was intended to provoke a reaction, perhaps to initiate a fight. She had succumbed to this when she was younger, arrived home with hair pulled, face scratched and pinafore torn. She considered herself too old for such scraps now and she had learned that there was nothing the tormentors hated more than to be ignored. She turned her back and pretended that she had not heard, putting a warning hand on Ada’s arm, to indicate that she should do the same.

            The oldest boy picked up Ethel’s discarded bouquet.

            ‘What’s these ole flowers for then?’ he mocked, tossing the drooping blooms over the hedge. ‘Going to pop them in the pot and make a spell?’

            Polly groaned inwardly, would this stupid tale never cease to dog their lives. Ethel was less resilient than her sisters and was distressed at the loss of her flowers but she knew that she must not give this big boy the satisfaction of seeing her cry.

            One of the girls in the group was regarding them with sympathy but her companions quelled any attempts at compassion.

            ‘Them’s nought better than gypos, don’t you go frettin’ over them. Turn you into a toad as soon as, they would.’

            Polly knew she had to be brave, that her ma would be cross if Ada or Ethel went home in tears and told tales of what was responsible for their distress. As each of her children left toddlerhood behind, Eliza Wakely had urged them to ignore such taunts. She understood their pain, she had suffered the same in her turn. In fact, thought Polly, although there had been no school to endure in those days, it had been worse for ma and her sisters. Their very surname, Found, had marked the family as out of the ordinary. It had all been ages ago, before even ma’s grafer’s time but still the rumours swirled. Going back some, the original Found had been just that, found in the church porch over Morwenstow way and Polly and her sisters were suffering for it still.


Challenged by Inanimate Objects and a little about Selling Books

They say things come in threes and this week I have been challenged by three inanimate objects. First to turn up its toes was the washing machine. This actually occurred before I went away but this was the first chance to tackle the problem. Turn it on and not a whimper, not a light, nothing. I am quite handy in my own way, so I try fuse changing, a different plug socket, putting a different appliance in that socket, all seems fine but still no response from the machine. The next steps required dragging the machine out; although I would normally tackle this, my back was twinging so I summoned assistance. Randomly, by the time he arrived the ‘dead’ machine had woken up and every available light was flashing wildly but not a button had any effect. The only way to stop the light-show was to unplug it. We de-fuzzed the thingy, we checked the pipe wasn’t blocked, we consulted You-tube, we chatted to ‘Toby’ online. At Toby’s suggestion, we held down buttons for 30 seconds to reset it – zilch. Today the ‘not-actually-going-to-repair-it’ man arrived and pronounced the condition terminal. I have already done one load of washing by hand and the weather isn’t conducive to getting non-spun washing dry, so if I appear in strange garb you will know why.

Next, the car. I arrive back from THE Genealogy Show with the caravan and go to drive my own car home from where the caravan lives and where the car has been parked whilst I have been away. I press the button to open the door – no response. I try the key. The door unlocks and then instantly relocks. The only way I can gain entry is to open the passenger door using the key and then climb across. This isn’t exactly easy, as it is a very small car. I drive home with the window open, just in case none of the doors open when I arrive. To add to this problem, I normally park my car up a drive, which means I need to put the passenger door hard against a hedge. This clearly isn’t an option when the passenger door is the only way in and out. A garage agrees to take a look. I have four days to get a very long ‘to-do’ list done, or it won’t be done until mid-July. I can ill-afford time to go to the garage half an hour away but needs must. Unfortunately, an accident has closed the main road. Even more unfortunately, the alternative route involves two sets of roadworks. It takes 1½ hours to drive 12 miles. The repair is going to take longer than I have, so it is home via a tortuous route, which is marginally quicker than the advised diversion and then repeat in reverse three hours later to collect the car, which is (sort of) fixable – ‘it may not last long you probably need a new something or other’.

I am due to spend a day selling books. At the NEC my gadget for taking card payments let me down. I need this to work. Again I try the online chat; this one is ‘Sabina’. Sabina suggests I ring what is probably a ridiculously expensive premium rate number. Half an hour later a very patient ‘Andrew’ has talked me through what is required. He must be dining out on our conversation along the lines of , ‘you will not believe this thick woman I had on the line today….’ The process involved the use of a mobile phone. As you know, mobile phones and I are not friends. Even if we were before we certainly aren’t now. ‘Is Bluetooth on?’ asks Andrew. Now I am not a complete dinosaur, I know what Bluetooth is, turning it on is another matter. ‘Ah, the app has been updated’, says Andrew. ‘Just delete it and re-install it.’ ‘Just’ is a funny old word isn’t it? It seems ‘Just’ can take a very long time and it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the end of the adventure. What followed ‘Just’ necessitated me punching in a sequence of eight numbers very quickly; not quickly enough it seems. ‘Faster,’ urges Andrew as I make my nth attempt. Finally, it is accomplished.

Next day and I am ensconced in the Visitors’ Centre in Clovelly, hoping to persuade attendees at the Charles Kingsley anniversary commemorations to part with money in return for one of my books. I am stationed by a stand that sells inspirational ‘soothing’ CDs. I quickly work out that I can change the CD, so I can lose the whale music. The bad news is that virtually every track involves the sound of running water, with the inevitable effect. I am also forced to try to avoid looking at an apostrophic howler all day. I do suppress the urge to go and correct the notice! Nonetheless it is an enjoyable day, chatting to visitors and an unbelievable number of dogs and even selling some books as well.


Come and Meet Mistress Agnes at #FamilyTreeLive – a chance to buy my books at reduced prices on stand 167

Just to say that I will be on duty at Family Tree Live as Mistress Agnes, in company with various disreputable characters, on stand 167 – so do come and experience the lives of your C17th ancestors. See Swords and Spindles website for more details of what is in store. All my books will be on sale on that stand. I don’t want to fiddle with 1ps and 5ps so there will be an opportunity to save a few pennies. Coffers, Clysters, Comfrey and Coifs: the lives of your seventeenth century ancestors will be 15% off with the voucher that will be in your Goody Bag.

CCCC front coverThere is a limit to what you can get in a Landrover (there really is – I was surprised too), so what with armour, instruments of torture, costumes of various sizes, toys and a multitude of household items, I will not have an infinite number of every book title – so if you were hoping to relieve me of one of my publications, let me know and I will save you a copy. I would advertise my workshop and presentation but I am afraid (well, afraid for you, glad for me) that they are fully booked.

Looking forward to seeing you all.

A Visit from Chantelle Atkins

Last November, I visited Chantelle on her blog The Glorious Outsiders. Now it is time for her to stop by on my blog. I asked her about her writing life:

966419_520738181296053_718030010_oYour website is called The Glorious Outsider, can you say a little more about why you chose that name?

  • Yes, when I first started a blog it was just named after me, but a few years back someone I know online was sharing a lot of interesting content about building your brand and improving your website. It helped me think about my books and what I want my website to say about them, so I revamped my site accordingly. When thinking about what all my books have in common, I realised that all of my main characters are outsiders in one way or another, and also that none of them are ashamed of this. In fact, they take pride in it. That’s where the title Glorious Outsiders came from, and it just means people who are fine with being a bit different, or on the outside of something. It sums me up and my writing and my characters.

tbwttihs-p3 (1)What have you written that you are most proud of?

  • I would have to say the series I am working on, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. It’s been such a long and complex journey. All my other novels were dreamed up, written down, published and dealt with. But this one first came to me when I was 12, and I wrote an early version of it at that age, again at 14, 16 and 19. It just wouldn’t go away and the characters have always been totally real to me. They are in my head almost constantly. I finally wrote it and published it in 2013 in two parts, and then went on to publish a sequel, This Is The Day, as the characters were still chatting to me, giving me ideas. I then revised it again a few years later and merged the two parts into one huge book. Since then ideas for a storyline that would slot between that book and the sequel would not leave me alone. To keep them quiet, I started penning a screenplay of this storyline, and this just encouraged it to get louder, so I then turned it into a novel. This led to the decision to revise The Boy With The Thorn In His Side yet again, split it back into two separate books, Part One and Part Two, release the new material as Part Three, revise and release what was the sequel as Part Four, and now inevitably, I’ve gone and written a rough draft of Part Five and plotted Part Six! What was a storyline I dreamt up as a 12-year-old will now be a six-part series I would describe as coming-of-age, suspense, crime and psychological thriller! Parts One and Two, with new covers have already been re-released and Part Three will be released at the start of February, with Part Four close after. I am proud of it, mainly because I wrote it purely for me, and because I still love the storylines and the characters so much, all these years later! I’m also proud of how much work has gone into it.

Would you say that what you write is character driven or plot driven?

  • I’d say it’s character driven in that the characters always come first. I get them first and the background, storylines, back stories and so on always come after. I normally build a plot around the characters that have arrived.

If I was looking at your typical reader, who would I see?

  • I thought about this recently and even blogged about it! I see my typical reader as someone a lot like me. Introverted but friendly, drawn to the dark side but eternally optimistic. I think they like character driven books, something hard-hitting and edgy. They might also be a music fan, and someone who craves nature.

Are there other writers or creative people in your family?

  • Not really, I was always the only one, but two of my four children do enjoy writing. My son prefers drawing, but will write comic books and bits of narrative for this characters, and my eldest daughter writes a lot of crime based stories.

How does your writing fit in with the rest of your life?

  • I make time for it every day. Now that my youngest has started full time school, I have a lot more time to work on writing in the day, but I do still do an hour or two each evening after he’s gone to bed as well. I run my own Community Interest Company which is writing based, so that keeps me busy as well, and I try to split my time equally between working on projects and events for that, and writing my own stuff. Writing is always in my head though. I’m the most distracted person I know, always in a dream, always thinking about the storylines and the characters!

You are in your dream location. Where are you?

  • I would say, just over the road from my house, Sopley Common. It’s a beautiful, wild, untamed landscape of sandy hills, heather and gorse, heathland, woods and streams. Mostly unoccupied I find, meaning I can walk my dogs in peace and think about writing! It’s featured heavily in two of my novels, This Is Nowhere and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature.

How did you go about getting your first book published?

  • I tried the agent and traditional publisher route for some time, and then decided to go with an indie publishing platform at the time called Autharium. They then went out of business and I put my books with Pronoun, who did a similar job but better. They then also went out of business, so I just self-published. Last year I signed up to an indie collective called Pict Publishing though. It’s still self-publishing but with a supportive network around you and the people running it have a lot of advice about marketing and promotional strategies, so I’m happy with it so far.

What one tip would you give to someone who says that they want to write a book?

  • Stop thinking you don’t have time, you’re not good enough, it won’t sell etc. Just clear your mind of all negatives and just do it. Once you’ve got that first draft you’re halfway there, but you’ve just got to get it done. Get it out.

What are you working on at the moment?

  • A few things! Obviously preparing The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Parts Threeand Four for release. Part Five is really calling to me for a second draft, but I’m trying to hold off at the moment, as I started a YA post-apocalyptic series I’m really passionate about, and it keeps getting side-lined. I’m up to Chapter 12 in book one and really want to get the first draft of book one done this year, so I’m dipping into it when I can. Obviously, the new releases come first and lots of preparation is going into that… Also, I have another YA book ready, A Song For Bill Robinson, and I want to send it out to a few publishers again, just in case. So I’m currently doing a read through on Word and trying to get the word count down, while also putting together a synopsis and a list of possible publishers. If no luck, I will also place it with Pict Publishing and release it towards the end of 2019 I expect. I’m also working on a second short story collection. I tend to accumulate them and released a collection in 2016. I also have some poetry this time around, which is new territory for me, but if I’m feeling really brave they will go into this collection and it will possibly get released this year.

What do you hope to achieve in the next five years?

  • I hope The Boy With The Thorn In His Side six part series is all finished and published. I’d then like to work on screenplays and try submitting them to competitions etc. I hope to have also completed the YA post-apocalyptic series and have published it. The short story and poetry collection will be out. The Ya book A Song For Bill Robinson will be published and it’s sequel, which I’ve also written, Emily’s Baby. If they are all out and done, I hope to be working on either the sequel to The Mess Of me and/or the sequel to The Tree Of Rebels, plus there is another book I have planned, which is sort of a spin-off book from The Boy series. Two characters appear in Part Five and Six and they are going to be getting their own book! I think that will keep me busy!

Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to reading, writing and music and writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love. Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life and has now been developed into a 6 book series. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere and award-winning dystopian, The Tree Of Rebels, plus a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. Her next book Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature was released through Pict Publishing in October 2018. Chantelle has had multiple articles about writing published by Author’s Publish magazine.


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Of Wonderful People, Chilling with a Book and a Little more about Edward

It is now a week since I posted about the wonderful world of Edward. During the past seven days we have been overwhelmed by the strength and the positivity of the responses that we have received. Thank you is completely inadequate. Thank you to the 76 people, from seven different countries, who shared my original post and to the unknown number who shared those shares. Thank you to the 844 people (and the number is still rising) who have viewed the post and thank you to those who have retweeted. The many comments and private messages of support, understanding and thanks have been amazing. You have no idea how important these are to Edward’s family. At one point Martha (Edward’s mum) said, ‘Aren’t there any negative comments’ and no there weren’t, not one single one because I have wonderful friends, so thank you again. We have tried to save all the comments for Edward to see when he is older. We believe that we have probably reached at least 1000 people, who are now a little more aware of what life with PDA can be like. To say this exceeded our expectations is beyond an understatement and it is not over yet. On the strength of this response and for the many of you who said you would like to hear more about life with Edward, Martha has now set up her own blog Being Edward, with the associated twitter account @being_edward so please do take a look. This process has been incredibly positive and uplifting for our family and it is all down to you; a real indication that social media can be a force for good and of course that I have wonderful friends.

chill with a book barefoot on the cobbles by janet fewLife has gone on in the midst of this media storm. I am ridiculously excited to have received a Chill with a Book Award for Barefoot on the Cobbles and the reviews and feedback have been wonderful. Another thank you. I promise I am working on book two but give me a year or so. There is even something that passes for continuous narrative now, about 4000 words worth. Ok, so they are going to need a lot of work but narrative nonethless. I am getting ridiculously sidetracked by the research and the focus is shifting slightly as I write but I hope the end result will incorporate many of the elements that you tell me you enjoyed in Barefoot.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.

Day 24 #bfotc sources

The final day of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

Exminster aslylum

Several of the characters in the novel experience periods of mental ill-health and some of them spent time in the county asylum. I went to the Heritage Centre in Exeter where the admissions’ registers are held. The amount of information that is given varies with date but I was able to view details of my characters’ diagnoses, home life, treatment and progress whilst they were in the asylum. There were lengthy accounts of their behaviour and the symptoms that had led to their commital. Many of the personal records also give detailed physical descriptions. No photographs of Aunt Matilda survive. Everything that the reader learns of her appearance is based on what I could glean from her asylum register entry. Although I didn’t use this for the novel, an excellent website on the history of mental health is the Museum of the Mind, which focuses on Bethlem Hospital. These records are both fascinating and tragic; they are high up on my list of favourite sources.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.