Mostly about Writing #authorsinacafé #pigeongate

Take three authors, a promoter of books in Devon and a pigeon, mix them with the excellent menu on offer at Bideford’s Late and Lunch café on the quay and you have a recipe for #authorsinacafe. It’s official, I am now involved in a writers’ support group. We aren’t quite sure exactly where we are going but at least we have started from here. The general idea is to provide mutual encouragement,  promotion and support, as well as a break from talking to ourselves and our characters. By coincidence all of the authors, as well as two others who we hope will join us, have an historical slant to their writing but we may branch out from there. Special thanks to Ian Hobbs of Devon Book Club for taking a morning of his holiday to join us. Oh, the pigeon, I hear you enquire. Being on the riverside, café goers are used to protecting their paninis from the ravages of the seagulls but this time a wayward pigeon was tempted by the gorgeous muffins on offer. He flew in from the quay and alighted on a table. He obviously picked the right one as the resourceful occupant competently grabbed the offending bird and deposited it outside, amidst resounding cheers. I once did something similar with a bat – long story.

dscf3202All this meeting and chatting with other authors is a wonderful way of procrastinating but I really have made some #daisy progress; honestly. First a foray round some impressive Victorian villas, trying to identify which one my character may have been working in during the 1890s. Once again I find myself peering at people’s properties, taking notes and photographs and arousing suspicion. It seems that the name of the house concerned once applied to several homes and then in the twentieth century referred to a different dwelling entirely. There really should be a law preventing people from changing the names of their homes. Of course the bottom line is that, for the purposes of fiction, its doesn’t really matter which house it was but actually it so does. Now off to write 100 times ‘I can pretend it is any house I wish’ but it still matters! I have roughed out a chronology and done some more research to extend the biographies of some of my characters and since you asked 3500 – ok, I know that isn’t much but I have been very busy sewing shifts for Swords and Spindles (there’s got to be a tongue-twister in there), being auditioned as a WI speaker, despite being in my fourth decade of giving talks, writing biographies of local World War I service men, I could go on. It was when I ‘spring’ cleaned the bathroom I knew I really was procrastinating.

Not writing but reading – Inexplicably, my electricity tripped out at 3.45am. I managed to grovel for a torch and padded off to investigate. The trip switch would not reset. You may be wondering why this is a problem 3.45am is clearly not getting up time, even for me, so why not just go back to sleep. Quite apart from not wanting a freezer full of food to disintegrate into defrosted mush, the only way I can get to sleep is to read; reading requires light. I debated using the torch but feared for the battery life and decided I really needed to preserve that for an emergency. I wandered off to get my Kindle (other e-readers are available). I then realised that it does not illuminate without the very handy case that my offspring kindly gave me for Christmas, so out of bed again to fetch that. By this time I was further from sleep than ever. I did have Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington that I had appropriately been saving – bad plan. It is gripping, page-turning, well written but sadly not sleep inducing. It took daylight to eliminate each fuse in my fusebox in turn in order to identify the offender; this accomplished, power was restored and I could begin my day. I was reluctant to save Sophie until tonight but places to go, blog posts to write.

History Courses and Presentations, Family Fun and a Final Word on Rockstars

I was so pleased to see that many of my friends were named amongst the medallists and ‘top tens’ of the ‘Genealogical Rockstars’ poll. Congratulations to all the winners, nominees and to those who weren’t nominated but none the less play a vital part in keeping the wheels of the family history world rolling. The list of nominees gets more and more impressive by the year and I am always awed and slightly puzzled as to how my name gets included on a list that contains the big names of the genealogical community. Although I was just out of the medals this year, I was humbled and honoured to be 4th in Britain and the Commonwealth and 5th in Europe. Thank you to John Reid for organising this and for being so restrained in the face of those who chose to throw brick-bats rather than bouquets. Thank you so much to anyone who voted and helped to make this a representative and valid exercise and thank you especially if I was amongst those who you felt deserved your vote.

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Jo Rutherford Photography

Now for the Family Fun, with apologies to those who also follow Swords and Spindles’ blog. In my guise as Mistress Agnes, along with my Swords and Spindles colleagues, I will be giving those of you within traveling distance the chance to enter my world. On Monday 24 October we will be turning the clock back to Bideford’s hey day. Mingle with Sir Francis, friend to John Davie, Bideford tobacco merchant. Try on our armour, dress as we do or play with the toys of the time. Would you cope as a Tudor housewife? Just how heavy is that bucket of water, how difficult is it to card wool, or to churn butter? The Parliamentarians are building Chudleigh Fort, come and train as a pikeman and help to defend the town – we will not ask questions about which side you are on. Take part in our craft activities. Plague is threatening Bideford, you may see rats and plague masks. Do you know what food we would have eaten or how we ‘cure’ you when you are ill? Master Christopher will be available for consultations. If the weather is fine Master Christopher will even be shooting people. This event is ideal to keep your descendants happy over half term but it is for folk of all ages. Anyone who is interested in family, local or social history will be able to find out more about life in the 1600s. We will be at The Pollyfield Centre, Avon Road, East-the-Water, Bideford from 10.30-4.00. Entrance is free for children, with a suggested donation of £2 for adults. Please ‘express your interest’ to ensure that the event goes ahead. This is being run by Bideford Creatives as part of The Way of the Wharves project. You can also visit the event page on Facebook.

Apart from a flurry of seventeenth century talks to adults and coping with the responses to our Swords and Spindles mail shot, I have been showing people round the local area, enjoying their reactions as they revisit the homes of their ancestors. Add to this, listening to a fascinating local history presentation about fifteenth and sixteenth century recusants in my home parish and it has been a very full week. It is always a pleasure when my audience enters into the spirit of the presentation, so I was amused to receive a thank you message that read, ‘I am sorry that you could not come to give your presentation to us this week. You will pleased to know that Mistress Agnes, who you sent in your place, gave a very entertaining and informative talk.’

One Pharos course has come to an end and I look forward to starting to tutor another (that is a sell out) next week. There are however spaces on Devon History Society’s day course that I am conducting at The Plough in Torrington on 18 October. This is a course for anyone who is studying people and places of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Non-members of the society are welcome. A booking form, which also covers other October events can be downloaded from their website.

Clipboards, Cruises and Challenges of the Technological Kind (yes again) and books – always books!

A variety of activities this week. Firstly, I was lucky enough to win a free electronic copy of  Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington. This had to be emailed to me for me to email to my Kindle errr ummmm. This sounded like a technical challenge too far. After diligent research (I Googled for instructions) I was ridiculously pleased to discover that my Kindle does indeed have an email address – well who knew? Not me, obviously. Mission accomplished and I am looking forward to reading my prize.

More peculiarities on the telephone. During a boring car journey I decided to have a conversation with someone who wanted me to change my electricity supplier. Actually he wanted the phone’s owner to change their electricity supplier but was happy to talk to me when I explained that said owner was driving. After moments of incredulity on his part when I confirmed that there really was no gas supply to the property, the next question was ‘do you have your latest bill with you?’ Hands up who carries their electricity bill with them in the car at all times. Then not an unsolicited call but an attempt on my part to find out who could verify my identity for prevention of money laundering purposes, not many people apparently. This needed to be done in a hurry during the day, when those of my neighbours who might qualify were at work. I telephoned to enquire whether a retired accountant/doctor/teacher etc. might be acceptable (the village is stuffed full of those of a certain age). It seemed it had to be someone in office, presumably so that their identity could be checked on a professional register. The person on the other end suggested I popped in to the local bank. I had already explained that I lived in a small rural village. ‘Popping’ involves a six mile drive, many circuits of the block in search of a parking place and a six mile drive home. Oh of course, I could get a bus but not on a Wednesday. Did he have any other ideas? I could use my ‘local’ post office’s checking service. Ah my local post office was, thanks to the wisdom of someone who has never lived here, closed. The man is now sounding desperate, ‘Did I have a church?’ Oh yes, I have one of those just over there, a vicar though is a different matter. One and a half vicars for seven parishes and neither lives here. At this point I gave up, planning to  accost a teacher outside a school, or wait until later in the day. The urban/rural divide never seemed so wide, the chap on the phone clearly had no clue how the other half lived.

Want to know how to arouse fear and suspicion amongst your neighbours? Wander round in pairs carrying a clipboard, pausing now and again to stare meaningfully at a property. In fact, my friend and I were preparing a village trail but I am sure there are now rumours of extensive development or criminal activity.

UTP0263-2TMy Harnessing the Facebook Generation booklet, with ideas for inspiring young people with a love of history and heritage, is finally available in Canada (as well as the UK, Australia and as an ebook). Unlock the Past, for whom the booklet was written, have announced their genealogical cruising plan for 2017-18. If you are thinking about booking, don’t hesitate, you’ll love it.

The season of evening presentations is well and truly upon me. Quite apart from any school Swording and Spindling, did I really agree to do seven presentations to adults (I put ‘adult presentations’ there at first but it sounded a bit dodgy) in one month (one down six to go)? In addition, that is to finishing tutoring one Pharos course and starting another. Incidentally, there is still time to book for the online course  Writing and Telling your Family History, which starts on 28th September. It is lovely to see some familiar names amongst those who are signed up already. One day I will get time to write up more of my own family history!

Rockstars and Unsung Heroes

It is that time of year again when John Reid of Anglo Celtic Connections has the unenviable task of running a poll to find the ‘rockstars’ of the genealogical world. Every year a few people mutter about it being inappropriate or it being unfair because those who are most active on social media usually do best. Let us think about this. Yes, I suppose it does strike a little of reality TV shows but the poll was started to help societies and conference organisers find good speakers and I would challenge the critics to think of a better way to do this. I know of and indeed in the past have been instrumental in compiling, lists of speakers. Sometimes these require nominations before you can be included. Imagine the scenario: it is the committee meeting of the Blankshire family history society Mr Most Boring Speaker in the World has been chairman since 19hundred and frozen to death, basically because no-one wants to stand against him. ‘Oh,’ he slips in under AOB when everyone wants to go home, ‘it is ok for you to nominate me for this speakers’ list again this year isn’t it’. There is no question mark there because this isn’t actually a question. No one dares to demure. His nomination goes through and he is there on the list again. ‘Rockstars’ may not be beyond reproach but it is effective and it does what it is meant to do.

Yes, people who are active on social media do tend to do well but perhaps this is because today’s ‘rockstars’ need to be able to enter this world and it could be argued that social media is part of being active and helpful and a star in the modern genealogical firmament. I always encourage people to vote, which is embarrassing as my name is on the list and I am really rubbish at self-promotion. Of course I do this because I hope people will vote for me, it wouldn’t be honest to say otherwise – I am after all just the tinsiest but competitive. Primarily though, I do it because I want people to vote (whoever they vote for), that way the competition is more valid. There is no kudos in coming first if you win with five votes, three of which are from your parents and your cat (NB especially with this year’s tightening up to prevent multiple voting, cats are not eligible to vote). Most importantly, I want people who actually understand the family history world to be the ones doing the voting. I wish there was a way of excluding votes from mates down the pub and only allowing these who are members of genealogical or historical societies, or at least involved in family history to vote but there isn’t. The only way to counter the votes from the uninformed ‘mates’ to is encourage the genuinely knowledgable to vote, people who have heard the nominees speak, have read their books, who follow their blogs and so on. If people vote for me I want it to be because they genuinely feel I have made a valuable contribution not because I’ve asked them to and they have no clue about what a family historian actually does.

The names on the list are for the most part, internationally known. Each year I like to also pay tribute to the less well known. Those who keep small genealogical societies going. Those who give freely of their time to someone who comes wandering round their local graveyard looking for ancestors. Those whose telephone rings when a speaker has dropped out at the last minute and yes, they will go and talk to a dozen people for very little reward. Of course some of the ‘big name’ nominees do this too but there are many whose names will never reach this list but without whom the family and local history worlds would be the poorer. You can only have people at the top of the mountain if there is a solid base underneath. If you are part of that solid base then I thank you.

So yes please vote and encourage others to do the same but vote for those who you feel genuinely deserve it. Those whose writing make you feel informed or entertained or both. Those whose talks you will go to just because it is X speaking and you know you will enjoy it, even though you have no interest in the topic. Those who are generous with their time and expertise and not just after the financial rewards. Vote because you understand what these people have given to the family history world. If that means you vote for me, well thank you but if you are involved in family or local history, or history per se, please vote for someone (or several someones) and help to make this competition valid and vote to make your genealogical rockstars the ones who do well.

Thank you John for organising this once again. As ever, I am honoured and humbled to be on the list.

Of Strippers, Guns, Cauldrons and Celebrities

Some bizarre incidents lately. Last week I was scheduled to give a talk to my local family history society. Owing to an oversight, the venue had double booked our room and we were expecting to meet in the smaller room next door. I had duly reminded members that we were to be in a different room, so that we didn’t keep barging in to the other function. In the end it turned out that we were given our usual room and the other booking was moved next door, so I then had the task of intercepting my audience on arrival. Oddly, given that we meet at 2.00pm, the other function was a hen-party, who were awaiting the arrival of their male stripper. Many a joke was cracked about the potential defection of my audience to the room next door. I think some of them were hoping that the ‘entertainer’ would be as confused about which room he was supposed to be in as we were.

Then yesterday it was off to Dorset, via Somerset where I was to collect a cauldron, as you do – well as I do anyway. The car was already full of deactivated guns that we were delivering to Dorset (as with many of my activities, it really is best not to ask). There had been some sort of terrorism scare in Devon. Despite it being legal to carry these guns, we really didn’t want to be stopped and have to explain ourselves. The journey passed without incident however and I am very pleased with the cauldron, which will probably be a more effective weapon, should I need one, than the deactivated guns.

We were heading for a seriously posh hotel to celebrate a young lady’s very good examination results. I don’t really do posh. Don’t get me wrong I can clip my vowels with the best of them, I can do posh I just don’t very often. If I tell you that items on the wine list went up to £6445 a bottle (and no I haven’t left out a decimal point there) you will get the idea. Even I (a non-wine drinker) know that a £50 bottle of wine is better than one for a tenner from a supermarket near you but £6445, really? How is that possibly £6395 better than one for £50? There was a visitors’ book in the reception of the hotel and the last signatory was Lady somebody or other – are you getting the picture? We are tempted to talk about when we met Princess Anne in resounding tones and we loudly recite a list of our televisual appearances, so we are probably holding our own. A random guest, with gold rings the size of knuckle dusters approaches our guest of honour asking what she was celebrating. Initially, we all think he must know someone else in our party but it turns out that he didn’t and that this was his ‘local’. He weaves off to order more champagne. The staff have spotted cards and gifts on our table and come out with a cake, candle and birthday greetings. We debate maintaining the fiction with a rendition of Happy Birthday to You.

Half way through our meal I start to feel a bit peculiar. This is not like me and not wishing to faint in front of the minor aristocracy, I go outside for some air. Typically, this is the ten minutes during the day when the hot sunshine has given way to thundery rain. I clearly look less than well as the staff are proffering glasses of water and chairs under the pergola. They are probably keen to usher me to an inconspicuous corner before I vomit on their patio. I sit on the chair before I realise quite how wet it is, so I now look and feel as if I have had an unfortunate accident. Equilibrium restored without being embarrassingly unwell, I return to my seat, thinking that, if I have a relapse, I can put the cauldron to good use in the way home.

We learn that Chris Evans is about to bring round some million pound cars on which people have bid tens of thousands of pounds in order to drive (that is drive for a hour or so, not drive away). This is in aid of Children in Need, so the maitre d’ is sporting Pudsey ears. Now I may be odd but to me a car is a means of getting from A to B as safely and economically as possible, with as little damage to the environment as can be achieved. I am totally unimpressed by makes of car and no way would I be interested in parting with any sum of money to drive expensive Aston Martins, Bentleys or whatever they were. They have four wheels, just like the battered Nissan Micra we arrived in, so what?

Anyway, people seem to be impressed and Chris Evans arrives on a motor bike. Pudsey appears from somewhere. It is about 28 degrees; who would want to be wearing a bear suit? People start trying to take surreptitious picture of Chris Evans and some simpering sycophants are saying how much they enjoy his radio show. Someone a little closer to home is muttering, none too quietly, ‘We never liked him in The One Show.’ So not everyone is dazzled by celebrity then. It is time for us to extract the battered Nissan Micra from between the Range Rovers and Jaguars. As we leave the car park we narrowly miss knocking Chris Evans from his motorbike as he zooms across our path. Never let it be said that life is boring.

Happy Birthday #Daisy

I am watching the turbulent trees and the torrential rain pounding an uncaring tattoo on the window panes. One hundred and thirty two years ago Devon’s August weather was similar, heralding fears that the cool temperatures would keep tourists away and worries about how and when the harvest could be garnered. At some point, amidst the storms of 20 August 1894 a first-time mother held a moonflower child in her arms. Newborn cries drowned out the crashing tide that raked pebbles shoreward and then hurled them, uncaring, back to the darkening sea. Today is Daisy’s birthday.

So today I have learned that British Summer Time was introduced in 1916. If I am going to write about dawn and dusk, I need to pin-point them at the right o‘clock. I have read historic weather reports and discovered a ‘summer’ season, reminiscent of that of 2016. I have had to draw a blank on working out the state of the tides at particular times. Since my last #amwriting report, I’ve made a couple of site visits, roughed out a chronology, looked into the history of some of my characters, written some fragments and a more substantial piece. I can’t tell you how many words as it was longhand. In the unlikely event that I can actually read my own writing, I’ll let you know the running total when I have typed it up. You are looking at someone who wrote ‘ravioli’ on the shopping list and the hapless shopper returned with carrots. No, I have not been allowed to live that down.

Garden 1 August 2016At present, Daisy is as embryonic as she was in the early hours of 20 August 1894 but she is on her way and I am looking forward to my role as midwife. Creativity has also been channelled towards constructing a special place to sit and dream. This may lead to procrastination rather than productivity and today is certainly not the day for outside musings. Check back for more #daisy updates.

Of Writing (by me and potentially you), Books and Health History

DSCF3269.JPGThere are diminutive sandy shorts on the washing line, the pile of washing-up stretches from here to there (where there is a very long way from here and the only dishwasher I have is human), toilet rolls are disappearing like fairy dust and I have just tripped over a plastic hippopotamus for the third time. This can only mean one thing, yes, the descendants have descended, hence the dearth of posts recently. I have had great fun collecting shells, dressing as a gnome, identifying breeds of plastic puppies and trying to sound like I know the difference between a telehandler and a front loader (no, no idea). I have played a very small part in persuading a two year old boy that teeth cleaning is not an ordeal; the real credit goes to his patient parents. A whole menagerie of animals have had their teeth duly scrubbed and what a joy for us all when the stress free teeth cleaning session was followed by him beaming, ‘I made it!’ (no plastic creatures were harmed in this process).

This does mean that ‘work’ has taken a bit of a back seat. Mind you, nothing I do to earn a crust ever actually feels much like work. This week has seen the start of my Maps and Surveys course for Pharos Tutors and I look forward to our first online chat on Saturday. With students from five different countries picking a time when we are all, nominally at least, awake has been a challenge but we are giving it a go. I am also putting the finishing touches to my Are you Sitting Comfortably?: Writing and Telling your Family History course, to be presented by Pharos in September. If you feel that you need extra encouragement to put fingers to keyboard (other formats are available) you can sign up now. No excuses, you can do this from anywhere in the world. You know you owe it to your extended family to create something special from all your research efforts.

I took a break from being smeared with peanut butter and reading Meg and Mog in order to meet up with local authors and other booky people. What a wonderful afternoon, networking at Killerton House, thanks to organisation by Devon Book Club. There were bubbles, there was Eton Mess and plenty of book chat. I spoke briefly about Remember Then and it was well received, with interest in its use by people caring for the elderly and those with memory problems.

Then, an opportunity to make use of my forays into the history of medicine, as we are interviewed by a PhD student in connection with family health history. A fascinating morning. After spending three hours with two of us, we learn that a previous interview had taken the researcher only seven minutes. Surely we cannot be accused of talking too much? We did seem to be particularly relevant to the study on several counts. It also made us think again about how the information about health and death that we glean as a result of our family history research could be used. If we discover what appears to be a tendency to suffer from a particular health problem, are we interested or scared? How do we feel about telling other relatives for whom this information may potentially have personal implications? If these discoveries reveal mental health problems, is this more sensitive than the realisation that many ancestors died of heart disease, for example? Definitely thought provoking.