Daisies, Blue Poppies and other Flights of Floral Fancy

I am excited to announce that I will be working with Blue Poppy Publishing to bring #Daisy to a discerning audience. Who am I kidding? There’s no need to be discerning. Blue Poppy focuses on local authors and was founded by Ollie Tooley who was one of the historical novelists that I chose for my advent calendar last year. Do check out the Blue Poppy website and like their Facebook page. Publication date is set for November 2018. That may seem like a long way off – please tell me it is a long way off – but it means that I have a deadline that is considerably before that. I am going to need to up my production rate.

I have finished off a chapter this weekend. It had stalled because I was unable to identify which Bideford house one of my main characters worked in in the 1890s. It’s a novel, does it matter? Ah but it mattered to me. I have finally worked it out so can wax lyrical about the cream bricks and arched windows phew. You learn so much researching historical novels. I now know when telegraph boys started using bicycles and what the stair well in front of the servants’ door is called. I knew that anyway but had a crisis of confidence and needed to convince myself. A quick speed read of 96 pages of my battered copy of Upstairs Downstairs (yes they were books before it was a 1970s TV series) and I was vindicated – despite a certain amount of scepticism from a fisherman of my acquaintance.

Also on this weekend’s agenda, a research report for a client. To be honest, genealogical research for others is a very small part of what I do nowadays but this has been a fascinating case. There are reputed murders (several), actual murders (one), separations, confusing stage names and the longest service record I have ever seen (61 pages), complete with the soldier’s temperature chart.

DSCF3888Then it was the village garden and produce show. I always try to get involved in community events. The cooking classes were clearly a non-starter. I hadn’t had time to create something crafty. As my garden is a wasteland, being as it is mid re-vamp, plant and vegetable classes were challenging. Fortunately I could fall back on my herb garden, which was made-over last year. So second prize for a posy of herbs, or Tuzzy-Muzzy as we say, I’ll take that. I am sure I should be Daisy writing rather than blog writing so that’s it for today. I wonder if I can get another chapter finished amongst two talks to present in two days and the return of the job we must not mention.



Writers in the Cabin

The seven authors in our writers’ group are eagerly anticipating our forthcoming ‘Writers in a Cabin’ residence. Will we cope with the lack of electricity, phone signal and sanitation? How will we interact with the resident insect life? Will anyone want to come and say hello? As yet, all great imponderables, although some of us have already made up their minds about the spiders. In the hope of persuading you to spend time in a very special place and of course increasing the footfall for us, may I encourage you to read on?

Writers in Cabin flyerNestled at the bottom of the hill in the little fishing hamlet of Bucks Mills, lies The Cabin. This two-roomed hut began life as a fisherman’s store before being acquired by Judith Ackland’s family. Together with her friend Mary Stella Edwards, Judith used the building as an artists’ retreat for half a century. The solitude and spectacular views across the rugged North Devon coastline make it ideal for those seeking inspiration. Now in the care of the National Trust, the Cabin is almost exactly as the artists left it in 1971.

From 29 April – 1 May, it will once again be a setting that encourages creative talents to flourish. Between 10.00 and 4.00, the seven members of the North Devon authors’ group will take it in turns to use the cabin and its wonderful surroundings as their muse. The work of all these writers is rooted the past, in the local landscape, or both. They look forward to discussing their work, both past and forthcoming and signing copies of their books. This will be a unique opportunity, not only to view inside The Cabin, which is rarely open to the public but also to talk to enthusiastic and friendly authors about their writing.

The Writers in the Cabin will be:

Ruth Downie writes crime novels set in Roman times. Ruth’s book Medicus has recently attracted a ‘Discovered Diamond’ award for historical fiction.

Susan Hughes writes books set in the first half of the twentieth century. Her debut novel A Kiss from France was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2017. She is now writing her second book.

Wendy Percival is the author of mystery novels featuring genealogy sleuth Esme Quentin, which include The Indelible Stain, set on the North Devon coast, near Hartland.

P J Reed is a poet and author who writes of the beauty and ethereal nature of the changing countryside. Her latest anthology Flicker was published last month.

Liz Shakespeare’s books are inspired by the people, history and landscapes of Devon. Her latest novel The Postman Poet, which was launched last month, is based on the true story of Edward Capern who composed poems and songs whilst delivering letters in Victorian North Devon.

Pamela Vass writes North Devon based fiction and social history. Her novel Seeds of Doubt debates whether the Lynmouth floods of 1952 were an Act of God or the Act of Man.

and Me!

Day 18 – more from Loftgate and another Genealogical Sleuth to Unwrap

Chuffed to find that my In-depth Genealogists’ blog post about twentieth century research was picked up as a favourite read of the week in the ‘writing’ category by the Family Locket blog. Yesterday was the annual Devon Family History Society (North Devon group) quiz. Six teams fought it out in rounds about Devon, Families, History and Societies, as well as identifying some of the many celebrities who have died during 2016. Proud to announce that my team were victorious, although I am not sure how valuable my contribution was.

Part of the loft clearing exercise has unearthed my untouched-for-ten-years teaching materials. In the unlikely event that I am ever called upon to teach GCSE history, geography or law (yes really, law – and no, I have no idea how that happened) again, the syllabuses will have changed beyond recognition, so it was time for a serious cull. There were twelve lever arch files rammed full of plastic wallet encased paper. I decided that, in the interests of the environment, the paper should be recycled and in the interests of economy, I should reuse the plastic wallets. I therefore enlisted the services of a trusty assistant and we began to extract paper from plastic wallets. If you think you know how long it takes to take paper from 1000+ (at a conservative estimate) plastic wallets you are wrong, it takes much longer. It is also a surprise how much room all those empty plastic wallets take up. I now have several lifetimes’ supply. Then there is the task of recycling the paper. Our weekly collection consists of whatever I can fit into a small plastic sack (not much). I have a cubic metre of the stuff. Simples, you might be thinking (if you are a meerkat) take it to the recycling centre, upend the large boxes into the appropriate skip and drive off into the distance. Ah, not so. All paper has to enter a skip through a slit the size of a large letter box. It is enough  to put anyone off being green.

4599573761_146x229We are in Devon again for today’s historical novelist and the final genealogical sleuth of the advent calendar (there are others but there weren’t enough days). Wendy Percival has created a female genealogist in the shape of Esme Quentin, a thoroughly believable character who I hope will have a long career. The first book, Blood Tied, begins with the murder of an unidentified victim and unravels a sixty year old family mystery. The Indelible Stain takes us from a dying woman on a North Devon beach, to the story of a young girl’s transportation to Australia. Although Wendy has changed the names of her locations, they are recognisable to lovers of the North-west  Devon coastline. What pleases me is that the genealogical methodology is believable. I don’t find myself screaming, ‘Why don’t you look at (insert a common record source here)’, as I do with some other authors of similar works. This is not surprising as Wendy is a keen family historian herself but the same can be said of other creators of fictional genealogists, whose careers and research techniques are much less believable. Highly recommended for lovers of mystery stories or family history. If, like me, you are a fan of both, you are on to a winning series.

And in my Life this Week…… history and other weirdness

This week I had an early doctor’s appointment. Early is easy, I can do early, especially now I have rediscovered my lost-for-months pocket alarm clock that has been sneakily hiding in a rarely used bag. Appointment was 7.40am. Doctors is a 20 minute drive away. I wake up before 6am as usual and turn off the alarm (set for 6.15am – who needs it). I start my day (aka check emails and social media). There’s a handy little clock in the corner of my computer screen. I really should learn to look at it more often. Suddenly it is 7.06am. I am still in bed – arrrrrggh. Undaunted, I am out of the house by 7.15am. Then I realise that although I know where I live (fortunately) and where the doctors is, I go so rarely that there is a piece missing in the map in my head that should tell me how to get from one to the other. Luckily automatic pilot works and I arrive in time.

‘Early appointments’, I’ve been warned, mean that the doors are locked and I have to be ‘buzzed in’. I fail to grasp the logic of this. Are mad receptionist threatening maniacs only abroad before the hour of 8am (after which time the doors are unlocked)? And if I were said mad receptionist threatening manic would I announce myself as such on the intercom? And another of life’s mysteries, how can the doctor be running twenty five minutes late when I can be no more than appointment three?

Returning from the doctors, I decided that today was the day for making the Christmas cakes; running a bit late with this this year. As regular readers (amazingly there are some) will know, cooking is not high on my list of enjoyable activities, or indeed my abilities. I do however ‘do’ Christmas cake, usually several Christmas cakes. This year I have managed to convince myself that I really don’t need four but two will be sufficient. Cakes happily in the oven I get on with my day. After the required time, I check the cakes and decide that one could do with a little longer to cook thoroughly. I leave it in the Rayburn which is on tick-over (for non Rayburn/Aga users this means it isn’t actually turned on but is still warm). I return to the fascinations of my real life. The next morning I come downstairs to get breakfast and spot a Christmas cake on the kitchen table where I had left it to cool. That’s funny, I think (turns out it is hilarious), where is the other Christmas cake? Realisation dawns. It is still in the Rayburn. The well cooked cake is quite dark and I think ‘solid’ would be a good description. Even my usual remedy (disguising the burned bits by turning it upside down) will be inadequate. Helpful Facebook friends make suggestions as to what to do with this creation, most of which involve copious amounts of alcohol – not sure if that is for me or the cake. I will be making another cake but I have found a volunteer to consume the middle if I cut the edges off.

It has been another week of dealing with incompetents. Just one of several examples:
Me to prospective venue on the telephone: ‘We would like to book your venue for 21 November 2017’
Venue: ‘We will email you’
Venue (by email): ‘Here are the dates we have available in February.’
The months have been changed to protect the guilty.

Last weekend was a rare occurrence. I went to a concert. The performers were Chris Conway and Dan Britton and I had been invited on two counts. Dan’s family were involved in the 1838 Clovelly fishing disaster, that I had researched in 2013 and some of the songs were related to the incident. I was also attending with fellow author Liz Shakespeare, in order to sell books. What a great evening.

Writing tasks this week have included finishing off lessons for my forthcoming online course about twentieth century family and local history research – don’t neglect more recent decades folks, you could even do a course ……… I have also written a guest blog, ready for my appearance on Jenny Kane’s website on 9 December, so look out for that one. Two of my blog posts (here and here) have now appeared on the In-Depth Genealogist’s website and I am writing the next in my series of articles about women’s work for their magazine. I’ve met with our lovely authors’ group again. That’s work right? Surely drinking coffee and eating cake is work.

booksNext week I am being interviewed for Tiverton Radio. So, amidst the pre-Christmas busyness and posting out books for discerning Christmas shoppers, it is all go. On the subject of books, a well known online book retailer has my books at ridiculously high prices at the moment. Don’t let this deter you. Buy from the publisher, even better buy from me but please don’t pay above the cover prices that are listed here.

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.