On 9 August it will be 100 days until Barefoot on the Cobbles is launched. Each day, from 9 August onwards, I will be posting a short item about one of the characters you will meet in the novel, or one of the locations that is mentioned. This will give readers an opportunity to learn more about some of the people and places that grace its pages. These will be accompanied by lines from the book. I will continue to bore you with other elements of my rather eccentric existence but these posts will be separate. I hope you will enjoy getting to know the people who have been part of my life for the last couple of years.
As I am in full-on Barefoot on the Cobbles marketing mode, I am excited to share my latest acquisition. Well, that’s the zero marketing budget well and truly blown. I am still working out where I can keep it! I am also now able to announce that I will be speaking at The Genealogy Show at the NEC in Birmingham next June. There are some great speakers from across the globe on the bill, many of who I am proud to call my friends.
Today I was giving a talk in South Devon and was able to combine it with searching out the probable burial place of my 7 x great grandfather, John Braund. It took me 37 years to find him, now I am frustrated because I can’t confirm his parentage after only four years of searching. I am almost certain I know who they were but assembling sufficient evidence to support my supposition is another matter.
And finally because, as a Brit, I have to talk about the weather, an incident from earlier this week. Don’t get me wrong I love the heat, unless I am incarcerated in a small space with a large number of hormonal teenagers that us. The downside is that numerous pesky insects have decided that I make a half-decent meal. My incredibly expensive super-strength insect repellent was confiscated by Qantas security but I do have the equally expensive and as yet unused insect repellent scarf, purchased in order to go to Peru. This takes the form of a circle of stretchy material, which can, the instructions allege, be worn in a variety of ways. Most of these involve me looking as if I am about to hold up a bank (I wish – we are now bereft of an even half local bank and there’s a y in the day, so no chance of the mobile post van turning up). I opt for the least sinister style, which means I have just hung the loop round my neck. It is 80 degrees. Casual callers, such as the postman, clearly think this scarf wearing lunatic should be certified.
With the end of Barefoot on the Cobbles almost within touching distance, I’ve been thrashing out details of print runs, prices and other such mundanities. I need to make a decision about a hardback edition. Now, personally, I am not a great fan of hardbacks. They are, after all, just that, hard. I read in bed, lying down. It is how I get to sleep. This means that, when I do doze off, whatever I am reading inevitably falls on my nose. This makes hardbacks somewhat of a health hazard. I am aware that there are those who read in a more conventional manner, sitting in chairs for example – how radical. Perhaps these folk would appreciate a hard back version? Can I canvas the opinion of one or two of you who are eagerly anticipating the publication of my magnum opus? Would you pay perhaps an additional £5 for a hardback version? There will be a ebook option for those who prefer reading on an electronic device. Publication and launch day is set for 17 November and the opportunity for pre-publication orders will be available shortly. I am not prepared to commit to how shortly but I am aiming for the end of March. Anyway, please let me know if you are a hardback lover, so I can judge if a hardback run is viable.
Some of you will know that this year is set to be a whirlwind of overseas travel. Planning these trips has been beset with irritations and anxieties and at one point I was heard to exclaim that I was going no further than Cornwall in 2019. So much for that idea. It looks possible that I will be working overseas twice next year as well. With all this trans-continental travel, you would think I could get myself to and from a rural village about fifteen miles away without incident wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t? – Ah, you know me so well. I set off in thick fog yesterday morning, fog that became ever thicker, to the extent of being impenetrable. By some quirk of fate the powers that be have got it wrong. They have inexplicably decided to shut the main holiday route at a time when tourists are not in evidence. This is a radical policy change but I digress. I was thus obliged to go ‘the back way’. ‘The back way’ gave me an opportunity to post a parcel. When our village post office was arbitrarily closed we were reassured that we could use the next nearest post office (in a village 6 miles away, which you wouldn’t want to go to for any other purpose – perfectly pleasant village and all that, just not much reason to go there). Inevitably that post office is now also shut. Never fear, we have a post van that visits our village daily, except when it doesn’t, due to there being a mechanical failure/operator illness/lack of internet access/two flakes of snow/an ‘R’ in the month. So the non-appearance of said van on Friday meant I had a parcel to post yesterday. I visit a fog bedecked post office, what can go wrong? I kid you not, the post office was closed for a computer upgrade. Onwards through the fog to my destination, parcel unposted. I arrive unscathed.
I spin away for a few hours. Well, actually I was plying and lucetting but I don’t want to get too technical. I set off home, deciding on a slightly different ‘back way’, in order to avoid having to execute a three point turn in a road barely wider than a car, at a time when several other cars are also manoeuvring. The fog had lifted, this should have been fine. Except that the other ‘back way’ was also closed for repair. The council are obviously using up their meagre road mending budget before the end of the financial year. I use a combination of common sense and sign posts before realising that I have no clue where I am, I haven’t seen another vehicle since I set off, the last building was two miles back and that was a barn. Do I have my ‘emergency’ phone? Well, no – how did I know there might be an emergency? I do however have a sat-nav. I unplug my cosy seat heater in favour of the sat-nav and follow the directions. Now I am more than comfortable with narrow, winding muddy road but I do like them to actually be roads. I bounce along muddy tracks that could not with any stretch of the imagination be described as roads, even by rural Devon, pothole laden, grass-in-the-middle-of-the-road terms. I idly wonder what would happen should I get a puncture. Even the emergency phone would be useless as I would be incapable of describing where to find me. Fortunately, I eventually arrive home. Forget going to Cornwall, I don’t even want to leave the house.
This week I have discovered that it is not only possible to waste time counting how many words you have, or perhaps that should be have not, written; there is a refinement to this. There are some nifty websites that will tell you how many unique words you have used. In other words (there’s a pun in there somewhere) how many of your words are different from any other. It also counts the number of times you have used a particular word. So, I have already used ‘words’ four times in this post, not that I needed a website to tell me that. So now I know that my 75,394 words contain 9273 different ones and that 7% of my book is ‘the’ – only 1563 ‘and’s though but I do have a weird writing style that tends to dispense with ‘and’.
I have also been doing some market research aka wasting time on writers’ forums (fora ?). This is encouraging and depressing in equal measure. Having spent my infant years in a decidedly antiquated educational establishment, the words ‘lots’, ‘nice’ and ‘got’ were frowned upon. Now it seems that ‘just’ and ‘seems’ are equally taboo. Cue a swift search through my manuscript to identify these gremlins and decide if they need an equally swift eradication. Then there are adverbs, the gratuitous use of which is high up there on the list of cardinal sins. Now, I am a great fan of the adverb; blame the antiquated educational establishment. Don’t get me wrong, I get the ‘lazy verb’ school of thought. Yes, it is preferably to write ‘he hurried’, rather than ‘he walked quickly’ but there are cases when the more descriptive verb is not enough. What is wrong with ‘he hurried anxiously’? (Not the best example perhaps but give me a break, it’s 6am). Again, I can see that the anxiety can and in many cases should, be conveyed by the context but I do believe adverbs have their role. If you don’t like adverbs please don’t read my work in progress, it won’t be for you.
As part of my one woman mission to eradicate anachronisms (now their use really is a cardinal sin) I have been checking on my use of idiom. Are the phrases I’ve used, often through the mouths of my characters, appropriate to the period I am writing about? It turns out they are and for example, I can tell you that the expression ‘good riddance’ was used in the late eighteenth century and to ‘lord it over’ someone is fine for the late sixteenth century onwards.
Just as I thought my confidence in my own ability could not get any lower, I go spinning. This is not the extreme gym activity, that really would be depressing but the crafting variety. I manage a business called Swords and Spindles for heaven’s sake (sorry can’t find a date for that one). I live in the seventeenth century. I need to be able to spin. So, having been given a spinning wheel for Christmas, off I go to an unbelievably friendly and helpful local group to learn how to use it. I should at this point explain that the kind of co-ordination that spinning requires, is not really my thing. I can’t even control an electric sewing machine. Then there is the perennial problem with my feet, which are square. This means my shoes are at least two sizes larger than my foot. Add to this my double-jointed toes and the point at which I have any control over what I am pressing on, is relegated to half way down my shoe. This makes controlling the pedal difficult. If you’ve tried patting your head and rubbing your stomach, spinning is more complicated. You have two hands and one leg all doing different things at the same time. Well, I don’t but that’s the principle. My very patient instructor made minor adjustments to my wheel and coped admirably with my incompetence. Despite going too fast, serious over-spinning and trouble with my backward drawing, I did manage to complete a whole bobbin of what is kindly described as ‘designer’ single ply. For ‘designer’ read full of lumps. I even started a second bobbin and did seem to actually be sort of getting the hang of it (mid nineteenth century) a bit by that point. I was already suffering from wool carders’ arms in preparation for the spinning. It is incredibly hard work, now I have added ‘spinners’ back’. Appropriate then that I am off to deliver a talk on ‘occupational hazards’ tonight.
My students on the Pharos Writing and Telling your Family History online course have begun submitting their assignments this week. The option to request feedback on a portion of their story is a new initiative and about half the students on the course took this up. It is a real pleasure to read these and to feel that I have had a very small part in their creation. Some of them are even signing up to do the course again, to motivate them for chapter two! It you want to join the party, there are one or two spaces left on the presentation of this course that starts in three weeks. Definite warm fuzzy feeling time and some great comments on the course to add to my testimonials page. Not that anyone ever reads my testimonials page and understandably so. After all, I could have made them all up. I haven’t, I hasten to add but I do wonder sometimes why I have that particular page lurking unread on my website. I suppose it does serve a purpose, in that I could look at it in moments of self-doubt and be reassured that people do enjoy and benefit from what I do. I don’t actually do this but the option is there!
On the subject of self-doubt, as Barefoot on the Cobbles nears completion (it does, really), I am consumed with fears that everyone will hate it. I never had this crisis of confidence with my non-fiction books. Maybe it is because fiction is somehow much more personal and although none of the characters are based on me, I have invested myself in their emotions and shared their anguish for the last couple of years. It isn’t all anguish of course, although I have to say that their tragedies do outweigh their joys.
Today I have one fewer chapter left to complete than yesterday. This is not because I had some turbo burst of creativity and wrote 5000-6000 perfect words yesterday. Instead, I looked again at my planned structure and decided to axe the proposed chapter one, which weirdly I hadn’t yet written. If you’d asked me before I started this fiction journey, I would never have believed that I wouldn’t begin at the beginning and finish at the end. Anyway, the realisation that I had very little to say in the proposed first chapter, means the old chapter two is now chapter one – I hope you are following this. There is a prologue, which at one point was itself chapter one but ignore that added complication. The new arrangement means that I need to ensure that the old chapter two is robust enough to be the first full chapter. I think it is, I hope it is. I just need to run the principle by a few people. Poor Martha, who is reading it all, in the wrong order, has been sent three totally different chapter 11s during the course of her proof reading marathon. She is an ace proof reader, not just spotting errant semi-colons (oh yes, along with the plethora of adjectives and adverbs it does have that endangered piece of punctuation) but telling me that I have used a particular phrase before, often in a chapter she read six months previously; she is rarely wrong. She claims she is looking forward to starting at the prologue and reading through to the epilogue but I wouldn’t blame her if she never wanted to read any of it ever again.
So, now I have a choice of chapters 3, 4 and 12 left to work on, although by the time I’ve finished with them they could have different numbers altogether!
The fact that I have begun the new year researching madness says it all really. One of my new presentations for 2018 is about the mental ill-health of our ancestors; it will have its first outing next month. By co-incidence I was invited recently to submit an article on the same topic for the journal of The International Society for British Genealogy and Family History. I have really enjoyed researching this important topic, if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word. I did touch on mental illness in my booklet ’Til Death Us Do Part: causes of death 1300-1948 and it also gets a mention in my Pharos online course In Sickness and in Death – researching the ill-health and death of your ancestors but preparing the talk and article has given me the scope to investigate in more detail. As usual, what interests me most is people’s behaviour, both the reactions at the time and how we view our mentally ill ancestors now.
So what else has been happening since the season of goodwill and family gatherings was relegated to the attic for another eleven months? Pretty much it has all been about Daisy and of course mental illness threads its way through the pages of her story too. This week has seen me focus on endings and beginnings in respect of Barefoot. I have been struggling with the final chapter. Sadly this is not the final chapter in the sense that it will be the last I write but it will be the end of the book, which is probably why I am finding finishing it so difficult. I also sent the prologue out to my lovely writers’ group and a couple of other beta readers. Well there was some good news, overall the reaction was favourable and they felt that they wanted to read more. That’s a relief. The downside is that they all suggested different minor ‘tweaks’. In each case, I can see the points that they are being made but if I take them all on board, it will be unrecognisable as the passage that I originally wrote. I am putting this passage away for a while and will come back to deciding how to deal with it later.
Shortly, I am off for what I am laughingly calling a ‘writer’s retreat’ aka three days in a caravan in the soft south of the county. Part of Daisy’s story takes place in Torquay, which is not a town I know very well, hence the need for a field visit. I spent yesterday researching the back stories of some of the minor characters she encounters during this part of her life and needless to say, found others I would like to include. A newspaper article mentioned that Daisy shared a house with six others whilst in Torquay. The identity of three of these was obvious. I had the task of pinpointing plausible candidates for the other three. I am happy to report that I have positively identified one and have come up with two others who are consistent with the information I have. Google earth suggests that the house they lived in was a three bedroom Victorian terrace and I cannot work out who might realistically have shared a bedroom with whom but perhaps, when I see the property in reality, it may look larger. A servants’ attic would be handy! I’ve also immersed myself in stories of VAD nurses and located routes I need to retrace. Hopefully this visit will enable me to write two middle chapters of the book then I really am on the home straight – yippee!
PS – three book reviews posted so far this year – get reviewing folks – help an author.
So we open the final ‘window’ in our social history book advent calendar. Given that this time of year is stuffed full of ritual and tradition, it seemed fitting to save Ronald Hutton’s The Rise and Fall of Merry England: the ritual year 1400-1700 for today. Professor Hutton looks at a range of customs and traditions, both religious and secular in origin. Highdays and Holydays (sic) marked the seasons for our ancestors, providing injections of excitement into routine lives. Some of these were national rituals, others more localised and Hutton has sought out references in contemporary documents that shed light on what was going on in particular towns. There is an appendix listing the churchwardens’ accounts that Hutton used in his research; the coverage is prodigious. In the pages of this book we find out about Maypoles and mummers, Candlemas and church ales and everything else in between. Hutton admits that, at times, the evidence is fragmentary but he has produced a comprehensive account of the celebrations of the early modern period. The time span covered by this book saw more than one major event that served to dislocate our ideas of celebration. The tumult of both the Reformation and the Civil War meant that our rituals in 1700 were very different from those of 1400.
As I come to the end of this year’s ‘calendar’, I would like to encourage you to review books that you read. It is the season of giving and it is the greatest gift you can give an author, well apart from buying their books in the first place. Obviously it is lovely if they are 4 or 5 star reviews but they do need to be genuine reactions. I personally don’t review at all unless I can award a ‘good’ rating. Reviews do not have to be lengthy. If you feel you can write something more than ‘great book’, it is helpful but all the authors I know would be grateful for two word reviews. I know I don’t write enough reviews and I really should. There’s a New Year’s Resolution in there somewhere! Can you commit to writing one a week, one a month or one for every book you finish in 2018? Use whatever medium suits you, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter or a blog but make an author happy.
It just leaves me to wish everyone a Happy Christmas and a new year in which we celebrate friendship and are tolerant of difference.