More Writing – by me and by Others

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!

EbeneezerOn 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!

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Social History Book Advent Calendar Day 20 – more on rural life and a bit about Suffragettes

If anyone is still reading these, congratulations and I refuse to be responsible if you have succumbed to my suggestions and blown your book buying budget. Today I would like to introduce you to Pamela Horn’s Labouring Life in the Victorian Countryside. I have had the pleasure of hearing Pamela Horn speak. In fact, on one memorable and somewhat embarrassing occasion, her 35mm slides slowly melted in the projector we had provided (you can tell this was some time ago!). Her social history books are all valuable reading for anyone trying to understand life in the Victorian era. The clue to the content of this particular volume is in the title and this is an excellent general introduction. The book covers many aspects of rural life in the nineteenth century. Here we can learn about home life, education, religion, leisure and cottage industries. There is a chapter covering the impact of trade unionism and another about crime and punishment. Other chapters look at poverty and at medical care. I particularly like the author’s habit of using named individuals as examples. The fruits of her extensive research in contemporary sources are shared with her readers.

My paperback edition has a few, rather dark, black and white photographs by way of illustrations, which don’t really add anything to the text. The appendices include details of labouring budgets and wages and a contemporary accounts of labouring life. There is also a useful bibliography, as well as end notes. It is another very useful book for those looking for context for the lives of their ancestors.

There was not much progress on Barefoot on the Cobbles yesterday. I am still bogged down with the tricky inquest scene. I took time out to write the next in my series of articles for the In-depth Genealogist Magazine (IDG). My column is about the lives of our female ancestors and this contribution was to be about suffragettes. I rashly included this when I was working on the suffragette chapter of Barefoot but suddenly this seemed like a less than good idea. IDG has an international readership and I needed to take that in to account and actually, once I got started, I really enjoyed researching it and I am now wishing I had time to take this further. I don’t have time. I really don’t. Please keep reminding me of this. I will pass on one gem that I gleaned. There is an online list of suffragists who signed a petition to parliament in 1866. I don’t want to give too much of the article away but there are similar lists of signatories to later petitions in Australia and New Zealand that a whiz of your preferred search engine should lead you to. Was great great granny a suffragette? I am wondering how much of my newly found knowledge I can impart to students of my forthcoming online Discovering Your British Family and Local Community in the early 20th Century course. You know the course, I believe I have mentioned it before and I expect, if there are still spaces, I will mention it again. It would be a great boost to your research as 2018 dawns.

Christmas is Coming

DSCF1180Yes, geese are signing up for Weight-watchers in flocks as I type. I kid you not, the ‘Back to School’ shelves have not yet been cleared and the Christmas cards are on sale. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, with the dark evenings on the horizon, this means our thoughts turn to digging out our virtual or literal family history files and promising ourselves that this year we really will create some order out of the chaos that is the fruits of years/decades of research. Maybe we would like to tempt our dearest and not so nearest to take an interest in our obsession with a yuletide gift of a family history, or we would like to share family stories over turkey and tinsel. Now let’s be honest here, ‘would you like to see my spreadsheet of baptisms?’ just isn’t going to cut it. I can feel the glazed over looks from 100 paces. That fascinating story of great uncle Fred’s bigamy, or auntie Alice’s spell in jail, though, that could just raise a flicker of excitement. Even if your family is devoid of all black sheep, set their lives in the local and social historical context of their time and you could be on to a winner. ‘Did you know great-granddad was the local rat-catcher?’ ‘Granny served tripe twice a week’ or ‘Great great grandma died of cholera, did you know she would have passed 20 litres of diahorrea a day?’ (good one for the gore hungry children that) – so much more engaging than a list of names and dates. If you want some motivation then can I humbly recommend that you take a look at my five week online ‘Are you Sitting Comfortably: writing and telling your family story’ course that starts on 17 October. Details are on the Pharos website – you can click on the course name on the left hand side of the menu. This time, for the really adventurous, you can submit up to 3000 words for feedback but that is strictly optional.

Yesterday I went to purchase a new pair of walking boots. The old ones, despite liberal applications of superglue, require a plastic bag to be worn between sock and boot in order to remain dry, not a good look. To be honest I’ve been putting this off. I am not a great fan of any kind of shopping (unless it is books of course – that’s not shopping that’s surviving) but shoe shopping is a particular nightmare. My feet are almost square so when asked, ‘what are you looking for madam?’ (do people still say madam?). I say ‘anything that fits’ and I mean it. I dread it when pointed toes are in fashion as then I know I have no chance. I defer the dreaded shoe shop until the previous pair (singular) has fallen to pieces. I once went to one of the largest shoe warehouses in the country and they admitted that nothing fitted me. Walking boots tend to be on the rounder toed side, so I was hopeful.

It seems that the smallest ladies’ shoes are now two sizes larger than my feet, so I turn to the children’s section. There is nothing in the boys’ range in my size so I am stuck with girls’. Does this mean that I will be forced to buy walking boots depicting Peppa Pig? At this point I should say that I despise all this ‘girls’ toys’ ‘boys’ toys’ nonsense and the bemoan the perception that every girl wants to wear pink. If you like pink, fine but don’t force me and my female descendants into some pink, fluffy, glitter laden mode. I pass by anything that looks vaguely cerise, fuschia, salmon or rose. Eureka something that at least doesn’t cut off all circulation to my toes and at best might actually fit! The magenta laces I can live with/get dirty/change. Epic win – as these are held out for sale as children’s shoes, I save 20% because there is no tax!

Stop Press – #Daisy now has a publisher – more news of that soon. This means I have a deadline. I am usually quite good at deadlines but I am going to have to up my Daisy production rate!

Ailments of various kinds: your ancestors in sickness and death

In the three weeks since my last post (three weeks! – you’ll guess I have been busy) I have spent four wonderful days in schools, swording and spindling away, extolling the virtues of the seventeenth century. Summer hit the west country last week. Temperatures rose to 85 degrees – that’s 30 to some of you and yes, in the UK, that’s hot. Four hours ensconced in crowded classrooms with a bunch of 13 year olds and no air-con – great. Followed by a chance to get outside – hurrah. Or rather not hurrah, as now I am on a scorching sports field for an hour, without a smidgen of shade, banging a drum – as you do. Well as I do. I should perhaps add that I was attired in multiple layers of thick wool at the time. I then went straight on to an evening presentation. Let’s just say that we brought the smells of the seventeenth century with us. I have also been finishing off the job I must not mention and presenting on various topics to adults. Today’s will be the fifth talk in four days – why do I do this?

dscf3202#Daisy is making some progress. Some lovely friends have read a chapter and didn’t hate it, which was encouraging. I am currently immersing myself in suffragette activities, purely in the historical sense, though I am not adverse to a bit of banner waving. Next on the list is research into the wartime experiences of a new character who has forced his way into the narrative. This did lead to that exciting moment when your ‘based on fact’ historical novel requires you to research someone new and you find that he attended a school that has an archivist. Better still, said archivist responds to your email (written after office hours) within minutes with information and a photograph. Ok, so he wasn’t the heart throb I was hoping for but I can get round that with a minor re-write!

I am looking forward to the start of my online course “In sickness and in death: the ill-health and deaths of your ancestors”, next month. I keep finding more and more gems and am resisting the temptation to add them all to the course text or it will become another novel. Did you know that bookbinders are adversely affected “by the smell of the putrid serum of sheep’s blood, which they used as cement.” (C Turner Thackrah 1831)? On the subject of ill health, I manage to move awkwardly and pull a muscle in my back so have been hobbling around all week. Great excuse for not doing any housework; now I just need an excuse for the preceding five weeks. May not try the C18th remedy, which is cow dung and vinegar.

Added to this a new research client has presented me with some fascinating family members to pursue. Despite explaining that I would not be able to start this for some time, it was just too tempting.

I am excited that a webinar I gave earlier in the year on surname studies around the world is now available online. That wasn’t the exciting news I hinted at in my last post; that‘s even more exciting but still under wraps – patience is a virtue and all that.