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.
Still not firing on all cylinders and equipped with a very unflattering over the ear and round the head mike, I deliver my keynote presentation about the story of Isabella Fry. It is the tale of an unfortunate woman, chocolate and a very bad man, which appears to go down well. Afterwards, we choose to stay in the main hall to listen to our friends talk about DNA. Firstly Michelle Patient and then our housemate for the duration, Maurice Gleeson. After lunch, Maurice is up again, this time talking about using DNA to identify unknown world war 1 casualties. By co-incidence, he was focussing on the Battle of Fromelles, which is featured in Barefoot on the Cobbles, although I don’t name it. Maurice used the session to launch the ‘Commemorating the Missing’ project. This encourages people to look at the list of the world war one soldiers whose bodies have never been recovered and ‘plant’ a virtual family tree on their behalf. Thus, if bodies are recovered in a location that links to those personnel, it might be possible to contact relatives so DNA can be obtained. I have already committed to ‘planting’ trees for the six Braunds on the list and we do already have relatives who have taken DNA tests, although obviously, it would be their decision whether or not their results should be used in this way.
There is a session on New Zealand School records and then I have to summon the adrenaline to talk about One-Place Studies at the end of the day. People are taking pity on my lurgy ridden state and keep pressing medication into my hands!
We are taken to the Chateau on the Park for the conference dinner where we have an unusual but very tasty, hot/cold buffet mixture and delectable but clearly not very good for us desserts. Chris ‘entertains’ all-comers with the delights of seventeenth century barber surgery. We do present to adults on a regular basis but the addition of alcohol has an effect on the levels of audience participation! At the request of the maitre d’, one of Chris’ patients is a young waiter, who enters into the spirit of the thing. Fiona, our self- appointed chauffeur and also the overworked conference convenor, explains about the psychological impact of the earthquake on Christchurch residents.
The Sunday begins with our seventeenth century presentation. Yesterday’s sessions were very well received but now I am feeling as if I am giving of my best. There is an overwhelmingly positive response afterwards, which gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. I listen to a double-handed talk on ‘Research Tips and Tricks’, which includes a very effective use of Power Point as a way of recording family history from the ’other Fiona’. I then listen to a story-telling session from Margaret Copeland, an historical interpreter who represents the wife of the goaler of nineteenth century Lyttelton Goal. I have to leave before the end to prepare for my own Facebook Generation talk. It was very well attended (there are three streams of lectures) and there was a real buzz afterwards, with plenty of questions and comments.
In the evening, we have invited a few fellow members of The Guild of One-Name Studies round to our adopted home. We are feeling more and more like riotous students by the minute. We have an hilarious evening, with the humour partly fuelled by the fact that the local pizza house names its offerings after the seven deadly sins. One of our party ordered a ‘Twelve inch lust’, no comment! There was also this hysterical attempt to take a picture with all of us in, using the time on someone’s precariously balanced phone. We had a lovely time but we are obviously showing our age, as our guests had left by 9.15pm and we managed to keep the house in very good order. Our hostess has been incredibly generous with her home and my early blog comment about Hokey-Pokey ice cream led to the freezer being stocked with the same – yum.
The final day already. I can’t believe it has gone so fast. I listen to Fiona talking about The Time Travelling Genealogist, encouraging us to record our own lives as part of our family history. Her ‘Memories in Time’ business has some great products and it is a very good presentation. Next, I learn about the ‘Decimation by the Invisible Enemy’, which is about the appalling effect of the Spanish flu on those on board the ship the Tahiti. I finish the conference with my ‘Remember Then’ session. I wondered how it would adapt to an international audience but judging by the reaction, nothing was lost in translation. It is sad to say goodbye to people who have become friends. We have had a wonderful time and have been looked after exceptionally well by all concerned.
Four of us take a trip to the Antarctic Centre in the afternoon. Included is a ‘Hagglund’ ride, deemed to be unsuitable for those with heart conditions, of a nervous disposition or who are pregnant. I briefly debate the wisdom of this and decide I should enter into the spirit of the thing. The Hagglund are the all terrain vehicles that are used on Antarctic expeditions and we career across a track hanging on tightly. It was a bit on the bumpy side but pales into insignificance in comparison to sand-dune buggy riding, so I survived unscathed. We pat some huskies and watch the blue penguins being fed. These are all rescue penguins, who would not survive in the wild. Then a chance to sit and relax whilst watching a 4D film. We don the approved glasses. It turns out that this is not as relaxing as all that, as the seats tilt alarmingly, to simulated power boating across a lake and at intervals, water is hurled in our faces.
We are then collected for a meal with some of the conference organisers. This is followed by Te Reo Maori lessons, which are being put on, free of charge, by the owner of the Fush restaurant. He is concentrating on teaching us ‘pidgen’ Maori, where we substitute English words for those we don’t know (which is most of them). We had already picked up that Maori is not actually pronounce Mawree but more like Mardi. Te Reo Maori was not originally a written language and there is no equivalent of the letter s for plurals. Instead, what comes before the noun indicates several, rather than one. So ‘the‘, followed by something singular is ‘Te’ but if it is plural, ‘the’ would be ‘nga’ (pronounced nar). This is great fun but my inability with languages has not undergone a great transformation and the fact that it is in the evening after a very hectic five days does nothing for my concentration. Somehow, this ends up with us appearing on Maori TV news, fortunately not at the point when it all caught up with me and my eyes closed momentarily.
Then, after reluctantly bringing our last evening chat to an end, comes the applied mathematics that is our packing. We have a baggage allowance of 30kg each; easy, 60kg you’d think. But we only have three bags, one small one having gone to meet its maker on the outward journey. We cannot be deemed to have one and a half bags each, so two of these bags cannot contain a total of more than 30kg. In addition, no one bag must weigh more than 23kg. Effectively, this reduces our total allowance to 53kg between us providing we can, without the aid of scales, distribute our belongings appropriately between the bags. If you think 53kg is a ridiculous amount of luggage for two people, you’d be right but remember that we have three sets of seventeenth century clothes, including hefty shoes and numerous heavy surgical instruments. I also have the clothes that I abandoned in Peru that have been, very kindly, brought to me from Australia. In addition, we have also picked up a few things from the conference and our preceding trip, which have to be accommodated.
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!
This retreating writers thing seems to be a good idea. At 5am on day one I wrote a fair draft of the end of Barefoot. Although my slightly weird body clock does not regard 5am as being ridiculously early, I am not often in full writer’s flow at that hour. The words came, they needed to be captured before they evaporated. I began by scribbling on the margin of the handy TV paper until the pen ran out, then I upgraded to pencil and paper. Perhaps I should keep the TV paper; if only anyone could actually read what I wrote on the pale parts of the page, nestled between Coronation Street and the Jeremy Kyle Show, it could be worth a fortune when Barefoot turns out to be a best seller. I can but dream. This sleep inspired ending, is not the last part of the final chapter that I have been struggling with, that remains an ominous blank page but the epilogue is on its way to being done. Of course, it will still be pulled apart and put back together again, especially when I let it loose on readers but I am pleased with my initial efforts.
Before all this muse striking lark, having established ourselves on our caravan site, we decided to drive into Torquay in the hope of buying ancient persons’ coach cards from the Tourist Information Centre here, our local one having been closed. I suppose alarm bells should have rung when I could not find the opening times anywhere online. I did establish that they were closed at weekends, hence not waiting until the following day. We paid a small fortune to purchase a plastic disc that enabled us to park. We walked to the tourist information shop. It was closed, had we arrived too late in the day? It turns out we were several months too late and the office does not reopen until February! To be honest, having been there, I can understand why the powers that be subscribe to the theory that there will be few tourists in a freezing January Torquay but I resented the wasted couple of hours and the significant investment (well, £1.50) in unnecessary parking.
As we were in south Devon, we decided to take the opportunity to support the south Devon group of Devon Family History Society. Having looked at the online programme, we were expecting a talk on the territorial army. I was surprised and delighted to find that the talk was actually about Newton Abbot workhouse and I had been looking at last year’s programme by mistake. One of my reasons for visiting the south was to investigate Daisy’s time in this very workhouse; what a coincidence, or is it something more?
Now to type up my epilogue while I can still decipher it.
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.