Day 24 #bfotc sources

The final day of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

Exminster aslylum

Several of the characters in the novel experience periods of mental ill-health and some of them spent time in the county asylum. I went to the Heritage Centre in Exeter where the admissions’ registers are held. The amount of information that is given varies with date but I was able to view details of my characters’ diagnoses, home life, treatment and progress whilst they were in the asylum. There were lengthy accounts of their behaviour and the symptoms that had led to their commital. Many of the personal records also give detailed physical descriptions. No photographs of Aunt Matilda survive. Everything that the reader learns of her appearance is based on what I could glean from her asylum register entry. Although I didn’t use this for the novel, an excellent website on the history of mental health is the Museum of the Mind, which focuses on Bethlem Hospital. These records are both fascinating and tragic; they are high up on my list of favourite sources.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.

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Day 23 #bfotc sources

Day twenty-three of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

GBC_1911_RG78_00781_0155

An Enumerator’s Book List

When trying to work out precisely where my characters lived, I made use of the census returns, particularly the 1911 census. This is a key resource for family historians but many do not venture beyond the household schedules. The key data providers, that most people use in order to access these records, allow us another opportunity. Having found a return for a single household, in the usual manner, it is possible to opt to view ‘related images’. Of these, I find the one described ‘enumerator’s book list’ very useful. This is pretty much what its name suggests. It is a list of the properties on that enumerator’s route. Not only are these lists normally in a logical order, with properties in close proximity next to each other on the list but occasionally the lists give the name of a property that is merely described as ‘village’ on the household schedule. The ways of accessing these lists differ between data providers. I use FindmyPast but I understand these lists can also be viewed on other sites.

I spent hours agonising over a series of census returns, the 1939 register and street directories, in an attempt to identify exactly which house the Powells inhabited in Bideford. This was made more difficult because, historically, several properties bore the same name. In fact, chapter 2 stalled for many months during a period of frustration because I could not associate the family with a particular property. In the end, I am fairly confident that I have selected the correct one. It was probably a good job that I did not write the novel in the right order and I was able to work on later chapters whilst I was waiting to feel comfortable with chapter 2.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.

Day 22 #bfotc sources

Day twenty-two of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

CaptureWhen tackling the horrors of the Western Front, I chose Abraham Tuke as my ‘point of view’ character. Research into his background revealed that he had been the editor of his college magazine. I decided that, like others involved in the Great War, he might relieve the stress of being in a combat zone by writing poetry. I re-read the classic World War One poets, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasson, Rupert Brooke, Lawrence Binyon and other well known names. I was also fortunate to have access to a collection of works by poets who are not household names and whose work is a little less polished, The Forgotten Tommy Poets of WW1. I tried to absorb the topics, the timbre and the language used in these poems. The subject matter frequently addressed the futility of war, the blundering of those in authority and the sheer boredom that was punctuated by death and fear. Often, a certain black humour permeates the lines that they composed. This research allowed Abraham to write his own poems; poems that I hope sit comfortably with those written during the war. I did reassure myself that he did not need to be a very accomplished poet! The poetry that I read was also very helpful in my attempt to keep the phrases, the euphemisms and the slang in period. I am not sure that my vicarious poetry writing will inspire me to write more verse but I am tempted to find time to read poetry again, something I have not done for decades.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.

Day 21 #bfotc sources

Day twenty-one of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

CaptureI would like to mention another local archive today: The Bideford and District Community Archive. The Bideford Archive was established in 1983 and has premises in Northam, where its holdings can be consulted. There is also an excellent website, which can be searched by place, personal name or topic. I used the archive principally in order to consult original copies of the local newspaper, the Gazette, which I could not access online. The archive is a treasure trove of local information, some of which is not available elsewhere. If you want to delve into the history of Bideford and the surrounding rural hinterland do pay them a virtual or actual visit.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.

Day 20 #bfotc sources

Day twenty of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

Capture

I am an inveterate reader of historical novels but one of the things that is likely to make me abandon a book halfway through is the use of inappropriate language. By this I don’t mean a text that is peppered with swear words; I am referring to novels that include words, phrases, metaphors or idioms that were not in use at the time. Novels I have rejected include a book set in 1800 that mentioned cardigans and suitcases and an early 1900s saga where the characters greeted each other with ‘Hiya’.

The historical novelist has to tread a fine line between accuracy and unintelligibility. A Medieval saga written in Chaucerian language, or a Tudor tale that faithfully reproduces every aspect of Shakespearean dialogue, would be incomprehensible to the majority of readers. Yet getting the language right is an important part of evoking an era. Reading novels, newspaper reports, diaries and letters that were written in the appropriate period can help when an author is trying to get a feeling for the vocabulary and turns of phrase of a time. It is important to remember though, that ordinary people did not speak in the way a novelist would write, in the same way as we do not sound the same when we are chatting to our friends as we would delivering a eulogy or being interviewed for a job.

Avoiding linguistic anachronisms is a vital part of giving an historical novel the right ambience. I use an idiom dictionary and you can also put the phrase and ‘idiom first used’ into the search engine of your choice. These are not infallible but will often quote early uses of the phrase in literature, so that you know you are safe to use it in books set after that point. You can’t ‘paper over the cracks’ until after the 1860s, or play with a ‘doll’ until the eighteenth century (before that it would be a poppet or puppet), yet a ‘millstone round the neck’ is biblical so can be used in all but the earliest historical novels. I had great fun trying to ‘iron out’ (fourteenth century) any inconsistencies in the language that I used.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.

Day 19 #bfotc sources

Day nineteen of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

CapturePrevious advent posts have mentioned the importance of local archives, local history books and relevant websites, when an author is trying to recreate the geographical context for a novel that is set in the past. When my character, Polly, moved to East-the-Water, Bideford, to take up her position with the Powell family, I needed information about the area. An excellent summary of life on the eastern bank of the Torridge appears on the Human History pages of the East-the-Water website. Page 8 was the most relevant to my story but the other pages also provided interesting background.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.

Day 16 #bfotc sources

Day sixteen of the ‘advent calendar’ focusing on some of the historical/genealogical sources that I used in the writing of Barefoot on the Cobbles.

Option 2 - CopyWhen a novel is firmly set in a recognisable geographical location, it is important to exploit the resources of the experts. By using Clovelly as the backdrop for much of the book, I was placing my characters in an iconic village that, is well-known far beyond the immediate area. I was fortunate to be able to have access to the expertise and archive material of Clovelly Archive and History Group. Their Facebook group answered an eclectic range of queries from me. It was a real benefit to be able to ask such things as ‘Who was in charge of the post office?’ and get an almost instant response. I was able to see one of the paper discs, with its political slogan, that had been left on the lawns of Clovelly Court by the militant suffragettes. I was granted permission to use one of the archive’s evocative photographs of Daisy, barefoot on the cobbles, on my cover.

I would encourage all those who are trying to recreate a real place in a past era to approach local history groups and archives. They will be your harshest critics if you get it wrong but will be generous with their time and knowledge in order to help you to get it right.

More information about Barefoot on the Cobbles can be found here. Copies are available at various events and at all my presentations. You can order from Blue Poppy Publishing or directly from me. Kindle editions are available for those in the UK, USA, Australasia and Canada.