Wednesday, 16 October 2013
In August I sent off the finished manuscript of my latest novel, 'It's Now Or Never', set mainly in Liverpool in the Fifties, with a sigh of relief. I crossed my fingers that my editor would like it and turned my thoughts to writing something that had been in my thoughts for a while.
Being a saga writer for almost thirty years, I have done a fair amount of research during that time about the city - and its people - it's where I grew up. More recently I've had the help of my son, Iain. What I hadn't done during most of that time is research how it was I came to be a native of the place some folk call Scouseland. I started doing something about that five years ago.
I'm new to blogging and don't even know if I'm doing it right now but after reading in the Saga magazine about the numbers of silver surfers who blog on all sorts of subjects, close to their hearts, I decided to give it a go. PART 10: BY SEARCHING
I first heard about Ancestry when a friend at church mentioned she was going to Anglesey, an island off the coast of North Wales.
‘Going on holiday?’ I asked.
Anglesey had been a favourite holiday destination of our family for years until John took up fell running and the Lake District took over. Even so we and our three sons had fond memories of the island.
‘Not just a holiday,’ replied Barbara. ‘I’ve traced some of our ancestry to there.’
Immediately my ears pricked up. ‘You’re doing your family tree?’
She nodded and told me that she had started years ago and was now a volunteer helping to type up records for Lancashire BMD online.
I mentioned Martin Nelson, and how I’d really like to find out more about him. She said that she'd see what she could find out for me.
I felt really excited, not realising then just how much the search for one’s ancestry can take over one’s life. She discovered that a Martin Nelson had married a Mary Harrison at St John the Baptist Church in Toxteth in 1865 and also that a Mary Nelson had three children baptized, two daughters and a son William. Instantly I was convinced that baby William, baptized in 1871, was my grandfather. I thanked my friend, especially as she had also discovered on one of the Ancestry sites, a Norwegian mariner, Martin Nelson, on a ship in port in the 1881 census. I decided I needed to join Ancestry, myself, to discover more and I also wanted a copy of Martin and Mary’s marriage certificate.
It was a real challenge at first understanding how it all worked and terrible on the eyes - especially when I’d been on the computer for hours, writing my latest novel. This was 2008 and I had almost given up on being a novelist in 2002. My eldest brother who lived in Essex had died the year of the Millennium and during the grieving process I was depressed and lost my confidence as a writer. I felt I was getting nowhere and despite the latest saga having been accepted for publication, I wasn’t a happy bunny.
I was also a OAP, having celebrated by 60th birthday a short time before. There was cause for me to be glad about this because at last I had a regular monthly income in my state pension, having taken advice from the DHSS and paid insurance contributions when I began writing, despite not immediately earning. Any would-be writers out there take note - you never know how much or exactly when for certain you’ll get your hands on your royalties. Anyway, I behaved extremely unprofessionally and parted from my then agent and also my publisher because I refused to sign the contract because I wasn't happy with part of it.
They did their best to persuade me but eventually, due to my stubbornness, returned the manuscript of THE PAWNBROKER’S NIECE and we parted company. Strangely I experienced a sense of relief. I’d been working hard at my writing for years and I thought now I can retire, relax, go to coffee mornings, visit friends, the museums, etc. I felt like that for a whole week and then I looked at my latest manuscript and said to myself I want to see this published.
The gardens in Abercrombie Square, Liverpool, mentioned in THE PAWNBROKER'S NIECE
I had the idea to set a book in a pawnbroker’s from remembering Mam telling me about taking her Uncle Ted’s Sunday suit to the pawnbroker’s and hocking it on the Monday and reclaiming it on the Friday for him to wear at the weekend. Thinking about the book now I realise there was a lot going on between its pages and I had gleaned information from several sources, including listening every Sunday afternoon to my mother-in-law’s reminiscences when she came for dinner, as well as two books in particular, MERSEY MARINERS by Rev Bob Evans and THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A LIVERPOOL SLUMMY by Pat O’Mara.
It was tough finding another publisher but by the end of the year I had a new agent and a new publisher and the book came out in hardback the following year, as well as large print and audio the following year, but it wasn’t to appear in paperback until 2012.
I was also persuaded by a writer friend to return to writing historical romance for Mills & Boon. Again it wasn’t easy but it was stimulating doing something different and by 2008, I had written several more sagas, some set partly in Chester, involving some of the same characters, and also three historical romances set during the 15th Century.
I was working harder than ever at my writing but was only able to do so because John retired and took over some of the household and gardening jobs that had been mine and my eldest son continued doing a fair amount of my research.
It almost goes without saying that tracing your ancestry bears similarities to doing research for an historical novel. It’s a bit like being a detective, is time consuming and can be extremely addictive. Most writers I know enjoy doing research because one comes across so many interesting stories and snippets of information, so no wonder it is so easy to be diverted from the task in hand.
What a thrill it was getting my hands on a copy of Martin and Mary’s marriage certificate. They had married 4th December 1865 at the aforementioned church in Toxteth. He was 28 at the time and she was 20. Martin’s father’s name was Hance Nelson and he, too, was a mariner, whilst Mary’s father, James Harrison, was a carter. Bride and groom were residing in Upper Mann Street and had made their marks on the certificate with an X, as did Thomas Wilson one of their witnesses. The other, an Elizabeth Christian, was able to sign her own name, which told me something about her. But it was to be sometime before I was to discover that there was much less information to be had early in the century. In the meantime I wanted to know much more about my ancestors and the times they lived in.