One of the things I love about being a novelist is discovering snippets of information about the places and times my stories are set. I remember publisher, Judy Piatkus, saying something along the lines that I have to create a world that readers enjoy escaping into. It is only by researching and using one’s imagination and feelings that bring the characters and a particular era alive. A MOTHER’S DUTY is a book I really enjoyed writing because it not only involved a storyline that was close to my heart but it was set in the Thirties and into the beginning of WW2 when so much was happening in Liverpool and the world in general.
Writing about one place in particular means that coming up with fresh storylines demands quite a bit of thinking about. Those involved in publishing and writing often advise Newbies to write about what they know. I always used to say and if you think you don’t know anything then find out as much as you can about what interests you. I write family sagas, so naturally I write mainly about situations involving families. For this book I wanted a mother with sons to be at the centre of the story. But I wanted their situation to be slightly different to the norm, so I decided that the mother, Kitty, would be the proprietor of a hotel. Where? Where else but Mount Pleasant which is not far from Lime Street railway station. I knew a fair amount about being a mother of sons but scarcely anything about running a hotel. So I plucked up my courage, took a walk along that thoroughfare, which before the arrival of the railway was called Martindale Hill and was set in countryside and I chose a place I liked the look of and rang the bell.
I was fortunate enough to be welcomed inside when I explained to the son of the proprietor my mission and flourished one of my books as my credential. Although his mother was too busy at the time to discuss the subject with me, we arranged a time convenient to both of us when we could meet. The information she gave me was invaluable in stirring my imagination and making not only my fictitious hotel real to me but also my character, Kitty. For instance I had never given much thought to how important the Grand National was to hoteliers and guest houses in my hometown. The same with Liverpool theatres, not only did people come into the city from Wales, Lancashire and from across the Irish Sea to see shows but the theatricals needed digs. Just as did travelling salesmen and those stopping off in Liverpool before taking ship to the U.S.A. Ireland, as well as Canada and other parts of the British Empire.
To help me visualise Mount Pleasant in the Thirties, I visited the Central Library and perused copies of Kelly’s Street Directories and so was able to pepper the Mount with a wigmaker, the YMCA, a dentist, and some nuns from the Convent of Notre Dame. Not far away was Georgian built Rodney Street with its doctors’ houses, as well as the workhouse on Brownlow Hill. Earlier that decade the maternity hospital on Oxford Street had been opened by a royal personage at a time when most mothers still had their babies at home.
Kitty is a widow so she pretty well has her hands full with running the hotel after her mother dies and then her brother-in-law decides to quit. She is left also doing her best to bring up her sons to be respectable and responsible. What she needs is a strong man to help her as well as to love while her sons are growing up.
Enter John McLeod wearing a kilt and carrying a violin case at a needy moment. He’s a bit of a wanderer without a steady job, who had been a medical orderly in the Great War. I provided him with a violin because I remembered how after WW2 there were those musicians who entertained the cinema and theatre queues and my mother told me it was the same in the Thirties. I also provided him with a monkey who also helped entertain the crowds. The monkey was on hire from a pet shop across the city near Netherfield Road. I had that information from my mother-in-law. It was a place she remembered well and loved, just as Kitty’s third son, Ben, did. It was my mother-in-law who told me the story about the white mice.
The reading of Liverpool Echos of the times, provided me with news about crime waves and protection rackets so there are moments of violence in the book. Some of the characters also travel further afield. I had the information about motorbikes and the incident with the pig in Wales from my dear Uncle Bill, who sadly is now deceased. For that about Oxford during the earlier part of WW2, I owe my son Iain who was a student there a few years back and was happy to return and do the research.
Most Liverpudlians of my generation know that Lewis’s and Blackler’s were almost destroyed during the Blitz but I never knew that there was a magnificent domed Customs House overlooking Canning Dock that was set alight with fire bombs during the May blitz until I began my research. It is there that Kitty’s eldest son, Mick, works before being called up and joining the navy. Sadly like many an erstwhile beautiful building in Liverpool, it was the city leaders who later completely destroyed the old Customs House. http://liverpoolremembrance.weebly.com/the-custom-house.html
I could go on and on but for my readers in the South of England, I must add something I found out for myself on a visit to Brighton with my nephew, erstwhile professional football player, Garry Nelson, who inherited his love for the beautiful game from his Everton supporter grandfather and dad. I never knew that the lovely Oriental pavilion there built on the orders of George IV was to provide shelter and care for wounded Indian soldiers during the Great War. It is in Brighton that big John McLeod met his first wife.
And finally for those who have read FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY and remember Daniel and Rebekah, and the Quaker maid Hannah, they make a reappearance in A MOTHER’S DUTY which will be available in paperback and e-book the 26th February 2015.