Friday 25 October 2013


Despite being a lover of the paper book and having a couple of shelves of research books, I have grown to appreciate the internet due to the sheer amount of information out there. It has enhanced not only my working life as a writer but my life in general. The other day wanting to discover more about the working lives of firstly the men without whom I wouldn’t be here, I Binged and Googled and hit upon a site called OLD MERSEY TIMES which consisted of transcripts taken from old newspapers.
       To my delight I discovered an extremely long and informative article taken from the LIVERPOOL MERCURY called “THE LIFE OF A DOCK LABOURER” written by a dock labourer during the 1800s. It provided me with information, not only about his working life but family life, religion, entertainment and even death, so much so that cynic that I am, I came to the conclusion that he was either a very educated dock labour or the by-line should have read -written from a dock labourer’s point of view. No doubt it is true that there were educated men who came to Liverpool who had fallen on hard times and sought work at the docks but on the whole most of the working classes of the times could scarcely read or write. Now while at various times some of my male forebears did work as dock labourers, I was really wanting to know more about the life of the carter. Fortunately I came across a couple of sites which provided me with information about carters and the working horses of Liverpool and with some great photographs.
      Photographer: Tim Francis.
One of my nieces, Linda, born in Liverpool but living in Essex, would appreciate there being a monument to the working horses of Liverpool, near the Albert Dock, as she owns two horses and is a competitive rider.  The sculptor: Doreen Burns. The money for the monument was raised by Joe Hartley and other ex-carters on Merseyside.
I already knew something about carters because my mother-in-law used to talk about Tom the carter who loved his horses and how he used to prepare them for the Lord Mayor’s Mayday Parade by polishing horse  brasses and decorating mane and tail with ribbons and artificial flowers. Such information made its way into my novel THE PAWNBROKER’S NIECE, although that was set during the Depression.
    Harness jingled, horses snorted and gaily-decorated carts, including the coalman’s and the Co-op’s, were being admired. People laughed and chattered. Despite the economy being in a mess and unemployment worse than ever with protests marches being organised, folk seemed determined to enjoy themselves today. Rita bought a yellow balloon because she had never had one as a child and also an ice-cream from a STOP ME AND BUY ONE vendor, pausing also to chat to several people she knew. She was looking for \Sam but there was no sign of him. Then she caught sight of Jimmy sitting astride a huge dappled gray horse, which exhibited a rosette.

Anyway, I learnt enough to give me some idea of not only my great-great grandfather James Harrison’s working life but have come to the conclusion that he could have worked at the Liverpool Cartage Company in Grafton Street, only a stone throw away from Mann Street.

But what about my great-grandfather mariner Martin Nelson, who married James and Maria Harrison’s daughter, Mary? There was no mention of him in any of the Liverpool censuses and it turned out that he couldn’t possibly be the Norwegian born mariner Martin Nelson listed as part of the crew on a ship in dock in the south of England. The birthdates were different so the latter proved to be a red herring. Mary seemed to have also disappeared so I decided to search for my grandfather, William Nelson.
     In the 1891 census I discovered him living in Bootle, working as a dock labourer and citied as a stepson of Norwegian born mariner Henry Wilson, nationalised Brit.    Obviously my great-grandfather had died and the widowed Mary had remarried and also given birth to two more sons. I always think of Mary as a tough cookie. She had survived the fever ridden area that was Mann Street as a child, and given birth to at least six children who lived to adulthood. She married Henry in May, 1874 and they appeared to be living in Crown Street at the time, further away from the docks but near a rail depot and a station which in the 1830s had been the terminus for those travelling to Liverpool from Manchester; until a tunnel was bored through the rock to take the railway track to Lime Street. There was also a railway line that ran to the docks.
     I doubt my grandfather, William, would remember his father as he was only a toddler when Martin died, most likely at sea sometime between 1872-3; his death does not appear to have been recorded. I have tried to trace where he originated from in Norway and have come to the following conclusion. There was a community of Scandinavians living in the Toxteth area, amongst them Nelsons and Wilsons. A Thomas Wilson was one of the witnesses at Martin and Mary’s wedding, so most likely he was a relative of the Henry Wilson, Mary's second husband, and who happened to be the same age as Martin. 
I consider it possible that an Edward Nelson born in Arendal, Norway, who also lived in Toxteth was a relative of my great grandfather.He named his son, born in the 1870s, Martin, and it's not a common name.  So I consider it highly possible that my great-grandfather came from that part of Norway, too, as it had trading links with Britain and was famous for shipping, shipbuilding, timber and ironworks. I was tempted to download a photo of Arendal from one of several sites on the internet but feeling strongly about copyright, myself, in regards to my books, I respect that of the photographer. Instead here is a link 

Here, instead is a picture of the cover of my next Liverpool based saga, set in the Fifties, which my publisher emailed to me two days ago. It will be out in hardback at the end of January 2014.  

 I hope to visit Arendal one day. As it is at the moment, my nephew, Garry Nelson, ex-professional footballer, has a close friend in Denmark. I met him at Garry’s wedding in Windsor this year and it’s possible that on Garry’s next visit to Denmark, the pair will hop across to Norway and visit  Arendal and see what they can find out. So it is possible that my nephew might beat me to it when it comes to finding out more about our Nelson ancestry.
                   Next time more about picture palaces as well as my Milburn ancestors.



Wednesday 23 October 2013


A view from the Liverpool Royal Hospital looking towards part of Toxteth around the Anglican cathedral and towards the Mersey with Cheshire and North Wales in the distance. John Francis.


 Say the name Toxteth and immediately some will remember the riots of 1981. Like other districts of Liverpool the area had become run down and there was a lot of unemployment at the time. Yet Toxteth Park had not always been so. At the beginning of the 13th century, the area had been bought by King John to be used as a hunting park. Naturally over the years it changed. Pockets of land were sold and farmed and eventually some attractive houses were built on some of the land and a village came into being. There was an ironworks and a pottery in the area at one time. All was to alter completely during the Victorian era as Liverpool prospered and there was a desperate need for housing as people flooded into the city. A large number came from Ireland in the 1840s due to the potato famine but plenty of others came from different parts of Britain in search of work. The gap between the wealthy and poor was enormous and there was just not enough work for all those who arrived in the port. Living conditions especially down near the waterfront were horrific and mortality rates were high. Ragged, hungry children lived on the streets and crime, drunkenness and violence was endemic.   
     It came as something of a shock to me to discover that the Harrison family lived in Upper and just plain Mann Street, Toxteth. In LIVERPOOL, OUR CITY, OUR HERITAGE by Freddy O’Connor, it says that Mann Street was one of the most persistently unhealthy parts of a large squalid area since 1865 in which a year did not go by without deaths being recorded of the fever (noted in 1882) 
     I don’t actually know exactly when they came to live there but my great-grandmother, Mary, was born in Toxteth in 1846, although her father, James Harrison, first saw light of day 25 years earlier in Storeton, Wirral, Cheshire. According to the 1851 census, his wife Maria, on the other hand, was born in Cumberland Green. I presumed that was up north because their eldest daughter, Margaret, had been born in Milnthorpe, nr Kendal, in1842.
     I sent for James and Maria’s marriage certificate which citied that they had married in the parish church of Whalley, nr Clitheroe. The problem with that was James’ occupation was Calico printer. A very different job to that of carter as citied in the Liverpool censuses.
     I puzzled over this and eventually discovered that it’s always worth reading documents thoroughly. Living with the Harrisons in Mann Street in 1871 were a George Truman and his son. Apparently George was James Harrison’s widowed uncle, born in Chester. I found George and his wife, Mary, and children in the 1851 Liverpool census. She had been born in Storeton, Cheshire, the same place as James, her nephew and she and George had married in Toxteth in 1837: Her father’s name was James Harrison, too, and he was a farmer.

Grange Farm in Storeton, 2013
  Photograph:John Francis.
 Whether it is the same farm where my great-great grandfather James Harrison
was born I can't swear to. June 


       James Harrison was an extremely common name in Victorian times but I managed to find my James Harrison of Mann Street, in the BMDs but this time his Maria was a Myers and they had wed in St John the Baptist church, Toxteth Park, in 1845. James’ father was also a James Harrison and a farmer. Maria lived with her butcher father, Thomas, in Berry Street, Liverpool. 
      So what was I to make of daughter Margaret being born in 1842 up in Milnthorpe, Westmorland, and the other Harrisons in Whalley and thereabout? I did discover that several Harrisons in that area of Lancashire had been born in Cheshire and so I reckon they were related in some way to my lot.

I emailed a local historian in Milnthorpe and eventually we both came to the conclusion that my great-grandfather could have had the wanderlust and left his father’s farm to go travelling and found work at the twice yearly hiring fairs, possibly in Kendal and Penrith. As for Maria, she certainly wasn’t born in Liverpool but possibly in Yorkshire to where I traced a Thomas Myers. As for Margaret having been born before the wedding, she wouldn’t be the first baby born the other side of the blanket.  It is even possible that she was not James' daughter.

I visited Whalley ancient parish church and its ruined abbey, as well as Clitheroe library and the town of Milnthorpe. I set part of my fifties novel, IT HAD TO BE YOU in the Whalley area, linking it to Liverpool. Whalley also gets a mention in my next two Fifties novels: MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS and IT’S NOW OR NEVER as does Storeton on the Wirral peninsula. I found visiting these places quite emotional and wondered what my Victorian ancestors actually made of Toxteth and noisy, smelly, dirty ol’ Liverpool after leaving the beauty of the countryside. How did they managed to survive such a change of lifestyle?  
There are several sites on the internet about Toxteth. Here is one -  but there are others with old photographs. 

The most famous novel about Victorian Liverpool was written in Victorian times by a Cornish Methodist minister, Silas K Hocking, born in 1850 to a tin mining family. Its title is Her Benny. I first read it when in my twenties and found it a real-tearjerker. It sold over a million copies in its day but never made its author rich. On its cover are two barefooted children. Need I say more? Its author lived to be 85 and died in 1935.

More recently I read an old book about Father Nugent of Liverpool. He was born in 1822 in Hunter Street, one of nine children. His life story gives fascinating glimpses into 19th century and early 20th century Liverpool and the work of the Catholic church. As a priest he cared deeply for the children on the streets and did what he could to help them in Liverpool but the numbers were overwhelming. He could be said to be responsible for the movement of the orphaned and homeless to very different lives in Canada and the United States of America. Much has been said today against the transfer of children to the colonies years ago and that is understandable but I question just how we'd have dealt with child poverty if we've had lived in those times when so many mothers died in childbirth or of the dreaded fever and fathers in terrible accidents at work. No health and safety laws, no benefits. The numbers of people classed as paupers filled the workhouses. No wonder those on WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE weep when they learn of their ancestors being among their number. 
On a more cheerful note here are a couple of photographs taken on Merseyside in more recent times.  

This was taken at Crosby beach in 2011when the tall ships came to Liverpool. In the foreground can be seen one of the iron men of Antony Gormley's ANOTHER PLACE and in the distance is what is considered a modern atrocity by some - a wind farm. John Francis: photographer.

 A very modern gallery in Liverpool One in which the nearby buildings can clearly been seen through the glass plated windows. Photographer: Tim Francis.

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.

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.        

Friday 11 October 2013


So far I haven’t reached the part in my story where I actually start discovering when my ancestors came to Liverpool but I’m getting there!
      Yesterday, husband John and I attended a Get-Together. My cousin Marjorie and her husband Richard were over from California and wanted to meet up with my brother, sister and me, so it was arranged by her elder sister, Maureen and me to do just that. Our mothers, May and Flo being sisters, we have a special relationship with Mo, Marj and their younger sister, Irene, who lived in New Jersey. The three were a great help to me with research for FRIENDS AND LOVERS.
      Our family relationship, though, was enriched by many happy memories of when we were kids that include visiting the Pivvy (Pavilion) theatre, Toxteth, to see the pantomime but mainly of camping in Towyn, North Wales. We would swim in the sea, sometimes as late as ten at night, never mind being stung by jellyfish! Our mothers only ever paddled with their skirts tucked up, so they would collect cockles and cook them in a big pan back at the camp site and we'd eat them hot. We would play the songs of the day on the jukebox down at the penny slots just across the railway from the beach. (Who remembers ‘A White Sports Coat and a Pink Carnation’?) And occasionally we would visit the fair or the cinema in Rhyl where we’d watch such films as ‘Rock Around the Clock’. (Just thinking of Bill Haley and his Comets makes my toes twitch.)
     When our dads had their week’s holiday and came to join us, we’d go to Conwy or  Rhos-on-Sea swimming pool. But best of all was Uncle Bill taking us into the hills in his little black Ford ( I remember sitting on the roof rack with our Don and how thrilling it was, never thought of the danger) and we’d visit the stream. 
  Below is my sister Irene, cousin Irene, Marjorie and me at the stream in the fifties.

North Wales is still close to our hearts and when Marj is back in Liverpool, she and Maureen always visits the stream. It was no different this time but little did she know just how near she and Maureen were to the home of the second cousin we had never met and whose grandmother was our grandmother’s sister.  


Phil Swift had got in touch with me early on in 2012. He was on the Ancestry site when he came across a comment I’d written on my family tree about my mother having pushed a young Swift in a pram when she was a girl. He thought it just possible that the youngster was his dad. So it proved and an intermittent correspondence between Phil and I began. He was able to fill in a couple of gaps in my knowledge of the Milburn family, because our grandmothers’ eldest sister had married my grandfather’s eldest brother. He also emailed me some photos and amongst them was a photo of a smiling young man in naval uniform.

My heart ached for him. I just knew he could only be my mother’s cousin, Thomas Milburn, who had gone down with HMS Black Prince at the Battle of Jutland in 1916: the photos having been discovered in the house of his younger sister Edith in Wallasey on the Wirral.
      So Phil and his wife Margaret were at our Get-Together, even cousin Irene in New Jersey got a word in on Skype and we all reminisced and promised to keep in touch.  I discovered that Maureen's husband, Pete, whom Mam had always called Piccolo Pete had played in a group at The Cavern, whilst cousin Marjorie had worked in the cloakroom at The Iron Door. All gist to the mill of the author. 
Pete, Phil, Margaret, June, John, Marjorie, Don, Maureen, Richard, Irene, Barbara.

Thursday 10 October 2013


  March 1919 was the year my grandmother, Flora Milburn, died.
        Strange to think that more people died of the Spanish flu after the Great War than were killed in battle. Britain was no land fit for heroes and in 1919 during the August bank holiday weekend the Liverpool bobbies were on strike. The army was called in to help deal with the looting and violence that was taking place and altogether these were unsettling times for Liverpool. Especially as across the Irish Sea, trouble was brewing due to the demand for Home Rule. (see FLOWERS ON THE MERSEY) available as an E-book.   The police strike was the perfect opening for a new novel and I called mine SOMEONE TO TRUST. My heroine was young Lucy Linden and she supported her widowed mother and younger brother by selling firewood and toffee apples.
      A large part of the book is set in Everton, parts of which I knew reasonably well because, at one time, not only my Milburn grandfather and uncle Stan lived there but also my Uncle Jim and Aunt Lila Nelson. According to their daughter, she and her parents shared a home with my Nelson grandparents in St Domingo Road during the Thirties before moving to a house on Beacon Lane. I remember the warm welcome I received, and I’ve never forgotten that milk was poured from a jug made in the shape of a cow.  I also recall my Uncle Jim visiting us on Boxing Day and playing Snap with us children. More often than not he cheated so that we kids could win a penny or two, especially my younger sister.

    My jolly Uncle Jim and Grandfather William Nelson looking very serious.

       By the time I came to write my book, both uncle and aunt had passed away and the house had been demolished, so I could not ask for their help with research. I sought assistance from the vicar of St George’s church because I wanted a look inside the church. St George’s is one of two churches in Liverpool known as the cast iron churches (the other is St Michael’s in the Hamlet) because although its outer shell is made of brick, its internal structure is unusual in that it is made of cast iron. A grade I listed building, it was erected in 1814 in the days when rich merchants lived in Everton before people flooded into Liverpool in search of work and housing for the poor crept up the slopes and swamped the village of Everton. The rich merchants moved out but the church remains and stands out on Everton Brow and has a fabulous view over the north of the city and on a clear day one could see across the Mersey.

    The vicar passed me on to a member of his church, who not only showed me around St George’s, but also had contacts with the Beacon Archives Group. They met in the former Everton Library, situated on the corner of St Domingo Rd and Beacon Lane. Although closed, the library has a preservation order slapped on it. It was built in 1896 and is a Grade II listed building.
      Excellent photographs of the library can be seen on the website: 'The Streets of Liverpool' and there is also a book of the same name by Colin Wilkinson. It is one of many sites showing photos of old Liverpool and there are books specifically on Everton. e.g.  The Lost Tribes of Everton.

      In those days I used to take a small tape recorder with me. I had learnt from experience that it is so easy to miss what comes next when a person is talking if I tried to note down their conversation by hand. They were a great group.
     Annoyingly, a year or so later my tape recorder was stolen from the boot of my husband’s car when parked at the National Trust squirrel reserve in Formby.
       SOMEONE TO TRUST was  to be first published in 2000 and has been reissued twice since then and is now also available as an E-book. I really like the background in the picture cover because it gives a idea of the view that can be add from Everton Brow.

       The book is also special to me because apparently it changed someone’s life. A woman in New Zealand emailed me to tell me so. As a boy her father had lived near St George’s church and she hadn’t believed him when he had spoken of the poverty in the area. Then a neighbour passed my book over to her and she viewed her father’s reminiscences of his days growing up in Liverpool in a new way.
      I have several books in my own personal collection with photographs of Liverpool and one of them which was falling to bits was recently reissued in a larger format and with added commentary and photographs: Liverpool: It All Came Tumbling Down by Freddy O'Connor. I went along to Formby Books and met Freddy and bought a copy which he signed for me. He was serenading the customers at the time on his guitar but we had an interesting chat about the Liverpool we remember before it all came tumbling down.
       I’ve never forgotten my father speaking to me of having seen children playing in the street wearing no shoes. Dad was eight years old at the time of the police strike and it must have made a deep impression on him. But although life was tough for so many during that period in Liverpool’s history, there was escapism to be found for my grandparents, parents and their siblings, and that’s why in SOMEONE TO TRUST a picture palace features. The flickers, as well as light reading were an escape from reality. But they’re for another day.  

Friday 4 October 2013


Our local library is closing down and this morning over my Oats So Simple, I became quite emotional talking about it with my husband and one of my sons. Despite protests nothing can prevent it happening and I could weep that the place where I’ve spent many happy hours browsing will no longer be part of my life. I have been a member of Litherland library since we moved here over forty years ago. It was there I first sought help with research from one of the librarians at the time, Jennifer Stanistreet. Over the years other librarians have taken her place but all have been willing to help me find the books or material I needed for my writing.

     I have so many memories tied up in that library and it has even featured in one of my books LOOK FOR THE SILVER LINING. During the blitz a school in the area was bombed and so badly damaged, some of the classes were temporarily taken in the library for a while. Situated opposite the Richmond sausage factory with its famous pig on the wall carrying a porky sausage over its shoulder, the library was within walking distance, and not far from the lift bridge over the Leeds-Liverpool canal.

    The factory and lift bridge have long gone but the library built in the Thirties and well placed to cater for the reading needs of the people of Seaforth and Litherland survived until now. It will be greatly missed when it finally closes on All Saints Day, 1st November 2013,when there will be a farewell party.

 Left: June doing a talk in Litherland Library.

It was Sheila Walsh, member of Southport Writers circle, writer of historical romantic fiction and president of the RNA, who told me to begin my research in the childrens section of the library. In the early days I would read well illustrated children’s books such as Living in a Castle during medieval times before borrowing some of the adult books mentioned in the bibliography at the back. There were several children’s books on WW2, as well as the likes of Growing up in the Twenties and Thirties and, of course, the Great War.   
      Ill never forget coming across mention of HMS BLACK PRINCE which was sunk during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. It gave me quite a shock because Mam had told me that her cousin had gone down with the BLACK PRINCE, but reading of that terrible disaster really brought the tragedy home to me. She never said which cousin it was but told me that her mother had been heartbroken when her eldest nephew had been killed.   
      I remember feeling slightly depressed for months while researching the Great War, especially after perusing the letters sent from the Front and scanning the lists of soldiers, sailors and airmen in the LIVERPOOL ECHO who had been killed in action. It was Jenny Stanistreet who mentioned to me at the time that she was trying to trace her grandfather who had fought in the trenches and been at Ypres. So many did not return home to a land fit for heroes.



Tuesday 1 October 2013



                                  Liverpool Sunset by Tim Francis

It was still to be some time before I was to discover where and when my ancestors arrived in Liverpool and from where they came. In the meantime the publishing industry was still undergoing changes. Publishers were amalgamating and amongst them was my paperback publisher.
    Whenever companies amalgamate, you can bet your bottom dollar that people’s jobs will go. It happened not only to me but other authors, sales people and editors. Despite still having hardback, large print and audio publishers, it sapped my self-confidence as a writer to be dropped. Fortunately my hardback publisher had decided to enter the paperback market, so she was to publish the book, ANOTHER MAN’S CHILD in that format as well.
      I had some help with my research for the book from my cousin, Patsy, the only daughter of my father’s elder sister, Agnes Christina Taylor/nee Nelson. Patsy lived in Burscough Bridge and I decided to set part of the story there, as well as on a barge on the Leeds-Liverpool canal and in Liverpool, as I live within minutes of that waterway and it played an integral part in Liverpool and Lancashire’s industrial history.

Ducks huddling together on the iced over canal near my home some hundred years after ANOTHER MAN'S CHILD was set.
They're seldom disturbed by barges carrying coal these days, only pleasure boats in summer.

      The book begins in 1909 and covers the Great War, as well as the General Transport strikes and riots in 1911, which included Liverpool’s own Bloody Sunday. It was a time when Royal Naval gunboats were anchored in the Mersey and troops of soldiers were despatched from outside Liverpool to help deal with what the Government considered a very dangerous situation.
     My father, Stanley, was born 1st October 1910, so was just a baby at the time with two older brothers and two older sisters. Whilst writing the book, I never considered what it must have been like for my Nelson grandparents with five young children, living through such tumultuous times. How I wish I’d known them, especially my grandmother. Had she ever thought of becoming part of the Suffragette movement? Did she consider herself equal to her husband? What was it like for her on the home front during the Great War?

I remember being asked at a library talk,  ‘So do you ever put real people in your books?’ 
      ‘Nope!’ I replied. ‘At least not live ones. Too risky! And besides I wouldn’t be able to manipulate someone I knew, the way I can an imaginary person.’
      I can almost hear some writers of fiction say, ‘Ha! My characters often do exactly what they want and not what I’ve planned for them.’ I know that’s true because it happened to me and I had to get rid of a character because I started getting fond of her and she threatened to spoil the satisfactory ending I had for my heroine in ANOTHER MAN’S CHILD.

I killed her off as follows: Excerpt from ‘Another Man’s Child’:  ‘Apparently there was a thunderstorm. The police said there’d been a lot of rain in the area round Shapfell. She lost control avoiding a motor lorry,’ said Nathan.  
This was based on a real event that I read about in a Liverpool Echo of the time.

It was thanks to my cousin, Patsy, that I eventually was able to get my hands on a photo of my grandmother, Ada Florence Nelson, nee Cooke, born in 1876. I consider it a sad loss that I grew up never having known either of my real life grandmothers and had to make do with fictitious ones. 

On the left are my grandmother, Ada Florence Nelson, and her daughters, my Aunt Florrie and Aunty Agnes in the early 1920s. I don't remember Florrie at all but I have fond memories of Agnes and the sweet tin she kept in her sideboard.
      I had long known what my grandfather Nelson looked like because there was a photo of him and my Uncle Jim in our parlour. It must have been taken during WWII because my uncle is in his soldier’s uniform. But it was to be a while before I gave any thought to the medals pinned on the chest of my grandfather’s jacket.