The Birth of a New Book
At last the muse is with me.
And I've found the time to make a start. :)
I sat down yesterday evening and started plotting my new novel onto an excel sheet. Just twenty two chapters at the moment, with a few sentences each, and a massive 'to do' list at the bottom, concerning the research I need to undertake. It has got no title (although, I think the words 'disappearing heiress' may feature prominently) and it is very, very rough. But it is a start. Detective Lavender and Constable Woods have another case to solve.
The location is sorted and it will mean spending more time spent at one of our favourite hotels, The Riverdale in Bellingham, wandering around beautiful Northumberland to get 'a feel' for the backdrop. How we have to suffer for our art... ;)
I'm looking forward to a good summer. Research aside, I'm setting myself a target of 5000 words a week for the next seven weeks and then maybe, 1000 words a day during the six weeks school summer holiday. Hopefully, it should be finished by September. It will not be as long as Catching the Eagle but the events only span six weeks, rather than the twenty six months of my first book.
Wish me luck, folks.
The Incredible Kindness of Friends...
A wise woman I used to to know, once said to me that if we have just one good friend in this world then we are blessed. At the time I thought that this was rather sad -which poor souls have only one friend? But this week I have really appreciated the wisdom behind those words. It is the adjective, not the numeral, which counts.
Youngsters often seem to be involved in a competition with their peers to have the busiest social life: Christmas and birthday cards are counted and the tally displayed; the number of 'friends' on facebook is regularly reported. Being 'popular' and part of the 'in-crowd' has never gone out of fashion and I'll admit to being this shallow when I was young. Then we age, move around the country, change our jobs and family circumstances and the number of our friends (those people for whom we consistently make time) dwindles. We can become so wrapped up in work and family life that we neglect good people. Sadly, I realise now that I have let many good friendships go. It can be quite a shock when those significant birthdays or anniversaries come around and you suddenly realise that you can barely fill a back room at the local pub for the party, never mind the O2 arena.
The upside of this, however, is that hopefully the quantity of friends we had in our youth has been replaced, in our thirties and forties, by the quality friendship of a few.
And it is to those stalwarts who have stuck beside me - especially over the last few years when I have been distracted with this novel - that I would like to pay tribute in this blog.
Without the unswerving support and encouragement of Zena Breckner and Sam Blain this novel would never have been finished. Both of them volunteered to read it, chapter by chapter, as it progressed and gave me invaluable feedback and help. The nagged me, criticised me and encouraged me in the way that only good friends can. Very often I forced myself to sit down at the computer and get on with it only because I knew they were waiting for the next installment. More often than not, it was their praise which motivated me to run back into the study and write some more. Whether Catching the Eagle ever takes off or not, I will be eternally grateful to these two for guiding me to the finish line.
Now Jill Boulton, a friend I have sadly neglected over the years, has come back into my life and, without hesitation, has volunteered to use her experience and skill as a professional editor to help me with the proof reading. I am delighted.
In fact, when I start to count my blessings - as I have this morning - I realise that there has been a whole army of people out there who have been encouraging me, one way or another, from the sidelines. I also realise that there are other friends in my world who would not hesitate to step in and help me if I needed their specialist skills; they are simply just waiting for the call.
In a bleak fortnight which has been dominated with personal problems and bad news, the continuing help, encouragement and advice given to me by my friends stands out like a beacon of hope. It is simultaneously humbling - and a cause for pride.
In one of my more insecure moments, I chanced upon an MSN survey which revealed to me that I had far below the number of good friends everyone else in the UK claimed to possess. I remember that this bothered me at the time.
Today, I smile and think back back to Katie's words: 'if you have just one good friend in this world then you are blessed....'
Today I feel very blessed.
Thank you, my good friends.
Researching a two hundred year old mystery…
Morpeth market and gaol tower c.1890
We started researching my husband’s Charlton ancestors when our daughter was born in 1994. There’s something about having children which not only makes you look forward to the future but also makes you curious about where you all came from. We knew that the little stranger in our arms was the latest in a long line of Charltons but who were those shadowy figures in history that had passed down her surname and contributed to her genetic makeup? What were their stories? We wanted to give our children a history which was uniquely theirs.
In August 2004, we made an amazing discovery. I was chatting on a genealogy message board when a very helpful stranger gave us the following extract about hubby’s Great-great-great-great- Grandmother:
“In Heddon on the Wall baptism register there is recorded the baptism on 27th of July 1815 of Mary, the daughter of Priscilla Charlton. A note in the register says “mother a married woman: her husband transported.”
We were stunned. Transported? If hubby’s 4x great- Grandfather had been a convicted felon, what had he done?
I was also amused. My mild-mannered husband was descended from a notorious criminal. It was good to know his ‘respectable’ family had a skeleton in the closet.
Being eternal optimists, our first instinct was to Google ‘James Charlton, Kirkley Hall.’ Unbelievably, it paid off.
There is an article called ‘Liberty is Sweet’ on wearside.online which tells a potted version of the story. James Charlton was controversially convicted of stealing over £1,157 from Kirkley Hall in 1810. However, our surprise quickly turned to indignation: James was found guilty mainly on the testimony of a condemned horse-thief with whom he shared a prison cell in Morpeth gaol. This treacherous cad gained his own freedom and escaped hanging as a result of turning King’s Evidence against his cell mate. Our ancestor was framed. The mystery of the burglary at Kirkley Hall had never been properly solved.
I had always dreamed about writing an historical novel and now the perfect plot had just fallen into my lap. But how to uncover the rest of the story?
Our first attempt at research was a failure. We contacted wearsideonline.com and politely asked them where they obtained their information. The foreign owners of the website replied, quite rudely, by telling us to: “go and read some books.”
However, since this shaky start we have been bowled over by the kindness of strangers. People have gone out of their way to help us gather what information there still remains about this two hundred year old mystery. A woman I had never met found us the records of the prosecution case at The National Archives. A professional genealogist, who was also researching shady Regency criminals, contacted us and helped us solve the mystery of what ultimately happened to James Charlton.
We made several visits down to The National Archives ourselves; gleaned valuable information from the helpful folks at the Ponteland Local History society and spent hours trawling through two hundred year old newspapers in the Gateshead Central Library.
Sometimes the research was fun and formed part of an amusing family day out. Although, after a few years, the kids started complaining about the number of graveyards we visited. My son also recently informed me that our trip to see the ‘family pile’ – Morpeth Gaol – was a sobering experience for an eight year old.
More Charlton villains case the joint at Kirkley Hall.
Once we all turned up on Open Day at Kirkley Hall (now an Agricultural College.) The staff happily gave us access to their own information about the burglary in 1809 but strangely enough, they were unwilling to let us roam freely around the hall. We can imagine the frantic whispering: ‘Quick – lock up the silver! The Charltons are back!’
We enjoyed a drink and toasted hubby’s beleaguered ancestor in every public house mentioned in the court case documents. As James Charlton sipped brandy and gambled away his meagre wages in most of the pubs in Ponteland, the pub crawl took quite some time... ;)
Bit by bit, the story came together. By January 2009, I decided I had enough information to start writing the novel – and then the hard work began. A Literature degree and a lifetime of teaching English is not a guarantee that you can turn into an author overnight. It has been a steep learning curve and I am still learning. Turning this Regency miscarriage of justice into a historical ‘who-dunnit’ quickly became an obsession. For twenty months I spent every spare minute hammering away at my keyboard. By the summer of 2010 I finally completed Catching the Eagle.
Or so I thought. The editing and revising process has been gruelling.
I posted the first 20,000 words on ‘Authonomy’ in November 2010 and again, thanks to the helpfulness of strangers, the revision and the editing continued - and will do so until I find an agent/publisher for Catching the Eagle.