Monday, 9 October 2017
Whew! I can hardly believe I've just completed the fifth book in my Families of Fairley Terrace series (under my pen name of Jennie Felton). I was just putting the finishing touches to it when the fourth came out in hardback and as an e-book, the story of a young widow struggling to keep her family together after the tragic death of her husband. I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
When I began the series with All The Dark Secrets I never for one moment imagined that it would become a series of five. I knew I was 'mining a rich seam', as it were, (no pun intended!) with the starting point of the terrible colliery disaster that actually happened, and twelve men and boys met a horrific end when the hudge - an early form of cage - crashed into the depths of the earth when the rope controlling it snapped. (See my blog of 16th October 2014 for a full account of the tragedy). But I little realised how I would be drawn in to the lives of the families who lived in a rank of miners' cottages and were all affected in one way or another by the dreadful events of that day. Maggie, the central character in ALL THE DARK SECRETS, lost both her father and her fiance, Jack, in the accident, and would eventually learn a terrible secret kept by her brother, Billy, as to the cause of what had happened.
THE MINER'S DAUGHTER tells the story of Lucy Day, just a little girl when her father died in the accident. Her life was changed forever when her mother was forced to marry an evil local preacher, but she went on to find fame as a singer in the music halls and happiness with her childhood sweetheart.
Although Edie Cooper, the heroine of THE GIRL BELOW STAIRS, was not directly affected by the tragedy, the love of her life, Charlie Oglethorpe most certainly was. As a young lad he was the one to run back to Fairley Terrace with the terrible news that the hudge had gone down,and the experience had haunted him and coloured the way he had lived his life for many years to come.
Carina is the central character in THE WIDOW'S PROMISE. It was because of what had happened at the pit that her family moved away from Fairley Terrace, and the narrow faulted seams of the Somerset coalfield, to live in South Wales. But when visiting her aunt, Hester Dallimore, the gossip-monger of Fairley Terrace, she falls in love with a local lad, marries him, and comes back to Somerset. The couple have two children, and live happily on Robert's family farm but tragedy strikes, and Carina is forced to carry on alone and responsible not only for the two little ones, but also Robert's ageing grandfather and his wild and wilful sister.
In the fifth book, which I have just finished, we meet a new family, who moved into the house left vacant when Carina's family moved to South Wales, and the story follows the two Sykes girls, Laurel and Rowan. Their mother, Minty, is obsessed with respectability and keeping herself to herself, never enjoying the easy friendships that characterise the women of Fairley Terrace, but unbeknown to them, there is a very large skeleton hiding in her cupboard. However, all the people from the previous four books had become like old friends to me, and I've been delighted to be able to revisit some of them and discover what happened to them after their own particular chapter was closed. I've suggested this book should be called THE SISTER'S SECRET, though the lovely folk at Headline may have other ideas!
I learned so much through researching these five books. First, in ALL THE DARK SECRETS, I discovered how stained glass windows are made, courtesy of a dear friend, Richard Jones, who had sadly left us before the book was published. His father had made a stained glass window for a cathedral in New York, just as Lawrence did in the book, and Richard had taken it up as a hobby, turning a shed in his garden into a workshop, or den, as he liked to call it. He showed me all the tools and the kiln and even loaned me a very precious old manual which had belonged to his father which explained the process in detail. Bless you, Richard. And the beautiful plate panel you made for us still has pride of place in my home.
For THE MINER'S DAUGHTER I was delighted to dig into reams of research material about the wonderful world of the old time Music Hall. A particular passion of mine. For THE GIRL BELOW STAIRS I learned a great deal about the Suffragettes. For the farm in THE WIDOW'S PROMISE I had only to cast my mind back to when I was a little girl - horses still pulled the wagons for haymaking and so on - and I realised that during the first half of the 20th century change, for most ordinary folk, was slow in coming.
The most fascinating aspect of my research for the fifth book was the old travelling fairs, and Romany culture.
I'm not sure where my next book will lead me, but i'm already turning over ideas. It may be a stand alone, or it may be the first of a new series telling of the lives of another community that I hope will become another group of friends.. But whatever, it will certainly be set in the Somerset countryside where I grew up, and which I love,
I hope you will enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!
Saturday, 12 November 2016
SS GREAT BRITAIN
I wrote this poem on the day the SS Great Britain was brought back to Bristol in 1970. We were living in Nailsea at the time - at the village police station - and I remember listening to coverage on the radio, wishing I could be there to see her towed up the river, and being inspired to put pen to paper.
Now, of course, she is beautifully restored - and I pass her dock often when I am on my way back to Radstock from my new home in Leigh Woods. I was recently reminded of the poem, and wanted to share it with you.
THE GREAT BRITAIN
A Traditional Tribute
They brought her home to Bristol
Halfway across the earth
To the islands that had named her
And the city that gave her birth
Limping, but proud
Scarred, but unbowed
Her iron hull the measure of her worth.
The angry seas have buffeted
The savage winds have torn
But staunchly she has raised her mast
And ridden out the storm.
Washed by uncounted tides
Calm now, at anchor rides
Protected in the bosom of her home.
Cheering thousands line the banks.
They make the pilgrimage
To watch as Brunel's iron ship
Sails under Brunel's bridge.
They wait to see
And pay their tribute to a passing age.
Down to her blackened wooden decks
The ticker tape is thrown
And on the following little ships
The sirens loud are blown.
Now on the tide
Decked like a bride
They bring the great Great Britain home.
Even after all this time it raises goose bumps on my neck. I hope it does the same for you!
Friday, 28 October 2016
It's been a very long time since I last posted, but then, it's been a very full-on year!
I sold the 4-bedroom detached house where we had lived for 30 years at the end of March, and made an offer on a lovely 2-bed flat in Clifton, on April 2nd - Terry's birthday. I was delighted when my offer was accepted. I'm using to being in the country, and this is right opposite the lovely Leigh Woods, and surrounded by trees, but at the same time I can walk into Clifton Village in just twenty minutes. The flat is spacious and has a south facing balcony. Better yet, I have the benefit of lovely gardens without having to spend hours on upkeep!
But then, of course, the stress began!
Worrying whether everything was going to go through. Packing, sorting, disposing of so many things, either for auction, to the charity shop or the dump. Arranging removers, notifying everyone who needed to know, on and on and on.
I finally moved on 28th May. And had major spinal surgery on 1st June. Four days in hospital, then five weeks when I wasn't allowed to bend, twist, or lift anything heavier than a half-full kettle of water. And I had to sit on a hard upright chair. No lounging on the sofa to watch TV! I had optimistically thought I would be able to spend this recovery time catching up with my latest book, the fourth in the series The Families of Fairley Terrace. But I found I just couldn't concentrate. Major surgery has effects you don't expect!
At last - at last! - I was able to drive and explore my new surroundings. Much of this involved appointments with various hospitals and consultants as I had developed this weird rash, big red patches which thankfully were not itchy. All tests were coming back negative, but when I saw my surgeon at the end of July he said he was sure it was allergy. I went to see a dermatologist and she immediately recognised it. A condition known as baboon syndrome, because ... well, you know what baboons have - red bottoms! (I hadn't realised my bottom was red too!) She put this down to one of the cocktail of drugs/antibiotics I was given for my operation. Luckily, it has now faded.
So, with loads of boxes still unpacked, I finally managed to finish my book and begin to think about what I wanted to do to make my new flat feel like home. First up were blinds and curtains for my bedroom. It seemed to take weeks before they arrived, but when they did I was very pleased with them In fact I couldn't stop looking at them!
Next up - arranging for a new kitchen to be fitted. The one I inherited was very tired and the cooker - very old - was a complete nightmare. I can say was as today at long last it has gone to the great cooker store in the sky. The fitters have been here most of the day, and hopefully by the beginning of next week I will be able to enjoy my new kitchen!
I've also ordered curtains for the small window in my living room (see illustration at the top) and a sideboard.
Well, I think I am at last beginning to get there!
So that's my excuse for being absent for so long, and I think you will agree it is a pretty valid one!
Going to sign off now and do something in my microwave to banish the pangs of hunger ...
Sunday, 20 March 2016
This is more of an anecdote than a real blog
but I wanted to let you know I AM still here
though very busy with my
FAMILIES OF FAIRLEY TERRACE series
Really I should have posted it at Christmas ...
Do you remember my tales of being a real life Heartbeat Wife? This isn't about me, it's about Terry, who was something of a Pied Piper where animals, birds, and any wildlife really were concerned.
When he was stationed in Bath a call came in to say that a swan had mistaken one of the main roads through the city for the river, and was stranded there, causing a major obstruction in the Christmas Eve traffic.
There was discussion amongst the attending officers as to what to do about it and a call was to be put through to the RSPCA. Terry had a better idea than waiting for them to arrive. He picked the swan up, tucked it under his arm with one hand holding its neck firmly so it couldn't turn and peck him, carried it down to the river and launched it with a quick shove under its bottom. The swan sailed happily away.
But you can just imagine the comments he receoved from the people he passed on the way. The most common being: 'I see you've got your Christmas dinner there!' or words to that effect ...
Which is why I said this really should have been posted a couple of months ago ...
I have other stories of Terry with animals ... I'll post some soon!
Sunday, 20 December 2015
Oh, the memories that come flooding back when trimming the Christmas tree! It's an artificial one now, unlike the fresh real one we always had. I do love a tall tree, and last year I decided that while I could just about get a fresh one home if the man from the shop was kind enough to squash it into my car, I could do without the hassle of having to saw a bit off the bottom, keep it in a bucket of water for a day or two, and then get it up - something that caused problems even when Terry was here to help me. I would be struggling to hold it up straight while he tightened the retaining screws in the holder but invariably it would be a bit off kilter and an argument would ensue with him saying it was fine, and me saying it wasn't. When we eventually got it as straight as it would go, tempers would be frayed and my hands and arms covered in scratches from the needles.
Certainly my artificial tree is a good deal easier to put up, but what I hadn't reckoned with was how heavy it is! No way could I get it down from the attic myself, and even with my sister's help we had to take it out of the box and pass it down the loft ladder in three bits.
Trimming it however is just as much a pleasure as it always was. And the memories that come out of the boxes of decorations! You may remember a couple of years ago I posted pictures of some of the baubles I bought the first Christmas Terry and I were married - fifty years ago this coming year! They were made of glass and some have gone to the great bauble box in the sky but amazingly I still have quite a few. And some pretty little flowers on wires, and a dear little lady mouse made of straw or cane and dressed in a Santa outfit. At one time there was a little man mouse too - I don't know what happened to him. Like me, Mrs Christmas Mouse is now alone.
Then there is the crystal ballerina I bought for my granddaughter Tabitha when she was much, much younger, but already a committed dancer. And a satin heart given to her by the lady next door when we went to visit her.
Last but not least there is a pink plastic disc cut out like a stencil to show the nativity scene. It's the one remaining ornament I have from my own childhood days - I remember my mother buying it. In those days we didn't have fairy lights on the tree, but real candles that glowed through red shades - I dread to think what a fire hazard they must have been! But they were quite magical. And we had always been taken to the forestry plantation by my uncle - the only family member to have a car! - where we walked through the rows of trees to choose the one we wanted and they would then cut it down for us. That was what you called a fresh tree!
Oh, the wonder of those childhood Christmases! I've often drawn on them for my books. The Christmas meal wasn't in any way elaborate, but it was chicken - or rather cockerel - and that was an enormous treat as we only had chicken once a year. We watched the birds being fattened up by Mr Young the Fowl Man in their run across the road from where we lived, and when he delivered ours on Christmas Eve the kitchen would be full of the smell of singed feathers as the remaining stubs were burned off with a taper. And the smell of it on Christmas day ... nothing has ever tasted quite as good since! My sister and I hung up not stockings, but pillow cases - there was usually a jigsaw puzzle or an annual inside as well as the obligatory orange, apple and nut. And other presents were piled on the sofa in the living room and covered with a sheet so there could be no peeping until we all sat round in a circle to open them.
Oh I could go on and on .... but hey, I've still got things to do in preparation for this Christmas!
So once again - A MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE - AND A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Wednesday, 18 November 2015
Me, aged about 5 ...!
Why did there seem to be so many more 'characters' in our world in years gone by? While writing ALL THE DARK SECRETS and THE MINER'S DAUGHTER I was reminded of so many of the people who lived near us when I was growing up. Although that was of course at least fifty years after the era in which my sagas are set, I was able to remember these folk and draw on them for the supporting cast of my books.
Next door to us on one side lived the local miner's agent, who actually owned a motor car! Although we lived on a main road cars were so rare in the 1940s that I used to collect the numbers of the ones that passed our house and write them in a little notebook. Sitting on the front steps, I was always excited when I heard an engine chugging up the hill, and waited, pencil poised. All too often it was our neighbour - a number which of course I already had. His wife was very deaf and even in our kitchen we could hear every word he was forced to yell to make her hear what he was saying. Incidentally, one of his sons actually worked at Buckingham Palace - I borrowed him as inspiration for Marcus in THE MINER'S DAUGHTER, although of course everything I wrote in the story about that character came entirely from my imagination.
On the other side lived a couple who were great friends with my Gran and she and the lady played cards every week without fail, generally whist or Sevens. I loved it when I was allowed to play with them, sitting at the cane card table which had an elaborately painted glass top and lived in my grandparents' room. (There was also a matching glass fire screen which covered the fireplace in summer). This couple's house was owned by their daughter and one day, after a falling out between them, she ordered them to leave. Although I couldn't have been more than four years old I clearly remember the drama, and being quite frightened by it all. The lady had been known to set out in her dressing gown in the middle of the night for a local pond with the supposed intention of 'doing away with herself' and we were worried that she might do it again - and succeed! Actually with hindsight I think it was more of a cry for help, as if she had really intended to end it all she could have done in the the mill pond only a few hundred yards from where we lived rather than undertaking the five or six mile trek to Emborough! However,faced with the awful prospect of them having nowhere to go, my Gran took them in, although there were already seven of us living in the house, and my sister and I had to move into our parents' bedroom. I'm not sure how long they stayed before things were sorted out, but I do know there were times when the atmosphere, unsurprisingly, became a bit fraught! But at least she didn't set out to walk to Emborough while living with us - at least I never heard that she did ... In spite of all this, she and my Gran never called one another by their Christian names. It was always 'Mrs Mundy (my Gran) and Mrs ...... (I won't name the other lady)
A few doors down lived an elderly lady who we, rather unkindly, thought of as being a bit simple. She had a canary who was always escaping and she would wander up and down the road swinging the open cage and calling the bird's name. And just a couple of doors away in the other direction lived four sisters who had been left as maiden ladies presumably as a result of the carnage of the Great War. There was nothing whatever odd about them except that to us as children it seemed strange for four elderly ladies to be living together - we were too young to appreciate the tragedy of it.
Not far away lived a lovely old man who had once been a sailor, and in the evenings he could always be seen leaning on his gate and gazing at the sky as if he was still on the deck of a ship. And a tall, gangly man who passed our gate on his bicycle twice daily at exactly the same time, always eating an apple as he rode. I never did know his name, but we called him 'The Apple Man'. And a couple who made good use of newspaper, using it at their windows instead of curtains, and stuffing it in their shoes instead of having them repaired. You would think they didn't have two halfpennies to rub together, but when the wife died unexpectedly the widower suddenly became very smart - new polished shoes, new clothes (and presumably curtains!) and before long there was an equally smart much younger woman on his arm .... And the jeweller who had a stall in the market ... his wife, generally talked about very sniffily and with knowing looks, had scarlet lips and nails and wore fur coats, and a live-in 'maid' who by contrast wore ragged plimsols.
Then there was an old former miner who lived in a cottage at the top end of our garden. One evening their chimney caught fire. The fire brigade attended, directing their hoses down the chimney; through the open front door we could see the room inside, sooty, smoky, and awash with black water. Outside the old man stood watching implacably. "Tis all very interesting!' was all he kept saying. I've actually used that line in my latest book in the series The Families of Fairley Terrace.
Oh, I could go on and on .... these are just a few of the characters who peopled my childhood world. As I write I can see them so clearly, yet nowadays the eccentrics seem to be few and far between. Is it because of the way life has changed? We no longer have doors left unlocked all day, or extended families where several generations lived under the same roof, and the eclectic mix in a neighbourhood is no more. In a strange way, it seems to me, the soaps such as Coronation Street are much more like life among neighbours was in those long-gone days although the story lines reflect modern problems. The mix of eccentric characters is there, the squabbles, even the way they are taken in to one another's houses when they find themselves without a roof over their heads for one reason or another, just as my Gran took in our next door neighbours. They even still have rollers and hair driers in Audrey's salon .... but that's another story entirely.
For now I am just grateful that I have such clear and wonderful memories to draw on when writing my stories!