Writing about your family history (iii) … the journeys they made…

It’s a bit of a fallacy that people in the past never travelled further than the nearest market; in fact, as you probably know from your own research, people moved about almost as much as we do, if not more – and probably for the same reasons, work, family, opportunities, marriage, business… Writing a family story from the point of a journey is a way to create a contained narrative, with a beginning – in one homestead/village/town/city and after staying temporarily in other places, the settling in what became the family home.

On my dad’s side of the family, the Elsdens were all ag labs, agricultural labours, working in Suffolk on farms for generations. They may have come from Norfolk, and before that from Scandinavia, but they stayed in the Suffolk area throughout the eighteenth and first part of the nineteenth century, moving from village to village, no doubt finding work on different farms. When the railways came they moved from the land to work initially on the tracks in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, but later into the engine sheds and driving the big steam engines. The sons of the family moved out of labour and into commerce, opening a fruit and vegetable shop in Cambridge, then holding the license of a pub… and so we became a Cambridge family.

On my maternal side, my Jewish forebears left their commercial business in the hands of their brothers and cousins in London, and travelled round the other side of the world to Tasmania where they started an import export agency – they had ships travelling across the Pacific and all round the South China Sea. Eventually they returned to London and settled in a house on Regent’s Park, they were extraordinarily rich… this was an actual journey, but there followed a journey of a different kind… a journey from riches to a more modest way of life.

My character Thomas in my Radwinter stories follows his ancestors lives, tracing his family back to war-torn eastern Europe, and following their journey from their arrival in England in the 1830’s, across southern England to Easthope, where the family still lives… “I followed the story of the Radwinters, and discovered where we came from… and what an interesting journey that was. I mean journey for me in a non-literal way, but it was an interesting journey for the Radwinters, literally”.

Here is a link to the first five book sin the series:

Thomas in his new office…

Here is another little excerpt from my next book… Thomas is very proud to have his own office:

My office

I sat at my desk and twiddled a bit in my chair, clicked the mouse a couple of times, then another couple of times and smiled to myself. I have an office! I have an actual office!
It’s only very small, it’s what used to be the upstairs flat of the veg shop run by my friend Val, but now the small sitting room is where I might meet any clients, three easy chairs but uprightish (some of my clients are a bit elderly) a coffee table and then to one side a desk with a couple of chairs in case we might have to look at some papers. It is very plainly decorated, so it just looks nice and clean and light, and I think it looks quite professional – well, I am a professional! There are a few black and white photos on the wall by a young photographer I know, Niqqi (I’m sure she is really Nicky, but never mind) and there are nice blinds at the window.
The small room which used to be the bedroom is now my office, and this is where I was, sitting in splendour. I have bookshelves for my law books, I have a filing cabinet because some things still happen on paper, and I have three computers, yes three, and another big table where I can do my family tree stuff… because as well as being a solicitor I do people’s family trees.
The veg shop down below is very small – it’s the end of a row of other shops and whether the builder ran out of land or whether he wanted a small shop, or whatever, it is much smaller than the others, which is why the flat has just one bedroom, a miniscule bathroom, and an even more miniscule kitchen… The kitchen, empty of any cooking stuff, apart from a kettle, microwave and a fridge, is just there to make tea and coffee.
Hmm… my first day in my new office… well, half a day. I have to collect various kids from various places and then I’ll be home getting dinner ready for us all and doing dadly things… perfect!
There was a ‘dong’ and I enquired through the entry phone who it was, feeling rather full of myself – I’d only been here an hour on my first day; I had plenty to do, and wasn’t expecting anyone, but here was a client…
My optimism deflated like a punctured football – I’d been playing footie on the beach with Kenneil and Terri and I confess I rather booted the ball, it hit a rock, bounced off and then sat there deflating…
“Come up, Inspector Graham!” I said with false heartiness. I slapped down a feeling of anxiety, I had nothing to be anxious about, I’d done nothing wrong… well, nothing that anyone apart from my friend David knows about.
Last year I was involved in a rather nasty incident which ended up in two people being dead… I’d spent rather more time with the police than I wanted, and had to go to court – well two courts, a coroner’s court and a Crown Court. I had a few nightmares after that, I can tell you… a period of insomnia, and altogether an unpleasant few months… But I battened it all down, locked it all away and got on with being a dad and a husband…
“Thomas, good to see you, I hope you don’t mind me dropping in without an appointment,” Graham said as we shook hands. I greeted him as enthusiastically and normally as I could and he asked me to call him ‘Charles’ which I took to be a signal that he wasn’t here on police business and my heart rated slowed back to normalish.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to read about Thomas Radwinter and his adventures, here is a link, and if you are kind enough to buy any of my books, I would really appreciate you visiting my Amazon page and writing a review!! Thank you in advance, and here is the link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1518045012&sr=8-16&keywords=lois+elsden

A sneak preview, and a catch-up with Thomas

I’m working on my next Thomas Radwinter novel, possibly to be called ‘Saltpans’ – although I have a dilemma; the title is perfect except it gives away a crucial element of the plot, so maybe that will be book VII… unless my readers become fed-up with the story of Thomas!

Here is the opening chapter – maybe you could call it a prologue:

My name is Thomas Marcus Pemberton Radwinter; I was born in 1980, so I’m thirty-seven. I’m about five foot nine and I have grey-hazel eyes and dark reddish sort of hair and a beard.
I live in Easthope which is a small old-fashioned seaside town, with my wife Kylie who’s half-Tobagan, and our five children, Terri-Ann who we adopted last year and is eight, Kenneil, six, Casimira, two, and our year-old twins, Vitalija and Marko.
Kylie works full-time and I used to say I’m a stay-at-home dad, but so many things have changed in our lives. I still do lots of stuff at home, and most of the cooking, but I also now have a small office in Easthope, a room above the veg shop. I’m a solicitor and I work independently, doing conveyancing and will-writing and stuff like that, but I also do genealogical research for other people.
Over the last few years, I’ve been commissioned to do other things … like finding people, a vanished woman, a dodgy Moroccan, and a mysterious and manipulative Tibetan Lama … Most recently I was asked to investigate a haunted hotel… yes really… This ‘adventure’ if you want to call it that, nearly cost me my life – it sounds as if I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Fortunately, at the time, everything happened so quickly I didn’t realise, but afterwards, afterwards I had to think about things a great deal.
There are four of us Radwinter boys, Marcus who’s fifty-eight, Paul who is fifty-one, and John who’s forty-four…  And then there’s me, the youngest.  In 2013, Paul asked me to find out about our family history and I followed the story of the Radwinters … and what an interesting journey that was. I mean journey for me in a non-literal way, but it was an interesting journey for the Radwinters, literally.
I use a genealogical site, MyTimeMachine, and when I looked into us Radwinters, I went about it in a sort of back-to-front way. I guess most people would start with their parents, and find their birth details, and their marriage record, and then move back to their grandparents and so on. It’s not too difficult, especially if you have an unusual name like we have, but even if it isn’t unusual, you can still soon become a real genealogical detective and find your way back into the past.
I did it the other way round; I found my namesake Thomas Radwinter in the 1841 census and worked forward. John has the middle name of Magick, and that’s our maternal line and in 2014 I followed that side of our family… and it led me to some very dark places I can tell you, but eventually I found the truth about my Magick family.
I continued to investigate the people who brought us up, Edward Radwinter and Sylvia Magick, and through this journey into our recent family history, I discovered what caused us to have such traumatic childhoods. Maybe it’s because of this we’ve had to think about our own lives, Marcus and Paul in particular.
In my Radwinter story I discovered some difficult truths about myself as well, which really changed me in ways I can hardly describe. Looking back to me four years ago, I really do feel like a different person now; I think I’m strong and confident… even though I’m still a bit of a bumbling, wittering idiot sometimes…. Well, a lot of the time to be honest! After last year’s dramatic and traumatic events, I’ve had to reassess the sort of commissions I undertake, I’m Mr. Boring now!
So… now our history is closed, and our lives seem settled, well, as much as anyone’s can be!

If you haven’t yet caught up with Thomas and his adventures, here is a link to my books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1518005713&sr=8-15&keywords=lois+elsden

Cheese shortbread – sort of

In the very first Radwinter novel, entitled… Radwinter, Thomas, the main character is chatting with his brother’s fiancée, Ruthie about the range of shortbread she has produced –

I asked her about the millionaire’s strawberry shortbread, she’d tried it again with cherries and some almonds in the biscuit and flaked almonds on top… the olives and wine arrived, Ruthie tasted it and said it was lovely, and so it was…

I have such a sweet tooth I told her I’d liked the strawberry shortbread.

“Perhaps you could do a range, the strawberry one, and the cherry, and then… well the caramel made me think of banoffee… so could you do a banana one?” then I felt stupid because she went glazed.

She pulled out a note-book and began to scribble furiously. “Don’t mind me, I just have to write it down while it’s in my head! Brilliant idea, Thomas, any other thoughts?”

“Well not everyone’s got a sweet tooth… how about a cheese one?” the thought just leapt into my head and out of my mouth and I blushed at how stupid it sounded.

She stared at me as if I was mad. She grabbed her wine and took a swig then went back to her notebook.

“Genius, you are a taste genius,” she said scribbling madly.

Later Thomas writes to her:

I asked about the shortbread and suddenly I found I’d written a whole paragraph about it. I’d become a bit fixated on the idea of a savoury millionaire’s shortbread; the shortbread part was ok, cheese, nuts, mustard, seeds, that was fine… but what about the caramel?

You couldn’t have a savoury caramel, unless you put peanut butter in it which is popular… I’d had some really nice peanut butter ice-cream at a food fair Rebecca and I went to. But supposing you just took the idea of having a sweet layer… maybe quince jelly, maybe a sort of syrupy chutney? Maybe a pomegranate sort of jelly stuff? But then what could you do with the top… it has to be chocolate… but chocolate and cheese? Chocolate and peanut butter and cheese? It doesn’t sound right even if you use chilli chocolate… so I was stumped on the chocolate, but I’d give it some more thought.

I’ve never taken up on Thomas’s idea of either savoury shortbread, or a savoury millionaire’s shortbread… but I did come across this recipe:

Cheese shortbread – sort of

 

  • 8 oz strong cheddar.
  • 4 oz cold butter,  cubed
  • 7 oz plain flour
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp paprika or cayenne
  1. rub the dry ingredients together and then add the egg and pull together very lightly into a soft dough OR/
  2. put everything into a food processor and blend in bursts until it’s like breadcrumbs – don’t over work – then pull together into a soft dough
  3. roll into small balls – you should get about 30-40; flatten them slightly as you put them onto a lined baking tray
  4. bake for 10 minutes, at 400˚F, 220˚C, gas mark 8, until golden brown – they will puff up a little
  5. cool thoroughly on a wire rack.

This doesn’t sound like the shortbread Thomas had in mind, but they do sound tasty!

Here is a link to Radwinter in paperback or for Kindle, and you can find out what other ideas Thomas has:

http://amzn.eu/0R6bnUv

My 2017: November

November for me over the past five years has meant one thing… the National Novel Writing Month challenge – 50,000 words to be written during the month of November. I chronicled this pretty fully as I was writing, sharing my story, my anxiety about getting behind, my thoughts that this year I might fail, the growing sense that maybe I could push on and do it and then hurrah! 50,053 words!!

So how did that compare to previous years:

  • 2013: ‘Radwinter’  genealogical mystery. 73026 words
  • 2014: ‘Raddy and Syl’ – genealogical mystery: Thomas has traced his paternal ancestors to 1830’s war-torn Europe; he has followed his maternal line and found murder and betrayal. Now he needs to look closer to home, to discover the truth about the people who brought him up, Edward and Sylvia Radwinter, Raddy and Syl, in order to find out who he really is. 50,092 words
  • 2015: ‘Earthquake’  – genealogical mystery:  stalker stalked… maybe… 53030 words
  • 2016: ‘And the river’ – memoir: This is a meander, not sure where it is going or what will be seen, from it or in it… This began as a story of my life and that of my family, told through the rivers I have been connected with… as with real rivers, it went its own way and covered a lot of ground… and it hasn’t yet reached its end! 51282 words

And this is what I wrote on day 1 this year:

It’s November, and for some writers the  first day of the month is greeted with a mixture of excitement, dread and a sort of paralysing creative nervousness. This is the month that many of us challenge ourselves to write fifty thousand words, yes, 50,000 words in the thirty days of November.

It sounds at the outset as impossible… 1,667 words a day? Is anyone able to do that? Yes, yes they are, and yes, yes they do.  It is an on-line challenge, there are no prizes, only the satisfaction of knowing you’ve completed it – and if you don’t manage, well at least you tried, and if you don’t manage to write a single word, well at least you thought about it and probably ran through a few ideas in your head before dismissing them all. Those ideas might come back to you one day!

The challenge is called The National Novel Writing Month – the original idea was to write the first fifty thousand words of a new novel; however because there are so many different forms of writing, and the whole point is to inspire people to write and not put them off, it has been somewhat relaxed, and now it is fifty thousand new words.

The idea is that once you start writing,. Like in a timed exam, you just don’t have the time to worry about detail, you just have to get those words on the age – so if the main character’s eyes are blue or brown, or the farm is called Greenvale or High Trees it really doesn’t matter, all those little things can be sorted later, and with the challenge completed the decision-making may have been made without you noticing.

I have taken the challenge four times, plus a ‘Camp Nano’ and I am going to try again… I don’t know if I will make it this time… but I am going to try!

I really recommend it as an exciting challenge – have a go, you might surprise yourself – I certainly surprised myself!

 

My 2017: March

After the travels and excitement of January and February, March was a quieter month – although we did travel to Portsmouth for a college reunion which was great fun. On that weekend we took several taxis, and each driver was an interesting person with great stories to tell, a Syrian who seemed to make it rain wherever he went on holiday, an Albanian who was passionate about Charles Dickens, a bloke who had a great interest in the art and life of L.S.Lowery and another who told us about the history of Gosport. We had our usual classes (creative writing, family history writing, French, modern art, ukulele, rock band, book clubs etc) and our usual little trips out and about to different places, including National Trust properties.

From a writing point of view, March was when I finished my latest Radwinter novel, and although I didn’t publish it until April, I wrote this about the series:

I’m not sure when I first thought I might write about a family of brothers, but I know why I did. I’m forever saying about strangers in the pub, people in the street, faces on the TV, ‘gosh doesn’t s/he look just like so-and-so‘; I thought I identified a similarity in the faces of a TV baker, a famous chef, and a bloke who works in our local bookshop; mostly it was something about the eyes, and the unnerving stare (although bookshop bloke has a friendly stare) The thought of writing about them came and went until I was out with my cousin and we were driving through Essex, not far from the pretty town of Saffron Walden when we saw a sign to the village of Radwinter – and I had my name!

This was some time ago, and over several years I played about with ideas and thoughts and then in 2013 began to write what became the first book in an unexpected series, about the Radwinter family. The narrator was a new arrival, a fourth brother who looked nothing like them, When I started writing, I little knew that there would be a whole series of books, and now I’m just doing the final editing of number 5!

  1. Radwinter – Thomas Radwinter goes in search of his family roots; using the internet he traces his family back to war-torn eastern Europe, and follows their journey from arriving in England in the 1830’s, across southern England. However, the more he finds out about his family’s past, the more he sees his own family, his brothers and his wife differently. His relationship with them changes… and he begins to understand his own character, and to find out as much about his present life as his family’s history. https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1490867200&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden
  2. Magick – Encouraged by his success in discovering his Radwinter ancestors, Thomas Radwinter sets out to investigate his maternal line, starting with the mysterious and alcoholic Sylvia. His life has been somewhat dysfunctional, but now, gaining confidence through his new loving relationship with a beautiful young woman and her son, he is able to confront his own past.
    His genealogical searches take him into the tragic histories of his family and other ordinary people who lived and worked under the appalling conditions of the Victorian age. His skills in finding people from the past encourage a friend to beg him to try and trace her long-lost daughter, a woman, who, it seems does not want to be found. He accepts her request, little realising this will lead him into danger.
    Then the father of his partner’s son arrives; he’s come for his boy…       https://www.amazon.co.uk/MAGICK-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00OHV4MR0/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1490867200&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden
  3. Raddy and Syl – Thomas Radwinter continues his journey into his ancestor’s history; he has followed his paternal line of the Radwinters, “and what an interesting journey that was. I mean journey for me in a non-literal way, but it was an interesting journey for the Radwinters, literally”.
    He traced his maternal ancestry, the Magicks, “I followed that side of our family… and it led me to some very dark places I can tell you”.
    Now he has to find the history of those closest to him, “in my Radwinter story I found some amazing truths about myself. My childhood was difficult to say the least, and when I started to follow the Magick story, I had to begin to face my past, and confront some of my fears and nightmares. To finish my story I have to look at Sylvia Magick and her husband Edward Radwinter, the people who brought me up… sort of… I think of them now as Syl and Raddy, because it’s easier and less painful.”
    During his search Thomas also seeks a woman who vanished seemingly into thin air from a car stopped at a road junction, and he tries to solve the mystery of Badruddin, the Moroccan an elderly female client brought back from a cruise…
    Thomas little thinks that he may be risking his life to find these different truths.   https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADDY-SYL-RADWINTER-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00WAN0YD8/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1490867200&sr=8-6&keywords=lois+elsden
  4. Beyond Hope – Beyond Hope is the fourth in the series of books following the life and genealogical investigations of Thomas Radwinter; in previous stories he has followed family’s history back several centuries and also found some uncomfortable and very painful truths in more recent times.
    In ‘Beyond Hope’, Thomas decides to share with his three brothers what he has learned about their mother and father… but telling the truth can be damaging, the truth can hurt, and as Thomas later reflects, “I know at first hand, a very, very painful first hand, how old secrets have the power to wound and how sometimes those dogs snoozing away should be left doing exactly that, sleeping dogs should sometimes just be let lie.”
    His revelations cause the close family ties to be tested which doesn’t help Thomas as he struggles with the other commissions he is being paid to undertake; he has been asked by a very elderly lady to find out who leaves lilies on a grave she visits, he has undertaken to investigate a mysterious lama who has a dangerous power over a hard-working teacher and devoted father, and he continues his search for the daughter of a friend who has become involved with a very dangerous man… And all the while his own little family has to face difficult decisions. The fall-out between Thomas and his brothers may only be healed if he can find out what happened to their father who disappeared thirty years ago. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Hope-Radwinter-Book-4-ebook/dp/B01AKU9XMK/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1490867200&sr=8-4&keywords=lois+elsden
  5. Earthquake – (published April 2017) Thomas Radwinter’s life seems settled and content as he juggles working as a free-lance solicitor, genealogist and house husband. However a new arrival in the family puts extra pressure on him as he has to balance looking after them and earning some money. A commission from an elderly gentleman to investigate a mysterious death at a little boarding school in 1931 seems intriguing and harmless; a haunted hotel he’s asked to visit seems just to be over-imaginative guests and maybe a less than honest manager. However, during his investigations he has to confront a violent verger, an unbalanced conchologist and a very strange friend from the past… Thomas took on his commissions, little realising when he began his investigation that he would be putting his life and that of a friend in serious danger… “I tried to work out what was going on, and what to do, and what might happen to us – trying my hardest to keep my thoughts well away from a terminal conclusion to events… ” https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1514650978&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

…and here is a link to my other books, Farholm, Flipside, Loving Judah, Lucky Portbraddon, Night Vision, The Double Act and The Stalking of Rosa Czekov

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsdenkov:

 

A writing list

A writing chum told me has made a 2018 writing list – things he intends to tackle next year… I’ve got some priorities in my head, but as for a list, well, I hadn’t thought of it… so what would be on my list should I make one?

I think it goes without saying that I will continue to write here, sharing my thoughts, ideas, memories and my writing. I must also get back seriously or seriously get back to finishing my next Radwinter novel, which has been marooned three-quarter way through since the beginning of November when I tackled the national Novel Writing challenge of completing 50,000 words in a month. So finish Thomas Radwinter’s next story provisionally entitled ‘Saltpans‘, and I have an idea for another for later on in the year probably called ‘Alone‘. On the Radwinter front, I also want to publish as paperbacks at least two of my e-books, ‘Magick’ and ‘Raddy and Syl‘, and if all goes extremely well, then also ‘Beyond Hope‘.

In January and February I must prepare for a talk and two workshops I’m giving in February; the talk is on writing about family history, as I mentioned yesterday, and the workshops are on the process of writing and blogging.

I also have my unfinished stories – ‘Gus’, ‘Dancing in the Road’, ‘And the River…’, ‘Hamazasb and the Missing Shoe‘, and a couple of other bits of writing I started. There is also the story I began this year for NaNoWriMo, about Milla. Of those, I think there’s only a couple which I might actually tackle, others are very much on the back burner, as well as some I wrote many years ago which would need a total re-write.

I have completed five NaNoWriMo challenges, every year since 2013; they have been a great way to really get to grips with a new story, but they are also a great drain on time… the idea is also quite additive, though, will I be able to resist the challenge? Or maybe should I use it to get to grips with ‘Alone’? That actually is a good idea!!

I mentioned at the start my commitment to writing here; I also share another blog with two writing friends (which is actually open to anyone to contribute to!) From that we published an anthology last year and are hoping to publish a second next year. That is more a case of pulling together already written pieces rather than creating anything new but it still involves work. On our other blog we have challenged ourselves to write about subjects from a list we discovered with seventy-three suggestions of topics. We are doing really well with it, and have had a thought that maybe they could be edited and published – in three volumes!! There would just be too many words for one book!

So that I guess is my writing list… but then of course, something new, a whole new story might bob into my mind!! Inspiration happens in the most unlikely places and with the most unexpected ideas!

So, maybe like my friend I should write a list… should it be a calendar/diary/timetable?

  1. January – finish first draft of ‘Saltpans‘, prepare for family history talk and writing workshops. Begin to edit ‘Magic’ for paperback publication
  2. February – deliver family history talk and writing workshops, work on editing ‘Saltpans‘, also continue to edit ‘Magick‘ as a paperback – this takes much longer than you might think!
  3. March – prepare and publish ‘Saltpans‘, prepare first draft of seventy-three blog anthology, book I.
  4. April – work on ‘seventy-three’ maybe start thinking about next story for me – perhaps ‘Dancing in the Road’, but maybe something new will spring into my mind! Publish ‘Magick’ as a paperback’ and start of paperback editing of ‘Raddy and Syl’.
  5. May – publish ’73’, continue work on whatever new/old thing I’m writing
  6. June – writing, writing, writing, publish ‘Raddy and Syl‘ paperback, start preparing ‘Beyond Hope’ as a paperback
  7. July – more writing, writing, writing, continue with ‘Beyond Hope‘ paperback
  8. August – as for July but publish new paperback
  9. September – complete whatever I started new in April (maybe it will have got to the editing stage by now) Begin to look at second anthology with my two writing friends, to publish November/December
  10. October  – ditto September
  11. November – new Nano challenge, but also some light editing and pulling together of the April book, publish anthology II with friends
  12. December – maybe publish new book? Maybe continue what I started as Nano?

Writing it down like this makes 2018 look a massive challenge – however, a lot of it is editing and working on old things. This year I have felt that creativity has been pushed into the corner by other stuff I’ve been doing; I really want to make sure it isn’t the same in 2018. It’s all about balance.

2017 has been a great year, and I’ll write about in the next few days, but if I have any resolution for next year, it is what I mentioned above – find balance!