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

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!

As fire rained down on Yarmouth…

I shared an extract from my next Radwinter novel yesterday; it will probably be called ‘Saltpans’ and I hope will be published early next year. The extract I shared yesterday was about the salt industry, particularly the maritime salt making industry; in my novels, my main character Thomas takes on geological and other research, but often gets side-tracked by other things he finds out… as exampled by salt! A house he and his wife want to buy is called Saltpans, which sets him off on his research.

In another part of the story, he discovers his wife’s ancestors were involved in a bombing raid during the 1st World war:

I find another article; L3, L4 piloted by Kapitanlieutenant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund, (what a name!) and L6  crossed the North Sea from Fuhlsbüttel on the night of January 19th. The weather was not ideal and the leader of the operation, Korvettenkapitan Peter Strasser, who was actually operating L6, discovered it had  developed mechanical problems and it was forced to turn back home while L3 and L4 pressed on toward England.

The headwinds forced changes to the German plan; they were supposed to head to the north-east of England, to Humberside to bomb the industrial and military areas there, but weather conditions forced them to change their target and they steered a more southerly route towards East Anglia. The L3, under the command of Kapitanlieutenant Karl Fritz, made landfall over the Norfolk coast between Happisburgh and Winterton. Kapitanlieutenant Fritz’s new target was the naval port of Great Yarmouth.

L3 was actually seen from the ground as it passed over Ingham, heading towards its target in the dark. These days, if your country was at war with another, you might expect air raids, but back in 1915, it had never been heard of because this was the first, and this resulted in the first ever casualties in all the world of war, from an air raid.

It only took ten minutes, but they must have been the most terrifying and horrific and endless  minutes for the inhabitants of the small seaside town as fire rained down on Yarmouth from the sky, as high-explosive and incendiary bombs, ten of them were released from the airships.

One of the L3 bombs fell on St Peter’s Plain, killing spinster Martha Taylor and a shoemaker named Samuel Smith… I have a quick deviation into the 1911 census. Seventy-two year old Martha Taylor, a single woman was a net mender.

There were a lot of Samuel Smiths in Yarmouth at the time, but was this Samuel Alfred, I found, a forty-nine year old boot repairer, living with his parents, Esther and William Pye Smith (a bushman whatever that was), and his two young nieces Elise and Hilda Hutt who were st pschoolgirls, was this Samuel the man who died? If so, how tragic, because even if he had been awake, he would have heard nothing because he was deaf…

Bombs from the L3 also damaged houses, the Yarmouth port’s South Dock, the fish wharf and what bad luck to a steam drifter which had come into port which was also hit.

So from salt making to zeppelins… Thomas’s research takes him far and wide!

Here is a link to my  Radwinter stories, and my other paperbacks and ebooks:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_6?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C153&crid=39LBFFSH2YHKF

My featured image by the way, is of Happisburgh Lighthouse

Salt pans…

My character Thomas Radwinter is investigating salt production in the small seaside town where he lives… he goes to the local museum –

I realised that salt was important for preserving food, and cooking, and wasn’t surprised that it was import for medical purposes, but I didn’t realise it was used in industrial processes such as tanning. I did remember from the dim and distant history lessons at school that Roman soldiers were paid in salt and that was the origin of the word salary.

There was a 1930’s article which was easy to read which I fastened on as I wouldn’t have time to do more than skim the main points.

In the summer of 1934, my colleague Elijah Handcome and I explored the remains of the early seventeenth century salt works in Easthope Bay; we knew the approximate site having identified a bucket pot, but the exact location proved elusive. We revealed some ancient walls which we uncovered when the tide allowed, and found evidence of some industrial burning; however we could uncover no exact evidence of salt production here on this site.

Maybe place names are not evidence, but we felt sure that these offered us a clue, and the local public house the Saltern Inn was a key, and a splendid place to retire to for a luncheon of home cooked ham and pickled onions as big as your fist.

The following year we explored the old salt working site in Strand; the Boroughlee site was in use from probably the 1720’s until the 1850’s and gave its name to Salty Wharf and the Saltmills Tannery.

We found records of the iron pans still complete until the turn of the century; winter storms had undermined the area and the pans had split and partially collapsed during the inundation four years previously. The Town Council had the remains removed as part of the promenade improvements scheme.

Hmmm, so from this Elijah and… I looked for the name of the author – Benjamin Magick (must be a relative, my grandmother’s maternal line were Magicks – John is actually John Magick Radwinter!) didn’t find much about Easthope, and not much more about Strand.

I would have to investigate further, if I ever had the time… I  quickly read another old crinkly record about the pans… I imagined them to be like a large tub, say washing basket size, but no, good grief, they are five meters by five meters – that’s over sixteen foot! I had also imagined them to be round, but no, they were rectangular, plates of iron riveted together. As far as I can understand it without any pictures, there were four separate quarter pieces, with extra plating across the centre.

Gosh it was a huge thing! All gone now, all but disappeared after the promenade improvements in Strand  in the 1930’s, then subsequent work and a sea wall and road widening etc…

There was also a map, not drawn to scale and apparently a copy of another one, which showed that there was like a yard, with buildings of some sort around it right by the sea and this was where the salt works were. Some jottings on the side explained (as I interpreted the squiggles) that the sea water was pumped through a pipe to the pan sheds and then fires were lit underneath the pans to evaporate the water – well of course they had fires! In hot countries they might be able to make salt by evaporation using the sun, but not in jolly old England!

© Lois Elsden

I hope this, the sixth book in my Radwinter series will be published in the spring of 2018… if you want to read the other Radwinter books, or my other paperbacks and ebooks, here is a link:

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

Thomas’s cup of tea – an interview

As part of the ’73 challenge’ my fellow blogger on our Moving Dragons blog has set us, we have conducting an interview on the list; I decided that I would really challenge myself by doing an actual spoken interview, recording it, and sharing it here… Well, technical problems have arisen and so although it will be attempted, for the moment I am going to do a written interview. Just to make it a bit different, and maybe it will seem a bit strange, I am going to interview a character I have written about.

I don’t know if it is the same for other writers, but some characters I write about almost seem to become separate from my imagination, and when I am writing they do unpredictable and sometimes foolish things. This doesn’t mean that when I am editing and working on my complete novels I don’t try to eliminate inconsistencies and things done and said which don’t seem true to the imaginary individual I have created. Nor do I have any illusion that they are actually real and living in a different dimension!!

The ideas for the questions I’m posing are taken from a food magazine but with a lot of tweaking…

So here is Thomas Radwinter explaining what is ‘his cup of tea‘:

My Cup of Tea

Q: What dish reminds you of your childhood?

Thomas: Um… well… I actually didn’t have an exactly brilliant childhood… things all went a bit wrong… but I do remember one happy time… which will probably seem a bit strange… anyway… I remember once it was at night and we were in the kitchen and it was dark and the oven was on and John my brother and I were sitting in front of the open oven and it was really warm, and we were eating baked beans out of bowls with a spoon.  John was telling me a story – we were cowboys out on the lonesome range and we were sitting round our campfire…
Whenever we have baked beans, I always think of that, and think of how we were lovely and warm and John was making me laugh with his story

Q: Do you cook any of the things you ate as a child?

Thomas: I have had a go at making baked beans myself… My boy liked them, but none of the rest of the family did, so I guess I won’t be doing that again! These days what I cook depends on what  is in season on my brother’s allotment, what is going cheap at the veg shop, and any offers on at the butcher’s or supermarkets! I guess this means we eat quite healthily – and it also means I do cook some strange stuff according to what I’ve bought! I’m not bad at cakes, the kids’ favourite is my orange surprise cake – it was supposed to be lemon drizzle but we didn’t have any lemons so it was a surprise because it was oranges! (They were going cheap at Val’s,  the veg shop)

Q: What’s for breakfast?

Thomas: Breakfast is supposed to be really important isn’t it? My wife likes a cooked breakfast and because I’m a bit more flexible in my work (being a stay-at-home dad and part-time solicitor) I make sure she has something cooked – even if it’s only beans on toast (beans again!) or a scrambled egg before she flies out of the door. The two oldest are at school so they usually have porridge and then maybe an egg (we eat a lot of eggs but we get most of them from the old bloke who has an allotment next to my brother’s) The three littlies (yes we have five children) have porridge or cereal and fruit or toast, or an egg… kids’ breakfast stuff…  I know it’s bad for me but quite often I sort of forget breakfast for me – and then have elevenses later when everyone is where they should be!

Q: What food do you never run out of?

Thomas: um… well, veg – because of the allotment! And there’s usually cake.

Q: Which chef would you love to have cook for you?

Thomas: Crikey! That’s a tricky question!! We love going to my friend Leo’s Italian restaurant; his family come from Apulia so most of what he cooks  is traditional from there… I have another friend who is Armenian and we love going to his restaurant too! So I guess Leo or Vekan…. as for a famous chef… um… I’m a bit out of touch these days… I do use Claudia Roden’s recipes a lot so that would be amazing if she cooked a meal for us!!!

Q: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Thomas: This probably isn’t very strange in the top ten of really weird and peculiar things that people eat like unusual parts of an animal or insects or bird spit… but when I found a recipe which involved frying sprouts with black pudding, that actually did seem might odd… especially as you make a sort of sauce with blue cheese… Actually it tasted jolly good, and everyone who said sprouts were disgusting tucked into it and I had to make some more… so that was jolly strange… except it isn’t any more as we quite often have it when we get given sprouts by Val from the veg shop.

Q: where in the world would you like to go and try the local food?

Thomas: Anywhere!!!! I just love food!!! I guess I would like to go to Apulia and Armenia, but most I would like to go to Tobago. My wife’s father is from Tobago, and two of my children are… so a family holiday to Tobago would be great!

Q: best biscuits for dunking?

Thomas: I don’t dunk! I think it’s horrible!

Q: how do you take your tea?

Thomas: usually as quickly as possible because I’m always in a tearing hurry! Actually I like it strong with not too much milk – and just ordinary, I’m not keen on fancy stuff like Earl Gray or fruit teas…

If you want to find out more about Thomas, you can read his stories here: