Looking up the Brontës

Many of us are fascinated by genealogical research, and looking through old records and census returns… one little offshoot of this is to look up the nineteenth century records of people we know from other areas… for example the Brontë family.

In the 1841 census, in the parish of Bradford in Yorkshire (the West Riding) in the registration district  of Keighley, in the town of Haworth, you would find Patrick Bronte, born in 1781 and aged 60, his sister-in-law Elizabeth Branwell of the same age who was born in Cornwall, and  two of his daughters,  Emily Jane aged 20 and born in Yorkshire, and Ann, a year younger; also in the household was fifteen year old Martha Brown who we can guess was a servant.

Charlotte, meanwhile was a short-term position with the White family at Upperwood House in Guiseley, also in the West Riding of Yorkshire; she had three charges, Jasper, Arthur and Sarah. Ten years later, Charlotte was at home; the family had a visitor, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey. Martha Brown, the servant girl, was now a young woman of twenty-five, and there was another servant, eighty-one year old Tabitha Akroyd born in Haworth. Charlotte Bronte. Somehow over the ten years between surveys, Patrick has aged an extra four years – his date of birth is now recorded as 1777, not 1781, and his place of birth Ireland, and he is described as ‘Incumbent Or Perpetual Curate Of Haworth’.

In 1861, the inhabitants of the parsonage in Haworth have changed slightly; still in residence is eighty-four year old Patrick; all his children have died, he is alone apart from his son-in-law, Charlotte’s widower, Arthur B. Nicholls, and Martha Brown, now the housekeeper. There is another servant, Eliza Brown, who I guess is probably Martha’s younger sister. If you look back at the 1851 census, you can find Arthur B. Nicholls there in haworth, listed as ‘curate’ and living in Sexton House.

It’s really interesting to undertake  little journeys into the past like this; no doubt i could have found exactly the same information on any of the many websites devoted to the Brontës – but not as much fun!

I’ve used my interest in genealogy and family history research in my Thomas Radwinter series of e-novels; her is a link:

 

 

Having a rethink

Since publishing my last e-book, Earthquake, I have been back to work – back to writing I mean because fortunately I no longer have a day job and can spend my time writing! While I was at work, I still wrote, but it had to be squeezed in among everything else, job, family, housework, stuff, but I completed several novels, and since I have been writing full-time, over the last five years, I have been editing and publishing them.

While I was editing, I found that the fact I was writing in odd bits of time really showed, and I had to really work hard at polishing them up, pruning them severely and knocking them into shape, before launching them on KDP, Kindle Direct Publishing. As well as six or so complete novels, there were a couple of unfinished stories; so, since Earthquake, I have gone back to one of these and have set to knocking what there is of it (about 70,000 words) into shape and getting to grips with completing it.

This novel, ‘The Story of Frederico Milan’ is as you might imagine about a man with that name; three years before the beginning of the novel, his wife left him and has not been seen since. Frederico assumed she had gone off with another man, her parents think Frederico has done something to her… The police have investigated and found nothing suspicious. As you might imagine from this starting point, Frederico is manipulated/blackmailed/forced by his parents-in-law into trying to find the truth about his missing wife.

I pulled the virtual manuscript off my virtual shelf and I have begun to edit it before writing the final part. I thought this would be a good way of keeping writing without all it takes to start a completely new novel (which I actually already have in my mind) However… in the eight or so years since I wrote the first part of Frederico, my writing has changed enormously; although the backbone of my style is the same, I guess (difficult to judge objectively) much else has changed – my voice, I guess you might call it.

The editing is really hard with this story, so much has to be changed, so much rewritten, so much excised… There are parts I really like, but a key factor of the plot is not just weak but unbelievable! The characters who start off being quite engaging seem to have become mere cardboard cutouts, with ludicrous too long conversations, and immature behaviour – doing things which might be believable in teenagers but don’t ring true with adults! … and yet, and yet the core is a good novel waiting to develop and emerge!

I had planned to edit the story so far, write the ending, edit it as a complete novel and then see what happens next! I had a bit of a revelation last night and I have come to a new decision:

  • continue editing (very strictly) to the end of the story as it is
  • rewrite the really poor parts (talk severely to the characters and get them to act their age)
  • describe the characters more fully and more objectively
  • excise the unbelievable and inconsistent parts
  • take a mighty scythe of ‘delete’ to much of the conversations
  • have more action and less chat
  • improve the descriptions of the settings – they are so vivid in my mind, but readers can only read words not what’s inside my head
  • put it to one side and write something else

The last point – putting it to one side, will offer the story one last chance; if when I come back to it I still feel despondent about it then maybe it is time to say farewell to Frederico, Erin, the Burnetts, Dr Goodrich and Father Apinski, and maybe leave Frederico’s wife unfound… However, I have a feeling that if I work hard at it now, with this new end in sight, then when I come back to it at the end of the year or next year, maybe I will do so with more enthusiasm!

Watch this space for news on Frederico, and also for news on my actual new novel!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493393195&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden

Visiting a stately home…

We visited Tyntsfield today, a National Trust property near Bristol. There is a wonderful house to visit, and if the weather had been a little less windy and chilly, we might have wandered round the beautiful gardens too!

This is what the Trust say about it:

Tyntesfield, just a stone’s throw away from Bristol, was not built as a bold and extravagant statement of wealth, power or politics. Its purpose was simple; to serve as a family home. Once hidden and inaccessible, the ordinary and extraordinary lives and possessions of four generations of the Gibbs family are ready for discovery. The garden and estate balance faded beauty and function with an abundance of nature; celebrated in ornate Gothic carvings that decorate the house. Flower filled terraces, an empty lake, woodland, champion trees and productive kitchen garden give further opportunities for exploration.

… and this is what Wikipedia says about William Gibbs who bought it in 1843:

In 1843, the property was bought by businessman William Gibbs, who made his fortune in the family business, Antony Gibbs & Sons. From 1847 the firm had an effective monopoly in the import and marketing to Europe and North America of guano from Peru as a fertiliser…  The firm’s profits from this trade were such that William Gibbs became the richest non-noble man in England.

In my latest e-book, Earthquake, there is an old ruined house – not a bit like Tyntesfield I have to say, except for the fact that my fictional owner of the house had also made his fortune from guano. In my story, the old house became a school, until it closed in 1932 and fell into disrepair:

The actual school building in the grounds of a large estate, had been the home of a branch of the family who’d owned the big mansion in rather lovely parklands – well, they looked lovely from the old photographs I found. The mansion, with two wings and no doubt dozens and dozens of rooms, had been the residence of a man who’d made his money out of bird poo… Yes, it’s true! There were other such entrepreneurs apparently, who made millions shipping bird poo from distant rocky places back to England to be used as fertiliser… I mean honestly, who would have thought it? Whoever first thought oh I know I’ll put all this bird shit on the garden and see what happens… oh my goodness what lovely roses I have and how fine my carrots are
It was in 1841 apparently that the first Peruvian guano, about 2,000 tons of the smelly stuff, left on a ship destined for Liverpool, and it was in the 1860’s just as Samuel Oxfleet was starting his school in Strand, that Mr. Bird-Poo built his mansion.
The smaller house which became the school was built for the second son who was not going to inherit the bird poo empire. As happens with such large places, it fell on hard times as the family did, and for a short while, between the 1890’s and 1900’s the mansion was what was then called a lunatic asylum, before it became used as a convalescent home.
The smaller building became a hospital for wounded soldiers in the First World War, for those with ‘shell shock’ as they called it or ‘battle fatigue’ as it was also known.

If you want to fins out more about the old school, as it became, and more about the earthquake in Earthquake, here is a link:

Earthquake… and sprouts

I’ve been really excited – and delighted by the response to my latest novel, Earthquake! It is the fifth story about Thomas Radwinter, and it has been interesting how the character of Thomas has changed over the course of what I guess you could call a quintet – unless that just applies to music!

In the first novel, the eponymous Radwinter (I don’t often get to use the word ‘eponymous’!) Thomas is in quite an unhappy situation, for various reasons, and during the course of the story things only get worse – until they get better! Thomas has what you might call ‘issues’ surrounding his childhood, and over the next novels, gradually he confronts and resolves many of these difficulties. So, his character does change, but many aspects of him remain the same. He’s loving, kind, funny, intelligent, self-deprecating, but suffers from anxiety and a feeling of worthlessness on occasions… As his life changes and becomes happier, he is able to indulge in things he enjoys, one of which is cooking (and food in general!)

In this excerpt he is trying to work out how to make an economical meal for his family with the odds and ends he finds in the cupboard and fridge:

I’ve somehow ended up with a pile of sprouts; this does sometimes happens, what with the allotment and Val the veg shop lady who always seems to have something going cheap for me. I guess when the children are older and all eating proper food then we’ll be glad, maybe we should get another freezer…
So what can we do with sprouts? Kylie doesn’t really like them that much and Kenneil doesn’t like them at all, so it’s really only me… I wondered if there might be a recipe for sprout soup, so had a little investigate on the internet and came across a few interesting things, some of which have a list of very extravagant ingredients… Pancetta, gorgonzola, crème fraiche, chestnuts, Marsala wine and duck fat… none of which I have. It would have to be an extraordinary basket of going cheap items in a supermarket which had all of them!
Pancetta… that’s only bacon really, isn’t it? Posh Italian bacon? And gorgonzola, sometimes when we did a cheese board when we were entertaining… wait a bit, ‘we’? By we I was meaning Rebecca and me! I must kick that thought out of the window! But that’s the trouble; you see I’d not thought of Rebecca for a single second for a very long time, and now she seems back in my mind. I still don’t know what her problem is that she wants me to help her with…
Back to sprouts, much nicer to think about sprouts than my past life… so crème fraiche… we don’t have it but we do have plain yoghurt, would that do? I’ve started making my own, so much cheaper than buying it, 60ml of live yoghurt to a litre of warm milk, twenty-four hours later and there’s the yoghurt. Chestnuts and Marsala wine… no… no we haven’t, not anything like it, and duck fat?
I looked at the method and decided to see what I’ actually did have.
I took as many sprouts as I thought I might eat, and I cut them in half, and found the green end of a leek which had gone a bit soft but was OK. I chopped it up and fried it butter and olive oil, and then instead of pancetta I fried slices of chorizo the end of a black pudding which is one of my little treats!
I didn’t have any chestnuts but I had half a bag of cashews I’d brought back from the pub and they went in with the chorizo and black pudding which was smelling mighty good I can tell you. I threw the sprouts in with the leek, and when they’d gone bright green I found ‘a glug’, as the recipe really does say, of one of Paul’s wines. I discovered some rather elderly crème fraiche right at the back of the fridge, a rather large number of days after its best before date, and a bit of very old, leathery stilton… Geoff and Daph had given it to us and the last little bit got lost in the salad drawer.
By this time Kylie had arrived back with the babies and Daph and Geoff had arrived with the swimmers.
“That smells delish, Daddy!” Kenneil announced and Cassie said ‘delish’ too.
“What is it sweetheart, it smells great!” Kylie exclaimed, and before you could say Brussels sprouts, Kenneil and Cassie were wading into what was going to have been my dinner, and I was hastily chopping sprouts and leeks and chorizo to make some more for my wife and our friends! … and none of my family actually like sprouts!!

If this tempts you to read  ‘Earthquake’ (a real as well as metaphorical earthquake) here is a link to my e-book:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493026172&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden

Royalty – part 2

I shared the first part of a story with you yesterday; it was something I wrote for my writing group. The topic was ‘Royalty’ and I was really struggling to think of what to write when I remembered two characters I’d started writing about before, a lonely man, and a woman who is staying at her father-in-law’s house while he is in hospital. These two people meet in a pub, just by chance, sitting at the same table as a young couple.

If you want to read part 1, here is a link:

https://loiselden.com/2017/04/21/royalty-part-1/

Royalty – part 2

“Are you in the quiz?” They all looked up at a small man in a yellow sweater with a golf club log who was standing with a sheaf of quiz sheets and a pint glass of pens.
… How did it happen? Who said what? Who tentatively suggested that maybe they might… should… could… Later no-one could remember, but they each handed over a pound, and were given a quiz sheet and a selection of pens and suddenly they were a team!
A quiz! She always went to the pub for quiz night at home, well, she used to… But a quiz!
There was a moment’s ridiculousness and confusion when they introduced themselves – she had thought the two young people were a couple, no, they weren’t, they had just got into conversation at the bar; they had thought she and the man beside her were married… no they weren’t, obviously!
“I’m Clare,” she said, and the man beside her was Gus, and the two separate young people were Elliot and Evie… four strangers who were suddenly a quiz team.
Before they could converse or say any more about themselves the quiz started, and they were plunged into understanding how it worked; it was a bingo quiz, and puzzling over the rather tricky and very random questions, Clare lost herself completely in the proceedings. Her three team mates were fun and funny, and as strangers they could relax and be themselves – whatever selves they chose to be.
The first round finished and the carbon copies of their answer sheets were collected… but there was a problem, they needed a team name. They looked blankly at each other… then Elliot said to the man collecting the answers, well, this was the Royal Inn, so they were the Royal team! It seemed a bit weak, but what the heck, what did it matter?
It was a natural time to get a drink… but… but… Gus stepped in; who would like a drink? He’d be pleased to buy a round… Pints of beer seemed to be the order, and while he was at the bar, the answers were read out, and they self-marked – the copies having been collected so no cheating.
Gus returned with beer to find his team in high spirits; he’d had to wait while the barrel was changed, and in that time, all the answers had been read out and believe it or believe it not, they had won! Clare, Elliot and Evie insisted Gus take the cost of the round from their winnings, and use another four pounds to buy the sheets for round two!
The questions were similarly random and tricky as the first round… and this time they were defeated… however, there was still enough of their winnings for four more pints. Clare sat back and glanced at her team mates; what did she know about them? Evie was a nurse and singer with a band, Elliot worked in an estate agent’s, Gus was not working at the moment, and she had told them she was here temporarily looking after her father-in-law’s house while he was in hospital and her husband in the States.
The quiz master came round with one final question for the beer round… Beer round? Yes, the winning team had a free round of drinks next week!
“How long is the Queen Mary, not the Queen Mary 2, but the original Queen Mary?”
It was simple for Gus… 1,019.5 feet…
“The winner of the beer round, with a bob on correct answer of 1,019.5 feet, is Royalty!” shouted the quiz master.
“Royalty?”
“Yes!! That’s us!!”
Somehow the Royal Team had become Royalty…
“Hey! We’ll have to come back next week to claim our free beer!” exclaimed Evie.
“Brilliant! I’ll be here! You, Gus? You Clare?” asked Elliot.
Clare smiled… If father-in-law was still in hospital, she would be here!
Gus picked up his glass. “Here’s to Royalty! See you next week, chums!”

Royalty – part 1

As well as leading two creative writing groups, I am also in a writing group; there are seven of us and we meet roughly once a month and read something we have written on a topic chosen the last time we met. Today our topic was ‘Royalty’… and I confess I was absolutely stuck… I just could not think of anything to write at all…

… and then I had a thought about something I had written a while ago, well two somethings actually. One something I think I have shared here, about a man called Gus who was wandering aimless and rather lonely in a marsh area beside the sea… he finishes his walk and on the way home drifts into a pub. The other was about a woman who was staying in her father-in-law’s house and visiting him every day in hospital; he was very ill, very, very ill, but his son, her husband was away in America. She was for the moment not working so she had come to stay in the old man’s house and visit him. These two characters, Gus and the woman came together in my mind, and this is what happened:

Royalty – part 1

She realised as she got to the bar that the last time she’d been here was with Philip… There were two pubs in the village, and since she’d been down here on her own, staying in her father-in-law’s house so she could visit him in hospital, she’d only been to the other pub, the Schooner. She’d been for lunch… a couple of times… she’d been for dinner before visiting in the evening, a couple of times… but she hadn’t been here, to the Royal Hotel.
The other pub, The Schooner was convenient, but somehow impersonal… the staff were polite and efficient, but somehow…
Why hadn’t she come here, to the Royal? It was a typical village pub, and had a more homely, friendly feel; she glanced at the menu while waiting for the Canadian boy serving behind the bar to return with her change and thought it sounded altogether more interesting… Maybe tomorrow she’d come here for lunch…
It was busy but there was a space on the bench seat by the window. There was a group of women sitting at the next table so she took her change and went and sat down beside them… Maybe she could get talking to them, maybe she could have a conversation… she was starved of contact, and although she didn’t mind being on her own, it suddenly seemed a welcome proposition to actually converse with someone. Her father-in-law was declining day by day; anything he did say was so random and unintelligible that trying to make a conversation was like trying to catch soap bubbles blown by a child.
She sat down and glanced at the four women but they were there in an intense conversation. A jacket lay on the seat beside her and probably belonging to the people on the table to her right, two middle-aged couples. She caught a burst of conversation from them, the woman with the dark perm talking to the woman with shoulder length blond hair, was complaining about students in her son’s hall of residence all being ‘foreign’ and how the places ‘stank of curry’… Hmmm… maybe this pub wasn’t so congenial place after all.
A man was approaching with a pint of beer, preoccupied and patently thinking of something else and he squeezed between the table and the next one with the two couples before realising she was sitting there.
“Oh! Is this your seat! I’m sorry, I didn’t realise, I thought it was free!” she exclaimed.
“No, no, that’s fine! Sorry, I just left my jacket…”
He was interrupted by a young couple who asked him if the two chairs at the table were free. Yes, yes, they were he replied, still standing between the two tables.
“I’m just on my own, this seat is free,” she said, indicating the place beside her, realising that the jacket must be his.
There was a bit of a kerfuffle while the young couple, who had thought she and the pint of beer man were a couple, took off coats, organised phones, put drinks on the table… and the man, after asking again if it was ok for him to sit beside her, did just that, and sat beside her.
She would knock back her beer and go; having wanted company she now felt awkward with the bloke beside her and the young couple across the table. They too had subsided into silence, concentrating on their phones. The young woman looked like a student, fashionable, long dark hair and a serious face, the lad looked rougher, awkward almost, compared to his lovely girlfriend.
She would finish her beer…
“Are you in the quiz?” They all looked up at a small man in a yellow sweater with a golf club log who was standing with a sheaf of quiz sheets and a pint glass of pens.
… How did it happen? Who said what? Who tentatively suggested that maybe they might… should… could… Later no-one could remember, but they each handed over a pound, and were given a quiz sheet and a selection of pens and suddenly they were a team!

If you want to know what I had written about Gus previously, here is a link:

http://wp.me/p2hGAs-1YJ

Another little except… Earthquake!

I mentioned yesterday how kind people have been in their response to my latest e-book, ‘Earthquake’, and how readers have been quite excited to find out what happens next to my main character Thomas Radwinter. Thomas is just an ordinary person with an ordinary life, but he has a knack of finding things out and solving problems… it started (for him and my readers) when he began to delve into his own family history, and then discovered he was quite good at finding missing people and solving little mysteries.

Over the five books he has discovered his own family’s secrets, found a woman who disappeared and who the police thought didn’t really exist anyway, worked out the identity of a Tibetan lama who had sinister control over a teacher, found out who laid lilies on the grave of a young Danish resistance fighter who died during the war, and exposed the secrets of a haunted hotel.

The books have followed Thomas’s personal life too, his brothers, and his own little family. His character develops and changes over the five books (and four years of his life) and he is quite a different person in many ways from ‘the bumbling, wittering idiot’ as he describes himself!

In this excerpt he is going to visit a new client, who speaks so quietly Thomas can’t decipher his name when the old gentleman rings him to make an appointment… all Thomas can hear is ‘Shshsher’

Thomas goes to meet his client, but first of all he has to sort out childcare:

 I have learned that small children are exceptionally speedy, in fact they can possibly teleport themselves from place to place and are really adept at pulling things down on top of themselves, specialise in sitting on or in something which does neither it nor them any good, and generally wreak havoc on items left lying about. Children are the greatest motivator for being tidy I can tell you!
Occasionally, very occasionally I have taken one of them with me on business appointments, always asking the client first and only if there is absolutely no other alternative – sometimes I’ve had to rearrange meetings because of childcare difficulties. Kenneil is fine to take anywhere, he can entertain himself without a fuss; it used to be cars, now it’s more likely to be little construction sets or drawing or sums.
My appointment with Mr. Shshsher was not an appointment I could take any babies whatsoever, so Cassie went to spend the morning with our friends Geoff and Daph, the twins went to the nursery and of course, Kenneil is at school.

Mr. Shshsher, I still hadn’t been able to decipher his name, lived over the other side of Strand, not far from where I lived in my former life. Where he lives is in small posh 1900’s development; each detached property is set in its own grounds, not huge, but big enough and has a detached garage and a good sized garden at the back. The developer had wanted to get away from straight lines, much as  modern housing developments, and like the new estates, Gracelands would you believe, was easy to get lost in and difficult to get out of. Judging by the expensive large cars parked on the drives this was a very affluent place.

My client lived down a little curling road called Solveig… just that, Solveig. I hadn’t believed it when he told, me, and thought it was another of his slurred utterances, but I looked it up and here it was, a little avenue with maybe a dozen houses and it was called Solveig. Then I had a vague memory of having to drop off some papers here when I worked for the solicitor’s firm. All the roads had strange, Scandinavian names, and I confess I diverted to find out more.
The architect and builder, one and the same, was Ingar Bond, an extraordinary citizen of Strand, and quite famous in a small way. He was a bit of a speculator but he had a dream of establishing a community based on some vaguely Viking ideal… which sort of went out of the window with the spread of Nazism. He was fascinated by Ingar Silverskin, the Viking who raided along this coast and he named his estate after him and the warriors who were supposed to have come with him; I read all this on someone’s blog.
The estate was originally called Ingarhjem, apparently, but then it was changed to Norville, then changed to Ingarville and now Gracelands …
I have to confess I did get properly side-tracked into reading about it; there are fourteen roads Arne Gunnarsson, Håkon Geirsson, Trygve, Yngre, Snorresson, Steinar, Torstein, Valdemar and Vidar named after Ingar’s warriors, and another five named after women associated with the stories, according to Ingar Bond (I wonder if his name was really Ian and he changed it to something more in keeping with his obsession).

Solveig was where my client lived, and the other ‘female’ roads were Brynhild, Ragnhild, Swanhild and Yngvild… Imagine saying you lived at number 33 Yngvild, or 27 Arne Gunnarsson… Good grief!!

If you want to find out more about Mr Shshsher and how an earthquake comes into the story, and the mystery of the haunted hotel, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492680988&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden

…and if you want to catch up with the previous books about Thomas Radwinter, or any of my other e-novels, here’s another link:

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