The schoolgirl, the mangler, and the railway porter’s wife

In my novel, ‘Magick’, a genealogical mystery, the main character Thomas says “Daphne wanted me to do her family tree; I was pleased to, although mentioned again that sometimes people appear and disappear, and sometimes unexpected things crop up, things which might have been secret”.

This is so true! When you are researching a family history, the most unexpected things can turn up, not necessarily that there is royalty in a family or a famous person, but the ordinary everyday lives of your ancestors maybe not be quite as ordinary after all. While looking up a friend’s family I found that a distant great-however-many-times grandfather had married his step-sister; another friend, another tree, and a son had married his aunty… Both these details had been ‘smudged’ in the family history as my friends knew it, but research and a little genealogical detective work found the truth.

However, sometimes other ‘secrets’ are revealed.  My character Thomas is searching for his maternal ancestors; a woman appears in a census, the wife of a distant member of his family, but in the following census she disappears from the family home. She hasn’t died… she was an inmate of Bethnal Green Lunatic Asylum. My character is fictional, but there is always the possibility that anyone’s missing ancestor might have been locked away because they were mentally ill.

As part of the research for my novel I looked at the 1881 census return for Bethnal House, The Licensed House for the Reception of the Insane. At that time the Doctor in charge was John Millar from Glasgow, who lived at the hospital with his wife and son. There were thirty-four staff, and twenty attendants.

I looked at one page in particular to get a sense of what might be found about an ancestor if he or she had the misfortune to suffer from mental illness in the nineteenth century.

The census page gives a lot of information that anyone might expect about the inmates; date and place of birth, occupation etc., but the last column on the return has a disturbing heading:

  1. deaf and dumb
  2. blind
  3. imbecile or idiot
  4. lunatic

On the page I looked at, all the women ‘inmates’ were noted as ‘lunatic’ and three of the poor women were also blind…

These women came from all over the place, Peterborough, Haverfordwest, St Just in Cornwall, Gosport in Hampshire… and New Zealand! Their occupations are equally varied too; some are just noted as ‘housewife’ or ‘Lady’, some work in mainly domestic situations, mangler, washerwoman, charwoman, laundress, needlewoman, machinist… others are described by their husband’s occupation, cabinet maker’s wife, plumber’s wife, draper’s wife, railway porter’s wife. They are of every age from 16, yes, 16, to 76 and there are almost equal numbers of single, married and widowed women.

I looked at the 16 year old; her ‘occupation’ noted as schoolgirl… how very sad and she is the young woman who was born in New Zealand. One can only imagine what had happened that she was locked away like this at such a young age among women of every age and background and affliction.

Bethnal House lunatic asylum was opened as a private ‘madhouse’ called Kirby’s Castle in 1726 but was extended and renamed the White House. By 1800 it had 300 inmates paid for by the parish, which cost nearly ten shillings (50p) per person per week. Within 15 years there were 933 inmates. Later there were separate houses for men and women, the Red House and the White House. One can only imagine the conditions, and abuses were reported which resulted in two resident medical manglerofficers being appointed. By 1851, after rebuilding, Bethnal Green had nearly sixty staff and the inmates were beginning to be treated more as sick people than mad animals. The asylum finally closed in 1920.

This is the fascinating thing about searching for your family, you never know what you may find!

Here is a link to Magick:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/MAGICK-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00OHV4MR0/ref=sr_1_5?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1500753365&sr=1-5&keywords=lois+elsden

The Ramseys were all sailors, mariners, fishermen…

In my next Thomas Radwinter book, which maybe called Saltpans, Thomas begins to investigate his wife’s family history… here is a sneak preview…

Kylie’s family, the Ramseys were all sailors, mariners, fishermen… occasionally one was a master mariner, or joined the navy and moved away, some sons went off to work in the brick factories,   the daughters were in service or worked in shops or milliners, their work may have been ordinary but they always worked, census after census that I went through there they were, grafting… Kylie has it in her blood because she never stops working either! I went through the local work house records and didn’t find a single Ramsey; when I was researching the Radwinters they had impoverished lives from time to time and had to apply for poor relief, or actually ended up in the work house… grim times…
Patrick Ramsey married Marie Lesesne Finch in 1930,… and I drew a blank. Plenty of Finches, loads of them but I couldn’t find a Marie Finch who married Patrick Ramsey… This happens; you have to get used to the apparently most simple search being confounded. Patrick Ramsey married Marie Finch in 1930, that I do know here it is, and she died in 1995, aged 90, here is her death certificate, and it says she was born in Yarmouth – not Yarmouth on the isle of Wight which we visited a couple of years ago, but Great Yarmouth in Norfolk on the East coast.  However, I’m blowed if I can find her birth… I have a little ponder, and then look her up on the 1911 census; she’s not there either unless her birth date is wrong.
There are ten Marie Finches, one is only a year old, so I guess our Marie could have been born in 1910 not 1905, but why would there be a mistake like that… Hmmm… Well her unusual middle name Lesesne makes me think that it might have been her mother’s maiden name so I look up a Miss Lesesne (or maybe Mademoiselle Lesesne) marrying a Mr. Finch…
…and here she is Marie Lesesne married Anatole Finch. Here he is Anatole Finch… what a name… surely another French name?  Anatole Finch was Marie’s husband not her father, her first husband, and he died in  1929… Poor Marie… I’ll explore Anatole some other time, because he isn’t actually related to us, but I’ll go back and look at Marie Lesesne and find her family; that should be easy, she was born in Yarmouth and I should be able to find her now I know her birth name wasn’t Finch, that was her first married name…
Except she still doesn’t appear in the births… well maybe she was called something else, when she was born, Mary or May or Margaret not Marie, and I do find a couple of children, Marguerite and Madeleine, in the births, but they don’t appear in the 1911 census… although Marri Lesesne does! Good grief! Why didn’t I just check her in the census straight away! And there she is in Norfolk, born in great Yarmouth she would be in Norfolk, aged six, but wait a bit, she’s not with her family… what? I can’t make this out.
She’s on her own in 1911, she’s only six and she seems to be in some sort of institution! I’ve found Marie, among a load of other people, mainly adults, although there are a few children, but what is amazing, they are nearly all French!
Here it says that Marie is French and she was born in Menton, not Great Yarmouth! However that’s near where she was living in 1911, living in Norfolk! I look up Menton which it turns out is on the Mediterranean, right next to Italy and not far from Monaco.
I have a quick look on Wikipedia and skip through the history of the little town, nick-named the Pearl of France. Apparently its name was first noted in 1262 and then was ruled by the princes of Monaco, and how wonderful! – It ceded from Monaco in revolt against a lemon tax! A tax on lemons, good grief! And one little town breaks away from its rulers! A lemon tax! I tell Kylie, and she pokes me in the ribs and says, honestly, Thomas!

© Lois Elsden 2017

All the details here are a total fiction, I have made every one of them up; if by some coincidence these names and dates seem to relate to real people, please tell me – it’s an absolute accident and I will change it right away!

If you haven’t yet caught up with my Radwinter genealogical mysteries, here’s a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1499777022&sr=8-9&keywords=lois+elsden

When nothing happens

Like many people I’m on Linkedin (which for a quite a while, for no reason, I thought was called Lindlekin ) I rarely use it at all but occasionally I get notifications and today it was from a writing group, and it was a question “When nothing happens – Do you like stories that have ambiguous endings or stories in which not much happens? For example, instead of being plot-driven, a story can be character-driven?”

Now that’s a very good question! I actually don’t like stories where nothing much happens… I’ve written before about my reading habits, and how I think in some ways I am not as good a reader as I used to be – although recently I’ve had string of successful ‘reads’, so maybe I’m improving! I used to be able to wade through anything and persevere to the end… now ‘when nothing happens‘ I tend to give up! A friend in our reading group loves beautifully written books, loves the language of them… but I’m afraid I want some story line, I want some sort of action! I don’t mean that there has to be a punch up on every page or a chase or a romantic development, but I want to feel as if there is some sort of progression.

It’s the same in my writing, I like to have some sort of progression, people change, relationships begin or end, events occur – unexpected, unlooked-for, sometimes unwanted! I guess I like plots! Characters are everything, and setting, but there must be a plot… and endings… satisfactory endings are vital! A satisfactory ending is not necessarily a closed, completed ending, it can be open or ambiguous – but it must conclude the proceedings! I have a very good friend who very kindly tells me honestly what she thinks of my stories, and I always take great heed of her suggestions and advice; on one occasion she commented that an ending (of Flipside) was too brief – everything was wrapped up and concluded too hastily and although the mystery was solved, the characters were left sort of hanging about! So in the next book I worked very hard on the ending – and I’m delighted to say she approved!

Just to briefly look at the endings of my novels…

  • Farholm – the puzzle is solved, the mystery revealed, but for the characters there will continue to be difficulties after the conclusion – grieving will continue, an unhappy relationship struggles on, and another relationship will never even start
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – the stalker is revealed, but  a new relationship based on a rather precarious foundation begins on almost the last page
  • Loving Judah – a resolved ending, but I hope I have pointed the reader towards realising there will be a rocky road ahead for two of the characters
  • The Double Act – a complete conclusion – but when I came to do the final edit, I had to add an extra bit – an epilogue I guess you could call it. The dramatic action had ended in a flourish, but the reader needed a come-down, so I added a final piece when the two main characters are visited by the investigating police officer some months later; readers can imagine an optimistic onward journey, I hope
  • night vision – all the secrets are revealed, and the main character is overwhelmed with happiness and relief, but I hope the reader will see that in actual fact, her optimism might be misguided
  • Lucky Portbraddon – for some of the Portbraddon family, their lives seem settled and hopeful at the end of the book; for others there are unresolved issues, but I hope it is a satisfactory ending since the characters all seem in a position to deal with an unsettled future
  • The Radwinter stories – the first novel, Radwinter, was supposed to be a stand-alone story with a complete conclusion and a short epilogue to pull everything together; it could have remained like that but I realised only half the story was told, and so a sequel appeared… and then it seemed somehow a series emerged. I hope each one is also stand-alone, and I try to tie up the different narrative strands satisfactorily

So to answer the original question – I don’t like books where nothing happens, I don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but it must be a satisfactory ending!

Here is a link to my books:

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

The story of a house

I first met my friend Andrew Simpson, a very long time ago when we started at Manchester Polytechnic together. You can read his fascinating blog which covers so many different subjects here:

https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk

As you can see from the title of his blog, it is mainly about the town of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, in south Manchester but now part of the city, its boundaries long swamped by the metropolis. One of the series of stories I particularly enjoy is his history of the house he lives in now on Beech Road. He first moved in, as I did, when a friend of ours owned it; I’m not sure how long I lived there, two or three or maybe four years, I can’t quite remember now. It’s a wonderful house, a magical house, a large end terrace property built in about 1914 – you will have to read his blog to find the exact dates!

Life moves on, and so did we – I moved to London, then back to Manchester when I stayed with Andrew in another Chorlton house for a couple of months before moving into my own place. Life moves on again, and Andrew was able to buy the Beech Road house – and he lives there still!

Andrew is now a much admired and respected local historian, and has written about Chorlton-cum-Hardy, and Manchester on his blog, and in several books which you can find in your local bookshop if you live in Manchester, or on Amazon if you live anywhere else in the world! One of his series of blogs is about the Beech Road house and its history, charting it’s actual construction by Joe, who continued to live there until his death, to our brief few years there, and now Andrew’s own personal and family history of the lovely old place.

                                     1975

I think these stories which reflect the social and historical situation of Chorlton as well as the personal stories of the inhabitants of the house, would make a great book – a biography of a house! Here is one of Andrew’s stories from a month ago… a mystery!

https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/one-hundred-years-of-one-house-in_18.html

In my Radwinter stories, the main character Thomas looks into the past too, finding his own family history but also doing genealogical research for other people – and these investigations  are part of the narrative! Thomas’s family has grown somewhat, and it has occurred to me that realistically a modern family of seven could not live in the small house they occupy – yes, I know in the past people with large families lived in very cramped circumstances – and Thomas reflects on this, and I also know that today, many people still live in cramped and overcrowded conditions. However, Thomas and his wife are beginning to think they should move house…

I have a house in mind for them, based on a beautiful house I know in real life (never been in it, just admired it from outside) I think the move will have to take place in another novel – if I write one, but it struck me that Tomas, like my friend Andrew, could write the history of the house – do its genealogy! My imaginary house’s history would be totally fictional, but I would base it on proper research so that it is believable to the reader.

If you are interested in Andrew’s fascinating book about Chorlton, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Chorlton-Cum-Hardy/dp/0752489666/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1499592857&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=andrew+simpson+chorlton

… and he has also written books on Manchester and the Great War, and other illustrated books about the city.

If you haven’t yet read Thomas Radwinter’s stories, or my other novels, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=node%3D65&field-keywords=lois+elsden&rh=n%3A65%2Ck%3Alois+elsden

Promoting my stuff

If you’re just an ordinary person, bragging about yourself is totally alien… If you’re an ordinary British person, it’s even more so. We’re not good at receiving compliments, modesty and self-deprecation are qualities ingrained, so now for me, when I want to reach an audience for my books, it’s tricky to balance overcome my natural unwillingness to blow my own trumpet. I guess that’s where agents come in, agents can promote work, and get it out there in an expert way. However, I don’t have an agent, and in a funny sort of way, now I have been self-publishing and self-promoting for five years, I sort of like it – every success is down to me! Oops, am I blowing my own trumpet?

Why do I want people to read my stories? Why do musicians want an audience? Why do artists want the world to see their work? Why do actors get up on a stage rather than prancing around in front of a mirror? For me, being a story-teller is natural, it’s what I am, in my every day life I’m for ever going on about something or another, something that happened to me, something I saw/did/heard/learnt/took part in. When I was a professional teacher, the kids would always say ‘oh no, not another story’, when I launched into something – I think (hope) they actually liked my ramblings… I did it almost without thought, my mind leaping from the subject in hand to something which happened to me or a friend or a cousin, or something I just randomly made up to entertain.

An example of the ‘made-up’ stories I told my students, apart from ‘the ghost of the fourth floor’ which became a college legend, was about my teaching assistant, Sally. I can’t even now remember how I got onto talking about what we had done in our lives apart from working in schools, when I went into a lengthy description of Sally’s past life growing up in a circus, being a trapeze artist with spangly tights and revealing costume, how in her free time she was exceedingly modest ad wore long dresses, and her future husband fell in love with her when she was looking after the coconut shy and he caught a glimpse of her ankle as she bent down to pick up a fallen coconut…

So back to my trumpet blowing… Yes, I want people to read my stories! yes I actually think they are not too bad – self-deprecation alert – they are quite good! So… if you haven’t read any yet – here is a really brief fanfare for each:

  • Radwinter – Thomas finds out more about himself and his own family than about his ancestors… who actually had quite a dramatic time, fleeing 1830’s war-torn Warsaw and jumping ship in Harwich
  • Magick (Radwinter 2) – the rather terrifying father of Thomas’s step-son comes in search of ‘his boy’
  • Raddy and Syl (Radwinter 3) – mysterious Moroccans preying on an old woman, a disappeared woman who may not have even existed, and shocking truths about his own family – Thomas has quite a difficult series of event to deal with
  • Beyond Hope (Radwinter 4) – Thomas meets a dangerous psychopath, and somehow gets involved in people smuggling
  • Earthquake -(Radwinter 5) – a haunted hotel, an eighty year old mystery which brings danger to the present… Thomas is really under pressure
  • Farholm – who  killed young girls on the island of Farholm? Is he still on the loose, or was a recently widowed woman’s dead husband responsible?
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – who stalked Rosa to her death… and has s/he moved on to a new victim?
  • Loving Judah – can Aislin and her husband Peter ever get over the death of his son Judah?
  • night vision – a thirty year old murder is discovered
  • Flipside – is a war damaged veteran responsible for a series of dreadful murders… or is he a victim pf more than his war service?
  • The Double Act – Don’t think this novel is a romance, this may be a love story… but the other side of love is dark love
  • Lucky Portbraddon – perhaps the Portbraddons are not so lucky, murder, drugs, madness, modern slavery… but also unexpected love

Are you tempted? They are all available as e-readers, Radwinter is also available as a paperback

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=a9_sc_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Alois+elsden&keywords=lois+elsden&ie=UTF8&qid=1499501921

 

Exciting news tomorrow!!!

I’m just getting ready now, preparing for a very exciting announcement tomorrow! I don’t want to spoil the surprise but I will tell you it is something about my novels, something about my Radwinter series. Like all my published novels, the series is available as e-books on Amazon.

When I wrote the original ‘Radwinter’ it was as a stand alone novel; I had never wanted or been tempted to write sequels to any of my books, although readers had asked me to – particularly with ‘Farholm’. ‘Radwinter‘ had several story-lines but the main one was about Thomas Radwinter exploring his family history, following the Radwinters back to 1841 in Essex, and beyond to the first Warsaw uprising which started in 1830. However, once I had finished the book, it struck me that Thomas only knew about his paternal line, so a second novel emerged tracing back the maternal line, following the name of Magick, which was also the title of the novel. Thomas’s story didn’t end… ‘Raddy and Syl’, ‘Beyond Hope‘ and ‘Earthquake‘ have followed his life.

So that is the hint… my exciting announcement tomorrow will be something about ‘Radwinter’!

In season

My character Thomas Radwinter has just visited a local Bed and Breakfast hotel as part of his latest commission – he hesitates to say ‘case’, but he actually is undertaking an investigation. Who has commissioned him? Strangely it is a local police inspector – and what is the commission? Not on this occasion to find a missing person, but to discover who a found person is. A young woman was found washed up on the local beach with no memory of how she got there, where she is from, or even who she is! The young woman is now living with the person who found her, Sylvie the hotel owner and her dog, Busby.

Thomas visits, ostensibly to discuss organic fruit and vegetables – his brother John has an organic allotment and sells his spare produce to supplement his income. The hotel owner is hoping to start serving evening meals as well as breakfasts and light lunches, but she wants everything she cooks and serves to be organic, ethically produced, locally sourced and in season.

I was investigating myself, to see what might be available to my fictitious landlady, and came across the vegetarian Society’s page, listing seasonal fruit and vegetables:

vegetables which John might grow:

  • asparagus
  • beetroot
  • broad beans
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • chicory
  • courgettes
  • cucumber
  • lettuce
  • marrow
  • new potatoes
  • peas
  •  radishes
  • rocket
  • runner beans
  • spring greens
  • spring onions
  • summer squash
  • swiss chard
  • turnips

fruit which John might grow:

  • blackcurrants
  • gooseberries
  • cherries
  • raspberries
  • redcurrants
  • rhubarb
  • strawberries
  • tayberries

items which Sylvie might forage:

  • elderflowers
  • samphire
  • sorrel
  • watercress

All these things are in season right now! I’m not sure which of these John is actually growing, this will be revealed when Thomas goes back to meet him!

Here is a link to the Vegetarian Society:

https://www.vegsoc.org/page.aspx?pid=525

and her is a link to my Thomas Radwinter series, and my other e-books:

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