Monday, 22 August 2011

Who Do You Think You Are?

I’m really enjoying the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? The line up is just great and so far the past lives which have been revealed have had me gripped.

There’s something about family history which really fascinates me, as it does a whole lot of other people. Its amazing to find out how the decisions made by people who are long since gone, have a direct impact on our lives today, sometimes even down to the fact that we are here at all. What about if your great, great grandfather hadn’t emigrated? Would the family line have died out? Or what if he hadn’t been caught stealing a chicken because the family were starving and transported to Oz to set up a whole new bunch of descendents?
Of course it helps when you’re a celebrity and you have a whole heap of historians searching for you, explaining to you the information they have found and showing you what impact it would have had on your ancestors’ lives. But perhaps that takes away the fun of becoming a private detective on your own life.

I’ve always considered myself very lucky and am very proud that I have my own family tree at my fingertips. It actually goes back to the time of William the Conqueror which is no mean feat by anyone’s standards. Unfortunately, I can take no credit for this whatsoever.

The original research was complied by George Ormerod who was a historian living in Cheshire in the Victorian era. He wrote a major account of the history of Cheshire in which my ancestors happened to be prominent.

It turns out that one of my ancestors helped to collect data which went into the Doomsday book and for his efforts was awarded the township of Mere, which lies just outside Knutsford in Cheshire. The family name has changed in its spelling over the centuries but originates from this place. Sadly the family hit hard times and were forced to sell up. They continued to be prominent in the area though which is why the line was traced by Ormerod. I remember years ago going to Chester library and opening up the huge book where the family tree and his findings were contained. The book now is too fragile to be handled and has been transcribed onto a CD which I managed to buy from the records office. Now I have the information at my fingertips. It’s not quite the same though.

Later a cousin of my dad’s took up the mantle and updated the family tree from where Ormerod left off, with my younger brother being one of the last entries. It needs to be updated now to include the next generation and this is something I hope to do when I have time.

It’s really good to have this information to hand, but really I think this is just a starting point. The births marriages and deaths are vital statistics, but they don’t tell you how these people lived their lives or what they were like. And that’s the bit that fascinates me. I would really like to find out more but sometimes I feel as though I have too much information. Where would I start? The beginning or the end? It’s not a complaint more of a conundrum. And as ever a question of time. One day soon maybe, I’ll unroll the scrolls of paper and really get stuck into my own history. You never know what I might find.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Summer Break

We’re not going on holiday this summer. We’ve already had two holidays this year so I’m trying my best not to be greedy. It’s hard though when all around you are downing tools and jetting off to distant lands. It’s even worse when they come back tanned and relaxed from a week or two of sheer indulgence while I’m here juggling work, childcare and home and feeling decidedly stressed.

To make us all feel as though we weren’t so left out, the weekend before last I booked us on a mini break. To Bromsgrove.

‘Bromsgrove!’ I hear you exclaim, ‘Why Bromsgrove?’

Well, for a start is not too far to travel but far enough away from home to feel as though you’ve had a break. Secondly I got a really good deal at the Hilton Bromsgrove; £60 a night bed and breakfast for a family of four and kids eat free in the restaurant at any time. Evening meal for the adults was moderately priced at three courses for £20. To top it all there were no family rooms left so we had two interconnecting rooms which meant the boys had a room to themselves complete with TV and bathroom. They were really chuffed! The staff at the hotel were lovely too, they couldn’t do enough to make our stay pleasant and there was a fantastic swimming pool with splash time so that the boys to really muck around. I can’t recommend it enough and will definitely go back.

Another reason to stay was that close by were two places I had wanted to visit for a long time: Warwick Castle and Cadbury World.

Entry to both of these can be a bit pricey so I did a bit of sleuthing and found some online discounts and paid for the entry before we went. It does commit you to having to go on a particular day regardless of the weather, but it saves a fortune. Well worth the time and effort to find out in advance.

Here we were lucky again because the weather on Saturday while we were at the castle was fantastic and on Sunday we were mostly inside so it wasn’t that important that it had gone a bit grim.

This is the view as you go into the castle. I don’t know what it is about castles but I just love them. We often go to visit Beeston close by and even though it was a castle used for defence and was never actually lived in, you can almost feel the history seeping out of the bricks.

Fancy getting married? On our way out, we saw a wedding party coming out of the church and I bet the reception was being held here. How about that for a memorable setting?

Throughout the day there were lots of demonstrations to keep us entertained. Here’s the jousting:

And the rebels coming in by boat.

A view from inside the castle grounds:

And what better way to end the day than putting the kids in the stocks.

We were taken back in time and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

The boys were really looking forward to going to Cadbury World. I found it fascinating to see how chocolate was brought to this country and how a small family developed its manufacture to become such a well known brand. Not only were they ahead of their time in the manufacturing process but also in the way they treated their staff. Unusually for the time they thought that if the staff were treated well the owners would benefit too. So they built the workers a village with affordable, good quality housing and a social structure which would inspire loyalty. The cricket ground is still there today and the houses are still owned by the association to benefit people in the local area.

That part might have been a bit factual for the boys but they bore it well. They enjoyed tasting the samples and walking round the packaging factory and the smell was just to die for.

We also had a trip around the area where chocolates are hand crafted. I saw a pair of stilettos there, made completely out of milk chocolate, being decorated in white chocolate (sorry I couldn't get a pic). I would say that is the ultimate female combination – shoes and chocolate.

Also entertaining was the archive of TV adverts – they certainly brought back some memories.

Finally before our journey home we visited the shop and stocked up on cut price goodies.

And now begins the exercise regime!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Nothing Is Ever Wasted

I’ve rambled on quite a bit in this blog about “the novel” but I thought that I would blog today on how it came to life.

The novel is a contemporary romance set in central London in the world of catering and currently has a working title of Truly Scrumptious.

It began life many, many years ago (ouch more than I care to remember), when I first started out writing. Then it had a title of Kitchen Dreams. It was intended for Mills and Boon and in my enthusiasm I quickly dashed off three chapters and a synopsis and sent it winging on its way. Needless to say it landed right back on my doorstep in a scarily short space of time and the answer was of course a resounding no. I promptly consigned it to a drawer and although I have moved several times and the folder has moved with me, it has never been opened. Even now.

In 2009, watching the final of Masterchef I was inspired by a young woman who was a private chef working in London and so my heroine was reborn. Rather than meeting her hero solely through her present business though, I decided to give them a shared past and several problems to overcome from that past when they met up again.

At that point I was in the middle of writing something else and didn’t have the time to do anything with it. From time to time though, random thoughts would ignite and I’d scribble them down.

Last August I decided that I would like to take part in NaNoWriMo, the challenge to write 50,000 words in November, which I had completed the previous year and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to resurrect my book. To help me along with way I read two books – Love Writing: How to Make Money Writing Romantic or Erotic Fiction by Sue Moorcroft and See Jane Write: A Girl’s Guide to Writing Chick Lit by Sarah Mlynowskie & Farrin Jacobs. Both were invaluable in helping with the plotting process and by November I was ready.

If I have some idea of where I’m going I find it quite easy to get the words down on paper. I have a tendency to overwrite but I think that even if they aren’t the right words at least they are there. Having the November deadline forces you to keep going too, so by the end of November I had completed the requisite word count and pushed myself in December to have a rough first draft of 72,000 words.

To give myself another deadline, I joined the NWS with the RNA and after a break of a month began editing. As you will see from my last blog, the editing process was harder than the first part, but it has taught me a valuable lesson. I came across a jotting in my notebook today. I’m not sure where it came from so I apologise for not be able to attribute the quote but it sums up my recent experience perfectly: “Writing is a labour of love but editing is a love of labour”. Whoever said that was spot on.

It just goes to show though, that nothing is ever wasted, and even if I didn’t use the words from that very first novel, the idea was useful. One of these days I’m going to be very brave and dare myself to read that very first attempt. And when I’ve picked myself up off the floor (either from crying or laughing) I will probably throw it in the bin. It's served its purpose now after all.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

It's In The Bag!

Finally, I’ve finished editing the novel – well, at least for the time being anyway. The package is now in a large jiffy envelope and later today will be winging its way to the RNA’s New Writer’s scheme.

I feel released, like a great big boulder has been chipped off my shoulder. I will admit that the editing process has taken me rather longer than I had anticipated and at times, as each self-imposed deadline passed without a completed manuscript, I was beginning to wonder if I would even be finished by the end of August; the RNA’s final deadline. I also have to admit that it’s not the completely perfect manuscript I had envisaged it would be. But it’s the best I can do for now. I don’t expect miracles from this submission – I can’t imagine anyone snapping this novel up and giving me a three book deal, but I’m looking forward to receiving an expert’s opinion on it and at least see if I’m on the right track.

This is the beauty of the New Writer’s Scheme. For £100 not only do you gain membership to a prestigious writing society but you also get feedback on a full novel, which I certainly think is value for money. I will be able to give a more knowledgeable account of this experience though once I have received the feedback of course. But for the time being I’m just glad to have achieved my aim and am looking forward to concentrating on other writing for a while.

It’s been a long hard slog but I got there in the end. Roll on the edits!