Hello and welcome to my December newsletter.
I can’t believe how quickly the weeks are speeding by to Christmas. There’s little doubt that it’s not going to be a normal Christmas for any of us this year, but hopefully we can still enjoy ourselves. Thankfully, with a vaccine in sight, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully, by this time next year, things will be very different.
A Devon Walk
Blogging is something new for me and I’ve found I quite enjoy it. The problem is knowing what to blog about that will interest people. I live in Devon and enjoy walking in the countryside. I sometimes take photos as I walk, and then write a blog later. Recently, I did this on a walk from Landkey to Bishops Tawton. I thought the information may be of interest to residents of nearby Swimbridge, and put a link to my blog on their village website. It was well received and one gentleman replied to say, that despite the lockdown restrictions, he would like to do the walk. Not wishing to attract visitors to the area at this time of social distancing, I replied to say the village would still be there when lockdown ended. I was taken aback when he said he lived in Pennsylvania and that his ancestors left Swimbridge in 1853. I’ve promised to take more photos of the village for him. The blog (with photos of beautiful scenery) is available here
Special Offer on “The Mazzard Tree” – My Debut Novel
I’m pleased to tell you that my first book, “The Mazzard Tree” will be available as an ebook for 99p from 5 December for a week or so, from Amazon Maybe a stocking filler for someone?
Can You Suggest a Name For My New Character?
I’m working on my third book in the Hartford Manor series, though it has no title yet. I’ve planned out the whole book and written ten chapters, so it’s coming along and I’m pleased with it. Something I need some help with is a Christian name for a new character in the book. It’s for a man, around 45 years old. I need a name, suitable for Victorian times, that I haven’t used before in the first two books. If you have any suggestions, please leave a message on my webpage, or email me, and you could name the new character.
Why Write Historical Fiction?
I’m often asked why I write historical fiction. I suppose the answer is that I’ve always enjoyed history, and particularly Victorian times, though I sometimes think it would be easier to write a book that occurs in the present day. I have to be so careful not to let the characters “switch on a light”, or use something that had not been invented at that time.
When my three sons were all at school and I had some free time, I indulged my love of history and researched my family tree. In the 1980’s there was no free childcare, or school clubs and so paid employment was not an option. In poring over census returns, parish registers and gravestones, I pieced together comprehensive family trees for both parents.
I Would Love to Meet My Great Grandfather
Do you have an ancestor that intrigues you? The ancestor I would love to meet, is my Great-Grandfather, Henry Willis. Henry was born in 1842 in the small village of Berrynarbor. He came from a large family and his father was a farm labourer. At the age of 16, Henry ran away to sea on a fishing smack from Ilfracombe Harbour. In 1864, he enlisted as a seaman in the US Navy in New Jersey, and fought in the American Civil War. He was badly injured, losing an arm in battle, and was discharged in 1865 with a generous pension.
From then on, Henry led a double life. When he, and his family of ten children lived in Devon, they were known as Willis. However, the family also lived in Cardiff for many years, going by the name of Adams. No-one knows why, but it is true. On his US Pension Record he is recorded as Henry Willis, alias Adams.
Henry had many jobs, ranging from innkeeper to builder, and from what I have read of him, he was quite a character. He was once charged with an assault on a gentleman over a dispute concerning fishing rights. Henry allegedly shook a stick at his landlord, and threatened to put him in a straitjacket and lock him up in the beast-house! There is an amusing account in the local newspaper describing him thus: “Willis a bluff, powerful looking man, with all the appearance of the old campaigner, spoke with a decided American twang, which added to the humorous effects of his serio-comic expressions.” He clearly enjoyed entertaining the jury, and fortunately for him the case was dismissed.
Henry does not appear in any of my books, but it is stories like this that inspire my interest in the past. In a strange coincidence, my grand-daughter is studying music at Cardiff University, and the house she is living in, is just around the corner from where Henry Willis lived and my grandmother was born.
A good read for December
Barefoot on the Cobbles by Janet Few
I love the title of this book, which is set in the picturesque fishing village of Clovelly in Devon. The book was of particular interest to me as I am familiar with the surrounding countryside, towns and villages mentioned. One of my favourite walks begins at Clovelly Church and takes in some of the Hamlyn estate. Purely by chance, and just prior to reading “Barefoot on the Cobbles”, I watched a television programme on the BBC called “Villages by the Sea”. The programme, which featured Clovelly, was excellent and provided a lot of background information which was helpful when reading the book. The book itself is based on true characters and gives an insight into what life was like in small villages at the turn of the 20th century. The book is well researched and well written and I recommend it to history lovers.
Despite these difficult times, I hope you have a lovely Christmas. Please do all you can to keep safe in these difficult times.