Writing groups, research and news!

Some of you will know I’m a big fan of writer support groups, both online and in person and am a member of several. My local group is called Chindi and I’ve benefitted from all their support and encouragement.

Today, I’m delighted to be interviewing one of my Chindi buddies, Patricia Osborne, who is celebrating the publication of her new book, The Coal Miner’s Son, this week. Since we write in different genres there is no direct overlap in our books, but the writing process has many similarities and we focussed on the research process here. Over to her …

Firstly, thank you to Lexi for inviting me over to her blog during my ‘Chindi Author of the Week’ which happens to coincide with publication of my second novel, The Coal Miner’s Son. 

When it comes to writing family sagas, my favourite era is the 50s and 60s. This is partly due to the fact that my late mum would have been a similar age to my protagonist Grace Granville in House of Grace (Book 1 of the trilogy) which meant that I already had a fair grasp of what life was like in Britain during those decades. My mum inspired my character, Grace Granville, and Jack Gilmore, Grace’s first love, was based on aspects of my dad. On my regular visits to Mum, I’d quiz her on details such as what Dad was wearing when they first met and where they went for their first date. 

Patricia’s mum (on left) aged sixteen.

Reading family sagas, non-fiction books, and watching television series played a big part in my research. For example, I researched mining accidents, and coal miners’ wives’ communities. George Orwell’s Road to Wigan Pier aided the latter and it was from this I was able to create a coal miner’s wife. 

Mr Selfridge and House of Elliott were particular inspirations for House of Grace while a villain, Reverend Osborne Whitworth in Poldark inspired my villain, Sir Gregory Giles, in The Coal Miner’s Son. 

Facebook memories of Bolton sites were really good sources for research in the fifties and in particular the FB Palais site. The members were so helpful in providing details right down to what the furnishings were like in the dance hall in 1950, how all the youngsters would meet their boy or girlfriends under the clock, and even how much a cup of coffee cost. I’m pleased to say that when these members read House of Grace they felt they were back all those years in the Palais. 

One of my aunties helped me choose an illness in the early sixties that could be a childhood killer at that time which I was able to use in House of Grace. I followed this up with research, making my first port of call the internet, and at that time I was also lucky enough to have access to Brighton University online library, in particular searching academic sites such as JSTOR. 

Researching the sixties was easier for me as I was able to build on my own memories. For instance, poor Mum dragging a tin bath in from the backyard and filling it up with water boiled in buckets on the stove. And the dread of having to go outside in the yard to the toilet, especially when it was cold and wet – these recollections enabled me to enact scenes in The Coal Miner’s Son when George bathes in the tin tub by the fire. 

To heighten these memories and fill in any gaps, I studied non-fiction books such as: “A 1950s Childhood: From Tin Baths to Bread and Drippingand “A 1960s Childhood: From Thunderbirds to Beatlemaniaboth by Paul Feeney. And “The ’50s ’60s: The Best of Times: Growing Up and Being Young in Britain” by Alison Pressley.

The internet is a great source too and Google was my friend. For example there are quite a few weddings in the House of Grace trilogy so sites like Pinterest were a great help. Here I looked at pictures of different dresses and took details from a few of them to come up with a beautiful gown for each of my brides. I’d search to see what fabrics were around in a specific era, satin, silk, etc, then I’d look at designs on Pinterest and maybe take something from three or four different pictures to come up with a unique gown, adding netted petticoats, broderie-anglaise bodices etc. I’d go through a similar regime for flowers and cars too. 

Growing up in Bolton as a child aided my research too, particularly for Part I of House of Grace as most of the story is set there. My visits to the townhall and museum with mummies and famous lion sentinels outside proved a valuable use of time. I was able to use these places in scenes in House of Grace when Grace stayed with her best friend, Katy, in Bolton. 

When I’m not questioning relatives or memories of Facebook groups I find Facebook friends in general are always accommodating in answering questions. In fact they love it, they feel like they are having input in the book. It’s a great feeling. For instance I may ask what the most popular toy for a ten-year-old boy was in 1962. The answers will come back in floods. 

So I suppose for me, for research, I like to wherever possible, write what I know, develop it using research, and then embellish and fictionalise to create extra drama. I love the idea of learning something new while writing. 

Blurb for The Coal Miner’s Son 

After tragedy hits the small coal mining village of Wintermore, nine-year-old miner’s son, George, is sent to Granville Hall to live with his titled grandparents. 

Caught up in a web of treachery and deceit, George grows up believing his mother sold him. He’s determined to make her pay, but at what cost? Is he strong enough to rebel? 

Will George ever learn to forgive? 

Step back into the 60s and follow George as he struggles with bereavement, rejection and a kidnapping that changes his life forever. Resistance is George’s only hope. 

About the Author 

Patricia M Osborne is married with grown-up children and grandchildren. She was born in Liverpool but now lives in West Sussex. In 2019 she graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (University of Brighton). 

Patricia writes novels, poetry and short fiction, and has been published in various literary magazines and anthologies. Her first poetry pamphlet ‘Taxus Baccata’ is to be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press during 2020. 

She has a successful blog at Patriciamosbornewriter.com where she features other writers and poets. When Patricia isn’t working on her own writing, she enjoys sharing her knowledge, acting as a mentor to fellow writers and as an online poetry tutor with Writers’ Bureau. 

The Coal Miner’s Son is the second book in the House of Grace trilogy.

Happy birthday Agatha

I grew up on a diet of Agatha – the books and films. To join in her week long birthday celebrations, I asked cosy crime writer and Agatha expert, Isabella Muir, about Agatha’s childhood. It turns out we share some of our favourite childhood books – I’m actually about to re-re-read The Phoenix and the Carpet. And did you know she was home educated but her sister wasn’t? Interesting. Anyway, over to Isabella …

Agatha Christie – a child of her time

Young Agatha Christie (Miller)

As we are about to celebrate the birthday of Agatha Christie – that famous Queen of Crime – I’ve been reading about her childhood – what would life have been like for the young Agatha – strange to think that she lived her first ten years in the 19thcentury!

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born on 15 September 1890 into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Torquay, Devon. She was the youngest of three children born to Frederick Alvah Miller, an affluent American stockbroker, and his Irish-born wife Clara.

Agatha’s sister, Margaret was also born in Torquay, eleven years earlier and her brother, Louis, who was born in New York, while Frederick and Clara were on a business trip, was ten years her senior. When Frederick’s father Nathaniel died, he left his daughter-in-law Clara £2000 and it was this money she used to buy ‘Ashfield’, a villa in Torquay where her third and final child, Agatha, was born.

Ashfield was a much loved spacious home, with well-kept gardens, a conservatory ‘full of wicker furniture and palm trees’ and a greenhouse.  The gardens became Agatha’s playground, as although Agatha’s sister, Margaret, was sent to Roedean School in Sussex for her education, Clara decided Agatha should receive a home education.

Clara believed that starting education too early was not a good thing, suggesting: ‘…no child should be allowed until it was eight years old, since delay was better for the eyes as well as the brain.’ (from Agatha Christie: a biography by Janet Morgan.

But Agatha had different ideas! By the time she was five years old she had taught herself to read and went on to enjoy books by Mrs Molesworth, including Christmas Tree Land(1897) and The Magic Nuts(1898). She also read the work of Edith Nesbit, including The Story of the Treasure Seekers(1899), The Phoenix and the Carpet(1903), and The Railway Children(1906). Once she was a little older, she moved on to reading the verse of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, which inspired her at the age of 10 to write her first poem, ‘The cowslip’.

The Cow Slip

There was once a little cowslip and a pretty flower too. But yet she cried and fretted all for a robe of blue.

Now a merry little fairy, who loved a trick to play, just changed into a nightshade, that flower without delay. The silly little nightshade thought here life a dream of bliss, yet she wondered why the butterfly came not to give his kiss.

 

Agatha grew up at a time when wealthy families employed servants. Her ‘wise and patient’nannie, ‘Nursie’, took on the main responsibility for Agatha’s upbringing in those early years, while ‘Five-course dinners were prepared daily by Jane, the cook, with a professional cook and butler hired for grand occasions…’

Nursie took Agatha off to dancing classes and her parents taught her arithmetic, which she loved, and she learned to play both the piano and the mandolin. She also had a passion for dogs – one of the earliest known photographs of Agatha depicts her as a little girl with her first dog, whom she called George Washington.

From her early years it was clear that Agatha had a love of language and a vivid imagination. Janet Morgan describes her as being ‘fascinated by words and phrases’. She had little or no contact with other children until the family decided to spend winters in Europe.  This was a time when upper middle-class families found it cheaper to let the house out in England with its cold climate, and enjoy the benefits of warmth and sunshine in southern France and Italy – even though they would be paying to stay in hotels. It was here she started to form friendships, as well as gain a good grasp of French and a love of travel that would stay with her throughout her life.

Her father was often ill, suffering from a series of heart attacks and when he died in November 1901, aged just 55, money was tight, but Clara and Agatha continued to live together in their Torquay home.

Agatha and her mother, Clara, lived a relatively comfortable life.  In her biography of Agatha’s life, Janet Morgan writes: ‘There was a comfortable order and predictability to life…her world was private and safe.[…] She was given responsibility for amusing herself and looking after her animals and birds…

However, Agatha later claimed that her father’s death marked the end of her childhood, as in 1902 she was sent to receive a formal education at Miss Guyer’s Girls School in Torquay.

Up until her father’s death Agatha and the rest of her family were fortunate to enjoy financial comfort.  Even after that time, the financial struggles they experienced were nothing compared to many during the late Victorian era who were not so lucky. This was a still a time when the fear of the workhouse loomed large for anyone who was unemployed and living in poverty.

But the spark of imagination that was evident from Agatha’s very early years led on to her prolific output of novels, short stories and poetry.  She wrote more than sixty detective novels, as well as romance under the name of Mary Westmacott and her own autobiography, which was published in 1977, after her death. She started writing as a child and continued into her eighties. No wonder then that she is said to the best-selling author of all time, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible.

It has been fun researching Agatha Christie’s life, which I was inspired to do as I developed my Sussex Crime series, which introduces readers to the fictional world of Janie Juke, the young librarian and amateur sleuth who sets out to solve crimes and mysteries.

It is Agatha’s wonderful detective, Hercule Poirot, that Janie Juke sets out to emulate as she develops her sleuthing talent in the sleepy seaside town of Tamarisk Bay.

This blog post is one of a series, which leads up to Agatha Christie’s birthday and national #cozymysteryday on 15th September, as I enjoy the opportunity to be Chindi’s ‘Author of the week’.  Chindi is a network of authors, both traditionally and independently published, based largely in West Sussex.   Between us we publish a wide range of books, from historical and crime fiction to romance and children’s books, from humour to self-help.

To find out more about the great Queen of Crime and help to celebrate Agatha Christie’s birthday, then look out for the other blog posts in the series:

Agatha Christie and Isabella Muir  https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

Agatha Christie and the sixties  https://patriciamosbornewriter.wordpress.com/daily-blog/

What is a cosy mystery?  https://www.carol-thomas.co.uk/blog/

The good, the bad and the ugly  https://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/

Investigating the past  https://rosemarynoble.wordpress.com/

Agatha Christie and Janie Juke https://isabellamuir.com/blog/

And as a present to you, on Agatha’s behalf, I am pleased to announce that the first book in my Sussex Crimeseries – The Tapestry Bag– will be available on Kindle for just £0.99p for one week only – grab it while you can!

Plus, there’s more! You can get a free copy of her novella, “Divided We Fall“, when you join here

Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series:

Isabella Muir 3D COVERS x 3

BOOK 1: THE TAPESTRY BAG

BOOK 2: LOST PROPERTY

BOOK 3: THE INVISIBLE CASE

Her latest novel is: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN

She can be contacted via:

Twitter: @SussexMysteries

Facebook: www.facebook.com/IsabellaMuirAuthor/

Website: www.isabellamuir.com

Or on Goodreads