Archive for the ‘RNA’ Category

Suffragette at Blists Hill

One of the highlights of this year’s RNA Conference was definitely the historical author’s event at Blists Hill, the reconstructed Victorian town at Ironbridge, the birthplace of the industrial revolution. As you can see, I went as a suffragette (what else?).

There was a great atmosphere, being there in company with so many talented historical novelists and meeting the visitors coming through on their way to experience times gone by. In a brief lull in proceedings, I took myself off to visit my favourite cottage, the squatter’s cottage.

Squatters 2 small

It’s so hard to remember, even in times of recession, the reality of life for the majority of people at a time that – in terms of human evolution – is only a breath away. The squatter’s cottage, at the edges of existence outside the Workhouse, in an age before the Welfare State, is a poignant reminder of just how little our forebears had. Ten people lived in this cottage. The beds crammed together, with more than one child to each. The single change of clothes hung up. The tiny kitchen and living area. No room (let alone light) to study for the chance to escape such poverty. No privacy. No running water and the outside toilet at the bottom of the garden next to the pig stye. And always just a broken leg or a lung infection away from losing any kind of income, and the shame of the Workhouse where families were split up and might never see each other again. And yet the cottage is warm and homely, as I’m sure it would have been, crammed to bursting with the family making the most of what they had. It was also the world that shocked the recruiters of soldiers for WW1 at the appalling state of health of so many of the inhabitants of one the richest nations in the world.

Squatters 1 small

The pig style and privy

Squatters 4 small

The bedroom

Squatters 5 small

The kitchen

I’ve been here several times before, but this time I found myself part of the exhibits. Well, I was a bit hard to miss with my extravagant hat and my ‘votes for women’ sash. The policeman on his bike was a bit uncertain meeting an unscheduled suffragette, and despite the heat peddled off rather fast, and possibly hanging on to his hat. But next to the pig stye of the squatter’s cottage I had a lively discussion on universal suffrage with a 21st century gentleman entering into the spirit of the thing. It wasn’t exactly an argument, as we both, in the end, agreed. Because, of course, all that window smashing was not where the the suffragettes began, but with the long, peaceful struggle, in the face of appalling brutality, for universal suffrage to give a voice to both men and women –  and eventually even to the inhabitants of the squatter’s cottage.

I shall be wearing my hat again – and with pride!


If you would like to learn more about the squatter’s cottage (which was inhabited until the 1970s), there is an excellent blog post here. And if you would like to know more about Blists Hill Victorian Town the website is here.



Squatters 3 small

The pantry – with a spot of poaching?


Squatters 6 small

A window into a lost world.

 STOP PRESS! The Kindle edition of ‘We That Are Left’ is currently only £1.99 – you can find the link HERE or click on the cover below.

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Recently, I’ve been getting down seriously to the next book.

Having spent months going through the refining process for Eden’s Garden, it’s quite a strange experience going back to first draft and getting to know a new set of characters. Of course, most of them have by now decided to go off and be somebody else entirely, leaving the author stumbling along after them, desperately attempting to maintain some semblance of discipline. On the other hand, the thrill of excitement as a new story (fingers crossed) starts to take shape is the best buzz out there.

Okay, I’m going to have to admit this: I can now spot when I’m not quite sure what I’m doing. My writing goes into long-winded, pompous mode. Kind of like Dickens, but without the Dickens, if you see what I mean. (Deep blush)

So thank goodness for the day job. Filling in funding application forms certainly helps to focus the mind on convincing an audience without deviation, repetition, or general waffle, bombast or flummery. But over the past few months, I’ve also had the privilege of helping with some of the oral history projects I’ve been raising money for.

I’d forgotten quite how much I love helping with the oral history. And how much it can teach you about writing from the heart. This time, we were given the original diary of a local man who had fought in the First World War. This was something not written for publication, nor has it even been published. I think the time it really struck us, was when we recorded it as part of a contribution for the Talking Newspaper for the Blind.

Workman’s books from New York Cottages Museum in Penmaenmawr

The diary was written as it happened. So the first part is a young lad leaving home, going on a big adventure, with the details of the train journey and the new experiences. Then the training, and finally the journey to France, where nothing happens much at first. Then grenades begin to fall. Then come the shells and the snipers. This isn’t a famous battle, just a skirmish on the outskirts. There are no great details, but you can see so much behind the restrained words.

It’s one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read, because it is real. Because it is authentic. It’s not someone being literary or clever, but a human being trying to make sense of being thrust into the truly unimaginable. The language is simple, but to me it still has the same power held in poets like Wilfred Owen. Words stripped down, so that the truth and the humanity comes shining through, alongside the horror.

A domestic cooking range from New York Cottages Museum, Penmaenmawr

And yes, that is what I love about Maeve Binchy’s novels. Not that she is writing about war. But, like Jane Austen, her subject is the human heart, in all its strength, its vanity, and its frailty. And those, in the end, are both the journey to war, and to the rage against war’s senseless cruelty: both the worst and the best at the heart of all of us.

So this morning I am returning to the Work in Progress determined to ditch the flummery (or  B***S**, whichever you prefer) and simply write from the heart.

Which, in the enviable comfort of not being in the middle of a war – surrounded by horrors and in fear for your life – is strangely enough one of the hardest things to do. Well, for me, anyhow.

Deep breath, sleeves up, my First World War soldier and a copy of ‘The Copper Beech’ at my side – here goes!

To be continued …. (I hope 🙂 )

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The bar. Limbering up for the party to begin!

I spent last weekend at the Romantic Novelists’ Association summer conference in Penrith.

This was not my first RNA Conference. The last time was twelve years ago. I’d just made the decision that if I was going to be a writer the time was now or never and joined the RNA. At that time, being published at all felt like an impossible task. The odds against it were overwhelming. I wasn’t young, sexy, or had ever slept with a rock star. The publishing world felt like a closed one and I had no means of crossing the threshold.

My first RNA conference changed all that. I still knew I was a long way from being published, but I’d found a friendly, supportive group of professional women who didn’t seem to mind if you were a household name or unpublished. I came back from my first conference with a flickering hope that maybe, just maybe, my dreams could come true. It would take hard work and persistence and a totally professional commitment to get there. But at least I didn’t need to have a megaboob job or get up to unspeakable things with any convenient MP. So I stood a chance!

The gala dinner.

Going in to register for my second Conference was a bit of a strange experience. The noise level was exactly as I remembered it. Slightly overwhelming at first, but then exhilarating. This time, I was meeting up with old friends as well as meeting new ones. I’ve been to RNA parties over the years and I’ve met so many new friends online, so it was great to get back into the swing of things.

The beautiful countryside just outside the campus.

The strangest thing was remembering that this time I was one of the speakers, and that I was going to be giving a talk about my experiences of working with an editor. It was one of those moments that make you stop and think. So it is possible, after all. Thanks to the RNA and the wonderful New Writers’ Scheme, I was coming back as a published author. Indeed as two published authors, if you count my alter-ego, Heather Pardoe. Wow. Can I just say it again: WOW!!!

The gardens. A place for peace and contemplation

I loved every moment of the conference in Penrith. Good company, good food and wine. A chance to talk in true writerly-obessive way about all things bookish. And to learn once again that I’m not alone – keeping up with promoting one book while writing the next, keeping up with the day job and having a life isn’t easy. Phew.

I hope that every new writer at Penrith this year had the same feeling that I did, all those years ago: with hard work and determination, everything is possible. Because it is. And if I can do it…..

Here’s to another year of inspiration!

Inspiration is a horticultural college!

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