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Posts Tagged ‘Family History’

Today I’d like to welcome Francesca Capaldi, whose debut, ‘Heartbreak in the Valleys’, has just been released by Hera Books. I wanted to ask Francesca about her inspiration and her writing process – and about writing a saga set in Wales.

 

Can you tell us a little of your writing journey and how you came to write ‘Heartbreak in the Valleys’. Did you always want to set a book in Wales?

I’d wanted to be a writer since I was a child, but didn’t send anything for publication until I joined an adult education class. I started with short story sales. After a while I started writing various novels as well, young adult and contemporary romance, none of which were picked up, although three pocket novels were bought by DC Thomson. One of the contemporary novels was set in Ceredigion, but one agent told me that nobody wanted novels set in Wales! Being half Welsh, it made me more determined that there should be novels set in Wales!

Did you find writing for magazines helping in writing your novels?

On the whole, yes. Writing magazine stories helps you to write concisely and I do think it’s easier to start with them and move to novels rather than do it the other way round. It’s also less daunting to start with short stories. Getting a few accepted for publication gave me the courage to try something longer.

I’m interested to see the story of Idris and Anwen was inspired by your own family history. What drew you to explore your history, and do you feel there is anything we can learn from the time of WW1, particularly in the light of the current global pandemic?

I’ve long been interested in my family history, especially with my parents coming from very different backgrounds (my father was Italian). On the Ancestry site, I discovered my great grandfather’s World War 1 military record and the fact he was medically discharged eight months after he enlisted. The novel started life as a short story, but having had a passion for social history since my degree, I was soon researching the records for other information. And so was born Heartbreak in the Valleys.

I have seen quite a few parallels between the current pandemic and World War 1. Food shortages is an obvious one. People have taken more to growing their own now, as they did then with the allotment schemes. In the early stages of this pandemic, nobody knew how long food shortages would last and how severe the pandemic would get, which is much like the war. The Spanish ‘flu pandemic that started in 1918, has already been used as a parallel in the media, though there were many diseases causing widespread mortality before that. These included tuberculosis (‘consumption’), which three women in my family died of and the diphtheria epidemic of 1914. As awful as this pandemic is, it gives us an idea of what people of the past lived with constantly.

I loved the portrayal of the village community, and particularly all the characters. Did you base the village and its characters on specific places and people you know?

The village, which I call Dorcalon (literally, ‘Heartbreak’), is based almost entirely on Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley. It’s where my mother and her mother were born, and where my great grandparents lived for thirty-odd years. I’ve taken a few liberties with it, which is why I didn’t want to give it its real name. Although the seed for the story was my great grandfather Hugh’s medical discharge, Idris is not based on him at all. The only real person who appears in the story (apart from mentions of historical people like Lloyd George) is a minor character called Mary Jones. She was my great gran, on the other side of the family from Hugh. Everyone else is a product of my overactive imagination!

How did you go about getting the historical details right, and creating the atmosphere of the world of WW1?

Lots of research and reading. I have several social history books, including accounts written by people living at the time. I trawled the 1911 census for an idea of the makeup of households and family size, job descriptions and places of origin. I read through contemporary local papers for types of social activities, shops, court proceedings and so on. I found several websites about the local pals’ battalion. I also looked at the historical OS maps.

It was interesting seeing the mixing of the different classes as the community pulled together to survive the shortages. Was there any particular story, or part of your research that inspired this part of the novel?

I think it was reading something of the Suffragettes that helped form the character of Elizabeth, the manager’s daughter, who I saw immediately as an enlightened woman of her times. The Suffragettes put their activities to one side during this time to help the war effort and I realised that Elizabeth would be the kind of woman who’d want to make a difference, hence her idea for the allotments.

Can you say what are you writing now?

I haven’t long finished another Valleys book, which is due out in the Autumn. I’m taking the opportunity to create a couple of short stories for magazines – I’ve missed writing them!

Thank you for joining me on the blog, Francesca – and I’m looking forward to the next ‘Valleys’ story already! 

 

Heartbreak in the Valleys

You can purchase a copy of the book HERE

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

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Letters safe small

There are always two sides to a story. The arrival of Valentine’s Day reminded me of these love letters, sent between my parents when my mum was seventeen and my dad was in his early twenties.

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On the one hand they are wonderfully idealistic and romantic letters, sent between a couple who were to be together for over sixty years. They are also the story of two people born into utter poverty in the first decades of the twentieth century (my dad had to borrow his mother’s shoes for his first day at work at fourteen), who against all odds got themselves an education and made a good life for themselves, able to travel and do the things their own parents could not have dreamed of.

On the other hand, they are terrifying. Why? Look at the postmark. August 14th 1939.

Letters 2 small

Within weeks of these letters, my dad would be watching the barrage balloons go up over London, and know that war had been declared. Far away near Paris, a teenage girl would be setting off on her own in a desperate attempt to get to Calais and a boat to safety, waitisc000e0c54ng for trains carrying troops to pass, watching the families goodbye for the last time, as a country imploded into the inhuman horrors of war that the older generation remembered so well.

My mother made it safely back, but only just. I still have the postcard hastily written in pencil reassuring everyone that she was safe after a nightmare journey and her ship being stalked by a German submarine as it crossed the Channel.

It’s often the smallest things that tell the largest stories. I love these letters, but I still get the chills when I look at that postmark, not only for my own family, but for all those, in all countries, who were both with, or far away, from their loved ones that day.

Rose small

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