Sunday, 15 November 2015

A good excuse to read history books

I have always been passionate about History and read anything I can lay my hands on. When I was a kid I saved pocket money and birthday money for almost a year to buy the Larousse encyclopaedias above.
 My Dad encouraged my love of History and decided to make me a museum. He could actually make and fix anything, including putting an entire central heating system into our house in the '60s. Trouble is he was rather slow which drove Mum mad. Took him over a year and we just had to freeze while we waited.

Dad and I used to walk around with our eyes glued to ground, picking up anything of interest. Over the years I collected fossils ( and bought some) ancient pieces of wood, broken bits of pottery and even mined a tiny bit of amethyst from the Arctic Circle a few years ago. But my collection was so important to me when I was a kid that Dad decided to make me a proper museum case; a wooden box with a sloping glass roof which opens and allows you to view the collection stored inside. It was modelled exactly on the cases in the Natural History Museum which Dad took us three kids and Mum to most Sunday afternoons. I was allowed to paint it - to Dad's exact requirements of course.
 Sand down the wood lightly, apply undercoat and three top coats of white gloss. A lesson for life. My paintwork doesn't peel.

Dad's great mathematical and engineering knowledge stood him in good stead in the RAF helping to develop radar.
In my bedroom with my little bureau to write on and do my homework, my book case groaning with novels and history books, I could glance to one side ( it was a very small room) and peruse the contents of my 'museum' to my heart's desire. I took History to A Level and also made it my main subject for my teacher's degree.

Becoming a writer has given me the permission to seek out untold stories from History and to conduct primary and secondary research to my heart's desire.

 My first novel, for adults, Secret Territory, set in 1975 and in post war London, contains the untold story of a Jewish underground group, The Irgun, active in London at that time. My research was based on interviews with former members of the group and to date I haven't seen any further books on this subject.

My second novel, HIDDEN, for Young Adults contains original research about some of the little ships which went to Dunkirk in May 1940 to rescue the BEF. I had great fun going over one of these little ships, Count Dracula, which is moored on Hayling Island and no longer makes the annual pilgrimage back to the beaches of Dunkirk.

My forthcoming novel, THE EMERGENCY ZOO ,  tells a largely unknown story about the culling of hundreds of thousands of domestic pets at the outbreak of WW2. This book lead me into so much research, including reading the Mass Observation Diaries in the British Library and interviewing a dear friend who was a child at the time, that I have uncovered further untold stories. I continue to  research WW2  for the next books.

The Zoo is the first book I have written set completely in the past  and there are up to three more in the pipeline.. I rather like the idea of becoming a fully historical writer. But for me all writing is based on research and nothing can be written without knowing something of what might have come before. So History will always remain at the heart of my inspirations, my imagination and my fiction.


Sue Bursztynski said...

Your Dad sounds a lot like mine. Mine was just good with his hands. If I had wanted a museum case, of course, he would have built me one. But he did build me floor to ceiling book cases and took an old office desk with coffee stains and burns on it and turned it into the sort of desk for which people pay $$$$!

Like yours, he took a while to get around to doing things in the house. ;-)

I miss him.

And he encouraged my own love of history. He brought me history books and magazines when I was a child and I read and read!

Joan Lennon said...

I love your Dad!

Susan Price said...

Ditto. I wouldn't change him for my own Dad, not for a second, but I still love him.

Becca McCallum said...

I love the idea of a mini-museum. Maybe I'll get my brother to make one for me! He's a joiner, and has recently started making wooden swords for fun. (For his Halloween costume he made a full-size celtic-style shield, with a red and white painted on design).