Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Walking the Camino

Today, I am in conversation with Pat Dorrian who, with her husband Tom, has recently been walking a section of the Camino Francés, beginning in Sarria.

Pat, welcome. I have visited many towns and villages along the Camino, I have spoken to pilgrims and wished the walk, or even a small part of it, was something I’d done when I first began visiting Galicia in the year 2000. Can you tell me how and when you first heard about the Camino, and whether you set out on the journey mainly as a walking holiday, or as a spiritual pilgrimage?
I think I first heard about the Camino at school. I would always have been aware of the notion of pilgrimage. I set out on the journey as a walking holiday and an adventure with close friends, but would also have wanted it to be a spiritual pilgrimage.

I know that you went with a tour company – would you recommend this for less experienced, and/or, may I say, more ‘mature’ walkers? If so, what were the advantages?
Travelling with a tour company meant that we were given a lot of information and advice in advance so that we knew what clothing and equipment to take. We used a company called Camino Ways and they were very organised, providing us with a map and map notes for each day of the walk. Our luggage was always waiting when we got to our hotel, and the hotels had been carefully chosen and were extremely comfortable.

Before we discuss the more personal aspects of your walk, perhaps you can give me a brief itinerary – the number of miles walked each day, and the names of the towns or villages where you stayed each night?
We walked an average of twelve miles a day, but some days we walked fifteen and on two days we walked eight or nine hours. We began in Sarria and arrived at Santiago on day six, having passed through Portomarín, Palas de Rei, Arzúa and Rúa/O Pino.

How many people were in your group? Did you feel that the size of the group was reasonable, and did you know any of them prior to your journey?
In our group there were six; four of us were very close friends and we had met the other two and knew that they were simpatico. A larger group would be fine but there would need to be acceptance of each others’ aims, and a lot of freedom within the group.

One of the things I love about Galicia is that there are still places where you can step out of the hustle and bustle of life and enjoy the solitude of a deserted beach, forest, or hillside, with only birdsong and the hum of insects to keep you company. Did you find more enjoyment in walking with other members of the group, or did you and Tom sometimes prefer to walk alone?
Because each person was free to walk at his or her own pace, it often happened that you had time walking entirely by yourself and this was good because it left your mind free for thought. At other times, we walked with other members of the group.

On any holiday, but particularly with a trip such as this, you meet with people from a variety of backgrounds, did you find the evenings a pleasant opportunity to chat with and form friendships with other walkers – or were you all too tired to be sociable?!
We did sometimes chat with other walkers. Tom talked quite a lot with people he hadn’t met before and we all enjoyed talking with a young Spanish girl who had a drink with us on our last evening in Santiago. She was a private banker who spoke perfect English and she talked a lot with us about the Spanish economy.

As this was your first trip to Northern Spain, did it live up to your expectations, or did you set off not knowing quite what to expect with regard to architecture, scenery, etc? What were your favourite places?
I was amazed at the greenness of Galicia and at the extent of its wooded areas. It felt like authentic ‘country’ Spain. Our walk took us past so many little villages (in one of which I bought my souvenir scallop shell) and farms. We also stayed at several proud country towns. The architecture in Santiago was a delight.

Because Santiago de Compostela is so special to me personally, I am interested to hear what your impression was on first reaching the historic heart of the city – and especially your reactions on entering the cathedral.
I was struck by the proportions of the central square, the age and beauty of the university buildings and, of course, the cathedral itself. As pilgrims have done for hundreds of years, we said ‘hello’ to St James and touched the head of his statue. We thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle of the giant botafumeiro as it swung dramatically almost to the ceiling of the cathedral. It was certainly moving to see people of every race, age and colour reaching the cathedral with a good purpose.

My final question is rather a personal one. At the end of the walk, and after the mass at the cathedral, did you feel that you and Tom had taken part in a genuine pilgrimage, rather than simply a pleasant, if exhausting, walking holiday – and if so, what do you think will be the lasting effect upon you?
We both felt that this had been more than simply a walking holiday. It was certainly enjoyable – there were lovely meals and wine and lots of laughter – but at the end of it I felt a lot lighter and a lot happier, and perhaps more integrated as a person. This had not been a ‘heavy’ experience, but a very gentle one, which felt like a true blessing and for which both of us, and the rest of our group, were very grateful. The lasting effect, I hope, will be to retain and seek to continue to be open to such blessings in the future.

Many thanks, Pat, for taking the time to talk to me with such an interesting insight into a modern-day pilgrimage. I only wish I could have been walking alongside you!

Monday, 25 August 2014

A bus tour, the perfect way to get a taste of Liverpool’s heritage

Sunday, 17th August was LFC’s first home game of the new season; it was an early kick-off and a perfect opportunity for me to spend some time in the city while my husband and son were at the match. Although brought up in the suburbs, I was born in the heart of the city, worked in the Castle Street/Water Street area until my marriage in 1960 and continued my education – as a very mature student – at The University of Liverpool, so despite the many changes over the years, I feel I know the city well. I’m a regular visitor to the Central Library, the Art Galleries and the Museums, so why did the idea of a City Explorer bus tour attract me? They are surely for tourists – aren’t they? But it’s easy to take familiar places for granted, and as I’ve often noticed these buses around town, open-topped and brightly painted in red and yellow, there was something appealing in the idea of experiencing the city as a tourist would see it.

There was a timetable outside the Central Library and I didn’t have long to wait before the bus arrived and I began my journey on “The BIG Yellow Bus Tour”. Sunday afternoon was extremely windy and I opted to sit downstairs. The guide introduced himself as ‘Paul,’ his disembodied voice floating down to me for the next 50 minutes as he remained on the upper deck throughout the trip. If you are new to the city the view from the upper deck would, of course, enhance the experience but as I already know the buildings themselves well, it was the commentary that interested me – and that was excellent.

 This ‘Hop On – Hop Off’ tour stops, briefly, at 13 places of interest, and at four of these venues, the Albert Dock, the Pier Head, William Brown Street for the Museums, Gallery and Library, and Liverpool Cathedral you can buy tickets, but you can also buy tickets from the driver at any stop along the route.

This tour is perfect for tourists. If they have only half a day, they can save long walks, and therefore time and energy, by ‘hopping on’ and ‘hopping off’ the bus anywhere of particular interest to them, such as the city’s two Cathedrals, two Museums, and the iconic Three Graces. If they are lucky enough to have longer in the city, then the City Explorer ticket is valid for 24 hours, in fact during my trip the driver informed us that our tickets would be valid for two days!

As I’ve said, I thought I knew the city well – yet I was surprised at how many additional facts I picked up on this tour. As an avid Dickens fan, I knew that he visited Liverpool regularly, staying at the Adelphi Hotel and appearing at St George’s Hall, giving his Penny Readings – I was even lucky enough a couple of years ago to attend a re-enactment of one of these evenings organised by The Reader. Paul added a little colour to my knowledge by describing how, during his visits, Charles Dickens would walk up Brownlow Hill to visit the workhouse which explains the significance of the name of Oliver Twist’s benefactor – Mr Brownlow! And I didn’t know that Mark Twain, and the Roosevelts, had also stayed at the Adelphi.

I’ve walked past Wellington’s statue in William Brown Street countless times, without knowing that it was cast out of cannon from the Battle of Waterloo. I had a good view of Liverpool’s ‘gin palaces’, The Crown, The Vines and The Philharmonic – and learned that these magnificent public houses were built to actively encourage people to drink gin and beer as these were deemed healthier than the poisonous effects of the city’s water supply!

Facts and figures came thick and fast and Paul must be congratulated on his professional delivery.  I learned the origin of St John’s Gardens; how the world’s first Wet Dock at one time handled 40% of the world’s trade; that one of the Metropolitan Cathedral’s four bells is an original from the workhouse; that the area in front of Salthouse Dock is called ‘Nova Scotia’ because salt from Cheshire was sent from here to Canada, the ships returning with a cargo of wood.
Driving along Victoria Street, we were told that it was originally the home of mercantile insurers and commercial banks – one building still bears the name ‘Bank of Liverpool’ – and the city had its own currency!

I wouldn’t want to spoil the trip for future visitors by detailing the wealth of information Paul passed on – I hope that this little taster will encourage not just visitors, but people who, like me, think they know the city well, to either ‘Hop On and Hop Off’ or just stay on for the 50 minutes duration of the tour to listen to the excellent commentary. I’m trying to commit my pages of notes to memory so that on my next visit in a couple of weeks I will walk around the city with fresh eyes, saying to myself – ‘Oh yes, that’s where…’ or ‘Now I know why the bell tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral stands separate to the main building, it’s because…’     

My thanks to Paul and to Chris, our driver who joined us at the Pier Head – I wasn’t able to get the name of the driver who took the first half of the tour, but thank him also.

Going for a coffee when I left the bus, I was amazed to see a zip wire running the length of Church Street! It was extremely high above the ground and it was very windy so I wasn’t surprised to see that there was no-one taking the opportunity to zip above the heads of the shoppers at a cost of £15. I’m sure it has been well utilised during the holiday period – and I was also delighted to see ‘Tickle the Ivories’ back in the city, these events add atmosphere to a city that is already buzzing!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Family history research: hobby or obsession?

Diana's fountain in Betantoz, Northern Spain
For those of us with the urge to delve into the past, to find out what our ancestors did and where they came from, there is often help close at hand. We can begin on our home computers, or at the local library, to search census records, births, marriages and deaths, etc. We ‘silver surfers’ are also probably the first generation fortunate enough to enjoy a retirement which will be long enough to indulge our ‘hobby’.

The problem is that by the time we feel the urge to search for our roots, it is usually decades too late to ask questions of older family members. Quite often, we were told family stories as children, but at that age didn’t realise their significance. And for those of us with siblings, it doesn’t always follow that we all heard the same stories – siblings often have different versions of a shared childhood.

My father came from a large family, and his mother lived until I was in my thirties with a family of my own, but there were no anecdotes passed down; they were not a family of ‘talkers’, and I was able to gain only the briefest glimpse of what life must have been like for him as a child. But with regard to actual information, a cousin had begun researching my paternal family tree long before it became ‘popular’, and at the time of his death had produced a family tree that stretched back centuries and had more branches than a forest.

With my mother’s family, it was different. She was born in Liverpool of Spanish parents and because of the stories I had been told as a child, I felt more emotionally involved. My curiosity was aroused, perversely, because the difficulties in obtaining certificates and any other ‘concrete’ evidence of my Spanish heritage seemed insurmountable.

Where do you begin when all you know about your maternal grandparents are their names and that they came from Galicia, possibly Santiago de Compostela, in Northern Spain? Where do you begin when, at the age of sixty, you find yourself with the urge to discover your grandmother’s roots – the grandmother who died in Liverpool when you were ten years old and who, to your knowledge, still didn’t speak English after fifty years in this country?

I set off to Northern Spain on my first voyage of discovery in 2000, with very little hope but a lot of enthusiasm. The full story of my search is documented in my book Chasing Shadows, but what has been important to me is not just the physical journeys – seven in the past 14 years – but the people I have met and the effect my research has had on my life in retirement. Yes, it is wonderful to have a maternal family tree going back to 1822, with the possibility of reaching even further back as time and funds allow, but the memories involved in obtaining each and every one of those birth, marriage and death certificates are priceless.

Archives in Santiago
Officials in Registro Civils and in Diocesan Arquivos have gone beyond the call of duty as I’ve sat hour after hour in bright modern offices housed in medieval buildings. I speak very little Spanish and many of the people I met didn’t speak English, yet somehow we managed to communicate. And my joy at unravelling yet another thread has often been matched by the smile on the face of an official – the story of this elderly lady from England trying to find her Spanish roots has somehow touched their imagination.

Searching through BMD or census records on your computer, or scrolling through microfiches in the family history section of a public library is exciting, but it cannot be compared to the thrill of sitting in a room in a foreign city, carefully turning the pages of a book containing entries written hundreds of years ago. Even when not allowed to handle the books oneself – as in the Registro Civil in Santiago de Compostela – the air of tension in the room as my eyes followed the clerk’s finger moving slowly down the page looking for my grandmother’s family name, and the leap of excitement when I recognised the name of her sister, is what turned my love of research into an obsession.

I find it amazing that on visits to the Registro Civil in subsequent years, it was evident that the clerk remembered me. It amazes me that on visiting a bar on our trip to Galicia this summer, the owner not only remembered me and my husband but could recall every moment of the morning 14 years before when he’d introduced us to a young girl, Nicola, who was on holiday from London staying with the Spanish side of her family. Then aged only 16, Nicola has become a much-loved friend. We attended her wedding to Antonio in 2007 – it meant so much to me to be able to attend a truly Spanish wedding – and also count her parents, who live in London, as special friends. It is a joy to see Nicola and Antonio’s beautiful four-year old daughter being brought up, as was Nicola, bilingual and fully aware of her dual heritage; something that was denied me.

Other people have been instrumental in making my research a life-changing journey of discovery. Without the help of Father Joseph Fleming, originally from Liverpool and when we met him, an archivist in the Arquivo Histórico Diocesano in Santiago, my research would never have got off the ground. It is our great personal regret that he died, tragically young, before he could see the outcome of his help and influence.

Other people have filled in gaps for me. Trawling through sites connected with maritime history on the internet, I eventually met David Eccles, the author of a book on the Larrinaga Shipping Line which employed my grandfather. Through him, I met a family whose grandfather had been a chauffeur to the Larrinagas and was able to peruse family photograph albums. Kirsty Hooper, now Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies at Warwick University, was in that same post at Liverpool University when I attended one of her lectures a couple of years ago. Kirsty is compiling a database of Galician and Basque immigrants to Liverpool in the years 1850-1950 and I hope to speak at its launch in Liverpool at the end of the year. Through Kirsty, I was introduced to Xesús Fraga, journalist, writer and translator, who interviewed me for his newspaper La Voz de Galicia last year. By another of those coincidences I have experienced over the years, Xesús is from Betantoz, the Galician city where my grandfather may have been born. I say ‘may have’, as I have only the most slender of clues about his life at present. We met Xesús in person on our last visit and his help in introducing me to the director of the Museo das Mariñas which holds census records, may be the tiny thread that leads me to unravelling the mystery of my grandfather’s life prior to him arriving in Liverpool.

 the restaurant in the building where my great-great grandmother died
The city of Santiago de Compostela has become a very special part of my life. Even when I return from a trip without a certificate or a piece of definite information, I have soaked up the atmosphere, I have seen all the houses where my grandmother lived – not possible in Liverpool since they have all been demolished. I have sat in churches in Santiago where family baptisms, first holy communions and weddings have taken place. I have had lunch in a restaurant with the proof in my hand that my great-great grandmother died in an upstairs room of the building over a hundred years before. On this trip I walked through the cemetery where my great-grandparents were buried and I now have an address where I may be able to obtain the whereabouts of their actual graves.

Family history magazines are a great source of information for genealogists at all stages of their research – I have just had an article published in July’s edition of Your Family Tree – and, very slowly, some information is now coming through on the internet if, like me, your ancestors originated from another European country.

None of my research would have been possible without the support of my husband. Each time we take a trip to Santiago it has been incorporated into our annual holiday. We love staying with Nicola’s family while we carry out three or four days’ research before moving on to tour other parts of Spain. We have visited the length and breadth of Galicia; from its historic cities of Coruña and Lugo to its golden, unspoilt beaches, mountains and forests. We have holidayed further afield in Cantabria and the Picos mountains; and the beautiful cities of Oviedo, Léon, Salamanca and Cacerés – but Santiago de Compostela is still where my heart lies!

So, family history, is it a hobby or an obsession? Writing about family history research has become a very enjoyable hobby, and it still gives me a thrill when someone buys my book. But as for the actual research – the answer is definitely, an obsession!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

In conversation with Mary Wood

Mary Wood, author of Time Passes Time
Mary, welcome to my website. Your writing career has recently taken a very exciting turn, but before I ask you about that, I would like to begin with your earliest memories of writing.

I know that you began your love of writing in childhood – how difficult was it to find the time and space to pursue this love coming as you did from a very large family, and did any of your siblings share your creative talent?

I think it was more a question of a love of reading as a child, and any writing was confined to school work. When asked to write compositions and given a title I wrote reams. One teacher used to become annoyed at this and always gave me an instruction that he required one page and one page only, not a novel! However, his successor encouraged me to write as much as I liked, saying he enjoyed my stories and thought one day I would become an author. It took a long time, but when I did achieve it, I contacted him and he was delighted.

Finding space for yourself amongst all the comings and goings of a large family is not as difficult as it would seem. I am the thirteenth child of fifteen. Sadly three had died before I was born, so our family numbered twelve at that time. And the age-gap factor, meant some older siblings had left home by the time I needed my own space. My earliest memory is of living with nine of them. And, although we were extremely poor, I was rich in love as my elder brothers and sisters spoilt me.

My mother came from an upper middle-class family, her father was a bank manager and part-time musician with his own orchestra. When she fell in love with my father, an East-End barrow boy, and wouldn’t give him up, she was thrown out of her family and went from living in a big Victorian house where her mother had maids, to my father’s home – a very poor dwelling in London.

A remarkable woman, she coped with all that was thrown at her. A legacy from her earlier days was her love of reading, and her books – shelves of all the classics – my dream shelves. Encouraged by my mother, I read everyone and loved them.

Mary Wood and Dora LangloisMy proudest memory is that mother often said I took after her grandmother, my great-grandmother, Dora Langlois. Dora was a published author in the late 1800s, early 1900s. Recently I had a eureka moment, when researching her I found that her book is still listed on Amazon – and I have obtained a copy! I am so proud and happy.

I have two sisters who are writing novels at the moment and give them all the encouragement I can. Also, another sister who writes poetry. And I am very proud of two of my nephews who have written and published their own life-stories. Both have been through adversity and come through the other side stronger and with a will to help others. Their books are inspirational works.

As a child, were you encouraged to read, either through visiting your local library or being given books as Christmas or birthday presents? If so, did any book have a special impact on you and encourage your dream of becoming a writer?

As above, yes, I was encouraged to read, and though I have mentioned the classics, my mother’s hunger for books meant she belonged to a book club and every month new ones would arrive. These were a variety of genres, from Agatha Christie to Georgette Heyer. Of these, I had a time when I craved Agatha’s books, but Georgette set me on the path to my love of historical novels. But none of these were the ones who really inspired me. I was married before I had the urge to write a novel of my own and that was triggered by my sister-in-law lending me a book like no other I had ever read – The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson. For the first time, I wasn’t just lost in, and enthralled by, the story of others’ lives, I was dragged into them. I was the young girl trying to bring up her siblings in a cave. I experienced every emotion she had. Suddenly, I wanted to do that. I wanted to write. And, I wanted my readers to get into the skin of my characters. I wanted to be Catherine Cookson.

Was there a long spell when, due to work, marriage and children, your love of writing had to take a back seat, or did you keep a journal, write short stories, enter competitions etc, whenever you could snatch a spare moment?

After the initial awakening of my desire to write, it was a long time until I did. I dreamed of doing so rather than getting down to do it. Whether that was due to bringing up my own family of four and fitting in jobs around that, I cannot say. I did enter a phase whereby nothing but Catherine’s books satisfied my reading habit. Luckily she turned out so many I was never left wanting, but I look on this period as a learning curve of what was to come, as unconsciously I stored her techniques – or thought I had. I believe they are in play now, but in the beginning, I could not master them when it came to writing my first novel.

The writing of this happened in 1989. I was nursing my mother in her last months. I needed a distraction from such a traumatic task. By now only my son lived at home as he is our youngest. So, when Mum slept in the afternoon, I began to put pen to paper – literally as I did not have a typewriter. My story flowed from me as if I had known the characters when they were alive. I thought I had written the next best-seller and block-buster film and was going to be rich beyond my dreams. That manuscript still languishes in a drawer after many knocks to my ego and dreams, as rejection after rejection piled up. But I had tapped into the real me. I had found the writer in me and she was never going to give up.

Now you have fulfilled your dream of becoming a full-time writer, can you give the readers a glimpse of your writing day? Do you have a ‘writer’s room’ and if so does it contain any objects of personal significance – for example, photographs, mementoes of family holidays etc? Do you write directly onto a PC or laptop, or do you begin with handwritten notes? And how much time do you spend researching the periods in which your books are set?

I live partly in Spain and partly in Blackpool and do not have a room in either home that I have claimed as mine. I would love one, and do have one that is suitable in my Blackpool home, I just need time to set it up. My ideal would be a room with the old cliché of walls lined with books. It would have rich old furniture and many windows. One set would be French windows that opened onto a private terrace overlooking wonderful views. In reality, I use my bedroom in Blackpool as it is never warm enough outside at the time of year I am there. I lay on the bed with mounds of pillows to support me and my laptop on a tray and off I go. In Spain, I do have the terrace and the view. There, I sit on the balcony in a relaxing chair, with a backdrop of mountains, and laptop on a tray on my knee. This is my favourite writing spot.

Research is something I do on the run. I write from my heart, until I come to a situation where I need ‘real’ information. Then I look it up. I have gone further than this in the past. I visited a working mine and went into the bowels of the earth in a quest to know what it felt like. And I went to a ‘living’ war museum in Leeds to try to get the feel of war. I really want to visit Beamish Village. I managed to get to the gates once on the only day they were closed!

At present I am fascinated by women’s roles during the wars. This was triggered by a holiday in Normandy. Though it wasn’t for research, we did visit all the war memorials and places of interest linked to the war. This seemed to clothe me in many stories I wanted to write. I now want to follow a route from France to Belgium and take in all I can of battlefields, memorials and concentration camps. I want to feel I was there at the time.

My writing day varies. I mostly begin work as soon as I wake, still in bed with a cup of tea supplied by my darling, and very supportive husband. When it gets to breakfast time I am also served that. Then I do my socialising online – a time I love – more about this later. After that, I answer emails and tend to anything else I have to do – accounts, promoting, etc… Everything is based at home at the moment, though promoting will take to the road soon. Then after lunch, it is back to my writing. I cannot live a day without writing and aim for a minimum of 2000 words a day. If I achieve this, I can have a rough draft of a full novel ready in 50 days! That is when the hard part of editing begins.

The gritty realism of your novels, such as The Breckton Trilogy, often make disturbing reading. Although your books are set in the past, did your career as a probation officer have any influence on the way you write?

I was a Probation Service Officer, which meant I held cases that were not classed as high risk. The Probation Officers held these. However, when on office duty I became involved in many cases of murderers and rapists and paedophiles. Also, in my early career with the service when I was an admin officer, I had to type up pre-sentence reports, so was seeped in the background of these heinous crimes. Always it struck me how easy it is to read of a rape, or child abduction for the purpose of sex, or a murder etc… in the paper and then turn the page to the footie or celeb page and forget all about it. The real impact of these crimes isn’t in the papers. I wanted to show how it really is. I have a desire to shake up the world and say, ‘hey, this is happening in a street near you!’ That does come through in my writing.

I know, through reviews, that for some I go too far. I accept this, there are always those who bury their head, or, maybe my writing is too near the mark for them or they are sensitive souls, we are all different and I respect this. But, there are a lot of people out there living these issues every day of their lives and they deserve a voice. That doesn’t mean I am on a mission, either to shock or to make people sit up and take notice. It just means that something in me needs to treat an issue as it is in reality, in all its raw state. I cannot pussy-foot around it. I would let too many victims down if I did.

You have acknowledged that you have a team around you, including your son James, who assist with editing, proofing, cover design, etc. but I’m particularly interestedin what lay behind your great success as a self-publisher. Had you first tried the traditional route of finding an agent and a publisher or did you decide to ‘go it alone’ from the beginning? For the benefit of those many thousands of self-published authors who are now putting out their work as e-books, perhaps you can sum-up in a few sentences what it takes to actually become a success!

Yes, I did go down, and want very much, the traditional publishing route. At the time there was nothing else anyway. But I was always writing the wrong thing. By the time I had finished An Unbreakable Bond, which is now a bestseller on Kindle, no one wanted historical sagas. There was of course this genre on offer, but publishers were not looking for any more authors of them. Martina Cole and Fantasy were happening. Then we entered, an ‘only celeb’ phase, then Harry Potter etc…

When Kindle arrived, I shied away for a long time, though other authors kept encouraging me to have a go. When I eventually did, in 2011, nothing happened for the first five months, except I felt freed from the book that had been my focus for such a long time and could begin to write another. Freed except for the promoting side of things, that is.

I did like others, I tweeted, I Facebooked, and joined this site and that one in order to get myself out there. Then at Christmastime of that year, after only selling around 20 copies a month, I suddenly sold 80! I thought I had arrived!

It grew from there, so mostly was word-of-mouth, and the sales increased and increased until I was selling over 2000 a month and readers were asking for more. I was in author heaven and held the number one spot in sagas.

How it happened is not something I did differently on the promotion side as I did nothing different from anyone else. I wish there was a magic formula that I could spell out to other authors. It is as much luck as anything else, and writing what the readers want – Downton Abbey made them crave Historical Sagas – I was writing that genre.

But, I would say the most important tool for success is writing the very best book you can. ‘Learn your craft’.

One of my brothers-in-law read a draft of An Unbreakable Bond and said to me, “You tell a good story, but you need to learn the craft of writing.” I was most put out and argued with him asking, ‘what did he know?’ He gave a very wise reply: “Think of it like this: A DIY man can make a good table fit for purpose, but would probably need a cloth on it all the time to cover the imperfections. A time-served carpenter can make a better table, with good, neat joints and able to stand in a dining-room and be admired. But, a craftsman can make a table that is a thing of beauty with carved legs and bevelled edges. Its polish will be so deep it will reflect your image and it will be sought after and he will be commissioned to make many more – you should aim to be that craftsman in your own field.”

I argued no more. I went away and read every how-to there was. I know I haven’t achieved that ‘craftsman’ status and still strive for it – you should see my editor’s work on my books!!! But, I know I have grasped a great deal of it and feel this has helped in my writing books with the potential of being well received. It works – don’t skip this stage of your writing career.

My success led to reviews, and me wanting a page on Facebook where I could interact with readers.
This page, Books by Mary Wood, is now a great source of love and support for me. My lovely followers do all they can to make every new book soar on launch day. They are involved at every stage. I seek their help on names for characters, bits of research that I cannot find, I have competitions for the best cover, (though this is out of our hands now as the publisher sees to this) and theme weeks, and I invite authors my readers enjoy to come along and spend a day interacting with them.

It is more than a page, it is where my readers, who are all very dear to me, hang out.

Now I have a following it is a big responsibility and keeps me on my toes so as not to let them down. This means I strive even harder to write each book better than the last.

And now I’d like to ask you about the recent exciting development in your writing career. You are in the enviable position of having been taken on by Pan Macmillan and a date has been set for the release of the first of a seven-book deal! This recognition of your success as a writer must be a source of tremendous pride and pleasure to you; are you able to tell the readers how it came about?

In a word, Kindle. My success on there led to my editor at Pan Macmillan seeing my book whenever she went on to check those books she was responsible for. She began to wonder who I was and why a self-publisher had this success. She decided to start by downloading my book and reading it. That particular book was Time Passes Time. The editor loved it and contacted me. (I have been told that Kindle is the new slush pile.)

Time Passes Time was written about one of the characters from the last book in the Breckton Trilogy. I wanted to take her forward and explore her story more. Up until now she had been one of the baddies that readers love to hate and yet, have a sneaky admiration for.

At the end of the book she has her comeuppence in a very sad way. I knew that could be a changing point for her and as the timeline had reached the war, I knew she had the kind of character that could do good or evil – whichever she chose she would do well. I wanted her to do good – become a war hero, and so make amends for all the evil she had spread. But there were many threads she had woven and these would come home to roost. It is a powerful story of love, heroism, hate and revenge.

It was the war aspect that really interested the editor, and she asked me if I intended to write more like it, or to continue with the northern sagas. I nearly blew my chance, as I had plans to start another trilogy and had already put up the first of the series on Kindle. The editor told me she had a writer in this genre and with the same setting and wasn’t taking another on, but if ever I did write more along the lines of Time Passes Time, to get in touch with her. I replied by return.

Not only did I say I did have plans, but I sat and wrote an outline of a book there and then to include it in the email. She loved it and asked for a 100 pages in novel form so she could judge how it would work. So, a book I had no intention of writing five minutes earlier was to be my testing ground for getting a publishing deal.

In the meantime a manager of a large print publishers had also spotted my books and approached me. I told her about Pan MacMillan’s interest and sent her my books. After a week she rang me and said she would be doing me an injustice if she bought the large print rights as I should be published, and she would spoil my chances if I did not own all the rights when approached. But, being an author herself – she is the wonderful Diane Allen, whose first two novels are soaring high in the charts – she told me she had an agent and she would introduce me to her. The agent loved my work and a sort of auction followed. To my delight Pan MacMillan came up with the best deal.

The last few months have been a journey I never expected, but am very grateful for. Now I cannot wait, though the process has been a learning curve, to see my book on the shelves.

Pan MacMillan are publishing Time Passes Time on May 22nd, and my next book, Proud of You, in the autumn. And now, I am working on a new book which I have to deliver by December. A new world of deadlines and directions I never had before, but I am loving it and feel very privileged. What has happened for me, I hope happens for all self-publishing authors out there, only long before they reach the grand old-age of 68!

Thank you so much, Mary, for taking time out from a hectic schedule to be my guest today. Your many thousands of readers will be delighted to know that there are more of Mary Wood’s novels to look forward to; I wish you every success with your forthcoming release and far into the future.

I have really enjoyed it and would like to thank you in return for giving me this opportunity. I am honoured to be part of your blog which features great writers like Freda Lightfoot and Pam Weaver. And very grateful to you for inviting me. Much love to all.

About Mary

MARY'S best selling trilogy 'The Breckton Saga' - Book One: AN UNBREAKABLE BOND  Book Two: TO CATCH A DREAM, and Book Three: TOMORROW BRINGS SORROW & her fourth book. 'JUDGE ME NOT' - A Cotton Mill Saga, are Available From:

USA link http://amzn.to/MARYWOODBOOKS-USA

Time Passes Time by Mary Wood published from May 22nd 2014

Friday, 2 May 2014

Hidden Liverpool

The Futurist today. By Privatehudson (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I was fortunate enough to visit Hidden Liverpool’s People’s History Exhibition before it closed on 29th April. It brought back many happy memories of my cinema-going youth and I was reminded of how cinema-going has changed over the years. In the late 1950s, my future husband and I would go to watch at least two films a week, even though he was only on an apprentice’s wage. With the Futurist, the Scala, and the Forum to choose from in Lime Street alone, the Odeon just around the corner, and the Tatler Newsreel cinema, young people – the word ‘teenager’ hadn’t been coined then – were never short of somewhere to go. There were more cinemas on the outskirts of the city, two in Old Swan, the Carlton in Green Lane, the Abbey in Wavertree, almost as many cinemas as pubs, which we were too young to frequent, the minimum drinking age being 21!

I can remember quite clearly a couple of incidents from those days; we sat behind Dickie Valentine in the Futurist one night – he must have been appearing at the Empire at the time. My husband will argue that it was the Forum, but after 50-odd years that’s a minor detail.

I can definitely remember that it was the Futurist where we queued to see The King and I in the early stages of our courtship. In those days the queues for popular films would be the length of Lime Street and we were often entertained by street performers while we waited. You could also get in to see the film part way through, watch it to the end, then stay for the next performance to watch the beginning! On this particular night we had been queuing for some time and were eventually allowed in but had to stand at the back of the cinema until seats became vacant. My new boyfriend turned to me and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind having to stand but you said you really wanted to see this film.’ ‘Oh no, it’s fine,’ I replied, ‘I don’t mind standing, this is the seventeenth time I’ve seen it’; that was nearly the end of the romance!

On another occasion, we’d gone to see Dirk Bogarde, my all-time favourite, in A Tale of Two Cities. The film opened with Dirk Bogarde sitting, white-faced and tragic, in the back of a coach on his way to Paris to do his ‘far, far, better thing’. I couldn’t help myself, a little shriek escaped into the otherwise silent cinema. I was reminded of this many years later when I actually had the chance to meet and shake hands with Dirk Bogarde after one of his shows at The Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester – but I wasn’t tempted to tell him.

The earliest film I can remember seeing was The Legend of the Glass Mountain, at the Carlton in Green Lane, my best friend’s mother took me with them when I was about ten. I have always loved the music from that film.

We didn’t spend all of our spare time at the cinema though; we also had a great love of dancing that was well catered for in the city. In the People’s History Exhibition there was a photograph of a building in Dale Street that housed, at one time, the State Ballroom. I have a photograph of the two of us taken there one Saturday night; I’m wearing the bridesmaid’s dress I’d worn to my sister’s wedding the year before. I have a great fondness for the clothes from the fifties, the full circular skirts of felt, or taffeta, in bright colours, the layered net underskirts that were soaked in sugar water before drying to make them stick out; the wide ‘waspie’ belts that cinched our 22 inch waists.

There was also a dancehall above Burton’s men’s outfitters in Church Street; the Peppermint Lounge in London Road; and who can forget rocking and rolling at The Locarno, or dancing to the band at The Grafton? Happy days! And I mustn’t forget The Empire Theatre, still going strong on Lime Street. We spent many Sunday evenings there watching top entertainers from the UK, America and beyond – Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Shirley Bassey, David Whitfield in The Desert Song (I took my mum), Timi Yuro, Frank Ifield, to name just a few, although Bill Haley and The Comets performed at The Odeon cinema when they came to Liverpool. I also remember that every time we went to see Ken Dodd, we missed the last bus home because he would still be on the stage at midnight!

Hidden Liverpool is a year-long project from PLACED, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The final exhibition ‘Looking to the Future’, will take place in May this year and will explore residents’ views on the potential of the city’s empty buildings.

Thank you, Hidden Liverpool, for unlocking such happy memories.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mother's Day in Liverpool

I spent Mother’s Day in Liverpool with one of my sons, who had travelled up by train for the day. Sunday is not a good day for rail travel! After regular updates on his progress from 8am onwards – his first train was delayed, he would miss his connection, he would be two hours late – my husband and I eventually met him at Lime Street Station, only one hour after his expected arrival. This meant we were still in good time for lunch at The Italian Club in Bold Street before Dad had to leave us for the all important LFC game.

The Italian Club was buzzing, it seemed busier than on the same day last year, when again Liverpool had been playing at home and two of my sons had been able to make it ‘up north’. The tables were attractive, with vases packed with daffodils and pink balloons floating above our heads; and the food and service, as always, was excellent.

After lunch, we left my husband browsing in his favourite art shop, a few doors down from the restaurant, and wandered down to the Pier Head. Church Street was crowded with people enjoying the warm weather and a group of talented street musicians added to the holiday atmosphere. I love hearing music as I stroll around the city; it reminds me of pleasant holidays spent on the Continent.

At the Pier Head, we were both ready for another coffee and as Matou had been recommended by a friend, decided to try it for the first time. What a perfect location! Inside, the restaurant was busy with diners, but outside, the terrace was virtually empty and we could enjoy our coffee, chocolate, and conversation, with an uninterrupted view of the city’s magnificent ‘Three Graces’. All too soon it was time to make our way back to Lime Street Station, with just half-an-hour spare to spend in the Walker Art Gallery, always a favourite when any of the family are visiting.

When time is short, we always spend it in front of just two or three of our favourite paintings in the 19th century rooms rather than dashing around seeing more, but remembering little. William Frederick Yeames’s And When Did You Last See Your Father? is one of those favourites I never tire of looking at; the gallery’s website tells ‘The story behind the painting’. Another family favourite is Frederick Cotman’s One of the Family. I have looked at this painting countless times, a print hung on my mother-in-law’s wall for many years, yet it was only on this visit that I noticed the knitting on the window-sill – and my son noticed the steam coming from the horse’s nostrils!

We stood for some time in front of Hubert von Herkomer’s Eventide: A scene in the Westminster Union. Among the faces of the old women in the workhouse, one in particular stands out – it may have been painted in the 19th century, but I see in her face a resemblance to my own elderly, long-gone relatives. Eventide was painted as a companion piece to the Last Muster, which hangs in the Lady Lever Gallery, and this is represented by a print on the wall of the workhouse depicting the dead pensioner and his companion. The lives of the women in this painting are in strong contrast to the old woman in One of the Family. She sits at the table, cutting bread, a valued member of what is depicted as a happy, loving family.

As my son caught his train, my mind flashed back over fifty years to when I used to wave my then young husband off from this same station after his 48 hours leave from National Service in the Royal Navy. Because of LFC’s 4pm kick-off, I had an hour left to wander around the city before the match ended and he drove back into the city to pick me up. Couldn’t catch the train home – they don’t stop at our station on a Sunday. High Speed 2 – huh!

My hour wasn’t wasted. The shops were closed, the streets were emptying, and I found myself looking more carefully at the buildings instead of in shop windows. Liverpool One is attractively set out, but I’m more interested in the old, original buildings of Church Street, etc. Yes, some of the in-fill building is ugly and soul-less, but I marvel at buildings such as the one inhabited by Marks & Spencer. I would recommend anyone to stand on the opposite side of the street – at a quiet time of the day, if possible – and let your eyes sweep across the whole façade of this architectural gem. You won’t be disappointed.

And Liverpool won 4-0 – so ended a perfect day!

Friday, 28 March 2014

A writing day with Pam Weaver

On Saturday, March 22nd, I spent a very interesting and informative day on a writing course run by Pam Weaver, whose family sagas include There’s Always Tomorrow, and Better Days Will Come, published by the Avon division of HarperCollins.

The venue for the day was The Roundstone Room at Haskins Garden Centre near Worthing, where we were very well catered for; coffee, tea and cold drinks to hand all day and their excellent ‘Regal Lily’ buffet at lunchtime.

The day began at 10am when fourteen keen writers – including just one brave gentleman – introduced ourselves to the group, with a brief explanation of our experience and aspirations. I love attending this type of day course, it’s a step into the unknown to find oneself in a room full of strangers with whom you have only one thing in common – the desire to write. Some want to write down the bedtime stories they tell to their children or grandchildren; some are keen to write a memoir, not necessarily with the goal of publication but for family members; some have already had magazine articles and/or short stories published. But if your dream is to be a successful, best-selling author then who better to advise and guide you through potential pitfalls, than someone who has already travelled that road and reached her goal?

Pam had created a ‘Plan for the Day’ which, briefly, involved advice on creating good characters (with a ten point check list); plot, pace, theme, point of view – and the all-important ‘hook’.

We were given advice on what agents and publishers really want, and crucially, what they don’t want! This included useful guidelines on how to write a synopsis of your novel to accompany your submission.

A fun part of the day for me was the class exercise. Pam asked us to take a wander around Haskins during our lunch break and pick out an interesting character, observe them discreetly (she didn’t want any of us to get arrested!) then return to the meeting room to write a paragraph about them. As well as writing about what we had actually observed, we were to use our imagination and include something about them which we couldn’t know just by looking at them. I found myself weaving and dodging around the various gift, household and clothing displays following a couple on their search for a Mother’s Day present. At least that’s what I surmised they were doing; and it looks as though someone’s mother will be getting scented candles!

All in all, it was a very enjoyable day. The programme Pam had put together and the way she worked through it was both useful and encouraging – thank you, Pam – and it’s also good to spend time with other writers – they’re such friendly people!

Pam Weaver’s latest book, For Better For Worse, will be published by Avon in July this year.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Sanctuary from the Trenches

By Richard Sparey from Congleton, United Kingdom (#phonar task 2) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
During the First World War, not enough hospitals were available to treat the vast numbers of injured soldiers who were returning from the trenches and Dunham Massey Hall was one of the 3,244 auxiliary hospitals created within large houses, schools and other buildings. Lady Stamford, its owner, offered the Hall to the Red Cross in 1917 and by February 1919, 282 soldiers had been cared for within its tranquil surroundings, Lady Stamford acting as commandant and her daughter, Lady Jane Grey, training as a nurse. To mark the centenary of the outbreak of war, parts of the Hall have once more been transformed into the Stamford Military Hospital and if you are in this beautiful part of Cheshire it is well worth a visit.

Although the visitor facilities, the gardens and the deer park are open every day, the Hall itself is closed on Thursdays and Fridays. We visited early on a Tuesday morning in beautiful spring sunshine, collected our timed tickets and joined the queue to enter the Hall. I was surprised just how many visitors there were on a weekday morning – the recreated hospital has only been open since the beginning of March and will, no doubt, get even busier at weekends and during school holidays. Groups enter at ten-minute intervals, which is essential in order to give visitors time to read all the information and view the exhibits before the next group follow on your heels. Patience is needed when there are two or three people standing between you and what you want to read!
After passing through an ante room which contains the background information about the hospital, you enter the saloon, temporarily stripped of its valuable furniture and paintings and recreated as the main ward. A case note is tied to the foot of each iron bedstead, giving the soldier’s name, his injury and a brief account of the treatment being given. These are actual details taken from the hospital records and the injuries include gassing, trench foot, shrapnel wounds and shell shock. Some of these men would have been sent back to the front as soon as they had recovered. These personal, horrific, details relating to real men – photographs of some of them are displayed in another room – make passing through this ward a very moving experience. One of the beds was occupied, a young man in hospital uniform sitting up reading a newspaper. A tobacco tin and a small plate with a slice of bread and jam lay on the locker beside his bed. Later we saw him at the piano in the rest room exchanging banter with a young nurse.

The recreation of the operating theatre is very oddly situated underneath the main staircase; necessary because of the proximity to the toilet in the nearby billiard room.

I don’t want to spoil any potential visitor’s experience by giving too much detail here about the stories of the individual soldiers; you can follow their fate as you make your way through the Hall. This auxiliary hospital has been faithfully recreated from letters, artefacts, and photographs, along with entries from Lady Jane’s scrapbook, and I would thoroughly recommend a visit to anyone who is in the area over the coming months. It brings the horrors of war to life by small, personal details, and also shows the remarkable spirit of selflessness of Lady Stamford, Lady Jane Grey, the doctors, nurses and other staff who helped make Stamford Military Hospital a ‘soldiers’ sanctuary’.  

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A day out in Liverpool

St George's Hall, Liverpool
Weather-wise, Saturday, 8th February was a horrible day, but LFC were kicking off at midday so it was the perfect opportunity for me to be dropped off ‘somewhere along the East Lancs’ and catch a bus into town. I love that bus journey on a day when Liverpool are playing at home, love people-watching as the bus slowly makes its way through the throngs of supporters, young and old, male and female, most sporting their club colours. It amazes me just how far the fans will walk to reach the stadium on foot; maybe the car parking charges have a lot to do with it, but the sense of camaraderie is also evident – and walking has the advantage of being able to enjoy a pint before the game, as well as one or two afterwards! I know from my husband that many fans also have their ‘lucky’ route – after parking the car a mile and a half from the ground he always crosses the road in a certain spot and enters the stadium through the same gate each time. I don’t know how this works when the team loses, but then that hasn’t happened much this season!

Meanwhile, there was plenty to occupy me in the city centre on a wet, blustery afternoon. I began with a little shopping in Liverpool One, and in Waterstone’s picked up a copy of the 18thC gothic novel The Monk by Matthew Lewis that I need for my reading group. From there, I decided it would be worthwhile battling against the head wind to make one of my regular visits to St George’s Hall. I love having my afternoon coffee in Bread & More, easily accessible from the side entrance to the Hall. Not only are the coffees, teas and snacks excellent but it’s good to know that Bread & More is run by The City of Liverpool College, which helps young people gain employment in the hospitality sector through apprenticeships. I chose a seat where I could watch the comings and goings through the side entrance and enjoyed seeing several wedding parties arriving; such a pity about the weather as adults and children had to brave the wind and rain, shivering in their finery. I wish all of the couples a long and happy marriage.

A real treat on this visit to the Hall, was spending some time looking at The Liverpool Tapestry – People, Places and Passions – which hangs in a room near Bread & More. Conceived and funded by Home Bargains and created by the Merseyside Embroiderers’ Guild to celebrate Liverpool’s Capital of Culture year in 2008, it was completed in 2012 and originally hung in the Liverpool Life Museum at the Pier Head. It is now on permanent display in St George’s Hall and the statistics relating to its creation are truly amazing. The wall hanging consists of 338 individual six inch squares depicting every aspect of Merseyside life; its iconic buildings, sport, music, Super Lamb Bananas – far too many subjects to mention individually. One hundred and three miles of wool were used, 5 million stitches crafted by 152 embroiderers, and once the squares were completed a professional conservator took nine months to hand-stitch them onto a canvas 7 feet high by 23 long. As someone who struggles to sew a button on, I was in awe of the embroiderers’ obvious skill and love for the task in hand. I congratulate you all.

It was when I was picking up some leaflets at the information desk I heard that LFC were by that time 4-0 up against Arsenal!

Time to visit the Central library which, as usual, was a hive of activity, I made my way to the Local History section, found a comfy seat and settled with a couple of books of photos of old Liverpool. I love leafing through these books and have many at home; certain photos bring back memories of my childhood and my early working life in the city.

A quick dash through the rain to rendezvous with a jubilant husband and the news that Liverpool had won 5-1 – the excitement of the FA cup clash beckons!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

My first job - Sweeting Street

Sweeting Street, Liverpool. Photo courtesy of http://www.sevenstreets.com/
I left Grammar School in 1954, aged 15 and with no qualifications. It wasn’t that I was stupid, I was in the A form, but family circumstances dictated that I should leave school early – there was no possibility of my being able to stay on in the Sixth Form, so I might as well have that extra year’s wages.

I left school on July 25th and a couple of weeks later I was interviewed for a job as a typist in a Law Stationers’ office in the heart of Liverpool, about 15 miles from my home. (I was born in Toxteth, but the family moved out ‘to the sticks’ at the beginning of World War II when I was just a couple of months old.) I’d gone to the interview armed with a letter of recommendation from a neighbour, who just happened to have some distant family connection to the owners of the firm. The letter did the trick – although I prefer to think that I got the job because I was a presentable, obviously intelligent, 15 year-old!

I began my job with two distinct disadvantages. Not only was I completely baffled by the term ‘Law Stationers’, but I had never even seen a typewriter, let alone used one. However, like Barkis, I was ‘willing’.

The firm was owned and run by a father and son whom the staff called ‘Mr Charles’ and ‘Mr James’. Mr Charles was an elderly, distinguished-looking gentleman with silver hair and a refined voice; he occupied an inner sanctum from which he rarely emerged. Mr James, on the other hand, was a short, portly man with a strong Liverpool accent, a rough and ready boss with a knack for getting an enormous amount of high quality work from his typists. On my first day he sat me between two older girls at one of the long wooden benches that filled the ‘typing room’. In front of me was a black, shiny monster of a machine, round keys with metal rims steeply banked (you soon learned to keep your nails short) and a carriage that was at least two feet long. Mr James’s first instruction to me was, ‘Sit there and teach yourself to type’! As a puny, six and a half stone 15 year-old I soon learned to tame that beast – in fact I grew to love it.

Watching all the other girls, I marvelled at their speed and accuracy, although most, if not all, of them typed with only the first two fingers of each hand. Eager to learn, even more eager to please, that September I enrolled at my local night school for typing lessons. Determined to prove that this could be something I was good at, at the end of the first year I had gained a distinction in both the RSA I and RSA II exams and was rewarded by a special mention from the local Mayor at prize giving!

I was soon enlightened as to what Law Stationers actually did. We typed documents for local solicitors – one of whom is still a household name – wills, house conveyances, legal briefs, even divorces, although there weren’t many of those in the 1950s. I can only assume that it was more cost effective for the solicitors to out-source this work than to employ their own typists. Two skills were essential in order to keep your job – speed and accuracy. Speed because we were always working to deadlines, accuracy because legal documents back then were a world away from the present day versions which can be spell-checked, copied and pasted, then spat out from computers and scanners in minutes.

We typed on parchment, blue for wills, sepia for house conveyances, and erasing or tipex-ing a mistake was not an option. Any alteration to the document and it was no longer legal. Each double sheet of a conveyance document was hand ruled in red ink and the first page began with an illuminated letter, drawn in coloured inks by a very elderly clerk. He sat on a tall stool, hunched over an ancient desk and looked exactly like a character from Dickens. Working inches away from the parchment, his eyes were always red and rheumy and he had a permanent dewdrop suspended from the end of his nose, no matter what the weather. To my knowledge this never actually dropped! You can imagine my trepidation at first being handed these pages on which I then had to type the final version of the solicitor’s draft. The parchment was thick; feeding it into the machine, getting it perfectly lined up with that first letter, and knowing you must not hit a wrong key throughout the whole document was a stomach-churning experience at first. Of course, the odd mistake was made, but very few; not just because of the telling off from the boss for wasting time and expensive stationery, but because we felt real guilt at increasing the workload – and eyestrain – of the clerk. Sadly, after all this time I can’t recall his name, yet I still remember what he looked like.

Once you had completed a job you would sit next to Mr James at his desk, reading out from the draft while he checked every word of the conveyance before hand-stitching the pages together with narrow red tape. There was a real sense of satisfaction in a job well done when it was finally delivered to the solicitor’s office.

At this point, I should say something about my physical surroundings at work. The office was situated in a very narrow, cobbled dog’s leg of an alleyway which ran between two main thoroughfares in the city – Castle Street and Dale Street. Although ‘ran’ is not the best description, this was a street that wasn’t going anywhere; unless you worked in one of its offices there would be no reason to enter. Most people bought a newspaper from the stand at its entrance and passed on by.

And the office itself? I can remember the noise created by a room full of typewriters, bells ringing with each carriage return; a voice reading aloud to Mr James, trying to make itself heard above the clatter. I remember general untidiness, dust and the lack of fresh air. A telephone which must have been a museum piece even then, was situated in an outer office on a wooden surround attached to the wall; you spoke into the mouthpiece and unhooked the trumpet-like earpiece to listen. A trip to the phone brought its own dangers. The bare wooden floors throughout the building were uneven and worn, with many loose boards, but in the outer office they were particularly bad. Light as I was, I still managed to put my foot through the floor on one occasion, no Accident Book then; no compensation for laddered stockings, which you could get repaired at the drycleaners for sixpence per ladder!

By George Groutas from Idalion, Cyprus (John Lennon Statue, Liverpool) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I stayed in that job for four years and enjoyed every moment of it, although the tedious bus journey and the 45 hour week were tiring. In fine weather, a group of us would take our packed lunches and sit in the gardens of St Nicholas’s Church, or on the grassy area at the Pier Head fronting the Liver Buildings. When it opened in 1957, The Cavern became a favourite lunchtime haunt, pre-Beatles of course! But by the end of 1958 I was engaged, saving up to get married, and found a job nearer home that paid better wage. I returned to the city a couple of years later to work in an insurance office in Water Street. One of the offices in the same building was, I believe, a Cotton Brokers, and we used to see Paul McCartney’s father arriving for work.

Fast forward 20 years. On a visit to Liverpool with two of my young sons, I decided to take ‘a trip down memory lane’.

‘While we’re here, I’ll show you where I worked in my very first job when I was just 15.’

We walked up Castle Street and turned left into the alleyway.

‘Down here, towards the end, on the right hand side.’

We got closer. My feeling of nostalgia turned to one of shocked surprise as I quickly shepherded two bewildered boys back to the main street.

‘Come on boys, let’s go. I must have made a mistake. I don’t think this is the street after all.’

My fondly remembered Dickensian office building had blacked-out windows and discreet posters advertised the fact that it was now A SEX SHOP!  

[I checked again recently, once more it looks like a respectable office building which I can now point out to my granddaughters on their next visit!]

Many thanks to Seven Streets for permission to reproduce their photo of Sweeting Street.