18 April 2017

A Mission Impossible

with Wendy Percival

 I must begin by thanking Helen for inviting me on to her blog [HH my pleasure Wendy!] and allowing me to tell you about my current Mission Impossible which I’m hoping may not be so very impossible if I can persuade you to help. But before I explain what I’m rambling on about, let me introduce myself.

Ever since I came across an Australian death certificate, dated 1868, in the proverbial “box of documents in the attic”, I’ve been fascinated by family history and the secrets it holds. I’m clearly not alone, judging by the millions of viewers who watch TV’s Who Do You Think You Are.

As the programme regularly demonstrates, we invariably know little about our family history and that concept was the inspiration behind my first Esme Quentin genealogy mystery, Blood-Tied, where Esme discovers her sister has a secret past. In her search for the truth, Esme unleashes more than she bargains for and is caught up in a terrifying ordeal.
Fortunately, for we lesser mortals, family history research isn’t usually so dangerous! Though it can throw up some surprising, poignant and sometimes shocking stories, as you’ll see if you read my blog Family History Secrets where I share what I’ve uncovered during research into my own family’s history.

These investigations give me plenty of “plotting fodder” and it was the discovery that my husband’s ancestor had been transported to Australia in the early 1800s which set me on a trail to find out more. What I learned about the brutal penal policy of 19th century England was harrowing and gave me the idea for the second Esme mystery, The Indelible Stain, which I set on the North Devon coast. Esme finds a woman’s body at the foot of a cliff and must delve into the mystery of a convict girl who was transported to New South Wales for her crime in 1837 to uncover the truth behind the woman’s untimely death.

My new “short reads” eBook, Death of a Cuckoo, was inspired by reading about a Victorian refuge for “fallen women” here in Devon. The records left by this organisation meant I could dip in for background information to develop my initial idea.

Which sort of leads me back to My Mission….

The obvious appeal of  Who Do You Think You Are is the discovery of ancestors’ stories, frequently emotional, which have been unpicked from records, photographs and accounts, and paint a picture of their lives.

Wouldn’t we just love a BBC researcher to investigate our own family history stories! Imagine discovering that our great-grandmother or great-great grandfather had written an account of their life. What a find that would be! It would make an intriguing read.
But it probably never entered their heads to make such a record. And even if it had, they probably thought they were way too “ordinary” for anyone to be interested in their day-to-day existence.

Even you, as future great-grandparents, great-aunts or uncles, or even if you’re none of those, probably think the same. So let me try and convince you that you’re wrong, that your memories are worth recording – whoever you are and whatever age!
The pace of life and society is changing faster than it’s ever done before. Some aspects of our lives as children would be unrecognisable to the youth of today. Knowledge we hold of our parents and grandparents are never going to be accessible to anyone in the future – even those clever genealogists employed by the BBC – unless we make sure they’re recorded now. It’s said that such knowledge is lost within two generations unless someone takes the time to write them down.

Fortunately, this idea is already taking hold and writing personal memoirs is a growing phenomenon. Some have published their accounts online. A fellow family historians I know, Cathy Murray, is one of them. She’s produced two delightful eBooks of her 1950s childhood, called Cabbage and Semolina (as you might guess, school dinners are mentioned in this one!) and Jam for Tea. Both books are a collection of memories and events which she recalls with affection (or trauma!). What’s interesting is that reading them stirs memories of similar incidents in my own childhood.

Another inspiring read is Remember Then, a collection of women’s shared memories from 1939 to 1969 compiled by genealogist Janet Few. The book is divided into chapters covering different topics – the homes in which they lived, the games they played as children, their neighbourhood, school days, celebrations and holidays, for example. Photographs and images of advertisements of the time within the pages create a real historical document!
So, that’s my Mission Impossible – to get you to write down your memories. But, I hear you say, I wouldn’t know where to start. The answer to that is, “Just start”. You’ll be amazed at how things come flooding back once you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Ask yourself, what would I like my ancestor to have told me?

Another good place to begin is what you remember of your parents – how they met, where they lived, their jobs, the things that made them laugh, as well as any stories from their own childhood they shared with you.

As children, my sister and I loved to hear about when a World War Two incendiary bomb dropped on my mum’s house, landing in the bedroom where she was asleep! My gran ran upstairs and smothered the flames with a feather mattress and carried my mum downstairs into the back kitchen out of harm’s way.

My dad, on the other hand, was pulled off a wall when he was 7 years old and spent 3 years in hospital after getting TB in his hip. He spoke of coming home from a large ward with high ceilings and feeling claustrophobic at the tiny rooms of the family’s lodge cottage.
When I’ve finished editing my third Esme Quentin novel, due out later this year, I shall be digging around in the boxes of photographs and family archives and write what I remember being told, as well as my own childhood memories. In fact I’ve already made a start. I hope you will too. Your descendants will love you for it!

Further interest:

Wendy's  book links

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e-book only
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Read the Discovering Diamonds Review HERE

11 April 2017

It's Fun to be a pirate...

... or is it?

Pirates. Mention ‘pirates’ to adults, even more than children, and eyes begin to twinkle, a smile broadens the face and the clichéd ‘Arrr’ erupts from the lips. Given the choice of dressing up as a pirate or a wizard for a fancy dress party the winner, more often than not, is the stereotypical pirate.

Canstock photography © jgroup
The romance of fiction, the novels, TV shows and movies influence our perception of piracy, specifically during the 'Golden Age' of the early 1700s. We have a rose-tinted romantic view of a life On The Account. Say ‘pirate’ and we think Treasure Island, Jack Sparrow, or Captain Hook from Peter Pan, some of us even remember the bumbling but lovable animated character, Captain Pugwash.

Real pirates were not nice people. For 21st century entertainment, though, who, apart from a horror-movie buff, is going to sit through a big-screen movie about drunken, stinking-to-high-heaven louts pillaging, torturing and butchering? The small screen TV dramas such as Black Sails depict some of the rougher side of a life at sea in the early 18th century, but the storyline, especially in the first series, had to be buoyed up by (unnecessary in my opinion) explicit sexual scenes to keep the interest and attention. Factually, it was not accurate.

But do we want accuracy for entertainment? Moonlit nights, calm seas, a gentle breeze ruffling through swaying palm trees? That is the image conjured into our minds. Do we care that the Flying Dutchman does not exist, or the Marie Celeste was probably abandoned because her crew thought escaping vapour from the hold full of alcohol was smoke? Frightened, believing the ship was about to blow up, they abandoned ship. In their panicked haste they did not do so wisely. Leaving all sail set the ship took off without them. In a good following wind with a veseel travelling at seven to nine knots, an oarsman in a small rowing boat would not have been able to keep up. It must have been devastating to see your home, your livelihood – your only way of staying alive – disappearing off towards the horizon without you. The poor unfortunates, however, were not exotically abducted by alien space pirates as film and fiction would have us believe. 

Reality has its place, but so does the world of story and pleasurable escapism.

We like handsome heroes and pretty heroines. We enjoy the breath-taking alarm of danger and engrossing adventurous romps. Pirate stories give us the (safe) dangerous excitement we crave. Pirates seek treasure – don’t we all? Maybe we do not go off to dig at X marks the spot with our trusty, by-chance found treasure map, but several million of us do trot off to the local store every week hoping to buy that illusive winning lottery ticket.

Pirates were on a get-rich-quick mission and did not particularly care how they did it, as long as they had silver in their pockets for the taverns and brothels, and could get it as easily as possible. We all know that pirates plundered the loot then buried the heavily laden treasure chests on remote Caribbean islands. Their captured enemies they made to walk the plank at sword point, leading to inevitable death by drowning or fiercesome sharks.

Pirates went about saying things like, ‘Shiver m’timbers,’ and ‘Where be tha’ rum?’ Their ships were all gloriously fast, and the flag fluttering jauntily – yet menacingly – from the masthead was always a pair of crossed bones beneath a leering skull set against a black background. 

Pirates, we know, wore a gold-hooped earring and had gold-capped teeth. They drank rum (a lot of it), had frequent swashbuckling fights with those sharp-bladed lethal cutlasses they carried, lusted after buxom wenches and died nobly on the long drop with a short stop.
Or did they? Sad to say most of that is untrue, it is the stuff of story.

Where does the fact end and the fiction begin? But  does it really matter if the story is good and the adventure ... well, adventurous?

* Original text from Pirates Truth and Tales by Helen Hollick

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A Brief Timeline

1492  Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Caribbean and the Americas
1509  Permanent (European) settlement of Port Royal (Caguay) Jamaica 
1570  Lady Mary Killigrew organising piracy off the Cornish coast
1581  Lady Elizabeth Killigrew involved in piracy off the Cornish coast
1593  Grace O’Malley of Ireland meets with Elizabeth I of England
1651  William Dampier born
1659  Oliver Cromwell dies 
1660  Charles II returns from exile and is restored to the English throne
1665  Henry Morgan raiding in the Spanish Main
         Plague in London
1666  Great Fire of London
1671  Henry Morgan sacks Panama
1674  War with Spain
1675  Henry Morgan made Governor of Jamaica
1676  Daniel (de)Foe born
                Governor Alexander Spotswood born
1677 William of Orange marries Mary, daughter of James II
1679  (circa) Woodes Rogers born 
1680  Edward Teach born
(1680-1690?) Charles Vane born
1682  Jack ‘Calico’ Rackham born 
                Bartholomew Roberts born
1683  Henry Morgan is removed from Port Royal Council for being drunk - October
1685  Charles II dies his brother, James, becomes King 
11th June Monmouth lands at Lyme Bay 
6th July   Monmouth defeated at Sedgemoor
                Judge Jeffries and the Bloody Assizes: hundreds of rebels hanged or sold as slaves
1686  Dampier’s second circumnavigation
1684  Alexandre Oliver Exquemelin's The Buccaneers of America published
                Tortuga now deserted by pirates. The term ‘buccaneer being widely adopted
1687  Dr Hans Sloan and Duke and Duchess of Albemarle arrive in Port Royal
1688  Henry Morgan dies 25th August
                Pirates using Port Royal, Jamaica
5th November William of Orange lands at Torbay; James II flees to France 
1689 War with France 
                Sam Bellamy born 
1690 William defeats James at Battle of the Boyne 1st 
                Howell Davies born
1692 7th June Port Royal devastated by earthquake 
1693  Fictional pirate Jesamiah Acorne born 
                William and Mary College, Virginia founded
1694 Bank of England founded
1695  Death of Queen Mary
1697 End of war with France
1700  Death of Charles II of Spain
  (circa)   Anne Bonny born
1701       War of Spanish Succession declared
               James II dies of a stroke
               Act of Union between England and Scotland ‘British Isles’ formed
1702       William II dies Sister-in-law Anne becomes Queen 
                First daily English newspaper – the Daily Courant
1703 Work begins on Buckingham House (Palace)
1704 English capture Gibraltar
                Battle of Blenheim
1706 Building of the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg began
1707 Act of Union (Scotland and England to form Great Britain
1708 Planned Jacobite rebellion with a French landing in Scotland – James caught measles
1709  17th February Andrew Selkirk rescued from being marooned
1710 St Paul’s Cathedral completed
                Alexander Spotswood appointed Governor of Virginia
1711 Woodes Rogers Madagascar, at pirate community in almost ended 
1713 War with Spain over, privateers expect full pardons for acts of piracy
1714 Bahamas raided by French and Spanish
                Nassau sacked three times
                Death of Queen Anne, accession of George of Hanover
                End of the War of the Spanish succession
1715 Spanish treasure fleet wrecked 31st July
1717 Piracy in its height in the Bahamas, Caribbean and the East coast of America
                Whydah Galley sinks 
17th November Blackbeard captures the Queen Anne’s Revenge
1718  Woodes Rogers arrives in Nassau 
  May       Blackbeard blockades Charlestown harbour
June         Queen Anne’s Revenge runs aground 
September/October Blackbeard meets other pirates on the beaches of Ocracoke  
November Governor Spotswood sends Lt. Robert Maynard to capture/kill Blackbeard
22nd November Blackbeard killed
1719  War with Spain
                Royal Pardon extended to 1st July
               Robinson Crusoe published by Daniel Defoe
19th June Howell Davies is shot dead
                Anne Bonney and Mary Read become pirates
                Edward Teach’s remaining crew hanged at Williamsburg
                Charles Vane arrested
1720  Gov. Woodes Rogers hangs all pirates who refuse to give up piracy 
February  Battle of Nassau 
18th November Calico Jack Rackham hanged at Port Royal
                South Sea Bubble bursts – financial ruin for many 
                Robert Walpole becomes the first Prime Minister of Great Britain
                First daily newspaper in England
1721  Charles Vane hanged (?)
                Pirate community in Madagascar coming to life again.
                 Bartholomew Roberts of the Royal Fortune killed in battle 
1722  February Bartholomew Roberts dies
1723  Charles Johnson’s A General History of Robberies and Murders of Notorious Pyrates published
1727  Death of George of Hanover (George I) succession of George II 
1732   15th July Woodes Rogers dies

The Fiction

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and the Fact
where most pirates ended up
© Stocksnapper
What do you prefer? The fiction or the fact?