I seemed to have developed a terrible habit since my writing career has become professional. There is, of course, procrastination; many writers seem to suffer this and makes me feel less lonely and not the malingerer I imagined myself to be. Telling myself to be grateful for getting a publishing contract only for my sorry self to sit there stroking the cat, reading Farcebook and getting all political on articles I won’t ever read again, as well as finding websites to research – whilst ordering a new woolly hat.
However, as much as a problem that may seem, it is not procrastination that has reduced me to frustrated tears; it is Digression. Digression with a capital D because it can suddenly loom out of the computer screen at me, take over my writing and what feels like my whole damn life. I wrote Book No.1 with relative ease where Digression is concerned but this time there seems to be more history; Book No.2 has led me to discover characters and situations that deserve more knowledge, more audience and more general recognition. As far as I’m concerned anyway.
The first Obsession (yes, with a capital O!) was discovering the first wife of a minor lord in the fourteenth century that has absolutely nothing to do with the area I am writing and researching about. Nothing. Nada. Whilst researching the lordships of Chepstow Castle, one of the names was Thomas of Brotherton, 1st Earl of Norfolk, eldest son of Edward I and his second wife. Fantastic, says I, a lovely snippet to put in the book I’m writing about Chepstow. I casually looked at the children Thomas had had as I noticed his heir had pre-deceased him and his two daughters became wealthy heiresses. I browsed them online (here is where I begin to Digress) and the eldest daughter inherited Chepstow (or Striguil as it was known then – see, I digress) and became the Duchess of Norfolk and that was that. Now that is where I should have stopped. Oh no, not me … the other daughter, Alice of Norfolk, screamed out from the page at me – I’m here, I’m not that well-known, research me! I soon discovered she had been, quite literally, beaten to death by her husband and his retainers, pretty horrific even for those times. Alice was, after all, a granddaughter of Edward I and a wealthy woman but I cannot find any reason as to why this happened. It could well be in local parish records or deeper online somewhere but that is in Suffolk, I am in Wales and I have a deadline.
Sadly, Obsession No.2 has me within its grip. A chapter on the workhouse has developed into discovering the sad, awful life of an inmate who was born there. In and out of asylums, he also died there aged 61 in 1904. I’ve also discovered his mother most likely went there to give birth to him and died in childbirth aged 24. They have the same surname, she never married; in fact, she was a servant at age 20, imprisoned in Gloucester Gaol for stealing a loaf of bread and must have got pregnant shortly after. It is a book screaming at me to be written. And because I picked his name randomly on the census record to ‘just have a look to see if there’s any record of him’ (Why?!), I’ve decided his story needs to be told. It may not – from what I can gather he was one of many thousands who lived their life that way in Victorian Britain. But now I feel I know him …
But for now, it’s back to my actual work in progress. I will not look anyone up on Wikipedia, I will not ‘wonder what he/she is about’ and I will not get attached to a name on a census. Not for a while anyway 😉
Secret Chepstow due for release later this year