Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Describing a life in 500 words

By the end of August I hope to have completed most of the text for the Website that records the cataloguing of all the graves in our local cemetery. As soon as it’s done I will post up the url because I’m starting to feel quite proud of it, but there’s a lot of hard work still to be done.

The original project plan was to select one or two of the older stones and research the life ‘behind the stone’. In other words we’d write up a short biog in no more than 500 words. In practice it’s almost impossible to describe a life in 500 words especially as we are including contributions made to the local and wider community, family, interests, career, and the journey that led to Leicester – particularly interesting as a lot of the graves are for people who survived pogroms and holocaust atrocities.

It soon became obvious that the word count was the least of my problems. There were too many interesting stories to tell. My job was to decide which names to include in this ever-growing list, but by definition, this also meant that I had to decide which names to omit because we just can’t produce over 900 individual stories. The problem is that everybody has got a story to tell. We may not all have had a long and dangerous physical journey to arrive where we are today but many of us have had long emotional journeys. 


I’m giving the researched stories side-headings but that made me think about me. What side-headings would I give to my own story-so-far? 

Teacher That would have to be there.
Writer I couldn’t miss that one off.
Mother Goes without saying but I’ve said it anyway!
Animal Lover I’ve rarely been without a pet throughout my life.

But would I include the more painful periods of my life? 

Divorce It can’t be ignored.
Family Illness I couldn’t omit my husband’s stem cell transplant, my mother’s long and final illness, my daughter’s recent major operation, and then there’s my own struggle with agoraphobia as a teenager.
Not a Good Traveller That is very much a part of who I am but would it find it’s way into my story-so-far?

I suspect I would gloss over the negative, play up the positive and provide the reader with a ‘rose-tinted’ version of myself.

What side-headings would you give your life’s story-so-far?

Saturday, 26 July 2014

I'm at Hedges Towers

Today you can find me lounging on that lovely Pink Sofa at Hedges Towers

Thank you, Carol, for a lovely *hic* time and if you've never visited Carol Hedge's blog then now is the time to do it. Her blog posts are always an excellent read... *polite cough* ...especially today. "Yes, please, Carol, I will have another drop of mead." *hic*!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Photos of an amazing day

Yesterday was an amazing day. We had two book launch events for The Children's Book of Richard III and each one was the kind of exciting event that gives you an inner buzz.

This blog post is going to be totally self-indulgent with photographs of both events, in case anyone is interested in looking at them.

The morning event was a media launch held in Leicester's Guildhall, an appropriate venue because the hall predates Richard III. This is a picture of Alice Povey and myself (Alice is on the right) posing for the Leicester Mercury photographers. I've started with this photo to show you what an amazing room we were in. Just look at that wonderful fireplace!

A clearer photograph of Alice and myself.

We were delighted that Richard Buckley, Head of Archaeology at Leicester University, was able to join us. This photo shows him talking to us about the book.

We were interviewed by Bridget Blair from BBC Radio Leicester and that interview can be heard on the Radio Leicester website here

In the evening we had a private launch party at The Reading Shop. The crowds were overwhelming. This photo was taken by Dave Goodman from Soar Valley Press, the lovely people who printed the book for us.

We were delighted that Tori King, Leicester University Geneticist, the lady who announced the DNA results on Richard's skeleton, was able to join us in the evening. A number of guests asked if she would also sign the book and this photo shows her joining our 'signing table'. She's sitting to my right in the middle of the photograph.

I shall end this picture show with a photo of some of our writing group members. From the left there's Alex Gutteridge, me, Josephine Feeney and Bridget Blair. They have been so supportive and they piled me high with flowers and chocolates last night making me feel like a real star!

If you'd like to buy the book it's for sale at The Reading Shop, Oadby, Leicester or online at The Reading Shop.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Nurse Mum

I’m relieved to report that Daughter is progressing as well as can be expected, considering the major surgery that she had. The specialist Endometriosis Unit at London’s UCH is, as I said in an earlier post, excellent. 

But to more mundane matters… how I coped as Nurse Mum for two whole weeks!

For the first two nights after the operation I stayed at the Premier Inn, within walking distance of the hospital. On the third night I made my way to Daughter’s house to prepare for her homecoming. It was a long, bag-laden walk to the station and an even longer walk along the platform looking for the second-class carriages. It took me five carriages to realize that the word ‘First’ referred to First Direct and not First Class.

My biggest test as Nurse Mum came when they discharged Daughter with a catheter fitted to ‘rest the traumatised bladder’. On her first day home she couldn’t even bend to reach the drainage tap, never mind tackle the night bag! Have you any idea how heavy a bag of wee can be? The post-hysterectomy inability to lift meant that the night bag was a ball and chain around her leg. I won’t go into the fear and panic when, on Sunday morning, the bag became blocked, I will merely thank the efficiency of the district nurse who arrived in time to save us a rush to A&E.

While I was staying at Daughter’s I was ‘sleeping’ on a blow-up bed in her living room. Strange how you can sleep anywhere when you’re exhausted! On the eighth night of blow-up-bed-habitation, Daughter’s cat brought me a present… a shrew… a live shrew. She placed it lovingly beside my head, which was mere inches from the floor. Needless to say my head didn’t stay there for long! I rescued the poor little shrew, set it free in the garden and spent the rest of the night on the settee. For my last two nights as Nurse Mum I checked into a nearby hotel. That, as it turned out, was a good plan because it gave Daughter a chance to see if she was ready to manage on her own.

I’m now back home and catching up on a little paper work and a lot of sleep. I hope to resume normal service as soon as possible, especially as I have a major book launch to attend next week for my Children’s Book of Richard III. Apparently I have to make a speech. I dare say I’ll blog about it and I’m quite sure there will be photos to post up so you can kind of join in too.

Thank you to everyone who sent get well wishes to my daughter. We both really appreciate all the messages.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

*New Release* The Children's Book of Richard III

I'm proud to announce that

The Children's Book of Richard III 

is now published and available for you to buy. 

Here's my copy...

When I started writing this book the plan was to explain the last years of the Wars of the Roses in easy terms. As I progressed through the story of his life I became more involved with Richard, his life, the way that his name was treated after his death and the excitement of the archaeological dig.  Consequently this book has become much more than my original plans for it. To give you a taster of what's in the book here is a photo of the Contents Page and aren't Alice Povey's illustrations amazing!

The most exciting bits to write were... well, all of it really, but I did enjoy writing the interview with the Witch of Daneshill. She was said to see Richard riding out to the Battle of Bosworth. His foot hit the side of Bow Bridge and she predicted that the next time he crossed that bridge it would be his head that knocked against the side... and she was right! I also loved writing about the science and archaeology aspects of the search for his body.

(Update posted on Friday 4th July: Apologies if PayPal tried to add £10 shipping on top of the p&p. This has now been resolved. We will be including payment by credit and debit card very soon. )

If you'd like to buy a copy, you can get one at The Reading Shop either online or phone through your order on 0116 2717077 and it will be posted to you. Alternatively you can pop into the shop on The Parade, Oadby, Leicester.

Note for teachers:
 I will be visiting schools next term to talk about Richard III and the book, which covers a range of Key Stage 2 areas in addition to history. If you are interested in booking a school visit then please email me on

Daughter update: Thanks to all those of you who have sent your kind messages to my Daughter. She is starting the slow post-op recovery and, yes, I'll still be Nurse Mum for at least another week.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Next Week

Last week my daughter had major surgery. She was operated on in a specialist unit at the University College Hospital in London. There were four surgeons operating on her. It was a long process and the surgeons told us afterwards that it had been a particularly complicated procedure. Thankfully the operation was a success and I have nothing but praise for all the staff at the UCH.

I recently blogged about endometriosis. It's a very painful condition that sticks the bowel, uterus, bladder and other organs together. The only way to cure it is to have it removed surgically. That's why my daughter's operation was so complicated. She's got a lot of healing to do now so I have become Nurse Mum and I'm staying with her until she gets a bit stronger.

It would never have been a 'good time' for this to happen and this is not a good time. I should be jumping up and down about The Children's Book of Richard III but that's going to have to wait until next week...

Next week I'll post up the link for people to order a copy.

Next week I'll post up photographs of piles of books. I haven't yet seen a copy but my publisher tells me that they have arrived from the printers and that they are amazing.

Next week, hopefully, things will be a little easier for my daughter. Only then will I be able to jump up and down and I shall do it with gusto and I shall make all sorts of Richard III-type noises!

But this week I have a different job to do.

Friday, 20 June 2014

You don't know what you don't know...

You don’t know what you don’t know until someone tells you and then you realise that for all those years you never knew that you didn't know. Let me explain...

The title proper of my Cemetery Project is Lives Behind the Stones. This was the original interest, before we started filling in the Heritage Lottery Fund application. As we wrote down our plans we realized that we needed first to catalogue the entire cemetery, set up a database with basic information about all the graves etc. We have just about done those things and so we’ve moved on to the most interesting part; finding out about the lives behind the stones.

Some of the deceased have family still living in the community and so, rather than researching files, folders and internet sites, I’ve been visiting, chatting and gathering their stories together. That was when I realized that I didn’t know what I didn’t know… but now I do and, yes, I am going to share.

Before the war there was a street in Leicester called Wharf Street. It was a busy shopping street full of character. One of the shops belonged to a man called Sam Jacobs, the grandfather of a friend who is also a member of my project team, so I went to speak to my friend's father to find out more about Sam Jacobs.

Sam Jacobs had a shop selling ladies fashion wear. We talked a bit about the shop and about Wharf Street and then my friend’s father became animated as he remembered that his father would get the clothes altered for the customers by two sisters who lived in London. These sisters also made dresses for his mother for special occasions. They must have been very good dressmakers, I thought. My friend’s father continued,

“I was the one who was sent down to London. I was only a lad. I had to take the dresses that needed altering and bring back all the work they’d done. Then when war broke out,” he said, “They came to Leicester to escape the bombs. They stayed here after the war was over and carried on working for my father. They were two sisters, little ladies, foreign, spoke Yiddish. Their names were…”

And then I stopped him because I knew what their names were and I was right. They were good. They were my Grandma and my Great Aunt. I talked about them here a few years ago, about their private dressmaking workshop and the way I used to ‘help’ by picking up pins but I never knew that they were doing business with someone from Leicester long before war broke out. I never knew why my family chose Leicester when they evacuated from London but now I do. They had business contacts here. It’s amazing what you find out when you’re least expecting it.

On the left is a photograph of my Grandma Bessie and on the right is a photograph of my Great Auntie Alice. These were the two sisters who worked for Sam Jacobs all those many many years ago.