A historical Fiction Author's home
(Pre restoration work in 2000)
A few weeks ago I decided my house was in need of a spruce up. As I began sanding and painting, I also looked again at the history of our house and discovered a few surprises. But before I get into that, here’s how we came to be living in one of the oldest houses in Bodmin…
Before we bought it, I used to walk past our house on my way into town thinking that one day I’d love to live there. The house was on the market for three years, the lack of parking, garden and headroom putting all potential buyers off. The asking price dropped, and dropped and dropped until it was finally within our reach. Unfortunately, just as we were ready to sign on the dotted line, the house of our dreams was rented out for six months and we found ourselves technically homeless. With all our finances tied up in the house purchase, we moved with our two very small children into a tent with a tiny caravan next door for us to cook in. I’ll save our camping adventures for another day, but needless to say, by the time six months were up and our November moving date rolled around, we were very happy to be back among solid walls with a proper bathroom!
Ten years before we bought our house it had been derelict, with a tree growing out of the roof. The Cornwall Heritage Trust bought what they thought was a Victorian cottage and began the painstaking work of restoring it. It was only when they knocked down a brick fireplace that the true age of the house was revealed. As a newspaper at the time put it- ‘Shakespeare Alive When Home Built’! Archaeological and historical surveys were done on the house, providing detailed records that are a historical fiction author’s dream! I have a folder of information detailing everything from the material make-up of the walls, to every owner and tenant since 1577.
Over the years, our house has been home to a hatter, a painter, a brasier, a cordwainer, a soldier, a marine store dealer, a charwoman and a ‘fancy dealer’. One tenant ran a coffee house from a downstairs room, and before we moved in the house was a BnB. We can now add ambulance driver (my husband), teacher (Mum) and author to the list!
Our house looks fairly large from the outside, but the best way to think of it is a three up, two down terraced house turned on its side. It’s only one room deep, but at some point was extended into the attic to make an extra bedroom and bathroom, and during its restoration, a galley kitchen was added to the back. The ceilings are low, the floor sloping, and there isn’t a single 90 degree angle to be found.
One of my favourite discoveries is a series of plans showing how the downstairs layout has changed over the years. I love the thought that my son’s bedroom was once a workshop for making hats! His built-in bookshelves which we’d never given a second thought, were once a front door to the workshop, the blocked up doorway behind his bed a door leading outside.
I then discovered several places around the house which used to lead through to the house next door. My teenage son has a wardrobe in his room which, it turns out, was once a door leading through the wall. If I ever win the lottery, I’d love to buy the house next door and open the wardrobe up again, for now though, I don’t think our neighbours would appreciate me knocking through!
I also discovered that behind our house, in an area we’ve just about been able to squeeze a picnic bench, a cottage once stood. Presumably there was also a privy, most likely shared by all the homes squeezed in to the small space.
Living in such an interesting house is great inspiration for an author. These days, we share the house with my mum, but before she moved in we ran an Airbnb, welcoming guests to our attic room, and moving out each summer to rent the whole house. These experiences inspired The House of Many Lives, although the house in the book is actually the house next door to ours! My house was also my starting point for The Wives Left Behind. I wanted to explore some of the local history the house had lived through, which is how I stumbled on the case of the Lightfoot brothers. When Maria and Gershom come to Bodmin for the trial, the house they stay in is mine. Whilst this is unlikely to have happened in real life, Peter and Honor who welcomed them were very real, and living in the house at the time.
If walls could speak, who knows what stories my house could tell? Judging by the thickness of the walls and the fact the house has stood for over 500 years, it’s likely to witness a lot more life yet!
On paper, my first year as a published author was not a success. I ended 2021 having had a handful of people (mostly friends and family) read my book, and I’d made enough mistakes to fill a book of their own. I ended the year knowing 2022 would be make or break. If I carried on the way I’d been going, my life as an author would be a very expensive hobby, impossible to justify to my family, despite their unwavering support.
But I wouldn’t go back and change that first year. It sounds trite to say, but every mistake I made (and some of them were HUGE) was a learning opportunity. I took those failures, and resolved not to repeat them. Inevitably I’ve made a whole new set of mistakes, but less of them, and wouldn’t life be boring if we got everything right first time?
I began 2022 with the knowledge Queenie of Norwich would soon be released. The thought terrified me. In sharing Queenie’s story I’d made some risky choices. Would readers make it past the first few chapters? Would the harsh reality of Queenie’s early life put people off sticking with her as she overcame those barriers? Would people hate the fact I’d written the book in first person present tense… etc… etc… etc…
When all those doubts surfaced, I took comfort in the fact that the book had some wise decisions behind it. I’d worked with an editor, I’d employed a proof reader, I’d had a number of people feed back on early drafts and the book felt much more of a team effort. Still, as release day approached, I had many sleepless nights.
After Queenie of Norwich was released, I encountered a stroke of luck. Given my total lack of understanding of how to use Instagram, I was amazed when a young local journalist contacted me on there. The result was a double page spread in the Norwich Evening News, the EDP, and a long interview on BBC Radio Norfolk. Queenie was off to a good start.
What followed was months of trying to wrap my head around advertising and how, exactly, do you get a book in front of readers in the first place? As the first reviews came in, and I had faith that Queenie’s story was one people wanted to hear, I doubled down on my attempts to share her story with new audiences.
Summer rolled round and an email came in from Steve at Bittern Books. Would I be interested in working with them to get Queenie of Norwich into more bookshops? Of course, I jumped at the chance. Seeing my book in bookshops is a dream come true and I'm so grateful to Bittern Books, and the bookshops who are stocking 'Queenie'.
September saw the release of The House of Many Lives, a departure from my usual Historical Fiction but a book I thoroughly enjoyed writing. With both releases out of the way, I focussed on getting my next book finished, starting another, and taking as many free courses as I could to better understand the multitude of skills needed to be a self-published author. I also began dipping my toe in the world of audiobooks. I’ve ended the year passing the half way mark with the audio book of Queenie of Norwich and it’s been an absolute pleasure to record at the lovely Morvil Studios in Bodmin. I’ll see how this audiobook shapes up, and all being well, I’ll be working on my new book The Wives Left Behind next!
As the year draws to a close, I feel overwhelmed by how much has happened this year, in particular the love shown for Queenie’s story. Being such a personal story to me, it never ceases to amaze me when readers get in touch to say they enjoyed, leave a review, or tell their friends about the book. Hopefully I’ll write many more books over the years, but I suspect Queenie of Norwich will always remain the book I feel the most personal attachment to, she was my great-grandmother after all!
As I look ahead to next year, it’s with a confidence I didn’t feel at the start of this year. I’ve still got so much to learn about writing, about self-publishing, but as someone with a stubborn streak, this is a challenge I’m excited to embrace.
Writing can be a lonely life at times, but I’m incredibly lucky to have the support of my family (who are rewarded with pizza nights each time I hit an author goal), friends, and the wider community of readers who have supported me this year. Every one of you makes my work as an author so rewarding, and I’ll always be grateful. Happy New Year!
Queenie’s story has been a long time in the making. After writing my first novel, Silver Darlings, I finally felt ready to take on the challenge.
It took me longer to research this book than to write it. There were so many elements I knew nothing about; the Norwich Yards, the traveling fair, illegal off-course betting, and that’s before I started examining the complex family relationships which played a huge role in Queenie’s life!
I decided to break the process down into three parts- Ellen Hardy, Nellie Westrop and Queenie Read, all names Queenie held at different times in her life.
Ellen Hardy- Gaining an understanding of the Norwich Yards was made possible thanks to the incredibly detailed work of Frances and Michael Holmes. Their book, The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich, contained a wealth of information, and the video recollections on their Norwich Heritage website brought this information to life. I was also greatly helped by the recollections of Queenie’s granddaughters, Joanna and Gillian, who dredged their memories for stories Queenie had shared with them.
Nellie Westrop- No one knew who Queenie’s mother had sold her to, other than a lady called Julia, who had come to the Cattle Market, Norwich with the travelling fair. I scoured the British Newspaper Archive for reports of the fair, cross checking all the names of stallholders and ride owners with census records on Ancestry. Eventually, I tracked down a Julia Westrop, who was in Norwich in 1906, working on her husband’s shooting gallery. Following this discovery, I found a record of their daughter, ‘Nellie Westrop’. Nellie is a version of Ellen, and subsequent investigation proved this was indeed the name given to Queenie. Knowing I was looking for ‘Westrop’s Shooting Gallery’, I was able to track the family’s progress around the country. Many of the events in this section of the book come from actual newspaper reports from the time and made all the hours hunched over my laptop worth it!
Queenie Read- the research for this part of the book was largely based on family recollections of Queenie and the stories she had told. I found numerous newspaper articles reporting raids on betting shops, and these provided a window into the world Queenie was living in!
Once I had all that information at my fingertips it was time to start writing! I didn’t make a conscious decision to write in Queenie’s own voice, I just started writing and it came out in the first person. Writing as Queenie was an emotional process, and I shed more than a few tears before the book was completed.
With the first draft finished, I gave it to a few family members to read… the general consensus was that it was far too grim! I needed to present the harshness of Queenie’s early life in a way that didn’t make people feel queasy. I’m aware that the initial chapters of the book are still a bit bleak at times, but trust me, you need to thank my mum because it could have been far worse! 😉
I went back to the manuscript, toned it down, rejigged chapters, reconsidered the portrayal of certain characters, then it was off to my editor Tom Fosten for a thorough going over. Tom dug deep into character and plot, questioning and putting forward suggestions that undoubtedly improved the book tenfold.
With Tom’s suggested changes made, I sent the book out to a wider group for feedback. Friends and family gave both encouragement and constructive criticism and I took those back and worked on the book some more. Special mention should be made to my aunt, who knew Queenie well and helped me nail the Norwich dialect that appears in the first chapter. Her observations and notes helped me bring ‘Queenie’ to its completion.
Last but definitely not least, I decided to invest in a professional proof-reader. I thought I could get away without one, but after sending the manuscript to Julia Gibbs, the 900 corrections she sent back proved without doubt that using her services was excellent value for money!
And so, Queenie of Norwich is here. It’s been a long time coming and a real team effort. I hope you enjoy reading Queenie’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
What's in a (pen) name?
For those who don't know, LK Wilde is not my real name... well the LK part is (Laura Kate), but my surname is Garcia, not Wilde. So why choose a pen name?
For me there were several reasons why I chose a pen name, ranging from the ridiculous, to the practical, to the romantic.
Let's start with the ridiculous...
At first, I didn't want people to know I was a writer. Why? Because I felt shy, embarrassed and scared. Would people think I was pretentious? Would they like my work? It felt easier to go into things incognito and test the waters. Now, two years on, I understand that being a writer is something to be proud of. Books are meant to be read, not hidden away gathering dust. I hope these days I'm not quite as ridiculous as I was then!
On to more practical matters...
I had searched 'Laura Garcia author' and found there were plenty of them already around the world. Garcia, in Spanish speaking countries, is as common as Smith or Jones is in the UK. I tried out a range of names, my maiden name, my mother's maiden name. All had the same problem; if there weren't already authors with exactly the same name, there were plenty with similar.
And finally the romantic...
When I began writing, I knew that one day I would explore my family history. Wilde is a family name. It belonged to my grandmother Barbara and great grandmother Florrie. Those of you who read Queenie of Norwich will meet Barbara and Florrie in the book.
Barbara died far too young, and by taking her surname, it felt like somehow I was honouring her memory. A romantic notion I'm sure, but I hope Barbara, Florrie and her sister Queenie, would approve of the way I've used their name and stories in my own work.
And if you're wondering what to call me, Laura will do nicely. :-)
"Pen names are masks that allow us to unmask ourselves."
— Terri Guillemets.
After finishing my 2nd book, Queenie of Norwich, I fell into a writing rut. I began and abandoned several projects, telling myself I didn’t have it in me to write a book at all. That was pretty crazy given the two completed novels on my desk, but the brain is a strange beast when it wants to be.
I had another historical novel brewing, but it required specific research that I couldn’t start for another month or so. This left me in a fidgety, writing limbo.
Then one night, just as I was falling asleep, a story idea popped into my head. At work the following morning, the story grew in my mind. By the time I got home, I wanted to write it down.
What if I just wrote, and wrote and wrote with no stopping to question, doubt, dwell? I decided to give myself 3 weeks and see how far I could get. By the end of the first week, I’d written 20 000 words. It became apparent that unless I abandoned my jobs (and family!), 3 weeks to write a book was completely unrealistic. But if I had managed 20 000 in a week, what if I did that every week for 4 weeks?
How? When? Where?
First of all, there was no way I could write my usual Historical Fiction that quickly. My favourite part of writing my previous novels was the research. But research takes time, and this challenge was about writing, not research. There were a few methods which were key to hitting my weekly word count. I’ll list them below, but these were personal to me. Everyone works differently and I’m in no way claiming to be an expert. These tips applied specifically to this challenge; my writing methods were completely different for my previous two novels. Anyway, enough caveats. Here goes-
-Write what you know. My story is in no way autobiographical, but draws both on experiences lived, and places I know well.
-Don’t think! I realised I waste so much writing time on self criticism. Those thoughts tried to seep in this time round, but I ignored them. They will be useful during the editing process, but not during the writing.
-Write as a reader. Although I knew the basis of the story before I started, the actual plot unfolded in real time as the words landed on the page. It was an exciting way to write, but will undoubtedly throw up a few issues when it comes to editing!
-Stick at it. There were days I didn’t want to write anything, but given the challenge I’d set myself, I had to. Some days it was like pulling teeth, other days I’d open my laptop completely uninspired, only to find my characters did something unexpected and before I knew it, I had several thousand words under my belt.
-Be flexible. I have a random work schedule which meant setting a regular time to write didn’t work for me. In order to meet my word count targets I squeezed writing in whenever I could. One of my most productive writing sessions was in the car while my son was at football training!
Would… I do it again?
Probably. The main thing I took from this challenge was a renewed love of writing, and to me, that’s the best outcome I could have hoped for.
I didn’t consciously set out to write a novel. It was Christmas 2019 when I first put pen to paper, documenting my life as a teenager on Holy Island (Lindisfarne). During those island years, I lived some of the best… and worst days of my life. Writing the memories down was heart warming and heart breaking in equal measure. I’m still not sure what prompted me to write. Maybe the health scare my dad had around that time made me look back at our past. Or perhaps I simply had too much time on my hands. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did. By the end of the holidays I had 40,000 words, but the story I had told, though true, was utterly unbelievable. I began writing Clara’s story instead.
January came and normal life resumed. I put my writing away and forgot about it, distracted by a big music project and the news that they had discovered a new virus in China.
Lockdown hit and we adjusted to the ‘new normal’. All creative activities ended as my brain filled instead with home-school and the constant fear coming from the TV news.
It wasn’t until July, and a chance conversation with my brother in a socially distanced pub garden, that I remembered the words hidden away on my computer. I returned to Clara’s story, deleted my own, and decided that something was missing. As soon as my mind met with Jimmy, I was on a roll.
I had been too young when I lived on the island to appreciate its rich and varied history. I’d heard of the saints who made it their home, but it was the more recent history that intrigued me. Several sources transported me back to the early 1900s, most notably the research of Katrina Porteous for Peregrini Lindisfarne and the British Newspaper Archive.
As the end of August approached, my novel was nearly complete. I had read the incredible book ‘The Grit’ by Dean Parkin and Jack Rose, and was excited to combine a visit to family in Lowestoft with walking the streets and areas described in their book. A visit to Time and Tide museum in Great Yarmouth helped complete the picture of life during those times.
With the research and most of the word count under my belt, I returned to Cornwall to revise and edit. I completely underestimated this process. It took me far longer to polish the book than it did to write it!
I’ve held the characters and places so close for so long, releasing them into the world is daunting. But I hope the book brings people pleasure and gives an insight into the lives of those who traveled down England’s east coast chasing the Silver Darlings.
This is quite the conundrum. When I told friends I’d written a book, the response I got time and again was- I’d love to write a book, but I don’t have time.
But, what do we really mean by time?
It’s true, we have busy lives, and time is a limited resource for most of us. In my experience, lack of time really means lack of head space. Time can usually be found. Do you have an hour in the evening when you watch TV? Or half an hour at lunchtime? Probably. What you might not have, is head space or energy.
I know when my children were little there wasn’t much time for anything. In the brief moments I snatched for myself, I was exhausted. I could’ve written in those moments, but I doubt it would have been worth reading.
In the same way, when I was teaching, I could’ve squeezed a few minutes writing in now and then, but all my creative energy was used up planning exciting activities for 4 and 5 year olds. I had time, but I had zero head space.
If by lack of time, you really mean head space or energy, don’t beat yourself up. It could be that you need to put writing on hold until life slows down a bit. But if writing a book is your burning desire, there are a few things you can try:
-Set a regular time each week to write. It could be a whole morning, or an hour a week, when a friend can take the kids to the park.
-Make changes to your job, or lifestyle that give you not just time but moments of peace, when your brain stops whirring and you can think clearly.
-If you have hobbies, swap one of them for writing.
-Try writing 100 words a day, or at least every few days. Keep it regular. Even 100 words a day will add up to a book eventually, and more often than not, you’ll get so absorbed in what you’re writing, that word count will shoot up way beyond 100.
-Don’t worry if you go a day, a week or month and have nothing new on the page. Writing is a pleasure, not another tool to beat yourself up with.
-Goals are good, but don’t make them unrealistic. If you can only write 500 words a week, don’t expect to have a novel written and edited in 6 months. It’s OK to take your time. Many bestselling authors took years to write their novels!
Finally, good luck! Happy writing, and if you have time(!), let me know how you get on! 😊
LK Wilde is a Cornwall based Author, who juggles writing with music, teaching and raising two busy boys.