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.
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.