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.