|Me with the BIG bow in New Wortley, Leeds in the 1950s|
I must apologise for the long silence, but my excuse is that I've been working on a new book, and it has proved to be so tricky, so time consuming, so all encompassing, that I haven't been able to think, let alone write about anything else for a long time. Now, my editor has said that she likes it very much and my publisher has started to speak about publication dates next year, even though I know that there is more work to do. But it means that I can begin to speak about it, and to wonder exactly what it is that I have created.
It will be called, I think, A Proper Person to be Detained, and it began with a murder that happened in my family, in Leeds, in 1881. I had always known about it, but only in the most general terms: a family story. 'Your great great Uncle John was stabbed in the street, in Leeds, at Christmas.' That was where I started, but not at all where I finished, because John's story led to a great many other revelations about the plight of 19th century Irish migrants in the industrial North of England, and elsewhere. It also involved the tragic story of what happened to John's younger sister, Elizabeth.
It was a little like trying to do a vast jigsaw puzzle, without benefit of any picture to guide me, and - as it turned out - no edge pieces at all. Then when the picture emerged, it was heartrending and sad beyond belief. This is the most difficult, most harrowing, most alarming piece of writing I have ever done. But it was also oddly heartening. I began to admire that side of my family, especially the women of my family, more than ever. We survived.
There will be more about all this as soon as I'm on top of edits and tweaks and all the other bits and pieces involved in publishing a book, especially a piece of non-fiction like this, which is still a long process.
Quite apart from the sadness involved - and sometimes the story felt just plain unbearable - it made me angry. Although it's good to be angry, if it prompts you to recognise rank injustice where you find it; if it leads you to you try to tell untold stories like this one.
More about all this in due course.