New Book News: A Proper Person to be Detained.

Me and my nana
There comes a moment in the gestation period of any new book when you see the text in its typeset form, and you think 'now it really looks like a book!' That happened to me a couple of weeks ago, when the first typeset draft of A Proper Person to be Detained dropped into my inbox. All this happens in digital form, of course, and this was still only text. There are some pictures, family tree charts and, most important of all, a cover, still to be decided upon. Nevertheless, it feels as though it really exists now.

The book is a true crime story that begins with a murder, but I hope and believe it's so much more than that. On Christmas night in 1881, John Manley, a poor son of Irish immigrants living in the slums of Leeds, was fatally stabbed in a foolish, drunken quarrel. John was my nana's uncle. That's her, holding me in the picture above. It's exactly as I remember her, plump and soft, with her hair always held back with a tortoiseshell slide, and wearing one of the fresh gingham pinafores she made for herself. She had never known John. He had died at the age of twenty one, some years before she was born. But she had certainly known about him. He was never forgotten. Stories were told about the murder in my family and I had always been intrigued, always wanted to know more.

I had no idea, when I set out on the search for the truth about the murder and its aftermath, just what a sad and harrowing story it would turn out to be. Because there were other victims in all this, not least the women in the family. Like so many people researching their family history, I uncovered a whole lot more than I bargained for. If I had known in advance how tragic, how terrible some of that story would turn out to be, I might have turned to a less harrowing project. But something urged me on, some need to give voice to people so often maligned by the society in which they found themselves - and still to a large extent maligned today.

It's a tale of poverty, tragedy and injustice, but also one of resilience, and changing fortunes. Publication is due in early July. Watch this space!


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