Newsletter for December 2016

WORKHOUSE ORPHANS is now complete and in the hands of my editor, though I have no doubt there will be some tweaks required before the final version. It has been hard going, but enjoyable. There are so many areas to research, particularly as the nineteenth century is not a period I have written about before. It has also made me look into the history of Liverpool more closely. You might think that, living just across the Mersey as I do, I would have done it before and there are aspects of it which I discovered long ago when writing WE’LL MEET AGAIN; but there is so much I didn’t know. For example, during the American Civil War, while the UK was official neutral, the citizens of Liverpool supported the Confederate States of the south. Many of them were troubled in their consciences by the slave owning ethos of the south, but Liverpool relied for much of its wealth on the trade in cotton and Manchester was desperate for supplies for the mills. The northern states were blockading the ports from which the cotton was exported, so ship builders in Liverpool and Birkenhead began building ‘blockade runners’, steam ships built to evade the blockade and bring out the cotton. Researching this, I came across the story of the CSS Shenandoah, a ship whose purpose was to capture and destroy merchant ships belonging to the northern states and in particular to target the whaling fleet which produced much of the north’s riches. She was not built in Liverpool, but many of her crew came from there, and it was in Liverpool that she finally surrendered, as the very last act of the civil war. You will find that her voyage features in my book. Also there, is the creation of the first department store, a new concept in merchandising.

My two protagonists, May and Augustus (Gus), brought up in the orphanage attached to the workhouse, have to struggle against the odds, and in the face of Victorian class prejudice, which required people to ‘know their place’, in order to escape a life of drudgery and brutality. It takes courage and determination, and a few lucky breaks, but they get there in the end. En route, they learn a great deal about themselves and about the society they live in, fall in and out of love and find kindness in strangers. I am very fond of both of them, and I hope you will be too.