Busy, busy

It’s been a busy few months. First, I decided to write a ‘How-to’ book, my first excursion into non-fiction writing. I’m an artist as well as an author, so writing a book about painting watercolour seascapes seemed like a good idea at the time. It has been a steep learning curve – six demonstrations, each photographed at every stage with detailed instructions written about each image. I found over-thinking the process for the sake of the book inhibited my natural creativity to a point where I couldn’t paint anything, so I took a step back, concentrated on my method, took the photos, and wrote up the process later. That seemed to work. Formatting a 11 inch by 8.5inch paperback was another learning curve, getting the colours to print anything near the originals was traumatic, but four draft copies later, I had a book that I felt did what it said on the cover. It’s been published about a month now, and it’s still at its introductory price of £10.99, which gives me a royalty of 99p – not a lot for several months of hard work, so the price will increase very soon.

You can get it at http://mybook.to/WatercolourSeascapes

My next task was proof reading a four-book saga for a fellow author, which has taken quite a while. Add to that taking up a new painting project, which I’m finding challenging, and by now, I’ve forgotten most of the research I did towards my other project, The Chainmakers’ Daughter, an historical novel set in the chain-making sweatshops of the early 1900s.

Today, I made a tentative start on my novel, and I’m getting to know my main character, Rosie Wallace, who at the beginning of the story is only ten years old and is about to develop aspirations inspired by a book her schoolmistress has lent her. This is my first draft of the first couple of pages. The research is fascinating and time consuming; today, for example, I discovered what a quartern loaf was. It’s a wheaten loaf that weighed 4lbs. Bread was a staple diet for the poorest of the ‘white slaves of England’.

The crash of iron on iron woke Rosie Wallace with a start. The noise came again, slowly at first, as if the arm that wielded the hammer was too tired for the task, and then fell into a regular, familiar, determined rhythm soon taken up by other hands in the chain shop/brew houses across the cinder yard and together making a discordant melody. Surely, she’d not closed her eyes but a moment ago?

She opened them with difficulty and yawned. A rosy light crept beneath the urden, the hessian sack that served for a curtain. Not the light of an early dawn but the hot light of the forges that spilled through the open doors of the workshops.

Half rolling from her bed so’s not to disturb her sisters, she lifted the urden sacking and peered out. It was still dark, the hipped roofs of the cluster of hovels silhouetted black against a pre-dawn sky, but already, three hearths were glowing, and smoke from their chimneys devoured the paling stars. The clock downstairs chimed three. It was past time she was up. Mam had let her sleep on her first morning after leaving school and had gone alone to light the hearth and begin the day’s work.

She lit her lamp and threw on her clothes, small clothes that were a dingy grey no matter how often she washed them, a long dress, tattered at the cuffs and hem and peppered with small burn holes, and tied on her urden apron with twine. Pulling on a pair of stockings and boots, she contemplated the day ahead eager to be of help now that she could earn a proper weekly wage. First, washing and hanging out what spare clothes the family possessed, then a little bread and tea for breakfast, get her younger sisters up for school, fetch a couple of buckets of breeze, the small coke needed to fuel the forge, and finally help Mam in the workshop while keeping an eye on the babies of the family. At ten years-old, and feeling grown up now she no longer had to go to school, she was determined to do her bit.

Leaving her little sisters to dream on, she padded down the stairs and into the wash-house where the day’s laundry awaited her. She laid the fire for the copper and lit it, then sorted the clothes: whites – if you could call them white – first and then the darker work-stained clothes. She sang to herself as she drew water from the well to fill the copper.

It being summer, Dad and her two brothers had already left for the factory where they made the larger chain; the ‘olivers’, the huge hammers required to fire weld the links made from thicker iron rods, were too heavy for the women to operate.

While the water heated, she collected together the children’s stockings and undergarments. If she was quick, she could get them washed and dried before they needed them for school. Aggie’s stockings needed mending again – what the child did with them, she had no idea, but Aggie always had holes in them. She shrugged as she pushed the stockings and small clothes beneath the hot water with a copper stick; her own clothes and boots had holes in them, too, burn marks from sparks from the forge despite wearing her urden apron.

It was fully light by the time she hung the last of the washing onto the line strung between the iron hook in the house wall and the wooden post by the chain shop door. More hearths had been lit in the cinder yard and the sound of the hammers was deafening. Her mother was bent over her anvil, her face taut with concentration, and her hammer rising and falling as she turned and bent the iron rod to form links.

She shoved the fork of the wooden clothes prop under the line, pushed the washing higher so it didn’t drag in the dirt, hoped the wind would blow the smoke away from the clean clothes, and trotted back to the house to make breakfast. Mother would be thirsty. The quartern loaf was half gone already; that left two pounds of bread to feed five for breakfast and lunch. She sang as she sliced five slabs and spread them with a little cold bacon fat while the kettle accompanied her on the hearth, and the hammers rang out their rhythm in the chain workshops.

The tea brewed, she took a cup and plate out to her mother. ‘Ma, stop a while and eat this.’

Her mother laid down her hammer and tongs and wiped her hands on her apron. ‘You’re a good girl, Rosie. Thank you.’ Ma stepped outside; sweat beaded her brow and ran down her face, and her cheeks were red from the heat of the forge. She took a long swallow of tea and looked around her. ‘I see you’ve done the washing. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain. Have you had breakfast?’

‘Not yet, Ma.’ A strong breeze fluttered the stockings, which were almost dry already, and if it rained, Aggie would go to school barefoot.

‘Have you been reading instead of eating, Rosie?’

Her fingers itched to open the precious book, A Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, lent to her by her schoolmistress, and breathe in the musty smell. ‘No, Ma. When have I had time to read?’

Ma smiled. ‘I don’t begrudge you a little reading time, Rosie, as long as the chores are done, and it doesn’t fill your head with ideas above your station, but you have to eat. We all do.’

She smiled back, acutely aware neither of them were earning while they stood talking. ‘I’ll be over to help you in a while.’ Isabel Archer, in her book, was facing her future with courage and determination, and she would do no less even if she wasn’t in possession of a fortune, like Isabel. Miss Jarvis, her schoolmistress had always encouraged her to read. “You’ve a good head on you, Rosie Wallace. Don’t waste it making chain.” The chance would be a fine thing. Chain making was in her blood, and what other opportunities were there for a girl in Hawley Heath? ‘I’ve made breakfast for the girls. I’ll go and get them up.’

‘Thank you, sweetheart. I’ll have my breakfast while I work. Don’t forget to have yours.’

‘I won’t, Ma.’ She skipped back across the cinder yard to the sound of her mother’s voice singing in time with her hammer strokes. Ma would stop to eat, wouldn’t she?

‘Be the hammer, not the anvil’

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