OK, back to Daughters of Time. In order to prepare for the visit I've been going over my notes and thoughts about my Mary Seacole story. If you've read it you'll know I set the story during the Crimean war, the sum of my knowledge about such war having been gleaned from one of my favourite books ever, Beryl Bainbridge's marvellous Master Georgie.
I am sure I have written about Bainbridge's historical novels on this site before, but they are beautiful. Having said that I've never read According to Queeney, her book about Hester Thrale, I think because I am afraid I might not like it as much.
I first read The Birthday Boys, about Scotts' last journey during my intense polar exploration phase. I think a lot of us are utterly fascinated and appalled by early Antarctic journeys and this book seared its way into my heart. I've read it again and again. Every Man For Himself, about the Titanic is brilliant too but I suppose I always loved snow better than sinking ships.
The thing I find most wonderful about her books is the sheer condensed crafts(wo)manship there is in every line. No word is wasted. If you read too fast you will miss something vital or beautiful and usually both.
My favourite, Master Georgie is set for a large part on the battlefields of this war. It's about lies and truth and life and death and new science of photography.
|Roger Fenton's assistant Marcus Sparling seated on Roger Fenton's wagon|
My story, The Lad That Stands Before You, concerns a young soldier who's left the North West of England to escape a life working all hours in the mills. It's quite hard to summarise without giving the twist away but Mary Seacole, much loved by the fighting troops on the frontline, helps our protagonist. Mary Seacole was an incredible woman however you look at it. Born on Jamaica with a Scottish father and a local healer and hotelier mother, Seacole was widowed young and worked hard her whole life as a doctress, a healer who used herbs along side nursing skills.
Mrs Seacole travelled widely, to panama to London aged 16 and all over the Caribbean islands. When the Crimean War broke out she went again to London to offer her services to Florence Nightingale's nurses but was turned down. That didn't stop her, she went to the Crimea using her own money and set up a Hotel - a sort of private hospital that offered food drink and rest and recuperation. On her return and decline into poverty in London, ex soldiers set up a fund for her and her book became a huge bestseller.
Like every one of the women in our book she's fascinating and exceptional and the problem for me on Canvey will be how to cram her amazing adventures into a teeny tiny school period . And I shall have to be careful not to get carried away by a woman who travelled widely, who was one of the first ever women writers who was a bestseller and who never let circumstances get in the way of opportunity.
Catherine Johnson's latest book is Sawbones 'Both thought-provoking and accessible, this is an impressive historical adventure.' Booktrust website review.