After six years in the wilderness, (wandering the Fife Coastal Path and finding her way back to writing, to be precise!) author Diana Jackson is about to launch the second novel in her Mystery Inspired by History series. A retired teacher of sixty one years, Diana Jackson has published five works since 2009. Her first, historical romantic fiction, Riduna, set in the Victorian era, was published by Pegasus Elliot Mc Kenzie in 2009 but was re-launched by Eventispress in 2012 - a writer’s indie collaborative publisher, through which all her other works have been published:
2012 Ancasta, Guide me Swiftly Home ~ Riduna’s sequel
2013 The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell ~ a memoir
2014 Murder Now and Then ~ a mystery set in two time zones, 1919 and 2019
2017 The Healing Paths of Fife ~ a personal fantasy memoir
After moving to Fife from Bedfordshire in 2014 Diana has had a break from her life as an author to settle into her new life within the Kinghorn Community. The Healing Paths of Fife tells of that journey. Rejuvenated, she finally turned to finishing MISSING, Past and Present.
Diana writes, ‘This novel is special to me because it is influenced, in part, by my experience volunteering in a soup kitchen in Bedfordshire and also at a local food-bank here in Fife. My experience as a course team leader and personal tutor at a College of Further Education in the heart of Luton and a teacher of English as a Second Language is also reflected, where I gained valuable insights into social issues and difficulties some young people of today face.
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About MISSING Past and Present
Following the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Dorothy Gibbons, affectionately known as Lady Pink Hat, trudged the lanes around Drumford, homeless and directionless. Alone, she rolled a dice, reflecting on her life, times both painful and pleasant. She stumbled upon The Grange, which changed the course of her life. In her isolation and surrounded by old books Dorothy began to write ...
An 18th Century aspirant nun, Millie, ran away from The Grange ...
Jamal Hussain, a Syrian refugee and asylum seeker, was fostered under the careful wing of Dorothy until leaving school and finding work. He and his brother settled in a nearby flat until the misguided Ahmed Hussain also disappeared.
With three missing people, who will discover the truth? Is it Millie who is still haunting The Grange until her story is told?
A Trail of Historical Research
As with my previous novel MURDER Now and Then, my inspiration for MISSING Past and Present began from two angles;three if you count the dice! In the present I was drawn to the uncomfortable truth about homelessness and the need for food-banks, but also the human aspect of refugees. (It is all too easy to think of numbers) As a friend once remarked ‘there but by the grace of God go I,’ which sums up my feelings that if it were not for chance, it could happen to any one of us in the ‘blink of an eye’, if you’ll excuse the cliché. It is a worrying thought that we even have many ‘refugees’ escaping the flood waters in the UK at the moment.
I made notes on my experiences too~ of volunteering at a soup kitchen in Luton years ago and more recently at a food-bank locally in Fife. I also noted many of my experiences with refugees and asylum seekers while teaching at a college in Luton.
Then there was the historical side which I’ll explore in this post.
When an old abandoned, but not dilapidated, house was pointed out to me while walking with friends one day, I was moved to look it up on an old map and found that it was called ‘The Grange’. I noticed, though, that there were several other places labelled ‘the Grange’ and so I looked this up on line. Dictionary.com wrote:
Chiefly British. a country house or large farmhouse with its various farm buildings (usually in house names):Bulkeley Grange;the grange of a gentleman-farmer.
(in historical use) an isolated farm, with its farmhouse and nearby buildings, belonging to monks or nuns or to a feudal lord:the nunnery's grange at Tisbury.
the Grange, See under Granger Movement.
Archaic. a barn or granary.”
That led me to do some research in my local archives:
· Was there a monastery or nunnery in the area? I found several, surprisingly.
· Were there any notable mysterious happenings? Yes ...
I stumbled upon a story of a trainee nun’s ghost who is allegedly still swinging from the rafters in a place not far from the abandoned home. She caught my attention and I was hooked. The ghost is at Chicksands Priory, a place with a fascinating history of its own, but I decided against relocating my novel there. More on location later.
I next wrote down a series of questions about monastic life, many of which I could discover on line:
· What are the stages to become a nun?
Here’s a lovely succinct website: https://nunsforpriests.org/handmaid-vocations/steps-how-does-one-become-a-nun/
I chose an aspirant nun for my story.
· What kind of dress would she be wearing in the 18th century?
I Googled this and found some great pictures, but an aspirant nun’s costume would have been simpler. More of a tunic, especially when doing farm work.
· What would the pattern of her day be like?
There are seven hours of prayer:
“any of certain periods of the day set apart for prayer and devotion: these are matins and lauds, prime, tierce, sext, nones, vespers, and compline. Prime - the second canonical hour; about 6 a.m. terce, tierce - the third canonical hour; about 9 a.m. nones - the fifth of the seven canonical hours; about 3 p.m.”
My imagination was working at its most virulent in thinking of ideas for a possible plot.
· Why did she become an aspirant nun? You’ll have to read the story ...
· Did she have any family?
Yes she did and I decided that her sister would be training to be a nun alongside her. It is her sister Millie who disappears.
· Why is she swinging from the rafters?
You’ll have to read the story to find out.
Meanwhile I was writing Dot’s story, my homeless character from a make believe town of Drumford. I chose a made up location this time to preserve the anonymity of the actual house on which the story was based. My research continued for Millie. Without giving the story away too much, this included questions and visits:
· How long did it take people to travel on 18th Century tracks and roads?
· What canal systems were in place? A visit to the canal museum in Stoke Bruerne.
· What type of work did itinerant workers find in different areas of the country heading north?
· There was a workhouse to research.
· A visit to make to New Lanark Mills. (and guidebooks to buy)
I like to do research from primary sources if at all possible. I nearly came unstuck when using the internet for some research for my historical fiction Ancasta, Guide me Swiftly Home set in WW1, but felt driven to get in touch with The Hampshire Regiment Museum in Winchester just to verify some details. This resulted in rewriting at least three chapters.
Did I do all my research before writing the novel?
No, as soon as I felt I was able to I began to write the first draft and questions cropped up naturally as I went along.
Do I enjoy research?
I love the chase of searching for that nugget of truth which will transform or move the plot forward in an authentic and exciting way. It’s like any journey of discovery, only in this case the resultant novel often hides the research in the compelling lives of the characters within. I hope so anyway.