Archives for On Researching

#LongLostFamily Denise Temple’s #adoptionreunion #truestory

This adoption story from the 1960s belongs to a teenager whose father died when she was 15. Missing her father and growing apart from her mother who was distracted by a new husband, she sought love and attention elsewhere. She went clubbing, and at 16 was pregnant. This is Denise Temple‘s story from the Long Lost Family television programme. The family agreed the child would be given up for adoption. But Denise remembers looking at her new born baby, Deborah: “I thought I’d die for this child, I’d die for her… I just cried and cried and cried. I said ‘I’m not giving her up’.” But her stepfather would not have her in the house. It was finally agreed that Denise and her baby could go home on the understanding that she could expect no help from her mother or stepfather. In The Sixties there was little state support for single mothers. Denise went home, and the baby slept in a drawer. She had half a dozen terry cloth nappies. “I was so alone.” She struggled on for three months, before finally giving her baby up for adoption. “It was no life for her, or me.” Denise never forgot Deborah.
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research and On Researching.

Susan Finlay interviews author Sandra Danby

In her interview about Ignoring Gravity, author and book blogger Susan Finlay asks Sandra Danby: “Do you have a favourite review of your book?” “I’ve had some fabulous reviews,” says Sandra. “It’s a challenging thing, you know, to send your debut novel out to strangers to read, so I feel very fortunate that Ignoring Gravity has been received so well. I think the review that meant the most was by a reader with personal experience of adoption: “Sandra Danby deals with the emotions surrounding grief, adoption and infertility with a deep understanding of the emotions involved. One of my close family members was adopted and so I could understand Rose’s identity crisis when she discovers she isn’t whom she thought she was. There is a twist at the end which unexpectedly gave me the shivers as I contemplated history repeating itself.” To read the interview in full at ‘Susan Finlay Writes’ [above], click here. To read more about how Sandra Danby researched adoption for Ignoring Gravity, click here.   ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Authors & reviews #interview about #writing at #SusanFinlayWrites http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1Ct via
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Family history: searching the bastardy records

Trawling through records is difficult enough, but when you are trying to trace an illegitimate relative it can become disheartening. More than 14,000 bastardy records held by the West Yorkshire Archive Service have been indexed and made available online at Ancestry.co.uk. The records start from 1690 up to 1914 with documents including the maintenance of illegitimate children, bastardy bonds, and warrants for apprehending errant fathers who tried to escape responsibility for their children. To explore the full database at Ancestry.co.uk, click here.   To read how my research for Ignoring Gravity took me to the Family Records Centre in North London, and what I found there, click here. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now   If you want to read more about family history research, try these articles:- Did your Ancestor belong to a Trade Union? Researching children’s homes Look locally And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: How to find an illegitimate ancestor #familyhistory via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1xY
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Family history: identifying headstones

Tracing relatives – whether you are researching your family tree or on the trail of your birth family – will inevitably lead you at some point to a graveyard. Finding the headstones of relatives is always a bittersweet moment, but the text and dates may drive your search onwards.That process is now easier as 22,000 new headstone records have been added to the database at TheGenealogist.co.uk with additions of records from Buckinghamshire, Devon, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, West Midlands, Wiltshire plus 12 Jersey parishes.  Each entry comprises the text of the memorial inscription, photographs of the headstone and its surroundings. Once you have identified the record you want, you can then view a map showing the graveyard location. For more information about the online headstone database, click here for TheGenealogist.co.uk. In Ignoring Gravity, Rose searches a graveyard for the headstone of her birth mother. To read how I researched that scene, click here.  Want to know more about Ignoring Gravity? Click here to watch the book trailer. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Trying to find the headstone of a relative? Try these
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Categories: Book Love, Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Going back to the Family Records Centre

One of the issues I faced when writing Ignoring Gravity was the change in technology over the years it took me to write the book. Ten long years, during which paper archives went digital, census and registry records became available online. The first draft of the book saw Rose making a trip to Myddleton Street, North London to visit the Family Records Centre in order to get a copy of her original birth certificate. I went too, to research the archive, to follow the process Rose would follow. Recently I retraced my steps, knowing the FRC did not exist, its records long since gone digital. I found it a sad procedure. I’d liked the old building, the anticipation of the Tube journey, turning the corner, walking up the steps, the loud banging of the archive drawers, the friendly atmosphere of family history researchers poring over huge volumes. Recently, with some curiosity, I went back to the very first draft to find the rough draft of the scene where Rose visits the FRC. Here it is:- It was a disappointing building. For something so momentous as the Family Records Centre, Rose had at the very least expected bay windows, Georgian steps
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Reading for research… Relative Strangers

The sub-title of this book is ‘A history of adoption and a tale of triplets’ and it is a fascinating read if you are at all interested in family history and adoption. Yes, there is some history, but Hunter Davies keeps you turning the pages by telling in parallel the story of three babies, triplets, separated at their birth in 1932. May 18, 1932. Kate Hodder gives birth to triplets – rare in those pre-IVF days – and dies the next day. Her husband, jobbing gardener Wills, is left with the three babies plus six older children. He cannot cope. Two go to live with grandparents, and four go to Barnardo’s. The triplets are adopted separately, with seemingly no effort made to keep them together. They live their lives, until finally reunited in 2001. The process of their lives, the changes to adoption law, and the roles of real people such as Thomas Barnardo and Pam Hodgkins, founder of adoption counselling service NORCAP, is told seamlessly by Davies. Florence was the first to be adopted. Aged eight months, she went to live in Devon. Adopted by Emily Davy, a single mother who ran a guest house, Florence’s name was changed
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Categories: Adoption, Book Love and On Researching.

Researching the escalator scene

There’s a point in Ignoring Gravity when Rose opens a letter, a letter which knocks her senses into a spin, she opens it when she is standing on an escalator at Westminster underground station in London. As she tries to understand the words on the paper, London commuters rush around her as if she is a pebble battered by a rising tide. This the story of researching that scene.“She stumbled off the bottom of the escalator. The heat in the tiled tunnel was overpowering. A woman was walking towards her with a white-wrapped bundle strapped to her chest, and from it a tuft of hair reached for the sky as if styled by static.” “Rose stopped dead in her tracks and howled inside. It was a scream stored deep inside her all these years.” “Later she had no memory of either the Jubilee line train or the DLR. She felt as if she’d been spun in a tumble drier. Her mobile got its signal back as the train rose above ground and beeped as it came to life. She took it out of her bag and dialled. There was one person who would be torn by the sight of an infant.” 
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

Best friends and siblings

My novels are about identity, genetic inheritance and the influence of our life experiences and upbringing on the building of character and sense of self. With the mystery of adoption added to the mix. Now some new research has added to this mixture of influences. Apparently we can share almost as much DNA with our close friends, as we can with our family. Are we as similar to our best friends as our siblings? So what does this mean for Ignoring Gravity? Does Rose share as many genes with best friend Maggie as she does with her sister Lily? Not quite. Geneticists say unrelated friends may share 1% of genes, that doesn’t sound like much but is the same as fourth cousins [ie those who share great-great-great grandparents]. One per cent is a significant number for geneticists. Co-author of the American study, Professor James Fowler from the University of California in San Diego, said: ‘Looking across the whole genome we find that, on average, we are genetically similar to our friends. We have more DNA in common with the people we pick as friends than we do with strangers in the same population.’ Human evolution may be the reason why:
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

The angel statue, again

There’s a scene in Ignoring Gravity where Rose has an important letter to open. Prevaricating, she sits on a bench beside a memorial to contemplating life. The memorial, a statue of an angel, is based on a real statue near Sadler’s Wells opera house in Islington, London [above], in a small garden called Spa Green. Rose sits and watches the pigeons. I revisited Spa Green recently, and it hasn’t changed. The pigeons are still there, the statue, and the primary school next door, children running around the tarmac. The buildings do look rather different, the road is gentrified and the beaten-up shops I remember are now replaced by a trendy wine bar.  To read what book bloggers are saying about Ignoring Gravity, click here and read a sample chapter.   ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Inspired by real life: the angel statue in IGNORING GRAVITY #writing http://wp.me/p5gEM4-17X via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

Long Lost Family: Laurence’s story

Today’s adoption story from the UK television series Long Lost Family focuses on a birth child who searched for many years for his birth mother but never found her. The sense of rejection never left this 55-year old lorry driver from Chesterfield. Laurence Peat says “I’ve only ever cried three times in my life. When Dad died. When Mum died. When I got divorced.” Crying is not a problem to Laurence by the end of this programme. He was told he was adopted when he was seven. “We’re not your real parents,” his adoptive parents told him and he asked no questions, not wanting to upset them. “I don’t like people being upset,” he explains. For years he searched secretly for his birth parents, now that both his adoptive parents are dead he feels able to be open about his search, open about his need to ask ‘why?’ “Why did she put me up for adoption at that early age… If you’re not wanted, it hurts.” Sadly for Laurence, his birth mother is found to be dead. But he has a half-sister who, from a box of family photographs kept by her mother, produces a black-and-white photo of an unidentified
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Categories: Book Love and On Researching.

From idea to research to novel, how Kate Grenville writes

I gulped this book down. For any novelist, whose work involves an element of historical research, this is a fascinating account of how an idea makes it to the printed page. The journalist is me followed the search for facts about Kate Grenville’s great-great-great grandfather Solomon Wiseman, the novelist in me was on the edge of my seat wanting to see how Kate Grenville turned the truth of family history into her award-winning novel The Secret River. The trigger for her research happens on May 28, 2000 on Sydney Harbour Bridge. Grenville [below] was there for the Reconciliation Walk, in support of the reconciliation between black and white Australians. She makes eye contact with an Aboriginal woman on the bridge that day, a moment of revelation for Grenville: that her ancestor Solomon Wiseman arrived on a boat from Britain twenty years after the first settlers, but this Aboriginal woman’s ancestors had lived here for 60,000 years. “And what if my great-great-great grandfather had glanced up, and seen her great-great-great grandfather standing on a rock watching the new arrivals?” At this point in time, Grenville’s fifth novel The Idea of Perfection was just published and she had not started the next.
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Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

Researching the graveyard scene

There is a scene in Ignoring Gravity that I kept putting off writing: the one where Rose searches a graveyard for her birth parents. I simply didn’t know where to start. Rose doesn’t know what she’s looking for, perhaps that was why I struggled with how to write it. So I did what I always do when I’m at a loss, I go researching.One grey day in March I went to a local church and wandered around with my camera, soaking up the atmosphere. It was a quiet, still day and I was totally alone. These are the photographs I took. In the end they helped me with the mood of the piece, rather than giving me concrete descriptions. But the visit served as the trigger which helped me write the scene. It taught me that when I’m intimidated by a particular scene, it helps to find a location and soak up the atmosphere. Please use these photographs to inspire your own writing, they worked for me. If you are searching for relatives, read these articles about searching the Deceased Online database, and identifying headstones. Read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity and watch the book trailer.   ‘Ignoring
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

#LongLostFamily Helen Harrison’s story #adoptionreunion #truestory

The agony of birth parents and children, separated for decades, is explored by the UK television programme Long Lost Family which aims to reunite adult adopted children with their birth families. Anchored by popular presenter Davina McCall and journalist Nicky Campbell [below], it is particularly poignant for Campbell who was himself adopted as a young child. The series is incredibly popular in the UK, concentrating on the emotional stories of children and parents, rather than the nuts and bolts of the search. Some of the interviews are heart-rending. Now in its third series, the programme is sensitive to the emotional difficulties on all sides of the adoption triangle, no judgements are made about the past, the emphasis is on reunion where possible and emotional healing. To give you a taster, here is the story of one birth mother seeking her son. Helen Harrison tried to find her child for years. In 1977, at the age of 16, she fell pregnant. She hid the condition for five months. When her father found out, he turned her out of the house. “I can remember him just looking at me and saying, ‘Just get out, just get out…’” In the UK in the 1970s,
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Categories: Adoption and On Researching.

The reality of adoption

There are two faces to adoption: public and private. Some relatives remain secret, hidden forever, the separated players remaining apart and unknown. Some people struggle with the decision to search, when they do they may be elated or dejected. The story of the birth mother and father is often not heard, somehow their voice can be forgotten in the hubbub of reunion. Some lucky people do have a happy ending. The path is always painful.Adoption can be the making of some people, it can save lives, give a new chance, solve problems and bring happiness to abandoned children and childless couples, a new start to the birth parents who for their own reasons made that agonizing decision. British television is full of programmes about adoption reunion and family history. It started with the BBC trailblazer Who Do You Think You Are?, now a global phenomenon and still going strong. ITV got in on the act with Long Lost Family and now co-presenter Nicky Campbell is hosting a new series concentrating on the behind-the-scenes process of adoption today, Wanted: A Family of My Own. Nicky Campbell’s own memoir, Blue-Eyed Son, was an important part of my reading. “Finding someone, when the
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Categories: Adoption, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Ignoring Gravity: my eclectic research list

Being a journalist, and a Virgo, I am good at making lists. My research list for Ignoring Gravity was long and eclectic. From adoption to early menopause, roses to dinosaurs. I read voraciously, made notes, clipped articles out of magazines and newspapers, took photographs; I filled boxes and files with notes.  As soon as I decided to write about two pairs of sisters I realised part of my story would be set in a different period of time: the 1960s. I was a child in the Sixties, but I would be writing about two young women, two sisters, living in London. I was 10 in 1970, and I grew up on a farm in Yorkshire. Patently, I couldn’t write ‘what I knew’. So I researched the Sixties. What clothes did they wear? What music did they listen to? The Beatles [above]? The Rolling Stones [below?] How did they earn their living? What was happening in the world around them? What was daily life like, at home, at work? The political scene in the Sixties: CND, drugs. What did they read and watch: newspapers, books, magazines, television programmes. And then there was the non-Sixties stuff:- The Metropolitan Police. The streets of
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

Ignoring Gravity: Why Rose?

I honestly can’t remember why I called my protagonist Rose. I have been writing about Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity, and the sequel Connectedness, for more than 12 years and she is real to me. She came to me fully-formed as Rose, we live together, I have no memory or note taken as evidence that I ever considered a different name. In the early days, the title of the novel was Finding Rose because the story is essentially about Rose discovering the truth of her identity; she sets off on a journey to find herself.  I had fun with rose imagery but it is easy to get carried away, too clever, and a lot of this was cut in an early draft. Rose and Lily’s Grandma, Bizzie, is almost 80. She is from another era, her speech is based on my own Great-Aunt with the little verbal stutters, the clichés and repetitions, and a full-stop of quiet laughter at the end of a sentence when her words ran out. I browsed through the Penguin Dictionary of Clichés. Finally I had four clichés about roses for Bizzie to say: ‘a bed of roses’, ‘a rose between two thorns’, ‘a rose by
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

I agree with… Lucy Prebble

Lucy Prebble “What ideas grab you? Meaty controversial issues based on real events. Topics that frighten and thrill you. Paedophilia, anorexia, corporate brinkmanship … Because you’re a perfectionist, research is a compulsion. You read widely on your current topic and immerse yourself in its world. For Secret Diary… this meant hours with courtesans, dominatrices, punters; for Enron, visits to the stock market bear pit.” [excerpt from an interview in MsLexia magazine, Dec/Jan/Feb 2013/2014 issue]  Lucy Prebble is an award-winning playwright who wrote her first play while at university in Sheffield. Her most-celebrated play Enron is about the collapse of the American energy group of the same name. She also wrote the TV series Secret Diary of a Call-Girl, based on Belle du Jour’s blog, which starred Billie Piper. And she likes research. I like research too, and to understand Rose Haldane in Ignoring Gravity I needed to learn about adoption. I read so many books about adoption, written by birth parents, adoptive parents, adopted children, adult adoptees searching for their birth parents: I read information guides on websites about how to adopt a child; how to search for your birth parents; what to say when… if… you should meet. It’s
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Categories: My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity', On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research: Breakfast at Sotheby’s

Philip Hook is an art dealer. He has spent 35 years in the art market, first at Christies then at Sotheby’s, so he knows his stuff. As soon as I heard about this book I put it on my ‘to-read’ list. It’s about the art business, about what sells and why, and what doesn’t and why. It is a fascinating insight into the world of art, written in an entertaining, informative style that is never too dry. Hook mixes in art trivia and some of his own mishaps with an authoritative account of art and money. Does an artist’s back story have any effect on the price his work fetches? Why do some artists not make the big prices until they are dead? Are the portrayals of artists in literature accurate, or stereotyped? What difference does it make if the subject of a portrait is smiling, or solemn? For me it was interesting on two counts. First, because my protagonist in Connectedness is an artist; so Hook is writing about Justine’s world. Second, because of the many parallels between the creative twins of art and writing. There are sections on artists who write, creativity block, and artists as characters in
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Categories: Book Love, My Novel: 'Connectedness' and On Researching.

Reading for research… ‘Run’

When you are writing a book – not even writing, but at that early stage of tossing around ideas in your mind – sometimes you read something which sets your creative juices flowing. Run by Ann Patchett did that to me. My first novel Ignoring Gravity was written and I was well into the planning stage of its sequel Connectedness. Some characters were continued from the first book, but I spent a happy time considering new characters, spending time with them, coaxing them along, seeing them become real. It was at this point that I read Run, the story of Bernard & Bernardette Doyle an American couple who, after the birth of their son Sullivan, are unable to have any more children. They adopt Teddy, and then his older brother Tip too. It is a story about family, biological and non-biological combined. The phrase that leapt off the page at me was this:- “‘They could have gone to someone else,’ she’d always said to him. That was the part of it she never could get over; that these sons who were so unquestionably hers could just as easily have gone to another home, a different fate. But what they never said was
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Categories: My Novel: 'Connectedness', My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

Reading for research: A Good Likeness

A Good Likeness is a well-written account of an adoptee’s journey, not in the least bit self-obsessed or mawkish. Paul Arnott knows he was adopted but doesn’t stop to think about what it means until in his thirties with his own children. He writes to his adoption society and gets a letter back with information about his birth parents. “The section of my mind concerned with the concept of identity, which had been lying under a sheet in the garage since I was born, suddenly roared into life.” He shares the emotional ups and downs of his search, which finally takes him to a second family in Ireland. “Instead of being Paul Arnott, 11/11/61, I was now Rory Brennan, 11/11/61.” It was this sentence that really grabbed my core. He was Rory, not Paul. “It must be inconceivable to those raised by their blood parents, surrounded by grandparents, sisters and brothers, that a man in his thirties had never given any serious credit to the potency of family resemblance.” I read this book as research for Ignoring Gravity, the story of journalist Rose Haldane who finds out she was adopted as a baby. ‘A Good Likeness’ by Paul Arnott [UK: Abacus]
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Categories: Adoption and On Researching.