I find when I tell people I’m writing a novel that not only are they intrigued but they become amazingly helpful. I hinted in my previous post that I needed to know the route my grandparents took when they emigrated to Australia in 1913, as my heroine, Annie, and her new husband are on that same ship – the Orsova, bound for Melbourne.
I tapped in ‘Orsova’ on Google and up came an article about the Duckles family, a married couple and their little daughter, Florence. They had sailed on the Orsova to Australia only a few months before my grandparents. The mother was called Amelia and the article gave some interesting information about what happened when the family arrived in Melbourne, but only briefly mentioned the voyage.
However, I emailed the author, Barry York, who is a journalist, historian and writer who’d posted the article, telling him how excited I was to read about a real family going on the same ship to the same country as my grandparents within the same six months. He wrote straight back and said how interested he was to read about my family and also the novel I was writing. He ended the email by asking if I would like to be put in touch with Amelia Duckles’ great niece who lives in England.
Would I? I think so…
An email came winging over from a lovely lady called Carol who has her own stained glass business in Bristol. After exchanging a couple of emails she wrote these magic words: Would you like me to send you a copy of Great-Aunt Millie’s diary of the voyage?
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read this. The small package duly arrived and I was almost beside myself with excitement. Carol had photocopied the pages from her great-aunt Amelia’s exercise book which she’d kept on an almost daily basis, except when she was overcome with seasickness; there was the route they took and the ports at which the captain allowed them to disembark for a few hours. It was exactly what I needed to know. And more. Tiny details that you could never get from the internet or in most books. What a gift for a novelist.
I couldn’t thank Carol enough, that she trusted a stranger not to abuse/plagiarise her great-aunt’s precious notes. All Carol asked was that when (not if) my novel was published I would acknowledge her and her great-aunt. I said I’d be only too happy.
Last year she and I actually met in Bristol and we immediately clicked. I was interested to know why her great-aunt had emigrated in the first place. Carol told me that Amelia, known as Millie, had had TB, and two of her siblings had died from the same disease. Her doctor had told her that her only chance was to live in a warm country such as Australia, and so she and her husband made the life-changing decision. It must have worked because Carol thought her great-aunt had been in her seventies when she died.
After our lunch and glass of champagne Carol gave me a tourist’s look at Bristol. We promised to keep in touch. I’ve been to Bristol again very recently (it’s the home of my publishers, SilverWood Books), and caught up with her over tea in a boat café. She was delighted Annie’s Story is to be published in April. I hope she’ll be pleased to see that I’ve given her, and, of course, her great-aunt Amelia, whom she never met, a very grateful acknowledgement.