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The turning of the year is a time for reflection and so I thought I’d have myself a bit of a reflect as it were.
2021. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t know where it went.
I was furloughed for the first three months of the year and almost managed to write the first draft of a book with the working title of The Fork In Our Road but sadly once I went back to work that sort of stalled. It was the old time thing again. Just not enough of it. I got back into it again towards the end if the year and it has had a good response from beta readers so that’s definitely a project that I’ll pursue.
2021 was the year that I went it alone as a writer. After getting the rights to all four of my books back from Headline I decided to republish them on Kindle (and eventually paperback) under The Pink Pen label. Things I Should Have Said and Done was published in May and Ribbons In Her Hair in September. Not My Brother’s Keeper will be available from 17th February 2022. Was it the right move? I guess only time will tell on that. Headline weren’t doing anything with them and had no plans for me as an author as far as I could tell so I had nothing to lose from it.
On a personal level I would have to say that 2021 was a good year. None of my family have thus far succumbed to the virus and for that I am very grateful. If only everyone could have been so lucky. We (the family) have all managed to keep our jobs so that was a relief especially for the younger ones who had the financial worries of mortgages etc on top of everything else. I think that the way things were at the start of last year, surviving the pandemic would have been my number one wish so I’d have to say that all in all it was a very good year though I still don’t know where it went.
So, what do I want from 2022? I want for me and my family to see the end of it for s start. Let’s all get through this next stage of the pandemic and then maybe this time next year we can really get back to some semblance of normality. I also want to get better at self-promotion. As an independent author now everything is up to me and I need to stop drifting. In my day job I have been described as a “do-er not a thinker” which is something that I can’t argue with and I need to apply the same principles sound work with The Pink Pen. The immortal Carly Simon once sang that “dreamers wait for nature,” so less dreaming and more doing.
That’s enough reflecting for one day though, there’s a Christmas tree that needs to get back in the loft
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Happy New Year everyone and I hope that 2022 is everything that you want it to be.
Tom Williams is visiting today to give us some background on John Williamson/ How times have changed.
Life in the time of John Williamson
John Williamson is the fictional narrator of three of my books set in the mid-19th century. He was born in Devon in 1819, but we meet him as a young man working as a sailor in the coastal trade carrying goods between Newcastle and London. The ships he worked on probably carried coal south and urine north. Yes, you did read that right: urine was easily collected in London and used in the wool industry in the north.
Williamson leaves England and travels to Borneo and India, returning to his home country in 1859 for the conclusion of the trilogy, Back Home. There he visits London and, particularly, Seven Dials. It is Seven Dials I want to write about now.
Seven Dials was an early housing development, built on the west of the City of London in the early 1690s and intended as an upscale residential neighbourhood. It was laid out on a series of streets radiating out from a central point where a sundial with six faces stood in the middle of the road. (The seventh “dial” was the pillar itself.) Unfortunately for the developers, the 18th-century saw the building of the new West End with its fine squares and wide carriage roads. Seven Dials, with its narrow streets, was just not fashionable enough to attract kind of tenants the developers had hoped for. It fell into decay, abandoned to squatters. The once-fine houses were taken over by the lowest class of people who could find nowhere else to live. The area became a slum, known in those days as a “rookery”.
Dickens (in his ‘Sketches by Boz’) describes it in terms that suggest almost a waking nightmare.
“… the streets and courts dart in all directions, until they are lost in the unwholesome vapour which hangs over the house-tops, and renders the dirty perspective uncertain and confined; and lounging at every corner, as if they came there to take a few gasps of such fresh air as has found its way so far … are groups of people, whose appearance and dwellings would fill any mind but a regular Londoner’s with astonishment. … [There are] streets of dirty, straggling houses, with now and then an unexpected court composed of buildings as ill proportioned and deformed as the half-naked children that wallow in the kennels.”
A significant reason why the place was a slum with an “unwholesome vapour” is that it was built in the days before mains sewerage. Waste would have drained into cesspits, but once the landlords had given up on these properties as a viable source of profit they didn’t empty the cesspits. Sewage flowed in the streets. The condition of the cellars must have been utterly repulsive, yet whole families lived in them.
“Cellars serving whole families for kitchen, parlour bed-room and all are to be found in other streets of London, but not so numerous and near to each other. … it is curious and interesting to watch the habits of these human moles when they emerge or half-emerge from their cavities.”
The place was well supplied with public houses. These ‘gin palaces’ were well-lit, cheerful places, which offered a stark contrast to the dwellings of the poor who used them. Drink was cheap and offered a brief respite from the awfulness of daily life there. An advertisement in the Monthly Advertiser in November 1860 offered gin at 11 shillings per gallon. Little wonder, then, that, if you had the money, you could buy gin over the bar by the pint.
Crime was endemic. Donald Shaw, writing of the 1860s, said that: “The walk through the Dials after dark was an act none but a lunatic would have attempted.” There are references (for example in Dickens) to constables venturing in to force some sort of law and order, but I have my doubts. In Disraeli’s novel (set around 1840) Sybil is attacked in Seven Dials and it takes a troop of soldiers to save her. In Back Home, when the police to arrive they come in force, provoking a massive riot. I think this is probably a realistic view, at least if you believe Donald Shaw’s account: “… the half-dozen constables within view would no more have thought of entering it than they would the cage of a cobra.”
Seven Dials is adjacent to Soho, where my grandfather was a policeman not that long after the time of Back Home. My father used to insist that Soho had “more vice in a square mile than anywhere else in England”. Nowadays, of course, Soho has been cleaned up to the point where coffee shops are outnumbering brothels and (unlike friends living there not so long ago) young women don’t need to put signs on street doors to warn that “No prostitutes work on these premises”. Seven Dials has become a very chic shopping area alongside Covent Garden. The sundial itself, which was removed in 1773, was replaced with a replica in 1989. The old street plan remains, though, as do some of the old public houses, though the cheap gin has gone: a measure is likely to cost you close to £5 nowadays.
I visit Seven Dials quite regularly. (There’s a rather lovely club where you can dance tango to a live band for £12.) Late at night, walking the narrow cobble streets I can, for a moment, imagine what it must have been like in 1859. It’s a lot safer (and less smelly) nowadays, though.
Charles Dickens (1868) Sketches by Boz
Charles Knight (1842) London
Donald Shaw (1908) London in the sixties, with a few digressions, by One of the old brigade
If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy a visit to tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk, where Tom rambles on about history on a regular basis.
Back Home concludes the trilogy of books about John Williamson, though it can be read as a stand-alone novel.
Returning to England after over a decade living in the Far East, John Williamson finds a London he scarcely recognises. Following the footsteps of a friend who has mysteriously disappeared in the capital, Williamson finds himself sucked into the world of vice and degradation that is Seven Dials.
Caught up in a scheme to flood London with forged five pound notes, Williamson finds the intelligence services on his trail, convinced that the French are behind the plot
In a mid-19th century world with surprising parallels to today, can Williamson manage to save his friend from the gallows – and survive himself, in a world that condemns him for his sexuality?
Back Home will be available on Kindle from 27 November with a paperback edition following shortly. You can pre-order it at mybook.to/Back_Home.
Besides the John Williamson Papers, Tom Williams has written five books about his Napoleonic-era spy, James Burke, and has just completed a sixth. When not writing historical fiction he dances tango and fantasises about vampires who dance it too (in his modern fantasy Something Wicked).
Tom blogs regularly on his website, https://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk where you can also find details of all his books. You can follow him on Twitter as @TomCW99 or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTomWilliams).
Originally published in ‘The Coffee Pot Book Club’ in 2018.
After deciding to go it alone with the publishing of my books it seemed like the right time to get a website. If I’m going to do this thing then I really should give it my best shot and a website seemed like the thing to do.
Please check it out at http://colettemccormickauthor.com and while you’re there, why not sign up to my monthly newsletter. Subscribers will get any news about publication dates, upcoming promotions and anything else book related before anyone else as well as an insight into life “a casa McCormick.”
I look forward to seeing you there.
The thoughts of some reviewers show why you might enjoy Ribbons In Her Hair.
“I loved this novel. Set in the eighties with throw backs to the nineteen fifties it ‘s subject is resilience and motherhood. I loved Susan, the main protagonist and how she against all odds manages an unwanted pregnancy and determined to keep her baby survives and finds happiness. This book is wise and penetrating reminiscent of lovely feminist novels of that era. It’s a story about a woman’s struggle and contains much positivity and optimism. I don’t want to give away the plot. Simply I enjoyed it so much I could not put it down. Highly recommended as excellently sensitively written woman’s fiction.”
“This is a story that I could go on reading forever it proves that love has no equal it is everything.”
“A good book in a feel good way The struggles of Susan both financial and emotional make it a book that’s hard to put down,”
“I started reading this thinking it would be a nice pick up, read a bit and dip in and out book.
But I couldn’t put it down and I read it in one sitting late into the night. Very enjoyable and engrossing.”
“A very enjoyable book with a believable story, I liked the way it was written each family member telling there own story good read 100% recommend.”
“Didn’t want to put this one down. A story about family dynamics and the changing times between generations. Explores the story mainly using the different perspective of a mother and her daughter, with other family member views too. A good story line, very well written.”
Available now on Kindle published by The Pink Pen https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ribbons-Her-Hair-Colette-McCormick-ebook/dp/B09FMZQZKN/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
Jean is without a doubt the product of the hand that life dealt her.
Her life took a turn that she wished it hadn’t but in the 1950’s you made your bed and you lay in it and laying in a bed that she didn’t want was what makes Jean the person that she is.
And what sort of person is Jean? I would describe her as a cold fish. She is unable to show her emotions and she can’t give Susan the love that she craves. To an outsider she is the perfect mother, her children are always well turned and presentable but behind closed doors it is a different story. There we find control and emotional neglect.
Jean wasn’t born like that. The hardships of the path her life took made her the way that she is so can we describe her as a bad person? I don’t think that we can because she is trying to do her best in her own way. Let’s just say though that I’m glad she wasn’t my mother.
When I started writing this I hated Jean as a character. I thought that she was evil. But once I got to know her and her back story the hate turned to pity.
I think that this comment taken from a review of the book sums it up rather nicely.
“Each mother’s actions is shaped by the generation they were born in and the culture of that time.”
Buy Ribbons In Her Hair on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ribbons-Her-Hair-Colette-McCormick-ebook/dp/B09FMZQZKN/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
At the soul of it, Ribbons In Her Hair is a story about humanity. It is a tale of people playing the hand that life deals them as best they can and one of those people is Susan who is the daughter in this mother/daughter relationship.
I confess to having a soft spot for Susan and of the characters that have been born in my brain, she is probably my favourite. She certainly makes the top three.
There’s nothing special about her. She isn’t blessed with stunning good looks or super intelligence but she is a heroine in all the ways that really matter. One reviewer said of her, “With her mousy brown hair and chubby cheeks, Susan is the runt of the litter,” which though harsh is true. She is just an ordinary girl and that is probably why I like her so much. She could be anyone.
What she lacks in looks, Susan makes up for with gumption. She may seem down trodden but when the chips are down, she is a girl to have in your corner. She has a moral compass and she is willing to follow it despite the personal cost.
Susan thinks that she knows her mother but does she? Do any of us really know those that are closest to us? She thinks her mother is hard hearted and uncaring but is she? And if she is, what made her that way?
Tomorrow, I will introduce you to Susan’s mum.
Buy Ribbons in Her Hair on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ribbons-Her-Hair-Colette-McCormick-ebook/dp/B09FMZQZKN/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
“Ribbons in Her Hair is a powerful read. It raises lots of crucial issues, such as mother-daughter relationships, respect and morality, motherhood, or the oppressive effect of our societal rules of conduct.”
When I read the above in a review of Ribbons in Her Hair I wondered if they were taking about my book. Had they got the wrong one? Had they mixed it up with another of the same title? Turns out that they hadn’t.
I hadn’t meant to write anything quite so deep. I was just writing about Susan, a girl who had never had ribbons in her hair.
The youngest of three sisters, Susan has absolutely nothing in common with her siblings. She is a loner who just wants her mother to love her. But that doesn’t happen and as a teenager, Susan seeks love elsewhere. Like millions of girls before her she finds herself pregnant.
That was the situation that I created for Susan.
How would her mother react? Naturally, the mother that I had created was appalled. In her eyes Susan had brought the ultimate shame on the family.
And that was the point that I asked myself why Susan’s mother had reacted the way that she did and more to the point, why had she treated Susan the way that she had when she was growing up? What was Jean’s back story?
I was no longer just writing about Susan, I was writing about her mother too.
I started off despising Jean for the way that she treated Susan but the more that I got to know her, the more I sympathised with her and on reflection the book is about all of the things mentioned in the review.
Ribbon In Her Hair was originally published by Accent Press and this edition published by The Pink Pen is available on Kindle from 30th September 2021
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I don’t mind telling you that I hadn’t heard about the Cawnpore massacre before hearing about Tom’s new book which is published on Kindle on 10th September, but what I have heard had certainly piqued my interest to find out more.
Over to Tom to tell us why the Empire Project might have been an inevitable failure.
There is a lot written these days about ‘the Empire Project’: the period (defined differently by almost everyone) when a small island off the north-west of Europe somehow found itself ruling a significant proportion of the whole world. I keep listening to people on the BBC explaining that we should spend more time learning about what Britain did during the Empire – the good and the bad (though on the programmes I hear the suggestion seems to be that the emphasis should perhaps swing towards the bad). It’s frustrating, then, that when Cawnpore was first published, ten years ago, it seems to have been ahead of its time.
Britain only officially became an Empire in 1877, when Victoria was declared Empress of India, but the British had been throwing their weight around for significantly longer. Notably, Lord Clive had won the battle of Plessey, regarded as marking the beginning of British rule in India in 1757. India was always “the jewel in the crown” of Empire and if you want to understand the Empire Project, you could do worse than look at India.
A hundred years after Plessey, the Indians (who attached a lot of importance to anniversaries) were beginning to feel that a hundred years of Empire Project was enough. The result was a widespread insurrection that started with a rebellion within Indian regiments in the British army in the country and which we therefore came to call the Indian Mutiny, though it was far more than a mutiny.
Cawnpore is set in a town in the North West frontier province, which became the site of a famous atrocity by the rebels which triggered, in turn, terrible reprisals by the British. The story is told through the eyes of a man who fits in with neither the European establishment nor the court of the local ruler, but who has a foot in both camps. He watches helplessly as the simmering tensions of what is essentially a British military occupation come to the boil in 1857.
It’s a story full of love and excitement and battles and bravery, but ultimately it is about a man trying to do the right thing in an impossible situation. For in the end there are no clear rights and wrongs in the Empire Project – just people – some good, some bad, most somewhere in between – muddling through until everything goes terribly wrong.
Was the massacre at Cawnpore (and all the other atrocities committed in centuries of British rule) inevitable? I think, perhaps, the Empire Project was always doomed to end in tears. Whether colonisers have good intentions or whether they just seek to exploit and rob, the clash of cultures between the natives and the invaders (for that is what they are) inevitably leads to tragedy.
There is a lot being said these days about how Britain should apologise for things it did in the 19th century and before. Perhaps apologising for the distant past is not that helpful. Perhaps we should be looking at the future rather than back to Empire. As Kabul falls and the citizens face the misery of so many who suffered in the wars of the past, we should stop and think before we again send an army to a distant country to ‘nation build’ or ‘protect Western values’. If Cawnpore raises these questions in anybody’s mind, then maybe it’s done something worthwhile as well as entertain.
While I was writing Cawnpore my son was serving in Afghanistan. For over two hundred years we have had troops in that part of the world. It led to tragedy in 1857 when we stayed in and in 2021 when we pulled out. Perhaps the best thing to do would have been not to have sent them in the first place.
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