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An Easter Update

At Easter, a glimpse of spring?

My first words today are to those of you who have been adversely affected by the Corona Virus. I guess that’s most of you. Many lives have been changed by this. No work. No school. No visits to family and friends.

As writers, we are perhaps in the fortunate position of being able to use this time productively. With the availability of technology, I can research online and if I ring another member of my group for advice, inspiration or moral support, they answer the phone because they, too, are at home.

Yesterday the writing group held their first virtual meeting which is another skill learned out of necessity, (See Whittlesey Wordsmiths blog ) 

Two planned book signing events have been cancelled: the Octavia Hill museum in Wisbech at Easter, and March Library later this year and I have had to put on hold interviews that I had planned with the people who lived at King’s Dyke so that book is on hold for the moment.

On a more positive note, my novel, Goodbye Bella Blue, is benefiting enormously from the lack of distractions and now stands at 12,000 words.

Perhaps if you are housebound and running out of reading material, you would like to read an extract from my first book. I have chosen this particular piece as it may raise a smile – always good at times such as this…

I hope you enjoy it, Best Wishes and Stay Safe

Abridged from The Railway Carriage Child   

High windows gave our classroom an ethereal light. In summer, bright shafts of sun pierced the air and an older boy from the class next door would be summoned to open the very top pane with a hook on a long, wooden pole. In winter, only the area nearest to the windows was illuminated by natural light, supplemented by electric lights suspended on chains from the lofty ceiling.

     A boiler in the cloakroom heated pipes which ran along the outside walls. Glass bottles, containing a third of a pint of milk for each child, rested in rows along these pipes, waiting to be distributed by the milk monitor. As the frozen milk thawed, the rising column of ice pushed off the tops. Watching this slow process as I listened to the teacher, I remember the milk but not her words. At this time of year the aroma of summer flowers was a distant memory. Now the air was filled with the combined medications of winter; clove-oil, eucalyptus and mentholatum. We had chilblain cream on our feet and camphorated oil on the corners of our hankies.

     On the coldest days it was not unusual to arrive to find the husband of our headmistress, who was also the only male teacher; already busy at work, not preparing the day’s lessons but shovelling snow from the path so that we could reach the door. We came in through the cloakroom, sat on wooden benches to pull off our wellies, and hung our coats and hats on rows of pegs. This cloakroom was like a communal airing cupboard, warmed by the breath of the huge boiler, in a wire enclosure.

     I never felt at ease in this confined space, with a beast so fierce that it had to be caged. It rumbled and shuddered and I always watched it with one eye as I quickly put on my indoor pumps and headed for the safety of the classroom. Sometimes the teacher poked very wet gloves into the holes in the mesh to dry but I didn’t trust it not to eat them before playtime.

     My other enduring memory of the boiler is that I was too scared to go near it while everyone else was in class. One morning, I was told to fetch a hankie from my coat pocket but fear held me in the doorway. I snuffled and sniffed and put up with the lecture when I arrived home with stiff-dried cuffs, where I had wiped my nose on my sleeve.

     Another area of unease was the row of lavatories at the far end of the playground. We queued under the shadow of the brickyard chimneys, before entering the gloom of the poky cubicles with wooden seats and very hard paper. This was the first time I had ever had to shut myself in such a dark space. I was tormented by the fear that if I locked the heavy wooden door, I might not have the strength to unlock it again. As voices outside urged me to ‘’urry up, will yer’, I knew I could not perform under such adverse conditions; hence I developed excellent bladder control.

     I loved playtime, with the hopscotch drawn in chalk and the brightly coloured hoops. We played lots of group games like ‘The farmer’s in his den’ and ‘What’s the time, Mr Wolf?’ and I relished all this company and interaction. My infant teacher was a lovely lady called Miss Steeper. She had no children of her own but mothered all of us. She had an open face and an honest expression. I would have trusted her with my life.

     In her care, we were nourished, praised and encouraged. She instilled in us a love of words, numbers, colours and music, as we learned sums and spellings that would take us through life. We benefited from individual attention and a curriculum, although that sounds too formal, which was tailored to our abilities.

     My only regret was the unfortunate timing of my Easter birth. In all the years of my schooling, I had only one birthday that fell in term time; just one occasion when I was able to have Miss Steeper read out my stack of birthday cards, and the class sung ‘Happy birthday, dear Wendy’, as was the custom for each birthday child.

     Miss Steeper knew each child as an individual and had a good rapport with every family. Enveloped in this warmth, I developed my social skills and my imagination. There were times, however, when the easy familiarity between home and school could have disadvantages; especially for a child who was prone to confusion over where the boundaries lay between fact and fantasy.

     One day she asked us what pets we had, and I had wanted a pet for so long. Mother, with her obsession for hygiene, thought otherwise. I had listened, with little regard, to her warnings that ‘Yer’d be catchin’ all sorts from dog shit’, and ‘How ’d yer like t’ get in bed at night wi’ a load a’ cat fleas?’

     I had seen a photograph of Mother and Granny with a dog lying on the front doorstep and, under cross-examination, she had admitted that a dog had once been part of the family; years before my birth. His name was Rip and she then told me the story of how he had once jumped up at the kitchen door when he heard the dustman. This had been at a time, before the blight of black plastic bags, when a dustman came into the garden, collected the galvanised bin from the back of the carriages, hoisted it onto his shoulder and emptied it into the cart, before returning it to its home outside the wash-house. On this occasion the door had not been properly bolted and Rip escaped.

     She described how he ‘Frit the dustman ’alf  t’ death’, and added ‘Yer should ar’ ’eard the clatter when ’e dropped the bin an’ run’.

     It appeared that this had caused her much amusement, but she would have been a lot younger at the time, perhaps a child, herself. It did not change her stance that I should have no similar tales to tell.

     Eventually, I thought a compromise had been reached, with a pet who could live outdoors. Father built me a smart, detached residence for a rabbit. The front looked like a classic dolls’ house with windows on two levels and a door with a knocker and tiny letterbox. The back was a large hinged door, opening to reveal two floors connected by a ramp so the lucky occupant could reach the upper floor. The roof lifted, with storage space for hay and food in the loft. It stood taller than me, resplendent in doll’s house colours and was all ready for its first inhabitants.

     Mother would not budge on her ‘no animals’ policy. I can only assume that Father had believed she would be won over by the regal house-hutch. His optimism was unfounded, his labours unrewarded. It stood at the back of the wash-house for years, deteriorating in the weather and was never occupied; a sad monument to the lack of communication between my parents.

     Perhaps as some well-meant attempt at compensation, Father always let me bring home anything dead that we found on our walks. Despite Mother’s loudly expressed fears that I would catch some dreaded disease, I was never made to leave a body; be it a bird, a rabbit or a field mouse, to the mercy of predators. All were borne home and buried with sombre respect at the bottom of the garden in the shade of the hedge. We thought of names for each one, which Father carved with his knife onto little wooden crosses. My cemetery marked the resting place of Wanderlust, Beauty, Furry and a number of Brownies and Snowflakes, all of which I had never known in life but had cried for in death.

     It was against this back-drop, that I listened to the other children answering Miss Steeper’s question about their pets.

‘A cat’ was a popular answer.

‘A dog’ claimed some of the luckier children.

So, as ever, when real life didn’t live up to my dreams, I invented an alternative. Miss Steeper reached me and, without blinking, I looked into her kind eyes and said, ‘A pig’.

     She looked impressed, as I had known she would. She didn’t know that we kept pigs, of course, as we didn’t, but she was interested enough to approach Mother at home-time to have a chat.

     I tried to pedal off, calling back to Mother to hurry, but she was happy to linger and I could only watch as the two women discussed my pet pig, or perhaps my loose relationship with reality.

     I think I had an innate need to liven things up. If a drama wasn’t happening, I would invent one. During this same period in Infants; biking home one dinner-time, I allowed Mother to get a little distance ahead, just to the point where a high hedge obscured her view of the knot-hole. Then I called, excitedly, ‘Look. Did yer see that? There’s a plane crashed right in the knot-hole.’

‘Really?’  She called back. ‘I’ll ’ev a look later.’

Her pedalling never faltered. I think she knew me well.

The Railway Carriage Child is available on Amazon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Railway-Carriage-Child-Wendy-Fletcher/dp/1916481736/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+railway+carriage+child&qid=1585982352&sr=8-1

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Book Signing at The Octavia Hill Museum in Wisbech

Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Wisbech (photo credit visitcambridgeshirefens.org)

I’m pleased to tell you that I have been asked to take part in an event at Octavia Hill’s Birthplace Museum in Wisbech. The event is to be held over the Easter weekend and will feature a number of local writers and poets.I will be giving a brief account of my journey to becoming a writer, followed by a short reading from my book, ‘The Railway Carriage Child’ and then answering questions from the audience. I will be happy to sign copies of the book which will be available on the day at the reduced price of £8, (Amazon price £10.10)

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Kings Dyke, some progress

Nature Returns, A Local Scene

I am now collecting material for my second book, (A history of Kings Dyke). This is going really well. I have been buried under a mountain of replies and, believe me, a mountain is a rare sight in the fens. Perhaps it is symbolic of the time when a lot of these people would have been children and looked out of their bedroom windows onto a landscape that resembled  Welsh countryside.In this flattest of flat scenery, they overlooked valleys and ridges, gentle slopes and sheer drops of around 100 feet. Do I hear you ask HOW?

Well, hopefully the new book will provide the answer, so back to the writing…

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Whittlesey Straw Bear Weekend

Whittlesey Straw Bear (photo credit Philip Oldfield)

Another successful weekend for the Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival and for my book sales.

There were around two hundred visitors to the Whittlesey Museum (whittleseymuseum.co.uk) on the town’s Market Street where I signed copies of The Railway Carriage Child. The book is available from the museum and from Parkers newsagent, 13 Market Street, (https://www.yell.com/biz/parkers-newsagents-peterborough-3780006/)

I also spoke to several former tenants of King’s Dyke who brought me useful information and leads for the new book on the social history of this community.

My next book signing will be at the Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum, Wisbech, Cambs at Easter, (date to be confirmed).

Octavia Hill Birthplace Museum Wisbech (photo credit visitcambridgeshirefens.org)

Thanks to all those who bought the first book, Happy Reading, and to those who are contributing to the second, I couldn’t do it without your stories.

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A New Work in Progress

Just started collecting information for my new book, a social history of King’s Dyke, Whittlesey. This was a small development of houses with their own shop, school, chapel and social club, built around the turn of the century by A W Itter. The houses were rented out to local brickyard workers and were occupied until the 1980s. I have already had a huge response from former tenants on the Whittlesey Community Page and would like to thank all those who have taken time to contact me. I have already found a complete record of occupants in 1911, from the census of that year. I am now trying to make a plan of the houses, with numbers, terraces and names of more recent occupants. If anyone lived there, attended the school or chapel, used the shop, belonged to the social club or worked in the brickyards, I would love to hear from you.

Also, does anyone remember the names of the terraces? I believe there were Jasmine and Laburnham, among others, and does anyone recall the order of the numbers, these details would be very helpful, many thanks, Wendy

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Christmas Update

‘The Railway Carriage Child’ continues to sell well and is now available from the museums in Whittlesey and Peterborough, as well as at Whittlesey’s Parkers Newsagent.

Parker’s Newsagents Whittlesey

Meantime, the Whittlesey Wordsmiths, the U3A creative writing group which I set up in February 2017, grows in numbers. We are now 13. Our membership includes two other published authors. See details below. Philip Cumberland is penning his first cross genre novel, a crime – science fiction – thriller set in Cambridge.

Tessa Thomson is working on a collection of her thought provoking poems.

Other members are enjoying success with short stories, magazine articles and competitions.

We have just launched our second anthology of short stories and poetry: ‘A Following Wind’, after the success of our first book last year, ‘Where the Wild Winds Blow’.

Stephen Oliver is awaiting publication of his novel, he has previously published a self help book “Unleash your Dreams.”

Cathy Cade has currently two books in print the most recent of these “Witch Way”was published on 11th December 2019.

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Edward Storey Memorial Concert

Edward Storey Memorial Concert at The Peterborough School

I was privileged to be invited to a memorial concert today in Peterborough, for Fenland poet and author, Edward Storey. I wrote to Edward for several years while I was working on my book, The Railway Carriage Child, and received much good advice and support from him. This also led me to setting up the local u3a creative writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths who have just launched their second anthology of short stories and poetry, A Following Wind.The concert was a beautiful tribute to Edward with performance of his favourite pieces of music and some of his own compositions, as well as readings of his poetry. Around 150 people attended, some from as far away as Wales, where he spent the last years of his life. The event was hosted by his wife who made everyone welcome and spoke of Edward’s sense of humour and lifelong love of his native Fens.A fitting tribute to a wonderful writer.

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Exciting Times as a published author,

Author and Book outside the Carriages

Just an update on my publishing success:

My first book, The Railway Carriage Child, is for sale on Amazon and can also be bought locally in Whittlesey at Parker’s newsagents. It also being sold at the museums in Whittlesey and Peterborough.

I was delighted when the first print run sold out in less than a week.

Here is the link to buy from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Railway-Carriage-Child-Wendy-Fletcher/dp/1916481736/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=The+Railway+Carriage+Child&qid=1571155207&sr=8-1

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Book Launch Yesterday At U3A

SIgning my books at the U3A meeting I had a fantastic response

At the U3A meeting in Whittlesey yesterday I did a book signing session at the launch for my first book, The Railway Carriage Child. Over 100 members attended and the afternoon was a great success. I hope that is encouraging to all would-be writers who may be having doubts about stepping onto the public platform with their own creations

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The Railway Carriage Child

At last!  My memoire is finally on sale on Amazon. Check it out.

This is the foreword

Against a backdrop of the Cambridgeshire fens, lies the

small market town of Whittlesey. Here are many features

of historical and architectural interest, including two

medieval churches, a 17th century Butter Cross and rare

examples of 18th century mud boundary walls.

Less well known, but still quite remarkable, are the pair of

Victorian railway carriages which stand just outside the

town.

Originally built for Great Eastern Railways in 1887,

they have been home to Wendy’s family since 1935.

Now, for the first time, Wendy shares the fascinating

story of her childhood, growing up as a Railway Carriage

Child in the mid to late 20th century.

With a wonderful memory for detail, she paints a

picture so vivid that we are there with her.

Through the eyes of an exuberant child, whose

imagination outpaced her years, we meet the characters

central to her life: an ancient Granny, still governed by the

old fen traditions of an earlier era, a domineering Mother,

a long-suffering Father, and Grandfather who died before

her birth but still inspires her dreams.

With the humour of hindsight, Wendy brings alive a

time when life moved at a gentler pace.

The final chapter follows Wendy as she returns to live

in the carriages as an adult, continuing the renovation and

preservation, to ensure that they survive for another

generation of her family.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Railway-Carriage-Child-Wendy-Fletcher/dp/1916481736/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=the+railway+carriage+child&qid=1567698319&s=gateway&sr=8-1

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The Railway Carriage Child

Hoping that today will go down in History (well, my history, anyway) as the day I send my book to Amazon. I couldn’t be more excited if I was going to the Amazon.

Meantime, a few more ideas for the writers of fiction.

How about choosing a building as your setting?

Could that tiny cottage be the scene of a murder?

Or has someone chosen to disappear, leaving clues at the cottage to look like they have been murdered?

Could that be where the murderer lives?

What about that block of high-rise flats?

Or are we jumping to conclusions?

Perhaps the victim was an occupant of a tenth floor flat and the murderer lives in the quaint little cottage?  

Photo by Annie Japaud on Pexels.com
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More ideas to inspire that short story.

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

Do you ever pass a car in a layby and wonder about the occupants? Is it a man travelling alone? Could he have stopped to gather his thoughts before an important meeting? How will the outcome of that meeting affect his life? Is there a family in the car? Can you see luggage through the window? Are there children aboard? Has it broken down? Will their holiday be ruined if they miss the ferry? Is it an old car? Could they be heading to a classic car event? What about the lone lady driver? Is she waiting to meet someone or perhaps deciding whether she was right to make this journey? The options are endless. Take this car and make it feature in your story. August 1, 2019 by thewriteway709 Edit

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First Post

My childhood home

My name is Wendy I am group leader of Whittlesey Wordsmiths, a U3A creative writing group based in Fenland. We have published an anthology of our poetry and prose, Where the Wild Winds Blow, and are currently working on a second volume.

Individually, we are at various stages of writing and publishing.

I have just completed an autobiography, recounting my childhood in two railway carriages, which I hope to publish in September.  The Railway Carriage Child will be available from Amazon.

I will keep you updated on my progress and would love to contact others on a similar mission, Wendy