Three Strands of Research and Planning
~ Past, Present and the roll of a Dice
By author Diana Jackson
My inspiration for MISSING Past and Present began from two angles; three if you count the dice!
1. The Past
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,’ a not uncommon name I noticed, since there were several other also places labelled ‘the Grange.’ I looked this up on line.
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.
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 and called her Evie.
· 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 Evie's sister Millie who disappears.
· Why is she swinging from the rafters?
You’ll have to read the story to find out.
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)
Research is never quite finished but is ongoing until the first draft is complete.
2. The Present
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'm talking here of folks being temporarily re-housed in the crisis.)
I made notes on my experiences 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 memories teaching refugees and asylum seekers while teaching at a college in Luton.
I drew on personal experiences or on second hand accounts for much of Dot's life, my homeless character, and I based her living in a make believe town called Drumford with the Grange at a village called Canbury. I chose made up locations this time to preserve the anonymity of the actual house on which the story was based.
3. The Dice
This was an unusual device I stumbled upon. I found a dice and was rolling it one day and found myself wondering about times in my own life which could be seen as a 'one' or a 'six'. This was perfect for Dot as she remembered the back story of her life, which had brought her to the point of homelessness.
I must admit I loved this idea and enjoyed writing about it.
~ And so MISSING Past and Present was conceived, researched, planned and now it is born!
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