Still writing! Still giving talks about writing!

Welcome to my website! This is my cat, telling me to get on with my writing! (or if you have only just stumbled across this site) I’m inserting this brief message, just to let you know that I am still receiving messages (and answering them, when requested).

I’m delighted to say that over the last 12 months, I’ve been contacted by several readers and/or writers groups, and other , more formal organisations, asking if I’d like to give a talk about my own novels and anything else about my experiences of the writing and publishing processes.

This was the title of my last blog post (see below) dated July 10, 2011
All the ‘Writerly’ activities that have stolen my ‘Proper’ Writing time!

All the ‘Writerly’ activities that have stolen my ‘Proper’ Writing time!

As you can see from the date of my previous post below, I’m taking a break from regular blogging.

I started this blog in May 2009 as I felt I’d reached a watershed in my writing, and I wanted to reflect on the ups and downs of my career as a novelist and poet.

I’ve enjoyed all the activities I’ve listed in the chart below, and although these have taken away more time than I’d wanted from my own creative writing, I’m hoping that this semi-fallow period will prove as productive as this wild poppy field!

If you’re new to this blog and want to find out more about me, click here and for more about my novels, click here
If you want to read a few tips about writing a book, click here and if you are interested in poetry, take a look at my Poetry page

In the past two years I’ve spent less time on creating new work of my own, than I have on the business of other writerly activities.
But this doesn’t mean that I won’t be taking part in any of these things!
I’ll still be happy to consider giving talks and/or running workshops, if you’d like to contact me by sending a message via the ‘Contact Me’ page above.

‘WordPress’ will forward any message to my personal email address, so please do let me know if you have read and enjoyed one or other of my novels, or have any other comments on my work. As you can see on this chart, you can still buy my novels at a reduced price from this site

or, if you prefer, Paper Lanterns IS available from Amazon, even though they will tell you it’s ‘out of stock’. All you need to do is click where it says, ‘new sellers’ and then, if you click on the option of ‘Novel Press’, you’ll receive your copy within 2 or 3 days, direct from Novel Press, with my personal signature above the printed name on this label, that is inserted into the front of the book..

Poetry – from the Vale of Evesham to Wuthering Heights.

If you haven’t yet booked yourself a place at some of the events at the FREE Writers’ Retreat, Take a look!! And if you have been thinking of coming to the workshop I’ll be running on Thursday 9th June, don’t worry if you haven’t got any ‘family documents’ to bring with you – I’ve planned for ways to inspire your writing, whether you bring something with you or not.

I’ve been having a wonderfully restful and creative break recently – the first event was a weekend writing course that I’d booked several months ago at Holland House– in Copthorne, a small village in the Vale of Evesham. It was my third visit to this retreat centre with its four acres of inspiring gardens sweeping down to the river – it’s an ideal venue for inspiring creativity.

I’d forgotten to charge the batteries on my camera, so these pictures are ones I took in 2006. The course was well planned and enthusiastically delivered by Myra Schneider and John Killick
The theme of this course was ‘Time’ and it provided me with material for a couple of drafts, and several more ideas for future poems. I’m very slow at the process of producing, not just the ideas, but the words to express them, and I always enjoy hearing the other participants reading their work. John will be sending out a piece of writing from each of the fifteen of us on the course, (once we’ve emailed them to him) and I’m really looking forward to reading them at leisure – there were so many excellent poems.

Fortunately for me, I’ve (almost) stopped measuring my work and the pace of my output against that of everyone else’s, who always seem to be far more prolific than I am. After I’ve achieved a draft that feels as though it might be going somewhere, I enjoy the period of re-writing and re-writing, till I’m sure that every word is the best one in the best order for that poem. (This stage usually takes me two or three weeks, and sometimes even longer.)
I’m still working on a poem from a couple of weekends ago, so here’s one from my very first Holland House course, inspired by the yew hedges and other trees in the garden. I was delighted when it won 1st prize for the ‘single poem’ section of the New Writers’ Competition of 2006. (see the poem below)

As for ‘Wuthering Heights’ – this was the venue of another gathering of writers that I took part in last week. That wasn’t really the name of this large stone house on the highest point of a high ridge on the edge of the Dark Peak, not far from Kinder Scout – I called it that because of the persistent gale force winds that boomed and battered at the walls and windows for most of the week. It didn’t affect our enjoyment though, and we were able to stretch our legs most days, in spite of some lashing rain storms.
One afternoon we walked through the Longshaw estate, run by the National Trust.I was interested to find a tenuous connection between the nearby town of Hathersage and Emily Bronte, the author of Wuthering Heights (via her sister, Charlotte, who had spent some time there with a friend). You can find out about its link to her own well-known novel, Jane Eyre, here.
I arrived back home again on Friday afternoon, then on Saturday I was back in Derbyshire to meet up with some of my friends from my M.A. Writing Course at N.T.U.This time I was staying in the picturesque village of Ashover, situated in the Amber valley, just outside the Peak District National Park.

It’s surrounded by hills and we walked up to the top of one, behind my friend’s house, – This rock is called The Fabrick and apparently was once the site of an old Druid temple – it’s a landmark that can be seen from a miles around. The village was first mentioned in the Domesday book and it has been called the valley of ‘silence and wild flowers’. You can’t get much more poetic than that!

When I Can Choose

I’ll live in a house with high ceilings,
and practise topiary.

Yew hedges will take root
along the skirting boards.

I’ll clip them into crenellations
below the roses on the coving,

gouge out small, square windows
to let green light spill in.

New fronds, bright as limes
will stroke my cheek, my palms,

and winter berries will kindle
the white tips of my fingers.

I’ll curl up on the springy floor
of camomile and thyme. Trace

familiar features in the dark.
Wind will stream up from the river,

clatter through the aspen leaves.
Drown out the one not chosen

Bluebells, Alice Beer and a FREE writers’ retreat

First of all, I want to let people know about a FREE writers’ week that starts on Monday 6th June and finishes on the following Saturday.

The main theme for the week is , ‘Memoirs’, and I’ve been asked to run one of the workshops, and also to give a talk about self publishing, so if you know anyone who is interested in creative writing and lives within a reasonably easy journey from Erdington in the north of Birmingham, please direct them to this site – whatever kind of writing you want to develop, there’s bound to be something there for you.

In my previous post I mentioned the latest Soundswrite Anthology of poetry. This cover was taken from a painting by the talented artist and poet, Helen Jayne Gunn, one of the many contributors to the anthology.

It will be available from the Soundswrite Website.

(This site is about to be about to be updated)

Anyone who has attended courses on writing poetry, is more than likely to have met Alice Beer, whose obituary appeared in The Guardian on Thursday 7th April 2011. Click here to read more about this amazing 98-year old poet. I met her at my very first residential poetry course in Yorkshire in 1996, and was immediately impressed by her active mind and mischievous sense of humour. I hope that in my 80s and 90s I’ll still be signing up to creative writing courses around the UK and Europe.

I’m posting this picture of ‘my’ local bluebell wood because it’s a place I visit several times every April, checking on the progress of the brand new beech leaves and the mass of bluebell spears. There was a bluebell wood not far from the house in Sussex where I spent my childhood, but this one is the best I’ve ever come across.

Here’s a poem I wrote several years ago – this photo doesn’t illustrate the poem, but it captures the beautiful light of an April day, two or three weeks ago

Taking Amy For A Walk

When we reach the wood, anemones
like sackfuls of spilt stars
lie scattered between birch
and sycamore. I can only guess
how green spears poised in shade
are holding hidden blue as tight as breath.

Wind tosses sunlight down through
restless branches – her long pale hair
becomes a blur of light. She wears
her denim the way a dryad might
disguise herself to walk with humans.
Eyes as far away as shards of sky.

I thought the bluebells would be out, she says,
half petulant, as though she’s been misled.
She hesitates beside a mound of earth,
amber and burnt sienna, glistening with
movement of seething bodies,
a million legs bent on a single purpose.

They clamber over identical neighbours
without a qualm – those brains
hold nothing singular or strange.
I wriggle a dead stick inches down into
their huge construction. I want to uncover
its hundreds of intricate channels, reach

into secret chambers where white eggs
are hatching in the dark, like thoughts.
I want to bring them into the light of day.
Amy shudders, watching the creatures
scurry and cluster along the stick.
I throw it down and take her cool dry hand

A few loose ends & back to poetry

If you would like to read all about this Mystery Challenge, you might prefer to click on this list below, as I’ve arranged them all in chronologcal order.
But of course, you could just scroll down to the end of this category, and then scroll your way upwards! Whatever way you do this, I hope you find it interesting – and if you can throw any more light on the real-life charactesr, please do contact me (You’ll receive a free copy of Paper Lanterns)

The first of these posts is headed: ‘Six Degrees of Separation – can you help to solve the challenge?
2) 9th Jan 2011: More about my mystery challenge
3) 16th Jan 2011 D.G. Bruce –what kind of man was he?
4)23rd Jan 2011 Stranger than Fiction
5)30th Jan 2011Is this the D. G. Bruce who inspired my novel?
6) 4th February: The Husband, the Wife and the Best Friend
7)13th Feb 2011: What can be learned from a Ship’s Passenger List.
8 ) 20th Feb 2011: Bessie’s 4th Letter – Stolen Kisses in a Monastery Tower
9)27th Feb 2011: Latest Discovery about Douglas Bruce and his Sisters
10)7th March: Bessie’s Final Love Letter & Why She Went to Shameen
11) 28th March: Why did D.G. Bruce Marry so Late?
12) 18 April: A Few Loose Ends & back to Poetry

Those of you who’ve been following my ‘Six Degrees of Separation – Mystery Challenge’ (see the previous post below) I have a few more snippets of information which might possibly lead to my goal of finding a descendant of a relation or friend of Douglas Gordon Bruce, and his wife, Florence Dorothy.

At the beginning of April, when I was visiting my daughter and her husband in Chiswick, I took the opportunity of tracking down the address in Weymouth Avenue which was recorded on the marriage certificate of Douglas Bruce and Florence Slaughter on 9th February 1978. I was hoping that the current occupier(s) of that house might have known something about Mr and Mrs Bruce, but no one answered when we knocked on the door.

We also looked at the house in Barrowgate Road, where the eighteen-year old DGB was recorded as living with sister, Kate and brother in law on the census of 1911, Douglas Robert Finnis. (That was when I realised that I’d posted a picture of the wrong house here.) This is the right one, and it’s not far from Chiswick House, so I couldn’t help wondering if DGB and his sister’s family had enjoyed that garden too.

Later that day, we had a walk and picnic in the beautiful grounds of nearby Chiswick House. It’s also possible that many decades later, Douglas and Florence strolled together under those cedar trees, and crossed the stone bridge, shown in the photo above.

I’ve recently discovered more about the family of DGB’s brother in law, Douglas Finnis. The census of 1891 records that D.R. Finnis was the oldest of the six sons of Tavener Finnis,(a secretary of a public company, d.o.b. 1850). The other Finnis brother to marry one of DGB’s sister, was Vernon Walter, the fourth son, (b. 1880).

This transcription of the 1911 census shows that this marriage produced at least 3 more nephews for DGB. Since the youngest, Bruce Vernon, was only one year old at the time, there could well have been more children.

What I found particularly interesting about the Finnis family was the fact that at least three of ‘our’ Finnis’s were still living in the same area in the 1938, and the 1951 London phone books. Finnis, Douglas R. was still registered at the house in Barrowgate Road in 1951, 40 years after DGB was living there at the age of 18. Finnis, Vernon W (Kate Maud’s husband) was registered in both the 1938 and 1951 phone books, and their second son, Maxwell Vernon, was settled in nearby Twickenham.

Since DGB’s death notice in the Times of 1983 stated that he had been a ‘much loved uncle’ it seems possible that his many nephews, and possibly more than just one niece, might have told their own children a little more about their uncle’s life in China and Hong Kong.

After all this, you might be wondering what link there might be to poetry in all this rather dry research information. The brief answer is: not a very close link, but a significant one for me. That same weekend in April that had been arranged for our visit to our daughter’s home in Chiswick, happened to be the date for the launch of the latest Poetry Anthology from my wonderful Leicester based poetry group, Soundswrite – and now I’m running out of time and space, so I’ll be writing more about that publication and one very special member of that group.

Why did DG Bruce marry so late?

I have now more or less reached the end of my search. Although I’d like to discover more about Douglas Gordon Bruce, and the women who loved him, I must admit that I’ve found out more than I’d expected when I started this Mystery Challenge.

(If you’re new to this blog, and you’d like to find out what this is all about, it’ll probably help you to scroll down to the first post about the Mystery Challenge,in which I’m asking readers to help me find out more about the love letters from 1920’s China.)

If you know anyone with one of the surnames listed in the 2 charts below, I would be very grateful if you could direct them to this website – specifically to the Category: ‘6 Degrees of Separation Mystery Challenge.’ There’s just a chance that this might jolt a memory of something relevant they have heard about a great uncle, aunt, cousin or other relative.

Here is a table with the names and dates of people whose descendants and/or friends and relations might be known to readers of this blog. The first chart gives details of Douglas Gordon Bruce and his sisters and their children.

When I’d discovered the death notice in the Times Archives, and found that he had been ‘a loving father and uncle’, my researcher friend told me how to send off to the Government Records Office for a copy of his marriage certificate. As you can see from a previous post,we’d already discovered the name of his bride, and the date of the wedding, but I wanted to know if this was his first marriage, and that would be recorded on the certificate. This document duly arrived in the post, and revealed that he was a bachelor, and his bride, Phyllis Dorothy Slaughter, was a spinster.

The wedding took place on 9th February in 1978 at All Saints Church in the London Borough of Ealing. Phyllis would have her 62nd birthday two weeks later, and DG B was a few months away from 86.DGB was recorded as ‘Director’, and Phyllis, as ‘Book-Keeper’. What did surprise me was the fact that they were both living at the same address, Weymouth Avenue, Ealing, W5, not far from where he grew up. From the photos and letters that I’ve already posted, I would have expected that he would have been married decades before this, though on the other hand, he could have been totally resistant to the idea of committing himself to one woman for the rest of his life!

As for Phyllis, there’s no way of knowing how long they had been sharing the same house, but as she was 24 years younger than DGB, and he was in his mid-eighties, it would have been irresponsible of him if he hadn’t clarified her legal status by making her his wife.

What if a bad bout of winter flu had carried him off, before they could walk down the aisle together as man and wife? I can imagine some of their friends and relations congratulating DGB and finishing by adding, “Better late than never.”

Here is another table of names and dates of other people who would have known D.G.B.

All that is sheer conjecture, and it could be leading me into rather dodgy ground. Although both Phyllis and DGB died several years ago, it’s still not all that far back in time, especially when compared to 1920s Hong Kong. But if any nieces and nephews of either Phyllis or Douglas Bruce (or great nephews/nieces) stumble across this website, I would happily adapt or remove the paragraph above.

It would be great to receive a message from anyone who could give me some more information about the life and loves of Douglas Gordon Bruce.

As I’ve mentioned before, anyone who does this will receive a free copy of Paper Lanterns (or The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society) so do please spread the word to anyone who might be interested. If I do manage to glean more information I will publish it here.

A Video of Winchester Writers Conference & Advice for writers

I was about to post my latest (and probably final) information about Douglas Gordon Bruce, for my Mystery Challenge,
when I was suddenly whisked back to the end of June last year, at the Winchester Writers Conference, where the indomitable Director of the Conference, Barbara Large, MBE, kindly invited me to attend the plenary address on the Saturday morning, and say a few words about Novel Press and Paper Lanterns.

I was looking on the Conference website to see if the details of this year’s event had been published there yet, and I was reminded of an interview I’d given in the previous year. Some of the university students had been allocated the task of interviewing delegates from that year’s event.

I had walked out after Sir Terry Pratchett’s address to the conference into the blazing sunshine and was immediately accosted by a small group of young people wielding photographic instruments: Would I be willing to answer a few questions about why I was there, and what advice might I give to other aspiring writers?

When it comes to an opportunity for me to talk about writing in general (and mine in particular!) I’m not likely to turn it down, so I rattled on for several minutes, until I came to a natural ending. The interviewers were university students, and it was their project to make a record of the weekend for the university archives, with special reference to Terry Pratchett.

After that, I forgot all about it, so when I saw the yellow boxes on the left of the screen, I clicked on the one that was labelled ‘Delegates reactions to the 2010 WW Conference’. I started watching with interest, but without really expecting to see myself there.

I have to admit, that I did cringe a bit at the sight of me, jabbering away, seemingly non-stop. But on the other hand, I had to give myself some credit for being able talk off the cuff like that. Watching and listening a couple of times, I was slightly reassured to find that the words I’d spoken then were more or less what I’d say now, nearly a year later, (especially my final comment in the second section, on advice to other writers).

Although I’ve seen myself in action on a screen a few times, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the weird sensation of seeing myself in action, and what I must look like to others. Fortunately, I don’t give that a moment’s thought in everyday life! I was impressed by the clarity and calmness of the other five speakers – I wonder if any of them have had similar feelings.

I was pleased to see a pleasant man I’d had a conversation with, the evening before. He’d told me a little about his published book and it sounded very entertaining, but I’d forgotten all about him and his writing till I saw him on the video, so I was pleased to hear the title of his book, ‘Vet in Prospect’ and was able to find it on Amazon. I was delighted to hear that he’d landed a three-book deal as a result of attending the conference.

As you can see from the start of the video, he is not the only writer who has owed his success to this Conference over the last 30 years. I would heartily recommend this event to anyone who is serious about their own writing. There’s always a wealth of useful and encouraging information. Above all, it’s great fun!

Bessie’s final love letter & why she went to Shameen

If you’re new to this blog, and you’d like to find out what this is all about, it’ll probably help you to scroll down to the first post about the Mystery Challenge,in which I’m asking readers to help me find out more about the love letters from 1920’s China.)

Today I’ll be posting the last of Bessie’s letters to Mr Bruce – It would be nice to think that he had followed Bessie’s advice, and had married her friend Margaret, but in my next post I’ll explain why I’m pretty sure this didn’t happen.
I’ve learned quite a lot about Canton and the Shameen district from various websites. The view of Canton comes from this site, and the map of Shameen, from here.

And I’ve ‘borrowed’ the 1920s postcards below from a wonderful postcard site – there are lots more there, if you’d like to see more. The second one below would have been somewhere near to where Bessie had stood and waited, hoping to catch sight of Mr Bruce.

And the steam ship in this photo could have been the same as the one where Bessie’s husband, Jimmy, had discovered that ‘something was going on’ between her and Mr Bruce

Here is the transcript of Bessie’s final letter. I found it very moving, and I’m sure that many people would be able to identify with Bessie, standing outside the building in Shameen, hoping to see the man she loved, one last time.

Bruce dear, it’s quite true that a woman can kill her conscience much deader than a man can kill his. Otherwise I shouldn’t be writing to you today. If one has a dead heart, a dead conscience more or less doesn’t matter.

I’m at the Canton Hospital with the kids. They have just had their tonsils and adenoids removed. Poor little wretches. Jimmy is crying for water which he can’t have. You can’t imagine anyone crying for water can you?

I have been in Shameen twice lately. Monday I was in the playground outside your window for a long time – it was awful. And yesterday I saw Bing to speak to – did he tell you?
I am a dutiful wife now. Forever, I think, except for such a slight deflection from the path as this, and I’ll admit there is a certain amount of self-satisfied pleasure in duty well done. And not only that – trite as the sentiment may seem – it is pleasurable to see another person happy.

I would like to tell you all the details of that Thursday evening and the next morning, but what’s the use. Things could have resulted so differently but they didn’t so there is an end to it. Did Margaret tell you that he mutilated my “family album”, the one we straightened up, remember? Removed forcibly every photograph that contained your physiognomy.

But he overlooked that one of David and you on the top of the boat (Kongmoon), so I at least have one of your ears and a little bit of your gurgly old pipe.Isn’t Margaret a good sport and a dear? I don’t know what on earth I’d do without her.

I do wish that you would convince her that you never liked me at all and that you really set out to marry and save her from her present fate. I mean I wish you could do it. Really I do, dear. Because you’ve got to marry somebody, sometime, and it might as well be a somebody who would furnish you with enough excitement to keep you from being bored to tears.

I am so glad you went to see Margaret while we were in Hong Kong. Because she told me lots that you said, and it helped. And she keeps my love letter for me so that I can read it over now and again. I love it. There’s nobody in the world but you could write such a dear one. But I suppose I must let it go too after a bit – when I’ve learned it all by heart perhaps. Of course I’ll write to you when I get home, nothing could stop me if I thought you wanted me to but it is a desolate thought that I’ll never have another word from you. You spoke of how long it would take us to get over this. I hope you won’t take long – and I hope I never get over it. It’s very unmaidenly, or at least unmatronly, for me to admit all this, I’m sure. When you don’t realise what you’ve missed in life until it’s too late to have it, what matters it how brazen a hussy one becomes.

The six weeks left to me in China are creeping by. I didn’t know days could be so long. Do you believe in the much hackneyed mutual telepathy? Two or three days ago at the tiffin table little Jimmy asked when you were coming again and that night he insisted on including you in his prayers. Well I include you in mine, such as they are. The best love I have – the only one with a thrill in it – is yours. Please keep it until you get a better; that better one is waiting for you somewhere. That sounds like “Mother to her wayward boy”. It isn’t – it’s just because I don’t know what to say or how to say it so I rave on just to be in some sort of communication with you. But I can’t go on forever because my babies are requiring more and more attention.

This is my last letter to you for the present and it’s my good-bye too, and I’m heartsick Bruce dear. I never knew I would care so much. My dear. My dear, why did you come so late?

Latest discovery about Douglas Bruce and his sisters

With the help of my friend, I’ve been finding out more about Douglas Bruce, and his five sisters.Apart from his older brother, Charles Edward, who died at the age of 36, this seems to have been a long-lived family.

(If you’re new to this blog, and you’d like to find out what this is all about, it’ll probably help you to scroll down to the first post about the Mystery Challenge,in which I’m asking readers to help me find out more about the love letters from 1920’s China.)

I’d already discovered that Douglas Bruce was only a couple of months from his 91st birthday when he died in April 1983. A search through the Times Archive for his death notice gave me a unexpected feeling of sadness, as if I were reading about the death of a my own friend or relation.Why should I have felt so moved by reading that brief notice, with its ready-made phrases?

This man had no connection with me or my family, and from what I’ve deduced about his character, based on the documents and photos that randomly ended up in my house, he doesn’t seem to have been a very pleasant young man. At the same time, I was pleased to discover that he’d ‘died peacefully at home’, and hadn’t lived out his last few years in the loneliness of a less-than-caring Institution.

Without any photos of Mr Bruce at this age, I’ve had to make do with this ‘borrowed’ picture from this site Better still, he was a apparently a ‘much loved husband’ – a statement that has partially answered one of my first questions about the man who’d captured the hearts of at least two women in 1920s China. So my next task was to find out as much as I could about his marriage (with my friend’s invaluable help!) Another surprise followed. His wedding took place in 1978, when he was 86! His bride was 62-year-old, Phyllis D Slaughter, who survived him by eight years.

This short message in the Times Death Notices confirms that we have found the ‘real’ Douglas Gordon Bruce of the letters and photos from China. APC South China is The Asiatic Petroleum Company (now Shell), which we know was his employer, but I was rather puzzled by the name ‘Fanlingerers’ with its Edinburgh address, the organisation for donations to be made, instead of funeral flowers.

The Fanlingerers appear to be (or have been) a club for supporters of what is now the Hong Kong Golf Club Fanling.

The mention of ‘much loved uncle’, fits what we know about his siblings. Each of his five sisters was married, and as you can see in this previous post, the young Douglas Bruce was recorded on the 1911 census as living in the household of his sister, Edith, and brother in-law, Douglas Robert Finnis. At that time he already had at least one nephew (Roy Bruce Finnis, aged 3) and one niece, Jean Bruce Finnis, a baby of 9 months). I can picture the 18-year-old young man happily playing with little Roy, before he left for China in about 1915.

This photo, dated 1919, and labelled, Bruce Meyer, (from the box with the letters ) is the son of his close friend, Mr Meyer, and it seems likely that the baby, was named after Douglas Bruce, who would probably have been his godfather. Another of Douglas Bruce’s sisters, Kate Maud, married Vernon Walter Finnis, the brother of Edith’s husband, in 1904, when she was 25, so it would be GREAT if anyone researching the Finnis family was able to find some of ‘Finnis’ nieces and nephews, or their children, who might have known about the life of Douglas Bruce.

I have just discovered that his sister, Alice Mabel, married Walter Ricks, also in 1904, aged 23. The census of 1901, shows Walter Francis Ricks (aged 23) living with his parents and siblings, and working as a ‘Commercial Traveller’. His father was James Ricks (then aged 55)), and has given his occupation as Artist, painter and Sculptor.

A search for Walter Ricks on the 1911 census, has unearthed two more nephews for ‘Uncle Douglas’, James Bruce Ricks, born in 1905, and Donald Bruce Ricks, born in 1910. They lived in Nassau Road in Barnes, not that far from Barrowgate Road, so it seems more than likely that ‘our’ Douglas Bruce would have had some contact with these two little boys, while he was living with his sister, Edith Finnis and her two children – especially as another sister, Ethel Gertrude, was recorded as living in the household of Walter Ricks.

The remaining two of his sisters married quite a lot later (possibly a result of the slaughter of so many young men in W.W.1). Amy Beatrice (the youngest of the five sisters) was married to Charles Oram in 1922 when she was 32, well within the child-bearing age. The next in age, Ethel Gertrude, married four years later to Charles Horton, in 1926 when she was already 38, but still with the possibility of children.

Amy and Ethel both lived to a good old age, Ethel surviving till 85, and Amy at 80. As their deaths were both registered in Worthing, it seems that, as widows, they set up house together . I don’t yet know whether or not they had any children.

I’ll be hoping to find out more about Phyllis, and whether she actually was his first wife, or had married decades earlier to one of his women friends in China or Hong Kong.

I’ll be posting Bessie’s fifth and final letter very soon.

Bessie’s 4th Letter – Stolen kisses in a monastery tower

With the help of my friend, I’m still finding out more about Mr Bruce and his relations, but I’ll get back to this research later.
(If you’re new to this blog, and you’d like to find out what this is all about, it’ll probably help you to scroll down to the first post about the Mystery Challenge,in which I’m asking readers to help me find out more about the love letters from 1920’s China.)

In a previous post I mentioned that Bessie had written two more letters to Douglas Bruce after she had told herself that she would not contact him again, so here is the first page of the handwritten version. It does seem that their ‘affair’ had not gone further than the kisses she refers to. The full transcript shows that her marriage to Jimmy had not been entirely happy even before she had met Mr Bruce.

One of the details that I’ve tried to research, is the ‘monastery tower’ she had visited with him – and declared her feelings for him. I came across a site which shows a beautiful porcelain dish with significant landmarks of the old city of Canton.

Bessie’s tower might possibly have been the Zhenhai Tower, which, according to this site, is a bit of a hassle for a westerner if you don’t do this within a tour that stops right outside

Here is my transcript of the complete letter.

“Bruce dear,
There isn’t much point in my writing you, but I think I shall feel better if I do. I can’t tell you how sorry I am to have brought you into this mess. Now that Jimmy and I have had it out and he is convinced that I am not absolutely rotten (of course I had to lie to convince him – I said you had kissed me only once – so

I’ve got the seven or eight other times to remember, all to myself) he is doing all he can to make up for his past behaviour and I should be happy – but my dear, dear I’m not. Every time he kisses me I can scarcely keep back my cries to you. I’m not going to see you anymore and I can’t bear to think of it. There is a great hole in my heart – you have the piece that was dug out whether you want it or not.

Of course I had no idea that I cared this much and it surprises me all the time that I do, and I don’t want you to think that I want or expect you to do anything about it. I’ve chosen this way and I’m sure I’m right in doing so. I’ve made you out as a noble person as I could, because you have been so darned decent through it all. Of course it wouldn’t make any difference to you what he thought about you but I wanted him to know that it was fully as much my fault as yours, and I did my best to make him believe it.

Margaret gave me your note yesterday but of course you had Jimmy’s letter by the time I got yours so there was no need for me to do anything about it.

Poor Jimmy.I am much sorrier for him than for myself and you of course will forget all about it soon I hope. If I could just get you out of my mind everything would be all right but I’m not in the least ashamed to say that what I said in the monastery tower I meant.

Write me just one letter Bruce because you’ve never said very much to me and I’d like just a little something to put in that hole if I can be sure that you mean it. Please don’t say anything more than you mean. I don’t need your love, just some liking and forgiveness for bringing you into my messy life this way.

Good-bye, dear person.

There was no use telling Jimmy that I care for you when I had chosen to stay with him, was there? It would only be worse for all three of us, and I did so hope I could keep him from writing that letter to you if I could persuade him that for the last few times we had seen each other there had been nothing between us. Besides, I’m a coward, so don’t like me if you don’t want to.

As you will see if you peer closely at the first handwritten page above, you’ll see that this transcript was written as an afterthought at the top of the first page. Although I know that the man in the picture above is indeed Douglas Bruce, I can’t guarantee that the woman leaning towards him is Bessie.

A BRIEF DIGRESSION from My Mystery Challenge!

Yes, I do have other things to think about – among these, a brief visit to London to catch up with my writing friends, Crysse Morrison – who took this photo (take a look at her blog to find out more).
and Roger Jinkinson (You can read about his own books and his passion for the research into the fascinating real-life story that led to his latest book, American Ikaros) Before meeting up with Crysse on the South Bank, I had time to browse through Poetry books and magazines at the wonderful Saison Poetry Library on Level 5 of the Festival Hall. The reference section seems to have a copy of every poetry book published in Britain since 1912. Without really expecting it, I was amazed to find that my own very slim volume, Single Travellers (Flarestack 2004) was squeezed in on the ‘C’ shelf.

Last week (Wednesday February 17, 2011) I was delighted to receive this praise from writer, Sally Jenkins for my professional publication of Paper Lanterns – and some nice comments about the contents, too! –

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