A chance discovery of love letters and photographs from 1920’s China inspired the middle section of my latest novel, Paper Lanterns. When I first read these letters, I was more interested in working out how I might weave them into a story and setting of my own. I knew that I would need to change: the names of the people involved; the setting from Canton to Hong Kong; and bring the date forward to 1930.
I quickly became absorbed in the lives of my own fictional characters, Belle, Ivy, Rupert and Shing Mui, but now that Paper Lanterns is makings its way into the hands of readers around the world, I’ve had time to look again at the various photos, letters and other papers that came in the box found by my husband (see the article in the Sunday Mercury) and I’d love to find out more about the real people involved in these letters.
If there is any truth in the theory of 6 degrees of separation, a reader of this blog might know someone who knows someone whose (great)grandfather, grandmother, aunt or uncle happened to be in China between about 1915 and 1930 and had some connection with The Asiatic Petroleum co. (South China), Ltd.
This photo was taken in April 1929, almost nine years after the final letter to Mr Bruce written by the married English woman called Bessie, whose love letters gave me the voice for my invented character, Belle River’s journal extracts.
I’m looking for information about any descendants of the man called Douglas Bruce (my inspiration for Rupert MacFarlane). He was employed by The Asiatic Petroleum Company, and it was his effects that turned up in the box of miscellaneous paper items at an auction in 2005.
Here is a close-up of Mr Bruce (on the right) and it would be nice to imagine that the woman on the left might be Bessie’s friend, Margaret Hartle (Belle River’s close friend Ivy, in my novel).
In my next few posts I’ll be showing photos of Mr Bruce with two young women on a beach, one of whom is very likely to be Bessie. There is also a wedding picture that includes Mr Bruce as a guest. I am hoping that I can start to identify some of these people in various other photographs.
The group picture below and the list of names at a tennis tournament have helped me to name at least one more of the men. The list was written by Bessie herself, but unfortunately, there is only a tiny glimpse of part of her face on the far right bottom corner.
PLEASE DO FORWARD THIS LINK to as many of your friends and acquaintances as possible, and ask them all to send the link on in the same way. I think that this type of search is more likely to be successful if readers are completely open-minded and are willing to contact people who are very unlikely to have a direct contact with a descendant of Mr Bruce, Bessie, or Margaret Hartle. 6 degrees of separation might not be an exact science, but who knows what we might discover if people across the world are prepared to send this link to enough other people.
I’LL BE SENDING A FREE COPY OF PAPER LANTERNS TO ANYONE WHO CONTACTS ME WITH NEW INFORMATION about Douglas Bruce, Bessie, and Margaret Hartle. I’m not asking information about Shing Mui. Those of you who have read the novel will understand why.
Keep checking on this site for more pictures and letters about the REAL LIFE love letters that inspired the middle section of Paper Lanterns
This will be my shortest ever post – I just wanted to say ‘HAPPY CHRISTMAS’ to my regular visitors and to anyone who has landed here by chance. The picture above is a small detail of the traditional decorations on my tree.
This one is one I took last Sunday, before a heavier fall of snow on Monday threatened to prevent my sister and family from Cornwall arriving to spend the night with us en route to their destination in snowy Scotland.
I also want to alert you to my new challenge for the start of 2011.
Frequent visitors will already know that the middle part of the novel is set in 1930 in Hong Kong, and that this section was inspired by the discovery of a cache of love letters. The story of that find was so interesting in itself, that the Birmingham Sunday paper published a two-page spread about the find, and included some of the original photographs.
I shall be posting more pictures of the real-life characters involved, as well as some of the handwritten letters, because my big challenge for the new year is to see if I can find any of their descendents.
All will be explained in my next post,
so keep an eye open.
You might know someone
who just happens to know someone who used to go to school
with someone whose grandmother used to know
the daughter of
someone who …..
HAVE A VERY HAPPY
IN THE WORLD
(I saw this swan in my local park - it made me laugh!