This week, Margaret Barnes talks about her exciting new project which is a complete change of direction following publication of the final part of her court room drama trilogy.
“Write about what you know is the usual advice given to would be writers. When I began writing my books, I took that advice on board and wrote about the criminal justice system. Having been a barrister for over twenty-five years I was very familiar with the processes and was able to rely on my experiences and my knowledge of lawyers and law. The stories were set in places with which I was not just familiar but intimate, the Inns of Court and the Old Bailey as well as the city that is London.
But I have always wanted to write a family saga based on my own relations and in particular my paternal grandfather who had an enormous influence on my life. His story began in the small town of Rawtenstall in the Rossendale Valley. This part of Lancashire was at the heart of the cotton industry and its fortunes have gone up and down with the success and failure of the mills. The problem for me is that although I also was born in the Valley, I have not lived there since I was eighteen. And although I can remember my grandfather as an old man, I have to piece together his early life from the snippets I was told by my mother, which isn’t very much. Like many working-class families there are not reams of letters on which to rely, nor are there many photographs. In order to write what I am describing as a family biography which will begin with my great-grandmother, I need to do a great deal of research. Fortunately I have a start from other members of my extended family most of whom live in the US. And, of course, there are the resources of the internet.
I have found Facebook pages devoted to the history of Rossendale which are providing information about the place. More beautiful than I remember now the mill chimneys and their smoke have gone. Census returns, birth and marriage certificates are helping me to trace where my family lived and who they lived with.
I have had my DNA analysed to try and discover if any of my family came from other areas or even countries only to discover that I am a true north country woman. I now realise why the BBC programme is called ‘Who do you think you are?’ Already some of the assumptions I have made about myself have been shattered. I suspect my continuing voyage of discovery will turn up more surprises. So, no more court room dramas but hopefully a family biography.”