Ellis Island

Ellis Island, the reception centre for all new immigrants to New York, newly opened in 1900 after the earlier wooden structure burned down. Ships arrived daily, filled with hopeful immigrants by the score, as many as 10,000 people to be processed. Russian Jews seeking escape from persecution, Hungarians, Slovakians, Poles, Italians, all speaking to each other in different tongues, eating strange foods, suffering the dangers and indignities of the crossing in grim silence. They came for free education, a free vote, low taxes, high wages, no religious repression, no kings or compulsory military service. They often left behind loved ones, poverty, starvation, unemployment, congested living conditions, oppression. In America they dreamed of living in a free land, with the hope of a good future.

Conditions on board had been deplorable, but arrival would surely end their agony? Unfortunately a new one almost instantly began. Thousands of people jostled ashore. Rations would run short, children crying, weather conditions, whether too hot or too cold, making the waiting almost worse than steerage, and anxiety was high. Uniformed officials alarmed those who had escaped from a military regime back home. Often they were brusque and rude, shouting and swearing at the frightened immigrants. They too were tired, hot and hungry, as well as overworked, often having done a 12 hour shift on low pay. Patience was short.

Immigrants arrived laden with sacks, carpet bags, small trunks, rolled-up bundles tucked under their arm or balanced on their head. Luggage would be stowed on the ground floor while they proceeded up the stairs.

Everyone must first walk up the stairs to be inspected. Children over two had to walk unaided to prove they weren’t disabled. Anyone limping or short of breath was hauled out of line for further health checks. Anyone too carefully watching their step was suspected of having an eye problem. Fractious children or sulky teenagers could be pulled out of line and given a test for the feeble-minded. These stairs came to be known as ‘the six second exam.’

When they reached the top they would indeed catch their breath in amazement at what they saw. A huge, grand, high-ceilinged hall divided into railed channels along which they were herded like cattle.

After that came the inspections. There would be a long wait in a queue, often for hours. Some would strike up music on an accordion or banjo, and do a little impromptu dance, while waiting. At the end of each line a doctor, dressed in the blue uniform of the US Health Service, carefully scrutinised every man, woman and child for physical or mental defects. Hair, face, neck and hands were closely examined, including the scalp for ringworm. Coats were unbuttoned to check for a goitre or tumour, or pregnancy.

There would follow many more tests in which the immigrant would be asked for the details as outlined in the manifest: Name, age, sex, marital status, nationality, occupation, last residence, destination in America, how much money they had, and whether the immigrant could read and write. Also, had they paid their own passage, and did they have tickets through to their final destination. Had they ever served time in a prison or poorhouse, or suffered from any deformities or illnesses. A lone female, unless met by a man, would be returned from whence she came, although sexual favours could gain admittance to the US. If she was suspected of being a prostitute she would be forced to endure a bodily search by a female attendant.

There were any number of reasons for rejection. If the person failed any of these rapid and perfunctory inspections, or gave the wrong answer, a chalk mark was placed on their back. C for conjunctivitis; Ct for trachoma; K for hernia; L for lameness; Pg for pregnancy; S for senility; and many more. One in five failed. These people were pulled out of line, even if wrongly labelled, in a most callous and impersonal manner, and made to wait in a special holding area, namely a detention pen which was enclosed by wire screens. Then they would be sent back from whence they came, often alone, on the same ship which had brought them to America, and was now obliged to take them away for no extra charge.

Rosie Belsfield feels as if her life has ended when she is rejected from Ellis Island and has to return alone to England leaving her family behind. But having boarded the ship with one identity, fate decrees that she leave it with another. The promise of a new life beckons, one of riches and even a title in beautiful Cornwall, but it is also one fraught with danger as she becomes caught up in a web of lies not of her making.

Rosie Belsfield feels as if her life has ended when she is rejected from Ellis Island and has to return alone to England leaving her family behind. But having boarded the ship with one identity, fate decrees that she leave it with another. The promise of a new life beckons, one of riches and even a title in beautiful Cornwall, but it is also one fraught with danger should her deceit be discovered.

In ebook and print.
Paperback published April 29


The London Book Fair 2013

David and I attended the London Book Fair this week, and what an amazing experience that was. It was much larger and busier than I had expected, and you could positively hear the hum of deals being done. Up in the International Rights Centre where I went to meet my agent, the entire room, which was of gigantic proportions, was laid out with tables and chairs, each one partially partitioned from its neighbour. Across these deals were done.

View of Court One from the Terrace Restaurant

Authors have not normally been welcomed at the LBF, but this attitude is changing with the increasing acceptability of self-publishing. I attended seminars in the Thames Room, and downstairs in the main courts was the Author’s Lounge where industry managers and PR experts also gave talks, some of which were very interesting. The only problem with this was that the Author Lounge was far too small for the numbers who wished to sit there and listen. I felt sorry for those stand holders who could hardly be seen for the crowds hovering outside to listen in. Hopefully, this problem will be addressed in future.

A talk about to start in the Authors' Lounge

I came across several members of the RNA including Julie Day, Alison Morton, Liz Fenwick, Henriette Gyland, Rachel Gore, and Lynne Connolly. You can see Lynne here with her publisher, on the Ellora’s Cave stand where her new titles were displayed.

Did I gain much from it? A great deal. As well as speaking with my agent, and publisher Allison & Busby, I spoke with Amazon, Kobo and Gardners, about the success of my ebooks. I also found a company who print and distribute self-published titles. Seeing some of my Out of Print books back in print is a dream I may well pursue. It was exciting to be a part of something as large and vibrant as the LBF, and seeing the size and importance of the book industry in the UK.


The Street of my childhood in the fifties

I have fond memories of the street on which I lived as a child, and have used them in many of my books. My favourite shop was the bakers where there was always that tempting smell of freshly baked bread, a delicious array of cakes, muffins and currant tea cakes. A custard slice for our tea on a Saturday was our weekly treat, following a hot meat and potato pie, the pastry rich and crisp, the smell of it so intoxicating I can recall it to this day. The baker also sold cold ham, roast beef and tongue, potted meats, polony, raised pork pies, and sausage rolls. Queues would form outside the shop every lunchtime in eager anticipation of a delicious snack. Tuesday was roast pork day. I would ask for a quarter, thinly sliced, and the baker’s wife would take the chunk of pork over to the slicer and quickly carve some off then wrap it in greaseproof paper. She never weighed anything, except in her hands.

My grandparents ran a hairdresser’s shop. Grandad was one of the first to do permanent waving, building his own machine which was clamped to the lady’s head with curling grips. What would have happened had there been a fire I dread to think. Women saved up in a club for a perm, queuing up the stairs for their turn.

The ironmongers smelled of paraffin, varnish and firewood. There you could find everything from candles and scrubbing brushes to knitting wool, shoe polish, glue, torch batteries, bicycle pumps, and any size of screw and nail you might ever need. It was owned by a big, jolly man whose eyesight grew so bad over the years that he would have to hold the screw right up to his nose to judge its size. He wore a khaki apron that reached to his ankles and would take infinite care to find just the right size of screw to fit your bolt, or weigh out your pound of one inch nails till it bounced on the scales.

Jolly Mr G- and plump Mrs G- ran the little grocer’s shop. Grocers wore long white aprons, were very civil to customers if not always to children. If you happened to be in a hurry then you would just have to wait because he took his time as everything had to be cut and carefully wrapped. Butter would be cut in slabs and patted into shape with long wooden bats, then wrapped in grease proof paper. If a man was in a hurry, however, he would generally be served before a woman, even if she was there first. Her permission for this was never asked. Children were frequently overlooked completely. I was generally ignored until everyone else in the shop had been served, then Mr G- would give me a few currants as if to reward my patience and say: ‘Now, Freda, I have some nice sliced ham your mother would like.’ Even mum had to be grateful for whatever he offered, so I never refused. I was great friends with their son who spent much of his time sulking in the back room, though he was a useful friend to have as he could provide a ready supply of sticks of liquorice and Coltsfoot rock. He was also allowed to stay up late and listen to the radio, and later a twelve inch television set, which we didn’t have. I was hugely jealous.

The milk cart called every morning. You knew the milkman was on his way when you heard the rattle of wheels and the clip of the horse’s hooves over the setts. He wore a trilby hat pulled right down over his ears, and he would call out in a loud voice, ‘Muilk, muilk! He ladled this from the big metal churns into the jugs the women brought to him. I certainly remember running to the back of his trap with my jug and watching as the frothy fresh milk was poured in, no doubt unpastuerised. Coal, fish, fruit and vegetables and many other things were sold in the same way. The horses were always trimmed up with bows and ribbons on May Day.

I remember the lady in the draper’s shop at the end of our row. She was a thin, very proper looking woman with tightly permed hair and a slight lisp. She sold ribbons and laces, knitting patterns and wool of every colour and hue. Her shop always smelt new and exciting, and she could measure a length of tape or blue ribbon without recourse to tape measure by stretching it from the tip of her nose, along the length of her arm to her fingers.

As for the man in the fish and chip shop, he was fat and blubbery in a soiled apron who fried the fish and chips to perfection, crisp and delectable on the outside, piping hot within. His head was bald and gleamed as if greased from the fat on his hands, and he never wore any other expression but a grin on his round face. He was called Charlie. Everyone would go to Charlie’s for their fish and chips.

Now Mrs A- at the toy and sweet shop had the patience of Job. She’d stand for half an hour while a child agonised over how to spend their Saturday penny. And there was a great deal to choose from. Gob stoppers, dolly mixtures, aniseed balls, pear drops, Pontefract cakes, rose creams and Sarsaparilla. Her shop was filled with treasures. Foreign stamps from countries with mysterious names like Mauritious, Aden and The Gold Coast. Dinkie cars, farm animals, plastic water pistols, marbles with swirling patterns on them, tops and whips and skipping ropes with coloured handles. She also entered into the community spirit by stocking a library of romances for overworked mums. For a penny you could borrow the latest Ethel M. Dell for a week. Perhaps this was my favourite shop when I was very young. Later I peferred the record shop where you could stand in a booth and listen to the latest Elvis Presley number played to you before you bought it. But whatever my age, shopping in our street was always a joy.

In 1950s Manchester, folk are just emerging from the shadow of the war. Money is still tight, and the bustling market is a source of tempting bargains – as well as the local gossip.

All human life is here in Manchester’s Champion Street Market. Whether you want one of Patsy’s hats or a bag of Lizzie’s chocolate truffles, Molly Poulson’s pies or a rum and raisin gelato from the Bertalone’s ice cream parlour, you will get a good helping of gossip with your purchases …

The stall-holders and customers of Manchester’s Champion Street market are a lively and varied bunch. Find out more about their lives and loves in Putting on the Style, Fools Fall in Love, That’ll be the Day, Candy Kisses, Who’s Sorry Now and Lonely Teardrops.


Flying Ducks

Enjoyed a most inspiring meeting at the Smiths Arms, Beckwithshaw, near Harrogate, with the Flying Ducks. We’re a group of writers who have been meeting for at least 15 years, supporting each other through the ups and downs in the publishing world. Whether it’s advising a new writer what to do about a rejection, or an established writer seeking information on research, promotion or self-publishing, this is the place where one can be sure of getting the right kind of help. It’s a great resource and support group.

On this occasion inspiration was the theme of the meeting, and we heard all about the spark that had inflamed the idea for a book, quotes that kept people going through the tough times, must-buy books to turn to when needed. It was all fascinating and most useful.

And of course we were able to share our latest news, whether it was a new release or new contract, we could all join in the celebration. Ken McCoy was actually celebrating publication that day of his new saga Perseverance Street. Well done, Ken! Leah Fleming told us of the number of German copies of The Captain’s Daughter that had dropped through her door because it went to 9 reprints. Brilliant! Julia Stagg was celebrating her new book The French Postmistress, which has a lovely cover. And these were just a few of the success stories.

Here we all are, about to be served lunch, in a higgly-piggly collection of tables in an attempt to fit us all in. A few are out of camera shot, unfortunately.

And here is the little poem I offered which had been my own inspiration when first starting out back in the early 80s.

I will succeed I simply cannot fail.
The only obstacle is doubt.
There’s not a hill I cannot scale
Once fear is put to rout.
Don’t talk defeat, don’t think defeat,
The word will rob you of your strength.
I will succeed, this phrase repeat
Throughout the journey’s length.

The moment that ‘I can’t ‘ is said,
You slam a door right in your face.
Why not exclaim ‘I will’ instead,
Half won then is the race.
You close the door to your success
By entertaining one small fear.
Think happiness, talk happiness
Watch joy then coming near.



Duchess of Drury Lane-deleted scenes

It is sometimes difficult keeping a book within the prescribed limits. Exceeding that length can create excessive expense for the publisher, and make it less easy to convert to large print. Most books benefit from cutting, making it tighter and more polished. Duchess of Drury Lane was no exception to this rule, but there is the odd scene we take out with some reluctance. Here is one of them which shows a turning point in her early life. Had this suitor been more appealing, or more persistent, her life might have taken an entirely different course, and history would have changed.

Deleted scene:
By the summer of 1780 the Dublin theatres closed and the company went on tour, including a visit to Waterford, the place where I received my second proposal of marriage. Charles Doyne was a young army lieutenant who sat in the gallery every night before declaring his love for me, and I confess that when he did so I had a great urge to giggle.

‘But you do not know me,’ I gently scolded him. ‘You love only what you have seen on stage where I am playing a part. I am not at all like Lucy or Phoebe, or any other character I play. I may be a bit of a tomboy but I’m also rather shy underneath all that showing off. I can hide on stage, under these make-believe personas, and forget myself, do you see?’

‘I know all that, but you are sweet and lovely and I adore you, Dolly. I assure you my intentions are entirely honourable. Will you walk with me, so that we may become better acquainted?’

We walked in the summer sunshine. We talked and exchanged our views on life, and I grew quite fond of him, deciding that in many ways we might well be perfectly suited. He was indeed a most pleasant young man, well educated, and a gentleman no less. When he finally made a formal offer of marriage, Mama made judicial enquiries about the family. She was not impressed. She even sought advice from Mr Owenson, a character actor in the company who advised Grace that I, her beloved daughter, was ‘a treasure to be nurtured’.

‘Marriage would be a waste for her, madam,’ he insisted. And having suffered badly from matrimony herself, Mama heartily agreed. She set about talking me out of the match, although I swear I had no strong feelings on the matter.

‘Are you in love with this fellow, Dolly?’

‘I do not know,’ I freely admitted, wondering whether these feelings I had inside when he took my hand or kissed my cheek could be so described. ‘He is genteel and polite, and he makes me happy.’

‘But you are so young, with all your life and possibly a dazzling career before you.’

I scoffed at this latter notion. ‘I doubt I will ever dazzle anyone.’

‘How can you say that? You will not stay at Crow Street forever. Once you have gained some experience the world is your oyster, dearest. I have made some enquiries and the family is not a rich one. He may be a gentleman but he has little to offer you, and remember that marriage does not always turn out to be quite as wonderful as we might hope. Do you really wish to sacrifice your art for a child each year and genteel poverty?’

Recalling Mama’s own experience of that state, and not feeling quite ready for child bearing, I politely declined his offer. Dear Charles declared himself heartbroken before going in search of another bride.

It felt like a turning point in my life, a commitment of sorts to the stage, setting it above such trivialities as personal happiness, yet like any girl I still nursed a secret desire for marriage and children. We returned to Dublin for the new season, Ryder declaring he was so delighted he wasn’t about to lose me that he would pay me three guineas a week. I gave little credence to this generous offer as the twenty shillings had never quite materialised, more like fifteen at best, but it felt good to have money in our purse again, if not as much as we would have liked.

Review by Booklist:
If Dolly Jordan’s sister Hester didn’t come down with a severe case of stage fright, Dolly never would have become a star. When Hester couldn’t face a Dublin audience, Dolly was forced to go on in her place and, much to her surprise, discovers that she loves acting and has a flair for comedy. As she learns to deal with lascivious managers and fellow actors, Dolly, who adopts the stage names Dora and Miss Francis, is soon playing to packed houses on Drury Lane. Among the audience is the Duke of Clarence (the future King William IV), with whom Dolly becomes involved in a romantic relationship that will last two decades. But while the plays in which she stars almost always have happy endings, Dolly will find that, in life that is not always the case. In her latest richly detailed historical novel, which will definitely speak to fans of Rosalind Laker, Lightfoot fictionalizes the rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of real-life actress Dora Jordan, whose tragic life was filled with more drama than any play in which she starred.

Hardcover  ISBN 978-0727882462 
Kindle Edition 1 March 
Paperback 30 June