I bought a Sunday paper this week. It’s unusual for me to buy a newspaper, let alone a Sunday one, but I had some time on my hands and was pleased for the chance to browse. I was astounded then as I turned to page 13 of one of the supplements to find an article on Anglesey. Not just any article, but Mark Radcliffe describing Anglesey as the place where he goes:
‘when things have been stressful and it sucks the stresses away somehow’.
As I read through the article I felt as though I had fallen into another universe – the universe in which I was reading the words of the enigmatic Walter from my novel Forgotten Children (which is still in manuscript form).
Walter has a favourite bench on a clifftop, from which he can see the wide bay below and enjoy the seabirds swirling and nature at its wildest. Imagine how strange it felt to read Mark Radcliffe explain:
‘If you climb up a little hillock opposite the church there is a bench there and sitting on it all you can see is the church, the church yard, the sea, the seabirds and ships. I’ve sat there many times, just me and my dog…’
In Forgotten Children Walter helps the protagonist Emily through a difficult time in her life, gently sharing his wisdom, wisdom that has come to him as the result of a difficult childhood. He settled in Anglesey as it gave him a sense of peace, a place where he could be at one with nature. He feels safe and part of a small community, where he is not judged.
Walter would agree with Mark Radcliffe who says about Anglesey that it has:
‘got under my skin and really does have a special place in my heart.’
Walter wouldn’t be surprised that I picked up that newspaper, or that the article was on page 13. I’m sure he would say that fate takes us to the places where we need to be.
I live down south, but last week I was lucky enough to make a trip to North Wales. While I was there I realised it offered a perfect opportunity for me to do some hands-on research.
Anglesey is one of the key settings in my forthcoming novel, Forgotten Children. I visited this small island many years ago and from that vague memory I had described it as best I could. But now I had the opportunity to spend a day there and to soak up the atmosphere and explore the very beaches where my protagonist walks her dog.
It was a wonderful, yet strange feeling, a mix of fiction and reality. At every turn I was expecting to see my characters, who have become so real to me. In Forgotten Children Emily rents a cottage for a while, Martha’s Cottage. As I walked around Red Wharf Bay I saw several cottages that could easily have been Emily’s retreat. The wide sweep of the Bay is the perfect place for dog walkers and I could just imagine Emily’s dog, Ralph, racing across the sand.
It was a grey day when I was there, but I could imagine it in all weathers. The grassy backdrop to the beach will soon be filled with spring colour as the March sunshine warms the land. We chatted to some locals who described the force of the recent storm, which swept across the village, creating some damage to trees, but also providing a reminder of the way that nature is in charge.
I’m so pleased I had the chance to spend a few hours there and I hope that my more recent experiences will help to more accurately inform my writing about this often forgotten outcrop.
I was studying for my MA in Professional Writing when I first learned about these children, some as young as four years old, who were taken from British care homes and put on ships to journey to the other side of the world. When they arrived they were placed in institutions where they were often used as slave labour. They experienced dreadful neglect, hardship and abuse of all kinds. It was only when a Nottinghamshire social worker, Margaret Humphries, started to investigate that the truth came to light. In 1987 she founded the Child Migrants Trust and she has since dedicated the rest of her life to helping children – now adults – to find out the truth about their past.
There have been several books already written about the child migrants, one of which was made into a heart-wrenching film, Oranges and Sunshine.
The more I read about the sad tales of the children who were taken from all they knew in the name of providing ‘good, sound British stock’ for our colonies, the more I felt impelled to try to raise awareness in the best way I know how.
I am currently putting the finishing touches to my novel Forgotten Children, which tells of a mother’s desperate attempts to find her son, and a young man’s search for his parents. The story is inspired by the factual accounts of some of the child migrants, who contributed to a book, entitled,Lost Children of the Empire, which is now out of print, but I managed to track it down in the British Library. It made for sad reading.
Forgotten Children will be published later this year.