Saturday, April 30, 2011


It's 11:20 pm here, and the first time I've been to my room since before lunch. But that's how conferences are: days full of workshops, socializing over meals, and meetings. I don't want to miss anything. But I did squeeze in a couple of 20 or 30 minute sessions in Woodbrooke's Quaker Library. I mostly scanned through the Irish and Carolina histories (unless I recognized something we have at Guilford), looking for tidbits to use in my novels.

It was beautiful outside today. But this is my kind of inspiration...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reboot, Retry, Retreat ... Repeat

I just arrived in Birmingham, England, after an overnight flight with the usual free time. Now I'm at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, with the day off, surrounded by quiet places, all kinds of encouragement for writers — and I didn't bring my book to work on.

You may be thinking: *face-palm* Beth! Why didn't you bring your novel? Well, for starters, it's in the second draft stage, printed out, and weighs about 10 pounds. I simply could not see lugging that giant binder around with me when I'm traveling light. If I had been working on it consistently, I would have brought the latest chapters to work on, but I'm just not there.

After months of hiatus, I restarted writing several weeks ago. I started with Debbie Ohi's 500 Words A Day challenge. Although I didn't write as many days per week as I wanted — what with two jobs and irregular work schedules — it really did help get my mind back into writing mode. I wrote at least 500 words at each sitting, about anything.

After a couple of weeks of journaling and writing exercises, I felt ready to reboot the novel. I turned to the Writer's Toolbox (a Christmas gift  :-)  which had some helpful ideas. One of them was to start at the beginning and retype the book. Since my revisions have been mostly handwritten, I thought typing it in would be a good place to start. I went to a cafe on a Monday and worked away! Chapter 1, editing as I go, yay! I felt ready to keep going in the days ahead.

On Tuesday, a dear friend died. Frankly, there are some days when you just don't feel like writing. I don't mean the procrastination kind of feelings, I mean the world-turned-upside-down kind.

A week later, on Monday, I headed out to the cafe and started again. Then I started working extra days, getting ready for this vacation. Am I the only one who glances at these writer blogs where they all say "Just do it!", sighs and says: someday...? They make it sound so easy. But, even if I have to start over every week, or even every month, I'm going to write this book!

I plan to do research for the second book when I go to London next week. I did bring my laptop and a notebook, and pieces of the first novel are probably somewhere in my head. Maybe I will find the inspiration here to start pouring good bits and pieces onto the page or screen.

But for right now, I'm at this beautiful retreat centre, surrounded by nature, wildlife, and Earl Grey tea. And I'm going to retreat.

Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre

Japanese Garden at Woodbrooke

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Back on the trail of my ancestors

I can't believe I'm going back to England in just two weeks! All my attention has been on the new bookshop, but I need to get back into the genealogy mindset. I'm going to a Quakers Uniting in Publications conference in Birmingham, but I added a precious few days in London at the end of the trip for genealogy research. My primary goal this time is to find out all I can about the Fredericksburgh Monthly Meeting.

Fredericksburgh, now known as Camden, South Carolina, was also known as the Wateree meeting (on the Wateree River) and even Pine Tree Hill. When my ancestor Joshua English moved there from Ireland in 1753, he brought his wife, Mary, and six children: Thomas (22), Elizabeth (18), Robert (16), John (~13), Mary (~11) and Joshua (~8). (Fellow historians think the younger four children came on a separate voyage because they weren't present at court for the land request. My research shows that no other Quaker families arrived in the four months before they did show up in the records, so I believe they traveled with their parents.)

Genealogists with Quaker lines are usually fortunate, because they kept meticulous vital records. However, living archivists and deceased authors alike assure me that no records exist for Fredericksburgh Meeting. Whether they didn't keep records, or the records were destroyed, or they sit lost in someone's attic, nobody seems to know. The meeting fell apart after only a couple of decades and was formally laid down in 1784. Apparently, wealth and slaves and plantation life drew several members away from their faith. Those who stayed true to Quaker ideals moved to Bush River Meeting, which was farther into the South Carolina backcountry, or to other states. Joshua's son Thomas, my ancestor, remained a Quaker and his son John moved to Bush River and then to North Carolina.

Two things inspired me to hunt for these records. 1 - I read in a book that Fredericksburgh reported directly to the London Yearly Meeting. Later on, they were under North Carolina Yearly Meeting, but seemed to have little interaction with other American meetings. 2 - Skimming through a Virginia heritage book, I ran across a letter from Fredericksburgh Meeting, signed by its members. I thought, if a Virginia meeting has a record - a snapshop in time - of this little group of Quakers, more records must exist.

The letter attests to the character of William Terrell and his wife Martha, who apparently moved from Fredericksburgh to Southriver Meeting in Virginia with their children in 1762. It was signed by Samuel Wiley; John, Henry, Robert, James and Rebecca Millhouse; John, Joshua, Robert, Joseph, and Mary English and Mary English Jr.; William Elmore; William Smith; Zeb. Gauntt; Timothy, Samuel, John and Mary Kelly; Mary Tomlinson; Sarah Russell; and Mary Cook.

Those names give me enough clues to hunt for more.