The REAL story behind ALL MY MOTHER'S SECRETS

I grew up in a house full of secrets, where conversations would end suddenly as I walked into the room and grown-ups would change the subject to things deemed more suitable for young ears.

Children know when adults are hiding things, even if they are too young to understand the complexities of relationships, so I developed a thirst for the “truth” of the matter.

That led me to my first career, as a national newspaper journalist, but I always had it in the back of my mind, that there was a story to be told about my own family’s secrets.

My earliest years were spent in the care of my maternal grandmother, Annie, who lived with her half-sister, my Great Aunt Elsie. They would tell me about the old days back in London, showing me pictures of my great gran Emma Chick and even my great-great gran, who worked as laundresses in the slums of Notting Hill and Acton, which was known as Soapsud Island, at the turn of the last century and the years between two world wars.

Researching All My Mother’s Secrets, I was horrified to learn about the squalor the laundresses worked in. Diseases such as TB and scarlet fever were a rife, hours were long for little pay and the conditions were squalid and dangerous, with floors awash with filthy water and scalds from searing hot irons just a part of everyday life. And the worst thing was, some of the laundry maids were just children - as young as 12; and that had included my Nan.

As I grew up, certain things were Just Not Talked About – such as what happened to my Nan’s father, Henry Austin, who she had been told, had “gone away to the First World War and never came back.”

I also learned that there had been a Great Uncle George, my gran’s brother, born in 1915, who died young, of tuberculosis. Great Aunty Elsie’s dad was a laundry hand, who Emma Chick had married as the First World War was drawing to a close but no-one spoke much about him either, other than to say he was a bit of a bad tempered bloke at times.

My Nan died when I was 12 and that sparked my mother’s interest in family history. This was in the 1980s, before the internet, and through her, I learned how to research births, marriages and deaths, on microfilm and from dusty old registers held in libraries and at the National Archives in Kew.

But try as we might, Henry Austin, who we knew had worked as a cabbie, driving a horse-drawn hansom cab around London’s bustling streets before the war, simply seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

It was after my mother’s untimely death from cancer that my Great Aunt Elsie let slip something which made me even more determined to put the pieces of the puzzle together. She believed that Great Uncle George’s father might not have been the mysterious Henry Austin but someone else, within the Austin family, who had lived with my great gran for a time, after he was widowed.

It inspired me to look again, with fresh eyes, and this time, I found Henry Austin had died, not in the Great War, but in 1906, when my gran was still a baby. So, Emma Chick had lied all along, but the question was: Why?

I won’t spoil the plot by revealing all the secrets just now, but I was able to find out who George’s father was and what had happened to him, after he went away to fight in the Great War. And in a sense, sadly, he never came back because he was such a changed man, so the story my Nan was told was partly true.

It’s easy to judge someone for lying to cover up a scandal but I believe Emma Chick did what she had to do to try to hold her family together, to avoid public shame, during the upheaval of the Great War. I am proud of her, and all the other laundresses, who toiled for such little reward, with the wellbeing of their children uppermost in their minds.

*ALL MY MOTHER’S SECRETS by Beezy Marsh is published by PanMacmillan on August 9th, priced £7.99. Available in ASDA, Waterstones, WH Smiths and good book shops as well as Amazon. https://amzn.to/2Hlh0fr

Sign up for all Beezy’s book news on www.beezy-marsh.com and she is on Twitter and Instagram @beezymarsh and on Facebook @beezymarshauthor.

 

 

 

BOOK NEWS

Hot on the heels of the success of Keeping My Sisters' Secrets, I'm so delighted to announce I will be doing TWO new books for Panmacmillan in the very near future!

I'm already busy writing the first, which is due to be published in August 2018.

I will be returning to the turbulent years between the wars in London, but this time with a different family, telling the moving and true story of lost love, motherhood and survival. I'm already knee-deep in historical research, which I find so fascinating, to help bring a bygone era to life.

The real-life dramas of a world with no NHS, no welfare state and only community to keep things together when times are tough will provide a brilliant backdrop to this gritty story. I can't wait to tell you more, but for now I have got a book to write, so I will keep you posted.

The Home Truths Behind 'Keeping My Sisters' Secrets'

It's brilliant to see Keeping My Sisters' Secrets in the best sellers' charts in Canada, prior to its release here next week (July 27th).

The memoir, which recounts the lives of three sisters born into poverty in London's slums, reveals how one family fought for its survival. It allowed me to dig deep into family relationships, which are the inspiration for all my writing.

The 1930s  was a time of huge social and political change, as the Second World War loomed on the horizon.

Peggy, Kathleen and Eva grew up in the crime-ridden slums of Waterloo, struggling not only against grinding poverty but the ever-present threat of violence from their father.

Their story centres on the unshakeable bond of sisterhood, as they support each other through thick and thin. Bringing the streets of Lambeth to life in the book sparked some fascinating research into how poor, working class women lived in the decades between the wars, surviving without many of the things we take for granted, such as the NHS and social care.

The community could rally round in times of dire need or ostracise people it felt had transgressed, with reputations created or destroyed by street gossip. The daily battle against the filth of the factories and the smogs of London, in homes without electricity or hot water meant that a woman's work really never was done - yet the front step had to be sparkling and the man's shirts neatly pressed or the neighbours would talk.

Eva, the feisty youngest sister, starts out stealing to help feed the family, after witnessing her mother suffering yet another beating when the housekeeping runs short, but finds herself drawn into the dangerous but glamorous world of the Forty Thieves shoplifting gang, which pillage many a West End department store.

Peggy, the studious eldest sister is so appalled by the conditions endured by women around her, in factories and in the home, that she becomes a Communist and is increasingly involved in the fight against Oswald Mosley and his fascist Blackshirts.

Kathleen, the middle child, is the most beautiful and dreams of being a star in the theatres across the River Thames but finds her spirit crushed first by the daily grind of life in the jam factory and then by the handsome boxer she wrongly believes will be a loving husband.

Seeing how Peggy, Kathleen and Eva coped during the war, facing up to the choices they made in the past and fearing for their futures, really brought home to me that love is the one constant in an ever-changing world.

Keeping My Sister's Secrets is due to be published in paperback by PanMacmillan on July 27th and is available for pre-order now.

 

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MR MAKE BELIEVE IS OUT

Well, I'm thrilled to announce that Mr Make Believe is finally here!

I fought my way through a pile of laundry and two school runs to write this and I expect you did the same to read it.
 
I'm so excited to share my debut novel about the adventures of imperfect, blogging mother Marnie Martin and her search for Mr Make Believe. If you can wrestle the iPad or Kindle off the kids for five minutes, you can download it as an ebook, or you can just click on the link and order it from Amazon as a paperback. It doubles as a handy rest for a gin and tonic of an evening in that format, I find.
 
Getting the time to read isn't easy, I know. I often start a game of hide and seek with the kids and lock myself in the bathroom to grab a few moments me-time. It works, trust me.
 
Anyway, I really hope you enjoy reading about Marnie and her exploits, through motherhood, marriage and the mayhem of raising kids, while she struggles to work out whether true love is real or just make believe. You can have a sneak peek at the prologue, here

If you enjoy my book, I'd be so thrilled if you would give it an honest review on Amazon too.
 
Meanwhile, there will be plenty more to look forward to from Marnie Martin and her best mate Belle Devine over the coming months, with a prequel in production for starters which you'll be the first to hear about.
 

MAD FRANK AND SONS FILM

I'm really excited that my biography of the Fraser crime family, Mad Frank and Sons, has been optioned for a film. I hope to have more news on this soon but for now, here is the official press release...

MAD FRANK AND SONS by David Fraser, Patrick Fraser and Beezy Marsh optioned for film by Bill Kenwright Ltd.

Bill Kenwright Ltd has optioned film rights to MAD FRANK AND SONS, the exclusive story of Mad Frankie Fraser’s life becoming one of the most feared and respected West End crime lords and head of a legendary gangland family. Fraser’s gripping life story as told to writer Beezy Marsh, featuring interviews with Frank before his death and with Frank’s bank robber sons, was published in June 2016 by Macmillan. Rights for a feature film were acquired by Bill Kenwright Ltd from Jonathan Sissons at Peters Fraser and Dunlop.

Bill Kenwright is known for his theatre productions but has many film credits to his name: The Day After the Fair, Stepping Out, Don't Go Breaking My Heart and most recently Cheri, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, and Rufus Norris' Broken, starring Tim Roth and Cillian Murphy, which won Best Film at the British Independent Film Awards and opened the 2012 Cannes Film Festival Critics' week. Craig Tuohy of Bill Kenwright Ltd was also behind recent gangland film, Rise of the Krays.

Author Beezy Marsh, said: “Frank Fraser's story continues to fascinate; from his humble beginnings in the slums of Waterloo and his rise through the seedy gangland of Soho, to his notorious 42 years in prison. It is really exciting that Bill Kenwright Ltd has seen the potential for Mad Frank and Sons to make a brilliant film.”

David Fraser said: “I’m looking forward to seeing my and my family’s story on the screen. The truth can be a beautiful thing but it can also be hurtful, and that is very much the story of our lives.”

Craig Tuohy of Bill Kenwright Ltd, said: “Frankie Fraser’s story has all the elements of classic cinema. He was anti-authority through and through yet he lived and died by a code of ethics that made some people see him as a folk hero and others as a danger to society. Bill Kenwright films looks forward to bringing this amazing story to the big screen in 2017.” 

FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN... UNDERSTANDING DYSLEXIA

It started when my first baby was just 16 weeks old and he rolled over.

Another mother, who I had met at the antenatal clinic, immediately tried to push her child over, to make him do the same thing. She was an intelligent woman who, in the world of work, had run a team of people, yet she was angst-ridden that her baby wasn’t doing what mine did “early enough”.

Then came weaning and don’t get me started on walking and talking. I admit, I felt a sense of pride as my child reached all those milestones on time, in fact, probably earlier than most. The health visitor patted him on the head and said he was a lovely “normal”, healthy baby. I lapped it up, secretly pleased that he had never crawled and just stood up and walked, while all the other babies were still scrabbling all on fours. 

The start of nursery brought the pressure to read, to start making “meaningful marks”. My child preferred charging around in a Spiderman suit. In fact,

he thought he WAS Spiderman for a while and I was happy to go along with it,

while others fretted about developmental milestones. 

The first years of school brought reading scheme competitiveness. I know mothers who would sneak a look in their friend’s children’s book bags, to see what level of Biff and Chip they were on, to compare with their own offspring. Maybe they were having a bout of Competitive Mother Syndrome, or maybe they were just anxious, in the light of our target-led society, to make sure that their kid was developing “normally”. 

By the time my boy was eight, other parents bragged about their children devouring The Hobbit at bedtime and their kids’ written work was proudly displayed on the classroom wall, but not my son’s. I started to suffer the anxiety felt by that new mother all those years previously, trying to force her baby to roll over on my living room carpet.  

My child was different.

Trying to read with him ended up in an argument. He would hurl Biff and Chip on the floor and run off to play Lego. I would sob quietly after yet another battle to get him to do his homework. 

He fell behind in class and started to chew his clothes. He gnawed his bunk bed. The battles over homework grew worse. As parents, we agonised about what was wrong and blamed each other. He refused to even pick up a pencil and write.

The school recommended testing for dyslexia and when the results came back, they revealed that our lovely, intelligent boy was so severely dyslexic that he would be best suited to a non-mainstream school for a few years. I heard the word “special” and reacted angrily. How dare they suggest that my child was not normal! He was by now so depressed and his self-esteem so low that he had become the victim of a bright little boy who was also a nasty bully. I removed my boy from school and he played Lego at home for six weeks – something I could never have contemplated when I was out buying babygros and planning his spectacular educational future.

We then made a giant leap into a school which is not “special” but “specialist”, in that it is just for children like him, with dyslexia.

I no longer want my child to be “normal” - in fact, I rejoice in the fact that he is different.

I have experienced motherhood from the outside looking in, the parent to the child who cannot compete with the rest and at times it is a painful place to be; painful because I was unable to protect my son from his feelings about being different from the rest, in a system which only promoted academic success. Before we left his first school, he had started to express shame and disgust with his handwriting and reading, his inability to be like the other children, which was made worse by the school’s insistence on “peer-marking”, so other children could laugh at his efforts to spell. I have to say I think the mainstream school system – both state and private - has a long way to go to protect the self-esteem of children like my son. 

As a society, I think we need to think long and hard about promoting all this milestone mania and the detrimental effect it is having on families as a whole, and children in particular. Yes, it can help get things picked up early so that action can be taken but too often, in the school setting, it is used to make kids feel bad about themselves. Are yours “gifted and talented?”  

No? Oh dear.

It can take a very thick skin to deal with that as adults, so just imagine how it feels for the child.

 

This post was originally featured over on The Motherload - thanks team.  

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