The Seven Year Itch

Hi everyone.

Well, it’s taken me seven years, believe it or not, but I’ve finally finished typing up, researching and writing the end notes for all the letters and postcards that Lady Burghclere’s lady’s maid, Ethel North, sent to my grandmother between 1919 and 1933 and which I hope to include in my proposed book My Dear Elsie.

It’s certainly been a marathon task as there are about 80 pieces of correspondence altogether and if I’d known how long it was going to take me to transcribe them all, I would probably never have started!

Of course, there is still a great deal of work to be done before the book is finished, let alone published, but I do feel as if I have reached quite a significant milestone. I actually felt quite sad when I finally arrived at the last letter as I have really enjoyed listening to Ethel’s “voice”, hearing her news and wondering what famous people or events she would be mentioning, on an almost weekly basis, for the last seven years.

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The last postcard that Ethel sent. France 1938.

One of the reasons why it has taken so long to work through everything is because of how much research I’ve ended up doing. Every letter and most of the postcards often contained at least half a dozen, and often many more, references to such a variety of different things that I knew little or nothing about and felt that a reader might benefit from knowing more about too.

For example, for just the final four items in the collection which are one letter and three postcards, I have researched, among other topics:

  • Charlotte Bronte’s novel Villette
  • The poet Hilaire Belloc
  • Hungary in the 1930s
  • Yugoslavia in the same period
  • The Balkan wars in the 1990s
  • Famous people who visited the holiday destination of Biarritz
  • Religious pilgrimages in the 1930s
  • The French royal city of Pau
  • The 1930s cost of a ship berth from New York to France
  • The Spanish Civil War
  • The 23rd Psalm
  • The British commander at the siege of Calais
  • Victorian salt cellars
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The poet Hilaire Belloc, 1910. (CC. No attribution required.)

Of course, someone with considerably more knowledge of British and European history, geography, literature, early 20th century travel, religion and antiques might not have needed to have spent as much time on the research as I did! And of course, as I have discovered over the last seven years, research can take you down all sorts of unexpected rabbit holes which may or may not lead to anything that will be included in the finished book but have still used up vast swathes of time.

So, what’s next? Well, my plan is to do yet more research, but this time on what happened to Ethel after she left Lady Burghclere’s service in 1933. I already have a few clues to go on but I’m hoping to find one of those experts to help me who frequently pop up on the television programme Who Do You Think You Are? You know the sort of person that I’m talking about. “This is Professor Josephine Smith. She’s an expert in 17th century soldier’s uniform buttons.” Or something like that.

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Then I want to write the Epilogue and the Foreword to the book, edit it (as ruthlessly as I can), add a list of names used in the letters, find someone to compile an index and possibly a family tree or two, ask some willing volunteers to read it, edit it again and then find someone to help me self-publish it.

Not a lot left to do, then ! I sincerely hope that all the above is not going to take me another seven years and in fact my plan is to do all of that over the next twelve months or so. I’d really like to have the book ready to publish in 2020 and there are now so many people who have said that they want to buy it or read it that I feel somewhat obliged to really crack on with it.

So, onwards and upwards, and I’ll try to keep you updated on my progress whenever I can.