In 1903, in the mining town of Barnsley, a brutalised wife called Emily Swann lashed out at her violent husband. Her actions brought tragedy and scandal in their wake. Her children were shamed, her family broken apart.
Over one hundred years later her great-granddaughter Felicity, also a victim of physical and psychological abuse, set out to uncover the secret history of her family in the hope it would heal the scars of her own childhood.
As Felicity discovered more about her mum and nan, and was led back to Emily herself, she came to see how all these women had all been caught in a damaging cycle, endlessly repeating the mistakes of the past. And she knew that she, at last, had the power to break free.
Guard a Silver Sixpence is the heartwarming story of an inspirational woman who learned that anything is possible if you can lay the past to rest.
Also check out her blog at – http://yoursymposium.blogspot.
In South Africa, Guard a Silver Sixpence is available at Readers Warehouse.
I’ve just read Guard a Silver Sixpence, and I came away from it wanting to know more about the inspirational woman behind it. I felt a connection.
It’s this connection which ties in with the strongest theme of this blog, which concept I first heard about in an interview with actor John Ritter done in the late 70s – that there’s a golden thread of humanity which connects us all – across generations, across continents, across gender and race. John Ritter said he would like to be remembered as someone who tweaked this golden thread. Felicity’s book ties in phenomenally with this, as she metaphorically walks through generations of her own family to find out more about herself , and break the cycle of abuse for herself and future generations.
Q. How long did your book take to research and write?
I initially; way back in 2007, typed the name ‘Emily Swann’ with ‘hanging’ into Google, and couldn’t believe what the search engine brought back. In 2007 (at the grand age of 50) I decided to start to seek the truth. My Grandfather had always told me that I couldn’t blame my Gran [for the abuse in the family] as there had been a hanging in her family – and I knew that I now had to find out more. So you could say that I started my research back then. Because I had a full time, demanding job in Education, I took my time to research that initial story.
The book took over a year to write, but I was fortunate in that I had a co-writer working on the story with me. As it panned out, my co-writer was fundamental in further researching the minutiae detail of the historical background.
Q. There’s much said about the catharticism of writing your story to heal yourself. Was this one of the reasons you wrote your story, or is it something that’s been something you’ve always needed to do?Once I had uncovered the story, I had to get the injustice of the judgement down on paper. For myself it was also a purely cathartic experience; one which I felt, helped me to become as whole as any of us possibly can be. The writing also helped me to move on with a clearer, more empathetic view of what had happended to me in childhood.
Q. I think that as you went through the writing of your book, you began to discover connections, possibly emotional, with the women and maybe the men as well, of previous generations. As an author, you have the ability to tweak the golden thread of humanity which runs through generations, continents, hearts and souls. I believe that somewhere herein lies the solution to many of the world’s problems and ask most people I interview about this. What are your thoughts on this golden thread?
I like that – perhaps for me it is a golden thread that links us to our destiny and the universe. I feel a great affininty with these people of my past. I firmly believe that to some extent they guided me to where they actually wanted me to be and what they wanted me to find (when the time was right).
Q. I was very taken by your descriptions of London and Scarborough in the 70s, the differences, the call of London – the fact that you’d never tasted pizza until you got to London. The 70s in general must have been a fun time to be young – pre AIDS, probably less crime or less awareness about it than we have now. Tell me more about this time in your life – what’s your best memory of then?
The 70s were a fabulous time to be young in England; but I felt so restrained by my small town roots (Scarborough) and wanted to go out and explore this fabulous southern capital city. Possibly because I loved the cultural aspect; oh and the amazing fashions, I so enjoyed wandering around Kensington High Street, dipping in and out of the fashionable shops. Freddy Mercury had his market stall on Kensington High Street (which I visited) but back then, had no idea who the to-be famous owner was. London was a mass of colour and culture and leaving to go back to my seaside town always seemed to me to be such a sad and dreary place to return to. Actually I now love the seasonal coast of splendour – especially as Autumn turns to Winter and the town settles back down after the busy tourist summer.
That is a really difficult question as I am not really sure I can give you an honest answer, but I will try. I felt driven to share Emily Swann’s story. I also saw the injustice played out across the generations as quite shocking and wanted to get that message out about the importance of understanding how the events of the past can impact on our lives today. Lessons to be learnt, I guess. It is also a great story – one that I would absolutely love to see in film. Maybe one day.
Q. Part of the reason for this blog is to help people, encourage them and give airtime to causes that do that. How would you encourage others who have suffered psychological and physical abuse?For me, the power of getting something down on paper was paramount to recovery. Not everyone has to make that public but I would say that ‘writing therapy’ or ‘writing to heal’ comes with a warning. I had some very dark moments along with quiet frightening nightmares as I started to open up to the past. My co-writer almost became my pyschiatrist as I shared the memories. So whilst I would encourage the opening of the flood gates – never alone, seek some guidance and support.
Q. Do you have any other published works, or are you working on future books?
No other published works – my career keeps me so busy but I would, one day like to write about the world of education in my country today. Could be autobiographical but then that would be too much of an expose. But what fun a work of fiction would be.
I was so fortunate to have a price war / bidding auction between two top publishers in England (Transworld and Pan Macmillan). My story sold before it was written. I felt very blessed. You can get the book for Kindle. Unfortunately Macmillans never took GASS into America – I felt that it would have done well there.
Q. Where’s the best place to follow you to keep up with what you’re doing currently?
Q. What advice would you give to new authors?
The hardest thing is to get the words down on paper. Persevere and follow your dreams. I would also say that every budding writer should set up a blog; as we have done. Get your name out there, especially associated with your work.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I have loved the whole experience of researching and writing whilst still working as a seconday school teacher. Who know what is next for me – I love having new mountains to climb, so we will see.
All the best – Felicity