Francesca reveals the inspiration behind her newsletter giveaway story, I'll Be a Sunbeam
This month, if you sign up for my newsletter (details at the bottom of the post), there's a special treat in the form of an exclusive short story, set in the same area and era as the Valleys novels.
I wrote the story around the same time that I was writing Heartbreak in the Valleys, as a tribute to my great grandmother, Mary Jones.
Gran, my mum and me on my first birthday
Mary, the real one, was living in a mining village during the First World War (Abertysswg, the village my setting of Dorcalon is based on), as is Mary Jones in the story. Gran (as we called her) was married to Percy (or Pa, as we all called him) like Mary, but unlike my heroine, already had four children by that time, including my grandma, Charlotte, who was born in 1914. And she'd go on to have three more.
As those who've read War in the Valleys might know, I dedicated the book to Mary Jones, who also appears as a minor character in those books (she gets around!). I wonder what she would have thought of that. I do recall Gran having a book on her shelf called Mary Jones, which was a true story of a Welsh girl who wanted her own Bible. I guess it is a common name!
As the dedication reveals, times were hard for Gran, as they were for many people a hundred years ago. For a start, she lost three of her close female relations to tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was often referred to then). Her mother was only forty-two when she died of TB in 1891. Gran was two years old.
In 1899, Gran lost her older sister, sixteen year old Charlotte Ann. In 1935, Gran's oldest daughter, Clarice, also succumbed to TB, after giving birth to her second child, Maureen (who died a month later). Gran's younger daughter, my grandma, also contracted TB in the early 'fifties, but survived.
Walking in the woods
Child deaths were rife in the early part of the twentieth century. The 1911 census lists how many children were born to a family 'alive' and how many had since died. It reveals just how many didn't make it past childhood. Mary, sadly, did not escape this fate and lost her 6th child, Davy, in 1922, when he was only two years old. My mother believed it was from pneumonia.
Then there was World War Two. The family moved to Lancing in the 1930s, in order to escape the mines and find a better life. There's a sad irony here, as, had they remained in Abertysswg, her four surviving sons would probably have been in a reserved occupation and not conscripted. Only two of them came back. Cyril went down with HMS Fidelity in 1943, aged twenty-three. Tommy was also killed that year, in Sicily, aged thirty-four.
With Gran and Mum on a walk in the country
By the end of the war, at the age of only fifty-six, Gran had lost four of her seven children.
I came along twelve years later. Gran was only sixty-eight at that time, and, as she lived until the ripe old age of ninety-seven, I was privileged to know my great grandmother for twenty-nine years. My grandma (her daughter) emigrated to Australia in 1958, and my nonna passed away in 1960. My paternal grandfather was killed in 1915 and my maternal one died in 1945. After Pa passed in 1963, she was the only grandparent close by, so I'm grateful that she was in my life for such a long time.
As a child I'd regularly go with my parents to visit her in Lancing, eleven miles away. I loved sitting in her 'kitchen' (a sitting/room diner to us today). Her Victorian terraced house was set up as it would have been in the similar house she'd had in Wales. She referred to the kitchen as the 'scullery', even though it now had the cooker in it, which would have been a range in the 'kitchen' previously. The 'front room' was never used, and simply housed a chest of drawers and photographs. I think maybe, when they first moved, various members of the family slept there.
Gran at 94, holding her great great granddaughter!
And what of the song, 'I'll Be a Sunbeam' (also known as 'Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam')? Gran was a Baptist chapel regular, and had been all her life. 'I'll Be a Sunbeam' was a song she taught me as a child. I suppose she must have sung it at chapel. (If you've never heard of it, you can listen to it here) Whenever I hear it, I think of her with sadness and love, and remember how much of a bright spot she was in my life, despite the sadness that had dominated her life.
She was certainly a sunbeam for me.
To read the exclusive story, I'll Be a Sunbeam, sign up during June for my newsletter, which will come out each month with my latest news, offers and much more.
Go to https://www.francesca-capaldi.co.uk/ and sign up at the bottom of the page.
Published by Hera Books / Canelo