Reality – Who Wants to Read It?

Beautiful dresses. Stately homes. Titled aristocrats. Wealthy yearly incomes. Those are usually the things that readers love to fantasize about when they read historical fiction or historical romance.

The best-selling books on the market are not about the miserable lives in the Victorian era. It has become obvious by some harsh reviews I received on The Price of Innocence, that some called a “miserable book,” readers would rather not think about the squalor 90% of the population experienced in Victorian England. Nevertheless, the authors who lived in those eras – like Dickens and Gaskell – had no qualms about penning reality in their stories because they were important social issues.

Toil Under the Sun, the first book in my series, will be somewhat Dickenish in a few chapters. I’m attempting to soften the blow by interesting characters. There are no beautiful dresses, stately homes (unless you’re hired as a brickmaker to construct one), or wealthy yearly incomes. Instead of canopy beds, it’s a hard, lumpy mattress on a platform or more likely the floor. Those with no home slump over a rope in a doss house to get some shut-eye, or pay a few shillings a night to share a bed with a lice-ridden individual in a common lodging house.  (The lice were free.)

There was no running water, so people bathed at washhouses if they could afford to pay the price. Public fountains were around town to fill up your buckets for water and carry them home but were a cesspool of germs. (Read More Here) I’ll spare you the gory details about where and how people relieved themselves because you’ll die from the stench alone or some related disease. Some parts of Manchester were called hell on earth in those days. (Read More Here)  I was shocked to learn that my third great-grandfather, Henry Holland, lived two blocks away from the slum area in this article during 1851, and he was a journeyman bricklayer that could make a wage.  It broke my heart.

“The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel-meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness…” (Angus Reach, a London Journalist 1849)

When Elizabeth Gaskell wrote North & South, she lived in Manchester. (I’ve visited her home and you can read about here on my author blog.) Even though she chose Milton as the make-believe town where Mr. Thornton had his cotton mill, the hell as penned by Margaret was, “I’ve seen hell and it’s white.” Perhaps that was true inside, but outside the air filled with smoke from the chimneys of factories, and the brick buildings were blackened with soot.

The idea of children being cared for by nannies and brought up by governesses is a far cry from the reality of young children who worked in factories to help with family finances. Rarely, did a child have the opportunity to learn to read or write. The boys were taught more often than the girls even in the middle class. Quite a few of my ancestors, including my second great-grandfather, merely put an “X” on the marriage bann because he couldn’t scribble his own name.

Nevertheless, out of the poverty, one person can rise above and build an empire of wealth for his family and descendants. How my second great uncle accomplished that task in the world described above is beyond my comprehension.

As I write how my protagonist, William Leighton, accomplishes it, the entire story is purely conjecturing on my part but, hopefully, will make for good reading.

Sorry for the downer post!  I promise the majority of the squalor will only last the first eight chapters, then things start looking up!  No need to throw book one across the room when you finish it.



Pass Me the Mortar

img029I come from a long line of bricksetters or bricklayers as some term these talented men.  The man standing on the scaffolding in the picture on the right with white gloves is my grandfather, Robert Holland.  The dude with no shirt on is my father. (inserts blush) My grandfather was a bricklayer, and I’m pretty sure each of his four male sons knew how to lay bricks, though they didn’t keep the profession for the long term.

My grandfather’s father, Robert Holland, was also a bricklayer.  His father Thomas Holland was a bricklayer (my second great grandfather); and, of course, his father, Henry Holland was a bricklayer.  Henry Holland’s sons, Henry and Robert were also bricklayers, and they had sons who were bricklayers.  I think that about builds the family tree with bricks.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, I know nothing about bricklaying. However, writing this series has thrown me into the mix of the mortar, and I’m learning not only how to put a brick on top of another brick but that I’m only getting paid 30 shillings for working 54-1/2 hours a week!  Geesh, where’s the neighborhood pub?

London 027

While writing and researching my little heart out, I’m also learning the history of Manchester and the unions that my family members joined. Surprising, there is an abundance of studies done in the mid-Victorian era about trades that are filled with a wealth of interesting tidbits.  The writer geek in me squeals when I find something.

The first time I went to Manchester, I got off the train, stepped outside, and my senses were assaulted by a city of bricks.  I took the picture above outside the Picadilly train station, and couldn’t help but wonder how many of my ancestors had a hand on one of those buildings.  I have actually found some locations my second great uncle’s company worked on so these creations are still standing.

I’ll try not to bore you to death about brickmaking in the Leighton Family Saga. Nevertheless, book one needs to build that foundation for their livelihood from rags to riches.  What may shock you, and I’ll post it in the future, is the violence that the union perpetrated in Manchester to protect the trade in the 1860’s and decades afterward.  It’s an eye-opening look into a city filled with cotton mills, industry, terrible poverty among the lower class, and people building buildings with bricks.  Think Mr. Thornton and North & South if you’re into period drama and Richard Armitage.  You may get a taste of how it began for my family in, “Toil Under the Sun.”

Stay tuned as I keep writing and blogging.  I tell myself that my success will be built one brick at a time. Sounds good to me.



The Journey Begins in 1860


Thank you for joining me on the journey, and I’m excited to begin this new family saga with all sorts of drama, soap opera antics, love stories, family conflict, affairs, and everything else that makes a family saga so much fun!

This particular series of books is loosely based on the events of my ancestor’s lives in Manchester, United Kingdom from 1860 until 1930.  I’ve amassed a large amount of information from twenty-five years of research that will be sporadically included through the storyline.

Naturally, the characters will be my creation; the names have no resemblance to my family whatsoever, and locations have been altered a bit.  However, the historical aspect of the life and times from the mid-Victorian era and throughout will be as accurate as possible to immerse you back into a world that held sorrow for the poor and enjoyment for the rich. You’ll learn about bricklaying, union problems, local politics, how masters amassed their wealth, and the joys and sadness of one family.  It’s a rags to riches to rags saga that will include three generations.

I’ll be posting tidbits throughout my writing of the four novels in the series for your reading enjoyment and will be updating my progress and release dates too.  Here is the series as it will unfold.

  • Toil Under the Sun (Book One)
  • Slave to None (Book Two)
  • Just to All (Book Three)
  • Vanishing Vapor (Book Four)

The first book should be released by Fall of 2018, with the second through fourth to follow in three-to-six month intervals.

Thanks for taking this journey with me!

James 4:14

For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

%d bloggers like this: