Saturday, June 25, 2011

Adventures of a Mudlark #1- Connections

The mudlark, generally restricted to Australia and New Zealand

It never fails that when I'm working on one story (right now a YA historical novel called THE ROUGH DRESS) I get ideas for another.

So I thought that it might be interesting to use my blog as a way to record the process, and pin some of the thoughts and ideas on the page without/before actually committing to writing what might become a children's novel called THE MUDLARK MURDERS.

  • My Dad is a historian by nature and training. But as a kid, in the days when history in school  mainly involved committing to memory a long list of kings and queens and politicians (British, of course, my deah!) I had no interest in the topic at all. But I remember clearly being captivated by two things. A folder of information entitled Shaftsbury and the Working Children that Dad gave me for Christmas when I was about nine - about the plight of working children in the Victorian era. And a small book about life in a Middle Ages village that we read in school. 
  • During a visit to the Tate Modern a number of years ago to see an Edward Hopper exhibit with my mother, we become as engrossed in an exhibit in another room - thousands of items thrown up from the River Thames by recent excavations during the Canary Wharf and other building projects - buttons, drinking vessels, weapons, crockery.., the ephemera of everyday life as it has been lived along the river for hundreds of years.
  • Many years later I get hooked on Victorian-era London, and find myself with several story germs percolating, and surrounded by a mound of both fiction and nonfiction books on the subject. Including one called The Victorian Town Child by Pamela Horn (who also wrote the The Victorian Country Child, which I will get to next.)
        Earlier this week, browsing the Table of Contents and Appendices before I start reading the book (thanks Dad, for that early training) I find a list of jobs often done by children in the Victorian era. Mudlarking, being one of them. This, I soon learned, involved dredging through the mud of the Thames by hand to find rope, metal, any materials that the child mudlarkers sold to generate an income for their families. 
  • For some reason, bird names often generate story ideas for me. Currently in one stage or another there's CUCKOO'S NEST, SPARROW THIEF, SO FAR FROM HOME (which features a boy and his father in Victorian-era England searching for a rare bird on a remote Scottish island). So it seems natural that mudlarking will generate a story idea or two.
Who'd have thought that I'd love research so much.

Checking into the origins and contemporary manifestation of mudlarking, I find the website (and an uglier website I have never seen!) of the Thames and Field Metal Detecting Society which includes images of thousands of items discovered in the muddy foreshore of the river, and beyond. I also discover that Tony Pilson may have been the curator of the exhibit that I saw at the Tate years ago. And that he has donated millions of his finds to the Museum of London.

And in reading the article about Tony Pilson, I come across these words..."Many mudlarkers were swept away by strong tides or were trapped in the soft mud and drowned at high tide."

And I get what I call 'The Big Chill" - the feeling that there is a story here somewhere.

Somehow, my interest in the Victorian-era London, birds, and the possibility of trying out a little fantasy or time travel comes together in what is currently in the germ of an idea for a kids' novel entitled THE MUDLARK MURDERS.

Next Adventures of a Mudlark posting - research sources.


Julie H. Ferguson said...

A period in history that I also love that's rich in ideas for writers.
I look forward to hearing/reading how you tackle time travel.
Something I learned early on -- the writer needs to understand the way her time travel works and what the arbitrary parameters are. If she doesn't things can happen that shouldn't. Details available!!

Lois Peterson said...

See what happens when I 'put it out there'! Someone who knows more than me shows up. So, Julie - what are your sources for learning more about the conventions of time travel? I have only just started exploring the concept.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating stuff, Lois.You almost got me sidetracked.