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.