As a lover of historical fiction with strong female characters, I’m absolutely delighted to be featuring All My Mother’s Secrets by Beezy Marsh on publication day.
When best-selling author Beezy Marsh looked into her family history, she unearthed the shocking truth about London’s slum laundries of the early twentieth century, as well as a long-buried family secret, which inspired her to write a book. I’m thrilled that Beezy has agreed to tell us all a little bit about that story behind All My Mother’s Secrets in a smashing guest post today.
Out today, 9th August 2018, from Pan MacMillan, All My Mother’s Secrets is available for purchase through the links here.
All My Mother’s Secrets
A vivid, heart-warming story of survival…
Annie Austin’s childhood ends at the age of twelve, when she joins her mother in one of the slum laundries of Acton, working long hours for little pay. What spare time she has is spent looking after her younger brother George and her two stepsisters, under the glowering eye of her stepfather Bill. In London between the wars, a girl like Annie has few choices in life – but a powerful secret will change her destiny.
All Annie knows about her real father is that he died in the Great War, and as the years pass she is haunted by the pain of losing him. Her downtrodden mother won’t tell her more and Annie’s attempts to uncover the truth threaten to destroy her family. Distraught, she runs away to Covent Garden, but can she survive on her own and find the love which has eluded her so far?
From the grimy streets of Acton and Notting Hill to the bright lights of the West End, All My Mother’s Secrets is a powerful, uplifting story of a young woman’s struggle to come to terms with her family’s tragic past.
A Guest Post by Beezy Marsh
I grew up in a house full of secrets, where conversations would end suddenly as I walked into the room and grown-ups would change the subject to things deemed more suitable for young ears.
Children know when adults are hiding things, even if they are too young to understand the complexities of relationships, so I developed a thirst for the “truth” of the matter.
That led me to my first career, as a national newspaper journalist, but I always had it in the back of my mind, that there was a story to be told about my own family’s secrets.
My earliest years were spent in the care of my maternal grandmother, Annie, who lived with her half-sister, my Great Aunt Elsie. They would tell me about the old days back in London, showing me pictures of my great gran Emma Chick and even my great-great gran, who worked as laundresses in the slums of Notting Hill and Acton, which was known as Soapsud Island, at the turn of the last century and the years between two world wars.
Researching All My Mother’s Secrets, I was horrified to learn about the squalor the laundresses worked in. Diseases such as TB and scarlet fever were a rife, hours were long for little pay and the conditions were squalid and dangerous, with floors awash with filthy water and scalds from searing hot irons just a part of everyday life. And the worst thing was, some of the laundry maids were just children – as young as 12; and that had included my Nan.
As I grew up, certain things were Just Not Talked About – such as what happened to my Nan’s father, Henry Austin, who she had been told, had “gone away to the First World War and never came back.”
I also learned that there had been a Great Uncle George, my gran’s brother, born in 1915, who died young, of tuberculosis. Great Aunty Elsie’s dad was a laundry hand, who Emma Chick had married as the First World War was drawing to a close but no-one spoke much about him either, other than to say he was a bit of a bad tempered bloke at times.
My Nan died when I was 12 and that sparked my mother’s interest in family history. This was in the 1980s, before the internet, and through her, I learned how to research births, marriages and deaths, on microfilm and from dusty old registers held in libraries and at the National Archives in Kew.
But try as we might, Henry Austin, who we knew had worked as a cabbie, driving a horse-drawn hansom cab around London’s bustling streets before the war, simply seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
It was after my mother’s untimely death from cancer that my Great Aunt Elsie let slip something which made me even more determined to put the pieces of the puzzle together. She believed that Great Uncle George’s father might not have been the mysterious Henry Austin but someone else, within the Austin family, who had lived with my great gran for a time, after he was widowed.
It inspired me to look again, with fresh eyes, and this time, I found Henry Austin had died, not in the Great War, but in 1906, when my gran was still a baby. So, Emma Chick had lied all along, but the question was: Why?
I won’t spoil the plot by revealing all the secrets just now, but I was able to find out who George’s father was and what had happened to him, after he went away to fight in the Great War. And in a sense, sadly, he never came back because he was such a changed man, so the story my Nan was told was partly true.
It’s easy to judge someone for lying to cover up a scandal but I believe Emma Chick did what she had to do to try to hold her family together, to avoid public shame, during the upheaval of the Great War. I am proud of her, and all the other laundresses, who toiled for such little reward, with the wellbeing of their children uppermost in their minds.
(That’s so fascinating Beezy. I’m sure so many families have stories to tell too and I can’t wait to read All My Mother’s Secrets and am delighted it’s very firmly on my TBR.)
About Beezy Marsh
Beezy Marsh is an award-winning journalist, who has spent more than 20 years making the headlines in newspapers including Daily Mail and The Sunday Times. This was never going to be enough for a girl from Hartlepool, whose primary school teacher told her to give up her dream of becoming a poet and concentrate on being a nurse instead. Thirty years later, give or take, she became an author.
Family and relationships are at the heart of her writing and she is a firm believer that sisters, mothers and wives are the glue which binds everything together. She writes romantic fiction, as well as memoir and biography, including her book Keeping My Sisters Secrets, and somehow finds time to write a blog about her life as an imperfect mother to two young boys, in between tackling a never-ending pile of laundry and doing the school run. She is the author of Mad Frank and Sons, alongside the two sons of gangland crime boss Frank Fraser.