So much history…

I am going to use this post to talk about a separate project I am currently working on. Usually I would not blur the lines between my personal blog and the blogging I do for university. However, it is a project that I enjoy taking part in, and it has taken up much of my life, so it would be wrong not to have it mentioned here.

This project is called Writing Lives. It is a module on my English course at Liverpool John Moore’s University. The aim of this project is to make working-class autobiographies available to the public. To do this, each student is required to pick an author from the Burnett Archive of Working-Class Autobiographies and write weekly posts regarding the author’s writing and life experiences. I have an interest in the first world war, so I made it my mission when searching through the archives to find an author who talked about their experiences of the war. As a result of this search I came across a man called Walter John Eugene Elliott (1890 – 1977). Who, to my excitement, served in the first world war 1914-1918 and had a lot to talk about regarding his experiences in the war.

Following my selection of Walter’s ‘Untitled’ memoirs, I spent a great portion of my time researching his family history and where he grew up. Luckily, he provided a lot of detail of his family ancestry prior to beginning his written memoirs. However, what I was really intrigued about was the family he did not list, the family that came after him, his children,
and grandchildren. This is because I was eager to find photographs of Walter and some more information about him that he did not necessarily divulge in his memoirs. Unfortunately, this search has not been of great success, I am yet to find a living relative of Walter. However, I am continuing to research aspects of his life that are mentioned inCaroline-Place-c1948-Royal-Oak-Hotel-awaiting-normal-demolition. his memoirs. For example, Walter goes into detail about some of his hobbies as a young adult. He names a hotel where he spent Wednesday evenings attending the Hastings Bird Club. I have from this come across a website that features many old photographs of the Hastings area and found a photograph of this hotel in the 1940’s.

I wanted to talk about this project here, on this blog, for two reasons. One, I wanted this project to reach an even wider audience that would not necessarily stumble across it otherwise. This is because I find a project like this to be so vital to our history in the United Kingdom. We often hear about the big events and the famous people, but why only them? These working-class autobiographies provide an insight in to the everyday, and how most people lived their lives at various points in history. Therefore, surely these accounts of life are just as important, if not more important, than the accounts of those who were considered remarkable and exceptional.

The second reason why I wanted to talk about this project is because it has led me to become more interested in my own family history, and where I came from. Thus, over the last few months, I have carried out research into my own heritage. I have always been intrigued in ancestry but I never believed I would get much further than my grandparents. This was mainly because I was unaware just how many sources are available to an amateur researcher. By this I mean I did not realise what I could access from my bedroom, using only my computer: from census, to marriage records, it is all available to us! It was the Writing Lives Project that opened my eyes to all of this “hidden” information. I began to realise how easy it is for me, and everyone else, to access the documentation needed to trace my family footsteps. Granted, there are some documents that you either cannot access or you need permission to access, but what there is out there is plentiful. Therefore, I wanted to bring this to light for those that were, like myself, also unaware of all the information available at our fingertips.

family tre

Researching real people, whether they be connected to you or not, is an extremely satisfying and rewarding process. I know many people myself who have considered researching their family history, but have believed it would be a fruitless task. So I know for sure many of you reading this will believe that too. However, I assure you, it is not! I therefore encourage you to take this journey, to discover where you have come from, if you have not already done so. You may find some fascinating stories, from your own history, and I promise you, it will not be a wasted effort!

  • You can find all my posts on Walter John Eugene Elliott here on the Writing Lives website
  • Check out my Writing Lives Twitter page for all the latest updates regarding my research on Walter, or check out the Writing Lives website Twitter page for updates on the project as a whole.
  • If you would like any advice or information as to how to go about beginning your own search, please don’t hesitate, contact me!

Until next time…

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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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Birdsong is the second novel in Sebastian Faulks’ French trilogy. Preceded by The Girl at the Lion d’Or and succeeded by Charlotte Gray. Although each novel is not directly linked, the novels relate in term of their themes and subject matters; they all graphically portray characters’ lives during war time. Birdsong is set around the First World War. The story itself centres around the character Stephen Wraysford who arrives in the French town of Amiens in 1910. Throughout the novel, we see the twist and turns of Stephen’s life, from his love affair which tears a family apart, to his participation in the war itself.

Birdsong is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a novel which keeps you on your toes and guessing about where the story is heading from beginning to end. The contrasts Faulks creates between life prior to the war and during the war is fascinating. By using vivid imagery, we as readers, get a thorough image of what life was like for soldiers fighting in the war. However, what Faulks does often and brilliantly, during more grotesque war scenes is leave many chapters on cliff hangers, by moving on to something new in the next. This you may feel is counterproductive, you may think how can you get a true grasp of the story this way. But Faulks writes in such a way that he divulges just enough information to understand the horrors of the war without making the reader feel so grotesque and so repulsed that they cannot continue with the story. This I feel was extremely effective in my reading of the novel as this technique continuously made me want to progress further and further with the novel.

As somebody who finds The Great War to be an extremely interesting topic I am a little bias when it comes to speaking about this novel. However, if you are going to read any piece of fiction that revisits this era I encourage you to make it Faulks’ novel. The descriptive language, the tone and passion that pours from the book makes this novel one in a million.

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End note: Working Title Films (BBC) produced a two-part adaptation of Birdsong in 2012. The adaptation starred the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Richard Madden and Clémence Poésy.