Posts Tagged ‘John Wheatley’

The book launch

It’s time to reflect on the Bewdley Book Week event that launched No Mean Affair . It was held at the Cock & Magpie pub on October 17 and over 60 people attended. (Pictures here are courtesy of Christopher Vaughan Photography.) It was really gratifying to see so many friends and acquaintances – some of whom had travelled quite a distance to support me.  I hope that those who purchased the book get pleasure from it.

I enjoyed describing how No Mean Affair came about. Part of the talk describes my feelings when it seemed reasonable to believe that I was John Wheatley’s grandson – the strange elation bestowed by having the genes of  this God-fearing ‘Clydeside Red’ and champion of social housing who but for ill-health could have been Prime Minister.  In writing the book according to the findings of my research, I cast a shadow over that same pedigree. This is the irony of my Who do think you are? story.

The feedback since the event has been positive with kind comments about my ‘performance’ and I have been lined up for an appearance with a prestigious local literary organisation – more about this soon.

Many thanks to: the Bewdley Book Week volunteers who made being part of Bewdley Festival such fun; the staff at the Cock & Magpie; my publisher Fiona Joseph; and particularly my wife Valerie for helping so much with publicity beforehand, with organisation on the night, and for hooking me off the stage with the audience ‘still wanting more’.

05

11 2012

On publication day

I started writing No Mean Affair seven years ago.  I had finished the first draft by January 2008 and now, after numerous rewrites, three professional edits, one restructuring, at least one title change and over sixty rejected submissions, the book is on  Amazon’s virtual shelves. (It is also available to order from bookstores.)  It looks great and I’m as proud as a puppy with two tails that it’s out there.

What started as an attempt to validate my father’s belief that he was the illegitimate son of a prominent Glasgow politician has resulted in a fictional account of two people who a hundred years ago  pursued a belief that the living and working conditions of the people of East Glasgow should be and could be improved. My telling of their story describes a relationship that was meant to change the world for the better. It was not a squalid, mean affair.

The novel credibly places John Wheatley in the same frame of time, place and opportunity as my grandmother Mary Ireland . Some readers, particularly those in Glasgow who still revere Wheatley as a leading figure in the Red Clydeside movement, will say that I have maligned him by giving him the flaws that drove him to exploit that opportunity. In my defence I can point to the failed defamation case he brought against W Reid Miller in 1927 and the remarks made about him by Beatrice Webb in 1929. Both besmirch his socialist-man-of-God reputation.

John Wheatley was rich and powerful. Mary Ireland was politically savvy and determined to escape the poverty of her tenement existence. Together, in my story of their lives, they became a powerful force but one that would always be shackled by their pasts.

17

10 2012

Releasing the skeletons

I told the story of my father’s birth the other day. The room was packed and I shared the intimate secrets of my family’s past with the audience, many of whom were complete strangers. I told them that my father died thinking he was illegitimate. I described how my grandmother abandoned three of her children, who were all under 10 years of age, leaving them in the ‘care’ of an abusive father.

Why would I be so keen to share these skeletons in our family cupboard? Because I’ve written a book about it. It’s called No Mean Affair and my talk in my home town was the first event in a book tour I want to take on the road. The fact that the book hasn’t been published yet is largely irrelevant because it’s the gestation and production of a 92,000 word transcript that I talk about.

My presentation (with slideshow) describes what a writer does when he discovers a connection between his family and someone famous. How the story becomes unbalanced because you find out so much about the public persona yet research yields only the birth, marriage, children and death of your relatives. In this vacuum, family tittle-tattle assumes a major role in establishing ‘the truth’.

There are frustrations; there are breakthroughs and there is the thrill of connecting major historical events with the ‘ordinary people’ in my family – ones who died in my lifetime. My talk takes in the filmic set-pieces of Glasgow history – the Rent Strike of 1915, 1919’s ‘Bloody Friday’ and the night 250,000 working people gathered in the city centre to send their ten newly-elected Labour MPs off to London.

Then there are the milestones in the famous person’s political career – his appointment as a government minister, his challenge for his party’s leadership and his fall from grace, his dubious plans for a resurrected career.

Finally, there are questions that can only be answered by creating a fiction around my dad’s conception and  birth:

  • How did the politician rise from extreme poverty to become a prosperous publisher by the time he and my grandmother were thrown together because of politics?
  • Why did my grandmother desert her husband and three older children and move to London?
  • Why did the politician decide not to make his move when, all around him, colleagues urged him to challenge Ramsay MacDonald for leadership of Labour?
  • What was the nature of his relationship with Oswald Mosley as 1930 approached?

No Mean Affair answers these questions and more while focusing on the physical and mental struggle of a woman whose ambition was to escape the Glasgow tenements. She succeeded but at what personal cost?

The politician’s name is John Wheatley. Google him. He appears to be the sort of man you’d be proud to have as your grandfather – until you read between the lines.

The story of how No Mean Affair came into being is coming to a literary event near you soon – I hope.

02

11 2011