I’m delighted to be able to tell you about my novel in Author’s Lounge. “Shadows of Time” grew from two fascinating years researching family history, ancestors becoming real people, with real lives, not just entries in a pile of records. I had also asked my mum and dad to record their memories for me, because I was aware that once they were gone, so was all that first-hand passing down of what life had been like in their younger days. Weird, isn’t it, when it first strikes us that our parents had a life before we existed?
The novel opens with the death of a mother and revelations as a result of her will. One of her daughters returns from Australia for the funeral and embarks on a journey of self-knowledge, in the light of what she learns about her mother in the shadows of the past.
I’d watched heart-rending stories in television programmes about women whose babies had been given up for adoption in years gone by, and I knew two of those women in the 1960s. My husband’s ancestors included children who had been sent to Australia from a children’s home, when their father died and they’d been taken away from an impoverished mother; I saw a sculpture dedicated to those children in Fremantle, when I visited my daughter in Perth, Australia. As I sat on a seat dedicated to the “Lost Generation” of Aborigine children, facing going home the next day, it all began to come together in my head – this pain and loss that so many women had suffered throughout history, often because of society’s so-called morality. I knew women whose babies had died. They were expected to put it to one side, get on with life. My own daughter had emigrated to Australia, with my grandchildren, and it was like a never-ending bereavement, but I was expected, even by some women, to just be exclusively pleased that they were happy.
So what if a woman had a past she had spent a lifetime hiding, not acknowledging her pain? What if she never forgot her missing child? What if her daughter emigrated, too? What if a young woman had suffered sexual harassment but kept quiet? I think I wanted to write a story that acknowledged all these women, especially the iniquity of being parted from babies they loved, just because they were unmarried, or those in family trees who married because didn’t dare to have an illegitimate child. I hoped I would give a voice to women who, like me, had children who had emigrated.
As women, as mothers, I hoped my novel would make others empathise with and acknowledge those who have had to survive these traumas, particularly as there is now a demand for an apology to those unmarried mothers. One of my advance readers, who had suffered miscarriage, asked: “How did you know? That was exactly how I felt!” Maybe there was some comfort in that.
I spent my working life as an English teacher. I had always written, but only as a hobby, and I’d always dreamt one day I would actually finish a book and be lucky enough to have it published. As a little girl, growing up in a working-class family with an avid reader for a mum, being a writer wasn’t even on the radar – it wasn’t something people in our street did – but we had the library. I read. I wrote plays, which I, my sister and friends performed for our parents, but that was just part of playing. It was as a student, studying literature and history, that I began writing poetry. I was a Poetry Society national semi-finalist in the 1990s, and over the years the odd poem was published in an anthology, but much of my writing ended up in a box in the bottom of the wardrobe! I wrote short stories for my children and grandchildren and even for children at the village school, but I didn’t dream I could have them published. I wrote poems for my students, to cheer them up when they had to study war poetry or needed a rap to summarise “Macbeth”!
It was only when I retired from teaching that I began to see what was happening on the internet. My sister and I both had some creative non-fiction accepted for publishing online, and I’ve since had flash fiction and poetry accepted that way. I started writing a blog as jottingjax in the first lockdown in 2020, recording my walks and thoughts. I lived in Yorkshire then, as I had for 34 years. I’ve recently moved south, to be near our son as we get older, but I’m still walking nearly every day. It’s while I’m walking in the countryside that I sort out my ideas, get to know new characters in my head, or work out a tricky bit of the plot, because I’m not busy doing anything else!
When my novel was accepted for publication, it was just before my seventieth birthday! Remember that, if you ever feel like giving up! So now, at long last, thanks to no ageism I’ve fulfilled that long-held ambition, and here it is in the book store and Kindle: Shadows of Time eBook : Meekums-Hales, Jackie: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store You can find me on Twitter @jackieihales or Facebook, as Jackie Meekums-Hales.
One of my readers has asked for a sequel. I’m not sure about that yet, as I’ve written two more novels since finishing this one, as yet unpublished, and they’re unconnected. Food for thought, though. Now which character would I follow? I’d love the book to reach all those women who can identify with it, and I’d love to see it in libraries, where those who can’t afford to buy books can borrow them, as I did as that child that lost myself in a story by torchlight after lights out…