Blog, competitions

The Winner!

In my blog for International Women’s Day on 8th March, I asked which woman had inspired you. There were lots of nominations, from Jane Austen to the late Princess of Wales. They were all great, but one entry really stood out. Congratulations to Dorinda Cass, who nominated the English nun Mary Ward.

Portrait of Mary Ward, c. 1600, via Wikimedia Commans

Mary was an exceptional woman. Born around the time when Sir Walter Raleigh was setting up the first colony in North America, she was incredibly brave to travel as far and wide as she did, and all on foot. Her later life proves there was at least one still, small voice of calm in England, despite the turmoil of the Civil War.

Here’s Dorinda’s winning entry:

I find Mary Ward (1585 – 1646) an inspiration. She was born in Yorkshire during the English Reformation when Roman Catholics were persecuted and even executed for their faith. In time she was called to the religious life, regardless of the danger. She entered a monastery in France but found she wanted to be active in the community rather than living a secluded life. Travelling throughout Europe, on foot, she founded schools for girls.

In 1631 she was imprisoned in Munich as a heretic. Eventually, she returned to the north of England with her own religious community where she established a convent in Heworth near York. She survived the siege of York but died the following year in Heworth.

She is buried in the churchyard at Osbaldwick, near York. Her tombstone is now inside St Thomas’ church in the village. During her life she said that “There is no difference between men and women that women may not do great matters…and I hope in God it will be seen that women in time to come will do much.”

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the title of ‘Venerable’ on her. Although not a Catholic, or even especially religious, I think it is inspirational the way, against all odds and difficulties, one of which was simply being a woman, she was determined to do what she thought right. And she succeeded. Her view on women and what they are capable of was ahead of its time. It remains inspirational and relevant in the twenty-first century.

The City Walls of York. Image by 12019 via Pixabay

Contact me with your address, Dorinda, and I’ll put your signed copy of Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol into the post.

Thanks again to everyone for their suggestions!

Bristol, Women's Lives

It’s International Women’s Day Today!

All over the world women are campaigning today under the hashtag #BalanceforBetter as they work toward a world that is more fair.

In honour of the day, I’m running a competition—which woman has inspired you? Click here to tell me your story, before midnight GMT on Sunday 10th March. I’ll announce the winner on Monday morning.

Find out more here.

While I was researching Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol I came across the stories of so many inspirational women it was impossible to choose a favourite. I’m telling the story of Ada Vachell here, as she overcame both disability and the major handicap of being born a woman in Victorian Britain. She made life better for hundreds of Bristol’s poor and disadvantaged. Her bright ideas had knock-on effects for the disabled which endured long after her death. Here’s Ada’s story…

Ada Vachell (1866-1923) was a champion of the disabled at a time when they received no government help. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, disability was often seen as something shameful to be hidden away.  Ada helped to change attitudes. Born into a wealthy family, she was left frail and deaf after an almost fatal attack of scarlet fever. Despite that, she never let her own poor health hold her back for a minute.

Ada, and some of the children at the Guild’s holiday home. Pic. Courtesy of Bristol Charities.

Ada drove her parents mad with her enthusiastic schemes. On one occasion she hired a horse-drawn bus to take all the local servants on a day trip to the seaside. She became a helper at a club for poor girls who worked in the local factories. Inspired by what she heard and saw on the streets of Bristol, she founded the Guild of the Brave Poor Things in 1896. She delivered invitations to the Guild’s meeting by hand around the worst slums in Bristol. Anyone with disabilities was welcomed into the Guild. Instead of sitting around at home, frustrated, miserable and bored, they could escape every week for a couple of hours of crafts, lectures, games and chat.

The Guild grew fast. Ada found jobs for its members with local employers, and opened a purpose-built holiday home for members in Churchill, Somerset. For the first time, Bristol’s disabled children and adults could enjoy a break in country air. Back in the city, Ada’s Guild opened the first building to be specially designed for the needs of the disabled. It had wheelchair-friendly access, a gym, a large hall and plenty of room for arts and crafts as well as lectures. 

Out now—find out more here

Ada Vachell worked hard all her life for Bristol’s poor and disabled in the days before the welfare state. She died of pneumonia, aged only fifty-seven. Who knows what else she might have achieved if only she’d lived longer?

Don’t forget to tell me your own story about an inspirational woman before midnight GMT on Sunday 10th March. Click here and enter for the chance to win a signed book!

Blog, history

Women’s History Month

March 1st marks the beginning of Women’s History Month in the USA. This began life in 1978 as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. It was originally only Women’s History Week, but was so popular it was copied by towns and cities across the country. In 1987, Congress designated March each year as Women’s History Month.

According to the National Women’s History Museum the theme this year is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.”  All over the USA events will honour “women who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society.”

Image via Pixabay

One group of women from San Mateo, California did a lot to raise the spirits of their sisters during the bleakest days of the Second World War. The Daughters of St George sent Christmas parcels to the Bedminster Emergency Station, Bristol. Packed with rare treats like candy , American comics and magazines these were distributed at New Year 1941 among those who had been bombed out of their homes.

You can find out more about city life during the Second World War in my new book, Struggle and Suffrage in Bristol which is available direct from the publisher, Pen and Sword Books, and from Amazon.

3 Top Tips, Blog

Life Is Like A Snapchat Post…

…one minute it’s there, the next minute it’s gone. Only five minutes ago I had a tiny baby girl, and then a little boy. She is now a card-carrying professional, and he is a head taller than me and still growing! I have no idea where those years went. It’s scary, but here are three ways to make the most of your blink-of-an-eye existence…

1.Make Real Friends

Step away from the screen and network in real time.

Put down your phone and make an effort to talk to people. Our fractured families and constantly busy lives mean there’s a growing epidemic of loneliness. You can stop the rot and make a difference—and making an effort will make a difference to you, too. If you grew up surrounded by a loving family, it’s easy to take the good times for granted. Make sure everyone in your family circle knows exactly how much you love them. If you can’t say it out loud, a meal, a kiss, a smile or a silly little gift will say it for you.

2.Plant A Tree

The flowers of apple “Irish Peach”

You don’t need to make it a forest giant like an oak. An apple tree will fit into the average garden, and is the perfect choice. They live a long time—the original Bramley apple tree is over 200 years old—have a beautiful structure in winter, gorgeous flowers in spring and fruit in autumn. If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry. The Woodland Trust is making Britain a better place by caring for existing woodlands and planting new ones. Like all charities, they rely on donations and volunteers. Giving your money or time is another way you can make your mark in a good way, and other people will benefit from your generosity, too.

3.Write A Book

This is my favourite!

Keeping a journal is a great way to hand your thoughts on to the next generation. If you can turn your life story into fiction, as the great Catherine Cookson did, you will really make your mark. History can be captured by every one of us. By preserving our own memories and the ones of those around us, we can make sure the fascinating little details of life—what we ate before takeaways, and how we found things out pre-internet—can be remembered forever. It was discovering the stories of ordinary people that inspired me to write Struggle and Suffrage In Bristol.  I’m really proud to have created this book, and I hope everyone—not just the people of Bristol —enjoy reading it. You can get your own copy here.

Find out more from
Blog, Bristol, history

Struggle and Suffrage—The Movie…

Well, all right, not so much a movie as a promotional video! I’ve been experimenting with Animoto, and here’s the result…

Animoto are working on the reason for the pale cover, by the way!

Animoto gave me a Promo code to share—you can get a free month if you copy and paste this code into your application when you subscribe.


Heritage: The Anthology…

Each year students on the MA course at the University of Gloucestershire create an anthology of the university’s best new writing. The search for new stars has just been launched! The only restriction on authors is that they should be either present or past students of the University of Gloucestershire. Here’s the call for submissions—please pass the word on to any qualifying writers you may know…

Selling ideas as well as words…

Heritage. What does it mean to you? Family, identity, history… or something more?

The 2019 UOG Creative Writing Anthology – Heritage: New Writing VIII – is inviting submissions from Monday 4th February to Friday 8th March 2019. Prose, poetry and creative non-fiction pieces on the theme of ‘Heritage’ will be considered from all students and alumni of the University of Gloucestershire.

Stratford—full of heritage, especially for writers! (Pic via Pixabay)

For more info and details, visit…/anthology/2019-heritage/ and email submissions to

Good luck!