A Stroke of Bad Luck

This is a section that I have already removed from my novel as I am now limiting the story to the period 1912-1915. However, if you read the previous blog post about Doris, you will recognise this story as from the day of her stroke.

 

1968

Fred stretched in the early morning air, surveying the street as he searched for the paper. Finding it wedged in his wife’s prize rose bush, he shook his head in despair. These paper boys were getting worse and worse, he thought. No care.

Tucking it under his arm, he ambled up the street. It was both a habit and obligation, checking to see that the old lady next door had collected her paper, a sign that all was well. Finding no sign of the paper, he glanced towards the house and gave a brief wave, even though he had no idea if anyone was watching. There was no movement in the windows, but there rarely was. Duty done, Fred unfolded his own paper as he walked the few steps back to his house, already immersed in the day’s headlines.

+ + +

Fred wrapped his scarf tighter around his throat and stepped out into the brisk afternoon air. The wind immediately made his eyes water, and he considered staying inside, the fire was particularly well built today, and the smell of dinner was very enticing. But something drew him out into the cold afternoon that day, and it wasn’t simply his wife needing more butter for dinner, nor her insistence that he was getting loose around the middle and a brisk walk would do him good. Something else brought him outside that day.

Hands deep in his pockets, and eyes half closed to the wind Fred set off down the street. He had only gone a few steps when he kicked something unexpectedly. A newspaper rolled out from under the hedge and stopped against his shoe. Fred felt his insides dissolve as he looked towards the old lady’s house. It was still and dark, no lights burning in the front rooms, despite the heavy clouds that day. Fred bent to pick up the paper and reluctantly stepped towards the house.

Although no larger than any of the other houses in the area, its situation on the high corner block meant you had to look up at it slightly. He crossed the grass slowly and stepped up to the verandah, its white squat columns offering scant protection from the wintery elements.

Glancing longingly next door to where his house glowed with life, and the smells of dinner came wafting through the air, Fred knocked on the front door. Straining to hear a noise, he knocked again. Louder, more desperately.

He longed to be in his home, in his favourite chair with May and the children chattering and laughing. The silence at number 14 was heavy. Even the wind had stopped blowing and Fred felt very alone.

‘Miss Turpin,’ he shouted, a wobble in his voice betraying him. ‘Miss Turpin, are you in there? I have your paper.’ There was no movement from inside the house, no tell-tale squeak from the floorboards, no doors banging. Yet Fred could feel a presence and he knew she was inside. He stepped back from the door and balanced on the stairs, hand cupping his face as he peered into the front window, trying to see inside the dark room. The long white nightgown made the shape of her body lying next to the bed appear like a ghost and Fred suddenly yelled, but the words were caught in his throat.

Dropping the paper into the garden, he banged on the window, trying to call to the old lady, to his wife, to anyone who might be able to help but the wind had picked up again, and his words were tossed around helplessly, like a paper boat in a storm.

 

How I came to start my novel, Part III: Doris Turpin, the teacher

This is the story of the second owner of the ‘House of Women’, and the woman whose story my novel is loosely based upon.

Doris was born Doris Isabel Turpin in 1893 to Isabelle ‘Bella’ Stokes and Walter Turpin.  She first appeared in the 1916 electoral roll, when she was living with her parents at 63 Guildford Road, Mt Lawley. Walter was an accountant, while Bella was listed as doing ‘home duties.’

Doris lived in her family home until she was in her late 30s, with the 1931 Electoral Roll, showing that Doris had finally moved was now living at 102 Zebina Street in East Perth. By this stage, Doris had been a teacher for more than fifteen years. Her middle name had also changed from Isabel to Isabella – whether this was something she deliberately did following the death of her mother, or simply a typo, I have not been able to determine.

A year later in 1932, Doris purchased the land in Daglish. She was 39 years old, and both her parents had passed away, first her father and then her mother. It is likely that on the death of her mother, Doris inherited a small amount of money which enabled her to purchase the land.

Although Doris purchased the block of land in 1932, it was many years before she built a house in Daglish, allowing the block to sit empty for almost a decade. During this time Doris worked as a teacher, and moved between properties on Hay Street in West Perth.

According to the title, Doris did not organise a mortgage until January 1939 indicating that she paid for the land outright and the mortgage was to finance the building of the house. The mortgage was with the Perth Benefit Building Investment and Loan Society and was for £126, which was more than the cost of the two blocks of land a decade previously. Doris worked hard and was able to pay off the loan by 1950.

It wasn’t until the 1943 Electoral Roll that Doris Turpin was finally listed as living at the house on Lutey Ave in Daglish, although I believe she moved in around 1941/42. At this stage, she would have been fifty years old and working as a teacher at Beaconsfield School. It would be another six years until she was transferred to Subiaco School, which was less than a ten minute walk across the train-line. In all her lifetime, Doris never learned to drive a car, and it must have been a great relief as she got older, that she no longer had to catch buses and trains to get to work every day.

I should admit here, that when I originally started researching Doris, I made a very unfair assumption about her. After she died, the house in Daglish sat empty for almost a full year and I supposed that since she was a spinster, and because the house remained unsold for so long that she had died without a will, with no family and no beneficiaries. Why else would a house sit unsold and empty for so long?

At this stage of my research, I made a second, even more mortifying mistake.

On the 1931 electoral roll, I saw a Walter Turpin living in Pingelly and knowing that Walter was no longer listed as living at the family home in My Lawley [I hadn’t realised he had died], I made the assumption that Doris’s father had left his wife and daughter and remarried. I remember calling my mother, saddened at the break-up of those who I had begun to regard as family. Of course, further research showed that the Walter living in Pingelly was not Doris’ father, but a younger brother I had not previously realised existed (he was born in 1900). He had been living in Melbourne at the time of Walter Sr’s death in 1920, which is why he was not previously on the Electoral Roll. After coming back to Perth following his father’s death, Walter Jr moved out to the country, approximately 160 kilometres from Perth, where the Electoral Roll shows him living with a group of other Turpins, whom I assumed to be a grandfather and uncles. A later conversation with Walter’s daughter, Gwenyth, confirmed that he moved in with his uncle (Walter Sr’s brother) and eventually fell in love with – and married – his first cousin Lucy May.

Back in Perth, Doris was now a middle-aged spinster, a teacher and building her first house. Although the majority of houses in Daglish were built in the years immediately following the suburb’s development (late 1920s/early 1930s), Doris’s house was one of the last in the area to be built, finally being finished around 1941. The block next door, sold to Edwina Henson in the 1920s, sat empty for even longer, with the house finally being finished in the early 1950s.

Because it was at least a decade newer than other houses in the street, Doris’ house did not have some of the traditional ‘interwar’ features, such as gables, or lead-lighting in the windows. It was also quite large for a single woman: featuring a large master bedroom with attached sleep-out, a large lounge-room with fireplace, a second bedroom, internal bathroom, kitchen and a separate dining room. Access to the laundry and toilet was through the kitchen. Very high ceilings, wooden floors and decorated ceiling roses in each room were features common to the era.

It was when Doris finally appeared on the 1943 Electoral Roll as living in her new house in Daglish, that I made the surprising discovery that she was not alone. With World War II in full swing and many young men of Perth away fighting in Europe, it was common for older men living in country areas to be ‘manpowered’ and compelled to return to Perth to assist with occupations that were being unfulfilled due to the shortage of men. This is why Walter Jr, his wife Lucy (who was also Doris’s first cousin) and their three children moved from Pingelly back to Perth. Due to a shortage of housing at the time (with many young men away at war there were less labourers to build), Doris invited her brother and his family to live with her in her brand new house.

Gwenyth, the eldest of Walter’s children was almost 12 at the time she moved from Pingelly to Daglish. She remembered her aunt as being a very nice and patient women. Aunt Dorrie never got upset even though she was a teacher and had been around kids all day, and then returned home to a house full of children. The house had two bedrooms, with Doris living in the main front bedroom, and Walter and Lucy in the second bedroom with their baby. Gwenyth slept in the small sleep-out adjacent to her Aunty and her bother slept on a couch in the dining room. The family stayed with Doris for a number of years (around five or six), enough time for Lucy to have another baby and Gwenyth was old enough to get her first job. By the time the war was over and people were building again, Walter was able buy his own house on Heytesbury Rd in Subiaco. At the age of 56, Doris finally had her house to herself.

She lived alone for almost two more decades. One evening in 1968, Doris attended Lucy’s birthday party in Subiaco. As she did not drive and only travelled by bus, I can only assume that Walter or Lucy (or one of the grown up children) had dropped the elderly Doris home after the party.

The couple next door, May and Fred Mason, who were at least twenty years her junior and who had built their house in 1951, kept an eye on their elderly neighbour, checking each day that Doris had collected her newspaper and was ok. The morning after the party Doris’ neighbour checked for the newspaper as usual, but it had rolled under a bush and he assumed that she had collected it. It wasn’t until later that afternoon that he saw the paper under the bush and he realised that something must have happened to Doris. Fred looked through the front bedroom window and could see Doris lying by the side of her bed. She’d had a stroke. He called an ambulance and Doris was transferred to a hospice. Doris never returned to her home in Daglish and she died soon after, at the age of 75.

It was a conversation I had with Gwenyth, Doris’s niece who would have been in her early 80s at the time of our conversation, that finally sparked the inspiration for my novel and will form the subject of my next blog.

Doris Isabella Turpin 1893-1968

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my desk 2017

How I Came to Start My Novel, Part 2: The 1920s Landowner

This is the story of the first owner of my house, the first of the ‘House of Women’.

The first owner of our house was a woman by the name of Ethel Lottie Rogerson, a married woman who lived in Mount Lawley, an old suburb approximately 8 kilometres north east of Daglish. Technically, she just owned the land, as the house was not built until almost two decades later; but her name is the first that appears on the title, and therefore the first of the women whose history is entwined with my own.

The Daglish precinct only came into existence in 1925, marketed as an affordable and spacious alternative to the more pricey blocks in Subiaco and Shenton Park across the train line (and it still is). When the Daglish train station was commissioned in 1925, land to the west of the train line and south of Hay Street was made available for sale, encroaching on the then-virgin bushland. Daglish was the first major development area in the City of Subiaco since the area was gazetted in 1897, and the streets were still only sand and rocks in 1928 when Ethel purchased not only the block of land that our house was built on, but the neighbouring block as well, a piece of land described as ‘one rood, 11 and 8 tenth perches’ and for which she paid the sum of £119 (approximately $8,000 today).

Curious as to how a married woman might become the owner of two pieces of land I began to research Ethel using the digitised newspaper system Trove and ancestry.com.au which gave me access to the old electoral rolls. I wanted to go back to early in Ethel’s story, to find out as much as I could about her.

Ethel was born in 1887 to parents Charlotte and John, and seemingly lived her entire life in Perth, dying at the age of 80 in 1967. At the time of the 1916 electoral roll (when she was 29), Ethel was married to a contractor (builder) by the name of Robert Rogerson and living in East Perth. Over the next fifteen years, Ethel and Robert moved a few times, never very far – even at time moving to the house next door (from 701 Beaufort Street in Mount Lawley to 699 Beaufort St).

As I read through the electoral rolls, I could see as their various children came of age (the voting age at the time was 21). Sadly, Ethel and Robert’s first daughter Grace, who was born in 1910, passed away at the age of two years and five months, when Ethel was still very young, age 23. Many years later their son Arthur Edward, recorded as a student and a daughter Gwendoline Alice, a nurse, appeared on the 1936 electoral roll, indicating they had both turned 21. The following year, in 1937, neither Arthur nor Gwendoline appeared as living at the house in Beaufort Street, suggesting they had moved out of home, but by 1943 another daughter Jean Ethel appeared on the electoral roll, and Robert was now recorded as being a ‘builder.’

In 1949, when Ethel would have been 62 and Robert some years older, Gwendoline moved home again. Listed on the electoral roll as a nursing sister, it is my suspicion that she moved home to assist her elderly mother with her very sick father. Robert Rogerson died shortly after, on July 12th, 1949, leaving Gwen temporarily at home with her mother and youngest sister Jean. Jean appears to have lived at home with her mother Ethel for her entire life, or at least until the historic electoral rolls end in 1963.

However it was many years earlier, in the early days of the Great Depression, when Ethel started selling off the land in Daglish. Given that Ethel didn’t work, it is a fair assumption that she was acting under instruction from her husband, who may have chosen to have the land in his wife’s name for legal or business reasons. (However it is possible she may purchased the land using an inheritance, my research has not progress that far. Yet.)

After purchasing the Daglish land in 1928, the block was divided into two, and then she sold Lot 137, (now my neighbours block) to Edwina Evie Henson in December 1929. Perhaps due to poor sales during the Depression, Ethel held onto the second piece of land for another three years, finally selling the empty corner block to Doris Isabella Turpin, a ‘spinster’ living in 1320 Hay Street Perth on September 7th, 1932.

Doris – who is the inspiration behind my novel – and her story will be the subject of my next blog.

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my desk 2017

How I came to start my novel

July 2005

As she walked down the stairs to her waiting car, Judith looked up at the house one more time.

‘You know,’ she said, ‘this house has only ever been owned by women.’ She smiled at me, her eyes crinkling against the winter sun, and then she got into her car and drove to her new home. I turned and surveyed the house my husband and I had just bought. It was a rambling late 1920s (or so I thought) interwar cottage. Built solidly of limestone and bricks, and wood and tile it had the traditional wooden floors and high ceilings in the original, front part of the house, and a large sunlit modern extension in the back. Judith had bought the smaller original house in the 1980s, and raised a family within its walls, extending it with her architect husband, Greg, in the early 1990s. Then in 2005, my husband and I bought the house.

At the time I considered her comment curious, thinking it would be unusual that a house of that vintage would be owned solely by women in such a traditional male-centred society as 20th century Western Australia, but I didn’t investigate the claim further until almost a decade later.

In 2014, I was three quarters of the way through a post-graduate professional writing degree at Curtin University. I had enrolled in a unit called Writing the Past, and I knew before term even started what my major project was going to be. I was going to research Judith’s claim – and discover the women who had previously owned my house. I even knew what I was going to call it: The House of Women.

I had ordered a copy of the house title the year before, but not spent much time pouring over its spidery copperplate writing. When I pulled it out of the yellow envelope, my eye quickly fell upon a name that immediate disproved Judith’s claim that only women had owned the house. A husband and wife had owned the house in the 1970s. I was surprisingly disappointed, but not enough to stop me from persisting in my research when I saw all the other owners had been women, all the way back to the 1920s. I pulled a notebook from my shelf and began taking notes.

It is from within these notes and the stories I discovered along the way, that my novel has originated. While in 2014 my research was strictly for personal interest (and the university assignment), the notion that I could turn any part of it into a novel was not seeded until much later. A throwaway comment in 2005 started a journey that now in 2018, I am still pursuing. And the story of a woman who lived in my house over fifty years ago, has formed the basis of my novel.

Since the novel is based on real people in a real time and place, historical accuracy is very important to me. I’m also a complete research nerd, and will happily spend hours pouring over photographs and old books to determine how things really looked, what things cost, how people travelled and what they ate.

But while my novel is fiction, it is based on a number of individuals who are very real. They are modest people, every day people that you would not know about unless they were a distant relative, (or unless a random writer one day stumbled upon their stories). But while I type my novel, I will also be sharing real stories here, the real lives on which my novel is based. Because they deserve to be written as well.

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my desk 2017

My writing space has been set up with images of the people and places I am writing about, with the added nostalgia of my own grandmother’s clock and crystal

 

Stocktake on Words

Last year flew by in a clattering of keys yet when I came up for air, I had the sinking feeling that I hadn’t managed to achieve very much in the whole of 2017.

The paid writing jobs I managed to secure all proved to be temporary or short-lived.

My goal of making Fundraising Mums not only self-sufficient but profitable, didn’t eventuate.

I didn’t even manage to finish the full first draft of my novel.

I had all three children in full-time school. 2017 was meant to be my year. What happened?

With a bit of naval-gazing and some thoughtful words from friends, I began to put it in context.

Full-time schooling, while it might feel like ‘forever’ to a seven year old, is actually only 1,200 hours. When you start taking away travel time, parent help, pupil-free days, excursions, meetings, driving kids to PEAC and all the rest of it, you’d be lucky to get 1,100 uninterrupted hours a year.

So instead of moaning about it (which I do like to indulge in every now and then) I decided to do the other thing that makes me happy – write a list.

And this is what it looked like:

In 2017 I wrote more than 270 articles, for ten different websites.

As I typically write lengthy articles, easily averaging 1,000 words each, that equates to well over a quarter of a million words.

I also managed to write just over 57,000 words of my novel, so by my estimation I am well over two thirds of the way to a first draft.

My novel, with the working title The Teacher’s Story, will be my main focus in 2018. It’s not my story, but a story that feels personal – and I have a compulsion to tell it. It is based on the true story of the woman who lived in my house in the 1940s. Although my story is a fictionalised account of her teenaged years, I feel a real connection with her. We walked on the same floors, slept within the same walls, saw the same sunsets streaming through the same windows and heard the same rumble of trains at the end of the street.

Doris, and her fictionalised alter-ego Isabelle were probably what absorbed me most during 2017. The research of pre-WW1 Perth has fascinated me. I have decorated my writing space with images of the College where she studied, old road maps of where she lived, and pictures of people she went to school with. I have my Grandmother’s old clock and crystal, and framed the men who will be her beaus in the story. I know almost everything about her – except what she looks like. But that’s fine with me, because I will leave her undescribed in the book – so readers will be able to make their own image of her, and see themselves in her story.

So that, in a few hundred words, ties up 2017 and opens up 2018. Suddenly I am feeling a lot better about what I managed to get done, and what lies ahead.

 

 

 

50 Foolproof Writing Prompts That Will Motivate Anyone (Part 10)

I have designed these writing prompts for people like me who have the bare bones of a story or character and just need to get to know them better.

This is the final week of writing prompts.  I hope that you have had fun writing and are more in love with your characters and novel than ever.

46. What is your character’s greatest regret?

47. Write a scene where your character is almost killed in a car accident, whether as a driver, passenger or pedestrian.

48. Your character is applying for a new job. Write the cover letter.

49. Write a scene where your character talks to someone about wanting a family (or not). Do they want children? How many? Are they fearful, disinterested, excited?

50. Write your characters obituary. What have they achieved in their life? How do others view them?

 

50 Foolproof Writing Prompts That Will Motivate Anyone (Part 9)

I have designed these writing prompts for people like me who have the bare bones of a story or character and just need to get to know them better. Every week I will publish five more prompts that will help you see your character and novel in a new light.

 

41. Write a scene where your character is sitting around the dinner table with other characters from the story, but write it from the perspective that they are all actors, and they are talking about their ‘work’ as the characters in the book. Do they like their own characters? What do they think about their costumes? What do they think of the story?

42. Go to one of the scenes you have already written and re-write it from a different perspective – either someone else in the scene, or someone else watching from a distance.

43. Describe what you want the front cover of your book to look like.

44. What personal characteristics do you share with your character? How do you differ?

45. Write a scene where your character comes home and finds an enormous box on the front door step. What is in the box?