Nearly nine years ago, I had the notion to turn my family history into a novel. Not because I’d always wanted to be an author – the thought had never crossed my mind before – but because the story of my ancestor’s lives was swirling around my head and wouldn’t leave me alone!

I’d never written fiction before and it took another six months before I reluctantly decided ‘to give it a go’. The only way I could start was by plotting out the story (which came to a mere nineteen chapters) in an effort to break myself in gently. I also promised myself that it need never see the light of day if it wasn’t any good.

But that was then…

Cover of Different WorldToday, I’m delighted to announce that Different World, the fifth and final instalment of what is now The Ambition & Destiny Series, has been published as an ebook on Amazon. The paperback should be available in August.

The story starts in with a prequel in 1839 and my original outline saw it end in 1890. Putting family history facts and figures into a novel, however, (not to mention including a number of fictional subplots) takes a lot more words than I’d anticipated. By the time I reached 1890, I was at the end of Part 4 of a series!

I shared an early draft with a few family and friends and realised that the books weren’t as bad as I’d feared they might be. It was at this point, at the end of 2015, that I made the decision to have them edited and published. As I worked through the edits, however, I knew there was still more to tell. That was when Different World came into being.

Different World is the longest book in the series and compared with Hooks & Eyes (Part 1), which took several years to write, it was written in about three months. Much of that reflects the fact that with so much practice and following the advice of a couple of wonderful editors, I now had some idea of what I was doing!

The first four Parts, all take place in and around Birmingham, a city in the centre of England. Part 5 differs as it follows the main character, William-Wetherby Jackson from his hometown to the thriving port of Liverpool on the country’s North West coast. At the turn of the 20th century, Liverpool was one of the busiest ports in the world and rivaled London for importance in the UK. Perhaps because I grew up in Liverpool, or because the story moves into the 20th century, this book felt more personal than the others.

Having said that, from the start, the whole project has been a fascinating journey. Because I needed to write about day-to-day events, it forced me to look at the research I’d accumulated from a different perspective. Everything needed to be examined and understood (where possible), while the cause and effect of each small action needed to make sense. This led to many eye-opening moments, as well as a great deal of sadness, and now I feel confident in saying that the challenges, obstacles and hardships faced by our Victorian ancestors put many of our modern-day problems into perspective.

Hooks & Eyes CoverAs this project has drawn to a close, I’ve been asked if there will be any further books either in the series or otherwise.

I do have a couple of ideas for stand-alone books relating to some of the characters and so there may be more to come…but for now, I think I’ll take a moment to stop and reflect on the journey I’ve been through.

The Ambition & Destiny Series is available on Amazon as ebooks and in paperback.

Paperbacks are also available from major retailers, including Barnes & Noble (US) or Waterstones (UK).

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It was way back in 2010 that I had the idea of writing a book based on my family history research. I’d never done any creative writing before and had never imagined being an author, but I had a story in my head that I couldn’t shake. With a promise to myself that it would never see the light of day if it wasn’t good enough, I set about turning my family history into a novel.

It was a pleasant and interesting pastime to begin with. I would spend most evenings crafting the story or, when I got stuck, doing more research, until slowly the manuscript emerged. Based on my outline I expected to produce a relatively short story, but accounting for people’s day to day lives takes a lot more time than solely writing about births, deaths, marriage and census data. This meant the story grew beyond my expectations and before I knew it, I had a trilogy of about 350,000 words!

It was at this time that I shared an early draft with a few family members. Whether they were being polite or genuine, I’ll never know for sure, but I actually got some favourable feedback. So much so, that at the beginning of 2016 I made the decision to publish it. That was when my life changed…

The Decision to Self-Publish…

Until I started writing, I knew nothing about having a book published…absolutely nothing…and so I turned to the internet to find out what was needed. Being an unknown author and writing in a genre I guessed was commercially unviable for traditional publishers, I quickly decided to go down the self-publishing route. I wrote a post about the decision at the time (here) and I have to say that I don’t regret it for a minute.

What I didn’t want to do, however, was publish an unprofessional book. That meant I needed to find an editor. Most advice on the internet was to ask author friends or acquaintances for recommendations. Not so easy when you know no other authors. In the end, I ignored conventional wisdom and consulted Google. Once I’d identified a few candidates, I sent out the first 1000 words of the manuscript to see what came back.

Eventually, I selected a person I thought I could work with and sent her the manuscript. I must admit, sending it out was easier said than done. Here was a document I’d put my heart and soul into – and it was going to be critically appraised. Would I be able to take all the comments I was sure would come?

It came back several weeks later and with my heart in my mouth, I read through the comments. They weren’t too bad, at least not at first glance but as I worked my way through them, I realised I still had a lot to learn. It took me almost six months to make the suggested changes (more due to my writing style than the story itself), but with hindsight, it was well worth the effort. The post-edited version was much better than the original and in addition, I learned so much that I could take to the other books.

Thinking of Marketing…

By the time I’d sorted out the changes, found another editor to do line edits and proofreading, and got a cover for the book (from a professional cover designer), I turned my thoughts to how I was going to sell it. There is so much to learn (I wrote a post about it here) but this is where I hit another hurdle.

A popular way to go is to have a short story that you can give away to attract readers to your other books. The trouble was I didn’t have one. I wrote a post about it at the time (here) and did what I didn’t think I could – wrote a short story prequel to the series in about a month. Again, it was easier said than done but I had it professionally edited and a cover made, and once it was ready I knew it had been well worth the effort.

Becoming a Published Author…

The short story prequel is called Condemned by Fate and I loaded it onto Amazon in November 2016. It sold a handful of copies, but I also offered it as a free giveaway and since then I have given away thousands of copies (click here if you’d like your free copy). It was a surreal time and I was eager to get Part 1 of what is now The Ambition & Destiny Series, published. Four months later, in March 2017, Hooks & Eyes finally became a reality. With hindsight, I did so many things wrong with that launch, not least going on holiday for two weeks immediately after it was published, but at the time I thought the hard work was done.

How wrong I was!!!

I returned from my holiday to work on Part 2 of the series. I already had a draft that I’d self-edited about three times (prior to having Part 1 edited), and I wasn’t planning on publishing it for six-twelve months, so it should be straightforward – I thought.

My first mistake was to think the draft I had was any good. After working through the comments from the editors on Hooks & Eyes, I realised how much work I needed to do to improve Part 2. Not only that, at 135,000 words, it was way too long and I made the decision to turn it into two books.

The second mistake was thinking that launching a book a year was the way to go. One of the major benefits of self-publishing is that you can set your own timelines. These can be a lot faster than those of traditional publishers, but almost as soon as I’d published Part 1, I realised that a book a year was unlikely to be fast enough.

The trouble was, the books I had in draft basically needed to be re-written. As I was working through them, I also knew that I had to write another book – the fifth and final part of the story. That was when the whole process took over my life.

So…since April 2017, every subsequent book has been re-written (or written from scratch), edited twice, proofread and had professional covers. I’ve also managed to publish a book every four months. I worked evenings, as I always had, I worked weekends as well as during the day when I wasn’t doing my day job (fortunately I’m self-employed so could adapt my workload). I am also fortunate enough to have a supportive husband who enabled me to do that.

What did I learn?

  1. Self-publishing is a wonderful opportunity to write and publish the books you enjoy.
  2. It isn’t easy. It takes determination, focus and an ability to learn and adapt.
  3. There is help out there if you look for it.
  4. Have at least three books in the advanced stages of editing before publishing the first in series.
  5. You can make money from self-publishing if you have a good quality product and know what you are doing (and you’re willing to learn what you don’t know).

Part 5 of the series, Different World, is now available to pre-order on Amazon and for the first time in over eighteen months, I find I have a bit of time on my hands. I hope to return to posting here about the process and all the things I have learned over the last two years. I also hope to put my learnings into practice next time I’m ready to press publish.

For further information about The Ambition & Destiny Series, visit my Amazon Author page.

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A link to an author interview I gave this week:

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When I made the decision to write a book out of my family history research, I literally had no idea what I was doing. Not about writing fiction, not about Victorian-era England, nothing. All I knew was that I had a story that I wanted to tell.

Since then, it’s been a slow process but gradually the book I originally outlined to be nineteen chapters grew … and grew.  Initially, I’d worried that it wouldn’t stretch to a hundred pages, but with time it took on a life of it’s own. By 2015, I had a full-length trilogy on my hands, but still something wasn’t right. Part Two was too long. I would have to trim the word count when I edited it.

Despite this, I thought my writing was coming along fine. I’d done the best with it that I could and a few family members and friends had said it was good. Surely all I needed now was some line editing and proofreading. It’s funny how many times I’ve been wrong as I’ve gone through this process!

I now shudder to think what would have become of the series had I not used an editor. Suffice to say, it took me about six months to rewrite the book based on her comments and to get to the stage where I was confident enough to submit it to a second editor. This time when it came back, the comments were much more manageable and I published Part 1 of The Ambition & Destiny Series: Hooks & Eyes, in March 2017.

Part 1

Hooks & Eyes: Part 1 of The Ambition & Destiny Series

My initial plan was to release one book every six months or so, but it wasn’t long before those plans went out the window as well. When you are writing a series, especially if you have cliffhangers (which I do), you can’t leave readers waiting that long. Thankfully the rest of the books were already written, they just needed editing … didn’t they?

No, they didn’t. Because of everything I’d learned from my first editor, I realised two things:

1) My early drafts were lacking a lot of things like descriptions of settings, and emotions. That meant when I came to edit them, the books would increase in size rather than decrease.

2) The unedited books were terrible! Not the story, that was fine, but my style of writing seriously needed to up its game. I didn’t need an editor to tell me that.

I was going to have to rewrite both books before I could send them to an editor. No mean feat when you now want to publish the rest of the series at three monthly intervals!

The biggest problem was Part Two. At this rate, it was going to rival War and Peace for length and so I made a decision. I needed to split it in half. My trilogy would be no more, and instead, it would be a four-part series. I was relieved when I made the decision because the change meant that editing Part Two would be much more manageable than it would have been otherwise (because it was approximately half the length of the original Part Two).

So, how did it go? Well, as Part Four of The Ambition & Destiny Series, Only One Winner, is ready for publication on 13th March, almost a year to the day after Hooks & Eyes, I can say I did it (yay!) … but I’m exhausted! I feel as if I’ve done nothing but writing and editing for the last twelve months.

Only One Winner: Part 4 of The Ambition & Destiny Series

But that’s not the end of it. When I originally wrote the first four books, I ended with an epilogue and a summary (intended for family members only) of what happened to the characters after the end of the story. I can’t remember exactly when I made the decision, but at some point, I realised that the summary should be part of the series.

As a result, I am writing this post in a break from writing Part Five of the series. I had hoped to have the first draft finished by now, but as with everything I write, it’s ended up being longer than I hoped. It’s already as long as the previous books, but I still have another six years to cover. I’ll deal with that in the editing! Having said that, it will be one book (that’s my accountability), and it won’t go beyond the year 1911.

So, am I glad I turned my family history into a novel? Absolutely. I have no regrets about writing the books. They have brought my ancestors to life in a way that I couldn’t have imagined from the dry documents of family history research. Having said that, there are things I would do differently. By publishing Hooks & Eyes when I did, I put myself under a huge amount of pressure with the subsequent books in the series. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll try to pace myself a bit better rather than leaving all the pacing for the storyline of the book!

Only One Winner: Part 4 of The Ambition & Destiny Series will be released on 13th March 2018 and will be at the introductory price of 99c / 99p until Wednesday 14th March.

To celebrate the launch, Part 1 of the series: Hooks & Eyes will be available as a FREE download from 12-16th March.

All books in the series can be read for FREE in Kindle Unlimited and a FREE copy of the short story prequel, Condemned by Fate is available from my website. The fifth and final part of the story should be ready for July 2018.

Why not grab your copies today!

The Ambition & Destiny Series

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A recent interview I’ve given about my life and inspirations as an author …

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Writing a series about my family history has taken me to places I hadn’t imagined before I started. I talked in an earlier post about how I uncovered a world where women were treated as little more than slaves and seemed to be incarcerated in lunatic asylums for very spurious reasons.

The latest book in the series (When Time Runs Out), moves to the stage where women are starting to demand the right to vote and have some control over their lives.

In the early part of the 19th century, there was a widely held belief that women did not need the vote because their interests were the same as that of their fathers or husbands, who did have the vote. As the century moved on, however, many women were no longer prepared to be defined by their biology.

Initially, the women’s suffrage campaign was closely associated with a sex war between men and women. Women started to rebel against historical male sexual domination and campaigned against being forced into a sexual identity that was often imposed by withholding the right to education and the right to vote.

By 1868, a number of local groups had come together to start the National Society for Women’s Suffrage (NSWS). This was the first attempt to create a unified voice for women’s suffrage. Due to splits in the membership, however, it was relatively ineffective.

Between 1870 and 1880 the suffrage movement began to gain momentum and meetings were set up all over Britain. Speakers such as Millicent Fawcett and Mrs Ronniger attended meetings and during the 1870’s an average of 200,000 signatures a year were collected in support of votes for women.

Due to the lobbying of women and their supporters, the subject was debated in the House of Commons every year (excluding 1874) from 1870-1879. The debates continued beyond this time, although with less frequency. From 1886 onwards every vote taken showed that the majority of MPs favoured women’s suffrage. In spite of this, however, it was not permitted to become law.

When Time Runs Out is set between 1876 and 1885. At this time, the aim of the suffrage movement was to encourage women to read and be polite in order to show that they were worthy of the vote. Nineteenth-century suffrage was not associated with the militancy of the suffragette movement in the early 20th century.

As I wrote The Ambition & Destiny Series, it felt natural that my lead character, Harriet, would be involved with the suffrage movement. In the books, she is portrayed as a strong character who had suffered miserably at the hands of some of the male members of the family. I decided that in When Time Runs Out, enough was enough and she was going to make a stand. I suspect that this would have been vehemently opposed by some of the males in the family as suggested in the following excerpt.

In this scene, Mr Wetherby, the alpha male in the series, has just paid a visit to his stepson William:


Once the door was shut, Mr Wetherby declined William’s offer of a seat.

“Is everything all right?” William asked. “It is an unusual time for us to meet.”

“Do you think everything’s all right?”

“Yes, I think so, for me at any rate. The business is going well and I’ve managed to secure several bigger orders this week. Most are from new customers, but Porters have put in a repeat order, which is double the size of the last one. That should keep the men busy for a few more weeks.”

“I’m glad to hear it, but that wasn’t what I meant.”

William’s brow creased as he waited for Mr Wetherby to continue.

“How would you say your wife’s state of mind is at the moment?”

A smile broke out on William’s face. “Absolutely fine, in fact I’ve never seen her so happy. She’s helping me with the business, doing the accounts and making sure I keep under budget; it’s given her a new lease of life.”

“You’ve obviously not been privy to some of the conversations I have. Over the last few days I’ve heard some particularly disturbing news about her.”

William’s frown returned. “About Harriet? Idle gossip I shouldn’t wonder.”

“That was my first thought, but it was too much of a coincidence when I heard it from two other sources.”

“What have you heard?”

“Are you aware of the women’s suffrage movement in Handsworth?”

William’s face paled and he walked to the window. “What’s that got to do with Harriet?”

“I’ve been led to believe your wife has become a regular attendee at these meetings. Were you aware of this?”

“No … well … yes, perhaps.”

“Would you care to explain yourself?” Mr Wetherby’s eyes narrowed as he glared at William.

“Back in May, the day before she went into hospital, I saw her going to one of the meetings. I mentioned it to her when she came out of hospital and said I didn’t want her going to anymore.”

“Well it would appear she’s disobeyed your wishes.”

“How can you be so sure? Maybe your sources saw her when I did.”

“I’ve only heard about it recently. First was from someone Sarah-Ann invited to Wetherby House. Not a woman I’ve ever taken to if I’m being honest, a bit too forthright, but she mentioned to Sarah-Ann that she’d seen Harriet at a meeting.”

“That could have been before she was in hospital.”

“It could have been, although I was led to believe it was only a couple of weeks ago. In addition, a second friend of hers also mentioned it to me last week.”

“That still doesn’t prove anything, but even if she did, why’s it of such concern?”

“Why is it of such concern? William, listen to yourself.” Mr Wetherby’s voice grew louder. “Women are not capable of understanding politics and shouldn’t be encouraged to do so. I’ve no idea what propaganda they give them at these meetings, but it’s not right. Can you imagine what it would be like if women did as they pleased? This country would be the laughing stock of the world. Haven’t you heard the Marquis of Salisbury talking about it? He makes a splendid case for keeping things as they are.”

“But they’re not going to change anything, are they? It just lets them get together and have a cup of tea. Most probably it’s an excuse to sit and talk for an afternoon.”

“Don’t you be fooled. The third person I heard it from, and the reason I’m here, was a Liberal councillor in Handsworth. Apparently, they had a Liberal Member of Parliament at last week’s meeting. A Liberal, William, are you listening? Goodness knows what he told them, but you can imagine the delight of the councillor when he told me a member of my own family was fraternising with the Liberals. How do you think I felt? Not only that, it’s the Liberals in parliament who are encouraging this nonsense. Can you imagine if millions of women started voting for the Liberals? It could be the end of the Conservative party. Don’t you understand? We can’t let that happen.”

William laughed. “Harriet’s not going to do that by herself; we’d have to stop them all from attending.”

“You have to start somewhere and Harriet’s the sort of person who’d encourage others.”

“That’s unfair. She’s not one of the leaders.”

“Not at the moment, but if she gets the chance to make a nuisance of herself then she will. If I’m being honest, you’ve become far too soft with her and this sort of behaviour suggests to me that she’s still ill. If you want my opinion she has to go back to the asylum until she learns her place.”

Extract from When Time Runs Out by VL McBeath


When Time Runs Out is published on 15th November 2017.

To mark the launch, all available ebooks in the series are available for 99p / 99c until 19th November. It is FREE on Kindle Unlimited. To get your copies, click here.

Please Note: The books in The Ambition & Destiny Series form one story. Each ends with a cliffhanger and it is recommended that the Parts are read in sequential order.
The book is written in UK English.

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Source: Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – New on the Shelves – Condemned by Fate – The Ambition & Destiny Series by V.L. McBeath

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Access to Archives – What Price and at What Cost?

An outrageous development for researchers of family history. Let’s hope that something can be done.


Would you pay £31.50 per hour to access your local archives? This is the charge Northamptonshire Archives and Heritage Services announced would apply from 21 August 2017. This eye-watering price is just to visit the archives and conduct your own research. It is more than the hourly cost most researchers charge to undertake research on your behalf!

archive-1850170_1920 Archive Storage: Image – Pixabay

There is still free access to their Archives Service. But this is limited to Tuesday to Thursday, 9am-1pm; and the first Saturday each month between April to October, 9am-4pm. In total, over the year, free access therefore amounts to less than 10 hours per week. In contrast, the chargeable access applies Monday and Friday 10am-1pm and 2pm-4pm; and Tuesday to Thursday 2pm-4pm: a total of 16 hours per week.

Yes, money is tight in local Councils. Over the past few years we have seen many cut back the opening hours of Archives…

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“You can never truly judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”

Less Than EqualsWhen I started researching my family history, I wanted to do more than just collect names, dates and places. I know that’s where you have to start, but that was never going to be enough. I’ve written before about how a family rumour, suggesting we had once been wealthy, had been a starting point for me. As I discovered more information, however, I found more questions that needed answering. Some surrounded the life of my great, great, grandmother, Harriet.

Until I started my research, I had no idea who she was or even her name. Of all the ancestors I’ve discovered, however, I believe she had one of the most intriguing lives.

She was the twelfth of thirteen children, but for some reason, out of all her siblings, she was the one ‘adopted’ by her father’s brother and his wife.

She died way back in the 1880s and so I have no knowledge of her character, but from several incidents that occurred during her life, I have pieced together details of the sort of person I think she could have been.

Initially, life seemed routine. She married and had two children in quick succession, something that would have been expected at the time. Then things took a turn. In 1871 she was admitted to a lunatic asylum, reportedly for depression, and stayed there for two months. When she came out, on paper at least, life appeared to return to normal. However, fourteen years later, she was admitted to the same asylum, again for another two months.

With no recent history of mental illness in the family, this made me wonder whether the ‘depression’ was a real event, triggered by her genetic make-up. Or did her admission to the asylum have a more sinister side?

Although depression was a reason for patients to be admitted into lunatic asylums, many were sent there for much more spurious reasons. As the image shows, being a woman was certainly high on the list of possible offences, especially if you dared to behave differently to the expectations of society.

Other parts of my research have led me to believe that Harriet was probably an intelligent woman. She could certainly read and write. In the 19th century, however, the idea that women could be intelligent or that they should be educated went against perceived medical opinion. Doctors argued that the physical demands of menstruation and the intellectual demands of studying were incompatible and that educating women would lead to mothers of puny, weakened and sickly children.

Building up a picture of Harriet, layer by layer, I wondered if maybe she was ahead of her time. Perhaps she was an intelligent woman who wanted to break free of the traditional role society planned for her. If this were the case, it was likely to have caused her untold trouble.

Taking this train of thought one step further, I came up with two scenario’s that could have seen her sent to the asylum:

  1. She was treated badly / repressed because she refused to conform. If so, this could have led to her depression.
  2. Because she was outspoken, those ‘responsible for her’, sent her to the asylum for ‘corrective’ therapy. Depression was just a convenient label to attach to her.

It’s quite possible that neither of these options applied to Harriet. The sad fact is, however, they were real for too many women of the time. As I was writing Harriet into my novel, I couldn’t help but give her a storyline to fit with the character I think she may have been. Even if it’s not true, it highlights the hurdles women faced and serves as a salient reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of gender equality.

The Ambition & Destiny Series is a five-part series set in Victorian Era England. Harriet’s story starts in Part 2, Less Than Equals, which will be published on July 17th 2017.

In addition, Condemned by Fate and Hooks & Eyes, a short story prequel and Part 1 of the series, are currently available from Amazon.

If you like heroines who are ahead of their time, and epic sagas set in Victorian Era England, click here to start the journey today … and walk a mile in Harriet’s shoes.


Further details of Women’s Rights in Victorian Era England and the early Suffrage movement can be found on my website:

The Ambition & Destiny Series



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Less Than Equals by VL McBeath

A post I’ve recently written for another site.

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