“Part of being an historical writer is to reflect on sources and their accuracy. Sometimes part of the evidence you find is contradictory and you have to find a way of writing that in.”
– Gill Blanchard, speaking to Norwich Writers’ Circle.
On the evening of 3rd October members and guests at Norwich Writers’ Circle welcomed Norwich historian, genealogist and biographer Gill Blanchard to the meeting. Gill, also a long-time member of the Circle, spoke about her research and writing career, expanding on the progress of her business, ‘Past Search’.
As a youngster Gill dreamed of being an investigative journalist. She and her three siblings were brought up in a household of book readers, for five years the family did not own a television. Aged eight, Gill won a competition in her home in Sheffield, becoming the youngest Bookworm in the city. She especially enjoyed adventure stories and explained how her parents’ passion for folk music led to her being immersed in the stories told through folk songs. Gill developed a fascination for history and a love of learning, discovering family history through an encounter with a relative from Australia who was researching his genealogy.
Having had her daughter with partner Ian, she embarked on her first degree, resulting in a job offer from Norwich Record Office, a role that lasted for six years. Her extensive and varied career, including the launch of Past Search, her own research company in 1997, is well documented on her website, www.pastsearch.co.uk. Working for private clients, her time was spent searching through records, collecting and analysing data, interpreting data and presenting reports. In 2009 Pen and Sword Books published her first instructional book, Tracing Your East Anglian Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. An updated reprint will be available soon. Two further books followed: Tracing Your House History in 2013 and Writing Your Family History in 2014.
But it was at a meeting of Norwich Writers’ Circle in 2012 when she learnt of the MA in Creative Non-Fiction and Biography at the University of East Anglia. She realised that by taking the course she could open up new avenues for her writing and her business. Gill graduated with the MA in 2014, her studies resulting in her two most recent publications, her first full-length biography Lawson Lies Still in the Thames (Amberley Books May 2017) and I Therefore Post Him as a Coward: An anatomy of a Norfolk scandal, 1836 (Poppyland Publishing April 2017).
A lively question and answer session followed Gill’s talk, when the discussion explored the motivation behind her commissions, how to deal with uncovering uncomfortable truths and the need to be aware of changing attitudes and behaviour over time, putting events into context while making comparisons with the present and commenting accordingly. Members were intrigued by the concept of ‘Informed Speculation’, with Gill explaining how her writing is always based on fact and research, sections of ‘speculated’ narrative prefaced by “One can imagine…”, “I like to think…” or “We can presume…”
After warm applause, Adrian Dearnley gave a vote of thanks on behalf of the Circle for her entertaining and informative talk.