A “Friend” Author In The Family

author in the family

Sandy Wilson always knew he had an author in the family.

But imagine his surprise when he found his great-grandmother’s story published in our 150th Fiction Special!

author in the family

Photograph by Jason Hanson.

Were you always aware that your great-grandmother was a “Friend” author?

Since I was a child, I have known my grandfather was a writer. But it was only in later life I found out his mother, Elsie Walter, was too.

My parents, in their retirement, put together a detailed family history; a priceless heirloom.

From this, I learned Elsie had been a prolific writer, with her work published in many magazines — including “The People’s Friend” — and read as far afield as USA and Norway.

I have vague memories of seeing “The People’s Friend” around my childhood home. Perhaps my mother saw it as a link with her father’s side of the family.

How does Elsie’s writing compare to fiction of today?

My great-grandmother’s story captivated me, but humbled me, too.

She was an excellent writer. There is a strong sense of place and imagery in her writing, which made me wonder if she may have visited the Alps.

Had Elsie been writing today, I think she would have been more forthright about the relationship between the cad, Sir Owen Richards, and Marquita. The strong religious theme or message in her story is no surprise; she was an active member of the Evangelical Church, and her writings appeared in publications such as the “Christian News”.

On 15th April 1900, the year after “A Swiss Story” appeared in “The People’s Friend”, Elsie died at the early age of forty, when her son, Clem, was fourteen.

Later, he wrote: “Greater loss than that there is none. I always loved her devotedly, and more so when the terrible and incurable illness came over her.

“She was gone and I was empty, but her influence is still around me, guiding me in difficulties, cheering me in sorrow.

“Your mother is the best and truest friend you will ever have.”

When did you realise Elsie’s story was in our 150th Fiction Special?

Five years ago, I posted an article on my blog entitled “A reason to write”.

I opened the piece with mention of my familial ties to fiction writing; my great-grandmother, Elsie Walter, and her son Clement had been writers and poets.

Then, in September of this year I received an email from Charlotte Lauder, a student doing a PhD on popular Scottish magazines. Searching online, Charlotte had stumbled upon my blog and the mention of Elsie.

It delighted me to forward Charlotte a copy of my family history.

That Elsie would appear in “The People’s Friend: 150 years of Short Stories” one hundred and nineteen years after her death is truly amazing.

Tell us about your own writing career.

At the end of a career as an interior designer, I moved to Spain.

To keep a connection with my family, my daughter encouraged me to be a guest writer on her “mum’s’ blog”.

My stories were memoirs of my childhood in Scotland, and of my daughter’s in Leeds. I was in my mid-fifties and had written nothing beyond bland design specifications and dour business letters.

The stories were well received by the followers of her blog. Encouraged, I set up my blog.

Like my great-grandmother Elsie, I soon built up a following in USA, Canada, Australia and even Norway.

Many were exiled Scots who either identified with the stories, or had been at school with me.

The next step in my progression as a writer came when I returned to the UK.

Feeling I should step outside of my “memoir genre” comfort zone, I joined a creative writing group led by the poet James Nash.

Mentored by James and influenced by the group members, I began writing short stories and poetry with a good number published on literary websites and in anthologies.

I also published a book, a memoir of my Scottish childhood under the title “Memory Spill”.

Approached by a charity for the blind, I made an audio version. I’m not sure what the listeners thought, but to me I sounded a cross between Andy Murray and Darth Vader!

I regret leaving writing to late in my life; it’s been rewarding in so many ways.

When eight years old I won a prize in a writing competition sponsored by Cadbury’s Chocolate, but my appalling handwriting has always been a handicap; Elsie would have been so disappointed!

Fortunately, word processing arrived. And now my iPad is my best friend, after my wife and my dog, of course!

What are you writing at the moment?

I am carrying out a final edit of my first novel.

Two years ago, I found ten chapters of an unfinished manuscript written by my grandfather, Clement, probably written around 1910.

Sadly, he died in the Great War aged thirty-one. This discovery was the catalyst for my attempt at the daunting task of writing a novel.

I tell the story through the letters and poems sent by a soldier to his wife, and the scenes move between the First World War and the present day. The theme, of how the emotional damage of war affects later generations, has always fascinated me.

As a child I sensed the weight of my mother’s hidden grief of never knowing her father, and I observed the sad remnants of my mother’s family; my granny still mourning my grandfather, and her brother still affected by machine gunning other human beings at eighteen.

I still remember the sadness that pervaded their home forty years after the war. I like to think I am honouring them all, and I have incorporated one of Clem’s poems, “Toujours”, into my novel.

The experience of writing a novel has been such a rewarding experience, I have the next one underway. “Hotel Moralez” begins at Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and ends in present day Alicante. War and the aftermath; a familiar theme!

For more fascinating 150th anniversary content, click here.

Lucy Crichton

Fiction Editor Lucy is always on the look-out for the very best short stories, poems and pocket novels. As well as sourcing enjoyable content, she enjoys working with our established contributors, encouraging new talent, and celebrating 155 years of 'Friend' fiction!