Sunday, 6 December 2009

How come Gypsies and Travellers?

This is what seems to intrigue people. How come I am writing a story with a theme that hinges on Gypsies and Travellers, their origins, culture and present-day problems? I do not, as far as I know, have any Gypsy blood in my ancestry. At book signings, or when I give talks, this is usually the first question.

Two happily converging paths led me there. I had written two novels (still gathering dust somewhere, as many writers own up to) that can be regarded as a training ground, although I may revisit and revise them. Why not? I was already veering towards stories relating to social division, perhaps contentious subject matter. For my next novel I wanted something gritty to push the boundaries. I was looking for a theme that would fit with this but which, most importantly, would also engage readers. It needed to be an enjoyable read.

That was the first thing.

The second influence that prompted me was through a job I had supporting single, teenage Mums. Not wishing to bore you to sleep with biographical detail, for about six years, I’d had my own PR and Marketing business: brochures, press releases and feature articles for mostly IT companies. I began to tire of the copywriting, which became largely re-arranging similar words – ‘cost-effective; functionality; systems integration; business solutions; connectivity …’ Yawn, yawn. Well you see my point. I yearned to escape from software and other high-tech products that claimed virtually the same benefits for different industry sectors.

This may seem convoluted, but you see my life then changed for, in the closing years of working life, I decided to ‘work with people’. When I was in the community helping support single teenage mothers I questioned whether my colleagues and I should approach the local Travellers to offer our services – mostly information and emotional support. I was told families tend to look after themselves and might not want us interfering. This set me off on a fact-finding trail, reading about their secretive and proud culture to discover a mix of persecution, poverty and achievements, origins, the differences between, say, Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers. I became more and more fascinated. It is, believe me, a huge and complex subject!

As I went on to meet many Gypsies and Travellers, visit their sites, attend their meetings, I came to realise that these people did not, by and large, match the negative stereotypes fixed in the psyche of mainstream society. This launched me into something that has become a bit of an obsession, or at least a passion for my subject. There is so much to learn, and so much to say! And I must add there are plenty of Gypsies and Travellers who speak for themselves, both as individuals and through numerous organizations, but they are not always listened to. Other people sometimes put up a barrier with their prejudices.

Waterstone’s attached a note to Gypsies Stop tHere: “A fantastic, insightful first novel by a local author. Challenges prejudices and entertains thoroughly. This is a perfect holiday read” which shows that the ‘issues’ are woven into a story that is not heavy going! Since it was published, I have learned yet more about … well that would be telling. The sequel will be out in March 2010.

© Miriam Wakerly

1 comment:

  1. Miriam, I met you last Saturday at a Gypsy event in Ewell (around lunchtime, I was with a friend called Tina). I bought both of your books, and when I got home I read 150 pages of the first book in one sitting, it was so riveting! I had bought it for holiday reading, but it will be finished before my holiday tomorrow! This morning, I went on to go to the Gypsy Church in Leatherhead, where I was made to feel very welcome by the congregation. Thank you for challenging my perceptions of the Gyspy community, I seem to have started on a journey and I am looking forward to the next steps...