Monday, 21 November 2011

My Novels - so far

A reminder of my books; they standalone but are connected, as you can see.

Will uprooting herself from London to live in the country help Kay escape guilt-ridden memories of her husband's death? Far from finding a quiet life, she is caught up in an age-old conflict where passionate opinions on Romany Gypsy Travellers divide the local people.
A young woman, Lena, enters her life, unwittingly putting Kay's plans on hold. Kay struggles to not only come to terms with her emotional past but also to resolve Lena's problems, those of the village and the Gypsies. And another relationship blossoms that she would never have dreamed of ...

Two years have passed since Kay successfully campaigned for the Appley Green Gypsy Site, and four years since her husband was murdered. Life in the village was going so well, until the phone call and letter. Then comes the distrastrous site opening. Worst of all, Dunstan, whom she realises is her best friend and ally, is giving her the cold shoulder for some unknown reason.
Dunstan is taking an emotional trip down memory lane, into childhood as a Gypsy on the road, and his eventual break from his people. Why is he so angry with Kay that he keeps away from her? Chances of a longed for reconciliation look slim ...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Strictly Pics

This may be the saddest thing we (husband and I) have ever done. We actually took photos of the TV screen! - It Takes Two BBC2 6.30 pm, last night. Here are the very seats upon which we sat - practically on the dance-floor, you will agree. This of course relates to my last blog post Strictly Fun The following pics depict Sir Bruce Forsyth leaning over to speak to me and friends and family section, including Nancy Dell'Olio, looking across bemused. What I thought was my bright pink sequinned scarf is actually some imposter's elbow - we think. I was optically deluded.
The last photo shows the reality of queueing.

Please do not be too concerned about our mental state - it is a phase and will soon pass!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Strictly Fun - yes, we got tickets, hurray!

I kept thinking of things that could go wrong: we would be so queue weary that by evening we (husband and I) would be slumped in a corner fast asleep; our car would be parked miles away; it would surely rain and there would be a line of 100 people before we even arrived!

But no! The most unexpected highlight (arguably) comes later, but now the smug bit starts, and I am safe in saying that, since no demons struck us at the midnight hour; we are home and dry.

The sun struggled through mist; absurdly warm for November; my husband dropped me off and I found myself 5th in the queue at 8.25 am, clad in a black-sequinned evening dress barely concealed by a winter coat. Emma and her daughter Gracie from Leicester had been there from 7.15; it was Emma’s birthday and they had splashed out on a London hotel. Nos 3 and 4, Katy and Tania from Peterborough, had nipped off to fetch coffees and soon rejoined our little group. Husband was soon back, having parked easily in a residential road, introducing himself as another ‘sad person’ and thus, we were 6! If justice prevailed in the Strictly world, we would have good seats.

Another irrational fear I had was lack of facilities. We took a bagful of food just in case there was none available within walking distance of Wood Lane. I might have guessed the BBC had done this thing a trillion times before, so it would all work out. Access to loos was easy in BBC Television Centre reception. No, there were no nearby mobile food or drink vendors, but Westfield massive shopping complex is five minutes walk away, certainly not too far for taking a welcome walk and fetching back some coffee.

Friendly Rory Bremner dropped by to say hello to people in the line. Various dark-windowed vehicles rolled up, containing we knew not who. Husband spent some time settled on our picnic rug with The Telegraph, or chatting to fellow queuees, then we watched a parallel queue build up for Children in Need Strictly recording. This disappeared and by 12.30 we were ‘validated’ and our tickets allocated with a number. Yay!! Now we could go away until about 3.30, giving us enough time to pop back to the car, eat, adjust clothing, make-up and have lunch.

After a browse in Westfield, we returned to a long queue but, of course we were numbered so it didn’t matter. As we were among the first 14, our place was assured.

To save handing in our mobiles we left them in the car; so I just had to hand in my coat and a shoe-bag. Then we had time to while away with our new friends and a big screen showing endless clips from previous shows. We were now well into the zone, Strictly land, excitement mounting. I imagined the nerves that the celebrities must be feeling at this time, so close to appearing live before millions of viewers. We even managed to buy a glass of wine; a bonus, as we had been led to believe alcohol was forbidden! (certainly not allowed in the studio) We sat down on the floor and chatted to Nos 7 and 8, sisters probably younger than our own children, one a dentist, the other a lawyer …

Anyway, we filed in and were told we (the first 14) had the best seats in the house: the front row facing the dance-floor, opposite the orchestra. We were also told we could be in shot throughout as cameras swoop round; but were obviously not in the highly visible crowd that sit behind where Bruce and Tess stand, or the judges. It was a perfect position; so close to the dancers we would almost be touching them.

The audience over to our right were friends and family of the performers and rumour has it that the people most on camera over on the left side, are in fact connected to the production of the show. If anybody reading this knows something different, put me right!

By now, it all became rather dreamlike. The warm up man was making us relaxed and happy. Everything seemed to me smaller and more intimate than I imagined – the dance-floor, the judges’ desk area, and all the professionals and most of the performers are incredibly fit, lean, neat, taut and lovely. OK – Russell is a hoot, very likeable and actually, a good dancer, given his ‘stocky’ frame. How much slimmer he is than he once was, too.

We sometimes had to peer between and round cameras, but on the whole our vantage point was brilliant.

We spotted Nancy dell'Olio – easy as she was standing up and looking around quite a lot! How tiny is she?  Brian May was there and a lady who is, apparently, one very proud parent of Harry. I caught sight of Chris Evans over on the left side, just by the staircase up to Tess’s Tower.

Sir Bruce did a bit of a warm-up himself; this is what he loves to do, he told us – contact with a real, live audience. He greeted Nancy, who stood up for hugs. And later …

… then it did become a bit surreal. He was walking down towards our section and our eyes met! He swooped on me – yes me! His face was very close! Suddenly he was shaking my hand, saying something like, “Oh hello, dear! (mmm, oh well) How are you? so you did get here then. How nice to see you … etc” somehow giving the impression that he knew me, I’m not sure how he did that. I am fairly sure he then invited me round to tea at his place, but please if anyone there can remember exactly what he said, do let me know – via Twitter. Amidst general laughter, he wandered off …

To say more would be to give too much away to those who have yet to experience it. It was great and I would do it again.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

New Blog for Independent Publishers

Well - I am an expectant grandmother and we have tickets for Strictly Come Dancing. Does life get any better? The only possible quandary here is if these two wonders happen on the same day! But - something else good happened this week.

I was invited by the wonderfully enterprising Pauline Barclay to become one of the Famous Five Plus! This is a new blog 'for Indie authors, to showcase their work, to talk about the road to publishing and what writers new to publishing can expect'. And what a diverse and impressive line up there is!

You are cordially invited to follow us - be among the first and you will be remembered for it!

Pauline's books include Magnolia House, Satchfield Hall and Sometimes it Happens. She is lucky enough to live in sunny Lanzarote - but there, she is not going to Strictly ... swings and roundabouts.

I think we should all celebrate the way authors who feel they have something to say and love writing can make it happen.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Why I cannot leave Gypsies and Travellers alone

I could have chosen an easier subject for a novel. Friends and family advised me against it; an agent told me a publisher would not consider a title with ‘Gypsy’ in it. All of this spurred me on. This was around 2006–7.

Since I am not a Gypsy myself, many people ask me how? and why? Looking for a novel theme, for a variety of reasons I have explained before, I was intrigued by the whole idea of a community living their secret lives on the edge of society, who seem to keep themselves together – and apart. Or, was it the rest of society that was ostracising them? Why was there such a mismatch between the old romantic notion of a Gypsy in his horse-drawn wagon and the more modern image? Hundreds more questions began to build up and I wanted to understand; I needed to know more. The more answers I found the more questions arose.

As I dug down into academic textbooks and spoke to their authors; made contact with Gypsy and Traveller organisations; searched the Internet; visited sites; listened to Gypsies and Travellers; attended meetings and events, my knowledge and understanding matured. I read of injustice, persecution through history and discrimination that persists today and felt moved to reach out and convey what I had learned, but in an entertaining rather than heavy-going, pedantic way. On the other side I was bombarded with folks who claim genuine grievances and have tales to tell of behaviour that perpetuates a negative stereotype. I listened to everything.

I wrote Gypsies Stop tHere and published it in 2008. Since then, I am pleased to say many Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers have found a voice, speaking up for themselves in the press, on blogs, chat-shows and documentaries, and writing their own best-selling memoires. When I was doing my research six years ago, they kept themselves quiet and I found few documented accounts of Gypsy lives today or within living memory. Those I did find, I read avidly – they are listed in the Bibliography.

My book happened to coincide with the start of Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month; the Travellers Times (and associated educational media) was raising its profile; more recently followed the outrageous Big Fat Gypsy Wedding series that may have done more harm than good (see previous posts on BFGW), but certainly stirred the public’s imagination. You may have spotted other, better informed documentaries offering less sensationalised representations. With the new Coalition government, legislation is sliding all over the place. Then reality kicks in with Dale Farm in Essex, a humanitarian and legal tangle that should never have happened, now on the cusp of an unsatisfactory and expensive resolution.

The opening of Gypsies Stop tHere, spoken by a keen, young, female activist, is: “People threatened with eviction, due to no fault of their own, being unjustly hounded out. It’s mediaeval the way they’re treated, don’t you think?” The arguments for and against follow, woven into the village story. I hope readers are tossed back and forth, weighing things up and really thinking about the issues from all angles.

After that book, I was sure I would move on to a new topic, but no! I knew there was more to say. I felt the present should be more clearly linked to the past; the three-way relationship between Romany Gypsies, Irish Travellers and ‘mainstream society’ put into the context of recent history, through storytelling. It is clear that some people still despise Gypsies and Travellers en bloc, symptomatic of racism; and I hoped even they might find out more for themselves about this community’s struggles, as individuals, and how things have come to be as they are today.

So the sequel No Gypsies Served was published in 2010, both a sequel and a prequel. At book signings I found people new to the books, would choose Gypsies Stop tHere because it seemed logical to read the first one first, although you could just as easily read No Gypsies Served first.

That then was surely the end of Gypsies! I had started a novel set in the same village, Appley Green – nothing to do with Gypsies or Travellers! Good friends of mine think I am frankly obsessed (I would say fascinated) with my subject; some people would be pleased to see me weaned off this controversial and addictive theme, full of moral, social and legal conundrums. (Should that be conundra?)

After I was well into my new Appley Green story, somebody suggested I write the biography of a certain Gypsy man. A factual book, pure and simple? It’s what members of the Gypsy and Traveller community themselves often desperately want. They search through my books looking for photographs, hunting for a mention of their relatives. Fiction about Gypsies written by a non-gypsy is less attractive. But I had put Gypsies behind me, hadn’t I?

Meanwhile, I was being invited to speak on radio and give talks to groups of people, reflecting the growing interest in the culture, history and highly controversial issues. Now enjoying the writing of my new novel, I was very torn, but the temptation was irresistible and my decision inevitable.

So – two very different books then, I decided. Why not? I am retired and have the time. My subject, an elderly gent, whose identity is known to just a few people at the moment, lives some distance away and does not use email; so there were gaps of time that gave me space to continue with the novel. The arrangement worked very well.

The launch was planned for this December, in Waterstone’s as usual. However, the difference between a good biography and a better one, is a few months’ more work. Writing a factual book is anything but ‘pure and simple’. So, keeping with my plan to publish the biography and the novel at the same time, to please everyone, I should have them ready to go in the spring 2012.

Monday, 18 July 2011

A digital dilemma, ebooks ...

... Ebooks, eBooks, e-books, E-Books, e-Books, or E-books … I am having a deep inner conflict, not just about how to spell it.

Gypsies Stop tHere is now a Kindle eBook - at last. Might as well go with the flow, I thought, or what will be regarded by future generations as a technological revolution. Ironic really; it’s only a few months since I was in rebellious mode. Step back for a moment to this piece about breaking all the rules, just last year!

The world of publishing is evolving apace! With the extraordinary rise of e-books, sales currently outstripping printed books I understand, no wonder many new authors are now taking the independent publishing route. In fact, how many authors with long-established publishers have changed tack? Comments on these questions would be very welcome, - or answers, if you happen to have them.

(I rejected digital print as cost-ineffective. However, it is an option for a writer-publisher who wants a modest print-run. )

So Gypsies Stop tHere, my first novel published in print 2008, is now available for the e-reading world to purchase! US, UK and German Amazon. Wonderful! At a bargain price. No print costs. 70% royalty on Kindle. Naturally, I am thinking about the guy recently in the news as the first independent author to sell 1 million Ebooks.

Did you read about a leading public school that has been actively ridding itself of its library, its students now using iPads instead? With two more books in progress, should I bother with print at all? Clearly e-Books are the future and my choice is not going to make a jot of difference to the overall trend! I am but one stitch in the vast tapestry of publishing.

But, but, but … Should I worry about what will happen to bookshops as this ebook trend is pursued by authors? My helpful and supportive friends in Waterstone’s? And libraries? Books – that I love to have, hold, read, possess and cherish? And publishers? Agents? The printers? The natural conclusion could be their collective demise. I do not want that.

Or, will ebooks and printed books co-exist happily forever? This, by the way, is a hypothetical question, but if anyone wants to give it a go, they are welcome.

Now, I need to make sure people will find my book. More on this in a few weeks time …

PS Here is a link to a Guardian article re the statistics to clarify in what sense ebooks are allegedly outstripping print - note that it compares against hardbacks and this is for the US.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month

Have you heard of Travellers Got Talent?

No? Well, June is Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. It began three or four years ago. Various events displaying and exploring the culture and traditions of Gypsies, Travellers and Roma take place around the country. It is hoped that the general public will be interested, curious and intrigued enough to go to these events. From my experience it is quite a rare thing for this often secretive community to reach out to the wider public. If Big Fat Gypsy Weddings can attract nearly 9 m viewers, and Appleby Fair now attracting hoards of onlookers, then there should be people queuing up for events. This is the real thing and they are usually free of charge.

Sadly, it would seem that funding cuts have curtailed some plans for this year, as you can see from the limited information available on Events relate only to last year. However, the good news is that Travellers Got Talent is there! 'A Gypsy Life for Me' 'an 8 hour series' will be broadcast on Sky TV based on the footage. More about this on Travellers Times:

If you find an event going on in your area - keep your eye out - then do let me know. I will then put it here on my blog.

GRTHM London seems to be flourishing Even I am on there tucked away in Resources - Publications

So - I hope to hear about anything you hear about where you live!
via Twitter @MiriamWakerly or leave a comment right here.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

More media stuff on BFGW

Update on Friday 25 Feb A more realistic picture of Traveller women? The Guardian

The Guardian This is the opening paragraph of my 2nd BFGW blog dated 7 February

Channel 4’s plans in The Times Oh no not more ... ! (You need to subscribe to access this.) I doubt Romany Gypsies will be taking part.

Surrey Heath Residents Blog This is my recorded interview - gets off to a slow start, but warms up, so stick with it to the end. Excuse the scary photo (who took that?)

Article with Damien le Bas Damien is a Romany, Oxford graduate and was on The One Show.

A Guardian article by David Altheer with 256 comments !
Not to do with BFGW but a lovely positive story from Phoebe Buckley, top level equestrian, Romany Gypsy. 'Against the Grain' R4.

Excellent article I missed earlier on 11 Feb Gypsies: tramps and thieves. I urge all to read. The link was in Travellers Times Newsletter.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Big Fat Gypsy Weddings not so bad?

SINCE WRITING THIS POST I SAW THIS! Jake Bowers speaking for the Romany Gypsy community: on Daybreak.

I may be revising my view of Channel 4 documentary, dubbed ‘mockumentary’. I hope it really does help relations between Gypsies and non-Gypsies, rather than make for more bad feeling. Excellent representation on BBC Breakfast show this week.

For booklovers interested in an easy and entertaining read on Gypsies and Travellers today, and our relationships with them, you may like to take a look at my novels. They are set in the fictitious English village, Appley Green. Many of the issues that are being raised in Channel 4's programme are woven into the stories.

When I began my research 6 or 7 years ago nobody was talking about Gypsies or Travellers very much. From their history to the modern-day shortage of stopping-places, I realised I had found a fascinating subject that few people understood. I visited many Gypsy sites at places close by, including: Chobham, Hartley Wintney, Leatherhead, Ash and, indeed, the famous Irish Traveller site, Westway, in London. I spoke to a lot of Gypsies and Travellers as well as reading books by professors who have done the same thing. I attend Gypsy and Traveller meetings and hear about their problems first-hand. I also did and still do a lot of thinking!

My novels have been described as an ‘easy way in’ for a non-Gypsy. Bridie Page, A Romany Gypsy, with Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group said, “Miriam has captured the essence of Romany/Traveller life managing to merge old and new seamlessly. A right riveting read!”

Sue Cook, Broadcaster and Writer, “Wakerly’s books do a wonderful job in helping to promote understanding where there is ignorance and tolerance where there is bigotry. I recommend them heartily.”

Gypsies Stop tHere (2008) and No Gypsies Served (2010). Click on some links to find out more:
Amazon and

Reviews: 2 reviews on (do a search on my name, they come up straight away)

I am now actually looking forward to the next episode - but hope I don't have to do another U-turn. Am going to a Gypsy and Traveller Forum in a week's time and will find out how the community are feeling about the series by then. At the moment, they are not happy. See Travellers Times

Monday, 7 February 2011

Another Grumble on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings

I understand Channel 4’s aim to achieve high ratings. To suck in an audience that might ultimately consider more serious aspects of Gypsy and Traveller life and culture, you need to lighten up first. I get that. But at what cost? By sensationalising, then deliberately selecting and focusing on the more controversial things that ‘make good television’, the producers of this series have compromised on truth a step too far. The interest has brought out truly poisonous comments – yes I have seen them on Twitter too. Referred to in a TV guide as ‘gently mocking’, I find the voice-over so apparently benign as to border on sinister. Mocking and encouraging others to mock is more damaging than people perhaps realise and affects the lives of countless people trying to find accommodation, bring up their children and earn an honest living. Romany Gypsies are outraged and aggrieved that there is no distinction made between them and Irish Travellers. (I hope they do not mind me speaking for them.) Now they have seen the way TV has chosen to display the Irish Travellers, I doubt they will ever open up to reveal some of the truths about their own culture. And who can blame them? Romany Gypsies are, on the whole, proud to be called Gypsy. Irish Travellers are not generally referred to as Gypsies, which makes the title of the programme a nonsense – and harmful too. I did a post on this on 12 February 2010 – it is complicated and mistakes can easily be made. The Race Relations Act helped to bring about this confusion by lumping together the two groups into one ethnic group for purposes of legislation and rights pertaining to travelling people, or sedentary people with a heritage of travelling. Romany Gypsies, who account for a much higher percentage of this overall group than Irish Travellers, are so far removed from this picture we see on our screens, they are appalled and probably despair at the stupidity of non-Gypsies who watch it. I hope Romany Gypsies do not mind me speaking on their behalf; they are certainly speaking up for themselves too. You can see why Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month (June each year) keeps to its title, which it has to be said does not trip easily off the tongue. To reduce it to an umbrella term would be wrong. They are different and distinct groups of people – albeit with some similarities. From giving talks on the subject, I know all too well how difficult it is to get people to listen. People come armed with questions and opinions before even hearing another point of view – I am told the term for this is ‘cognitive dissonance’. Prejudice is another term for it. I do try to comment on this whole debacle in an even tone with facts and references to substantial reports, but underneath I am FURIOUS at the damage that this programme may have done. People are working hard to improve relationships between Gypsies and Travellers and non-gypsies, by fostering more understanding and knowledge. There is a huge wound that needs to be healed, not gouged out and left to fester. The more people are exposed to these negative portrayals, the less tolerance there will be for a people who by and large just want to care for their families and earn a living. Their overriding concern it to secure accommodation. The more others dislike and object, the more unauthorised encampments there will be and the more objections there will be, in an endless vicious circle. If the wider community could just stop a minute, regard Gypsies and Travellers as individual human beings, not object when a local council proposes a small site in their area, then the ‘mess and damage’ so often quoted against them might be consigned to history.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

Could not let TV Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Wedding go by without offering a few thoughts – could I? It wouldn’t be right!

Firstly, these were, going by their accents, Irish Travellers rather than Romany Gypsies. Please correct me, someone, if I am wrong. They rarely mix.

People scoff, ridicule, and look down upon the sheer brash lavishness, bright pink vulgarity, the width and weight of the dresses and so on. They will decry the 'sexual attacks’ in the apparent ‘grabbing’ rituals, the brainwashing of young girls into early marriage, a lifetime of childbearing and polishing, with no career options, that turns the clock back … I have read and heard many times over that Gypsies are known for saying what people want to hear, which they openly admit, and the girls seemed only too happy to gyrate and posture for what the cameras wanted to shoot. Displaying the ‘big knickers’; un-British ignorance of Audrey Hepburn (not that surprising considering the age group); and arguably the most ungainly walk a bride has ever managed in the history of weddings, caused no apparent embarrassment. Just pure enjoyment it seemed, in some unreal bubble of a world where modest virgins dress like tarts. Makes for good television. Yes, I know all that, but moving on.

Did you notice the underlying positives? How happy and healthy the people in this programme were? Shiny hair, bright eyes, beautiful skin, bodacious physiques? How spotless their clothes and everything about them? What a lovely sense of humour? The loyalty to family and kinship group? In some ways the (I have to say, adorable) children seemed socially mature and kind to each other. Girls living their dream, however absurd it may seem from the outside. No apparent hang-ups or grudges. No sex or alcohol before marriage, no drugs, and teenage girls never allowed to be with a boy alone before marriage. Young men who claim to take family and financial responsibilities very seriously. If you compare and contrast with some non-Gypsies they come out rather well. Well, how controversial.

In Gypsies Stop tHere, Lena is a young Romany Gypsy wife and mother of two little boys, who is cast out from her community. As you can see, in the context of this programme showing the powerful sense of belonging that is the linchpin of Gypsy and Traveller culture, this is the worst thing that can happen to a Gypsy. Also in No Gypsies Served, Dunstan, a half-Gypsy or didakoi, left his family at the age of 16 and you can see some of the consequences. It is unlikely to happen, but is a ‘what if’ scenario.

The programme did help to demonstrate why their culture persists; the difficulties of breaking away, or their lack of any wish to do so, stood out.

I am looking forward to the next episode and would love to hear your views – especially if you are a Gypsy or Traveller.