Over the years I’ve discovered that I really enjoy writing, particularly if it’s on the basis of historical research. Nowadays I do quite a lot for work, producing everything from exhibition materials to press copy.
My first real foray into writing anything properly was as an undergraduate at the University of York. My BA dissertation was great fun to research and hugely involving. It was entitled ‘Wellington’s Secret Service: British Military Intelligence during the Peninsular and Waterloo campaigns, 1809-15’: not the snappiest title, but my supervisor described reading it as like a cross between a first class piece of historical research and a James Bond novel, so I suppose I was doing something right! At some point it’s a piece that I’d like to refine and publish more widely.
Since then I’ve written for society magazines, local history newsletters and such like, until in 2008 I got involved with a project between Peterborough Museum and the U3A – the University of the Third Age, a learning and social organisation for over 50s who are no longer working full time, of which Peterborough has one of the largest branches in the country. This ‘shared learning project’ was to work with a group of about 20 volunteers from the U3A to research notable figures from Peterborough or associated with the city, the information from which would provide the basis for an exhibition at the Museum. The project proved to be so successful that the Museum published a volume of articles on 84 different people from the Anglo Saxon period to today, contributed by members of the group. I wrote 4 of these, on the Orme family (powerful Peterborough family from 1536 until 1815, no known relation); Oliver Cromwell and the city; Sir Harry Smith (a war hero from the Napoleonic Wars) and the Sage Family of Gladstone Street (parents and nine children who all died on the Titanic, being the biggest loss of life from an individual family in the disaster). The exhibition took place in 2010, followed by a second volume of another 60 articles in 2011, which I edited and contributed further articles to. These included Alice McKenzie (allegedly the last victim of Jack the Ripper) and Thomas Hunter (a World War I ANZAC who died of his wounds in the city and is still commemorated annually).
Both the ‘People of Peterborough’ volumes are still in print, and are available from Peterborough Museum, our Visitor Information Centre and the Peterborough branch of Waterstones should you be so inclined.
Lots of people had been asking me about a book of Peterborough ghost stories, virtually since the moment we started the Ghost Walks in October 2001. Very simply, there wasn’t one. Researching the initial Ghost Walk took four months to put together, pulling information from disparate sources, some published, but mostly old newspaper archives and actually going and interviewing witnesses, then further researching any relevant historical background. This methodology continued as further stories and information has come out of the woodwork over the years, to the point that I now have some 150 individual ghosts or stories over 80 and more different sites across the Greater Peterborough area.
As such, I’ve always meant to get around to writing some of this material up to cover the gap in published works on the folklore and alleged paranormal activity in this area and its related history. A number of things pushed me to actually get around it in 2011, not least that the History Press approached me to do so, and a couple of other books on ghosts in the region were published that year and mentioned stories that we cover on the Ghost Walk. Unfortunately these books had either not reported them accurately or had used them without the courtesy of asking us first. So I took up my laptop…
Because of all this, my first book ‘Haunted Peterborough’ was published in the summer of 2012 (we actually had the launch party the same night that the Olympic torch relay came through Peterborough), and has been very well received. People have been very kind and it’s had some very nice reviews. To read a couple of these, go to:
Don’t just take their word for it (or mine!) You can order the book (or buy it in Kindle format if you prefer) from Amazon, as well as all good local outlets as they say. The Amazon reviews are nice too!
What next? Well, I’m starting work on the next book, which is a history of Crime and Punishment in Peterborough, to be due out in 2015. After that, I’d like to write a proper, comprehensive, thoroughly researched but accessible history of Peterborough… Nothing if not ambitious!