The Wednesday Writing Spot – Write about your ancestors – Emmeline Pankhurst and I…

Genealogy is a fascinating subject and I know more than one writer who has both researched their family tree and then used their ancestors as characters in either a short story or a novel.  I love this idea. I believe that writing with emotion is the way to sell your work – and what better way to do it!

We are linked to our ancestors, we are bound to have some emotional involvement with them – especially when we start researching their lives.  Hence we are halfway there if we create characters who are based on people in our past. We may not know much about them, but we will know something, and it’s amazingly inspiring and satisfying to recreate their lives in fiction.

I have a very complicated and (at least to me) interesting family history. My father was one of six. He also had six children. (there are four different mothers). I wasn’t brought up with any of my paternal brothers and sisters, but in the last fifteen years I have met two of my brothers.

Last week I met one of my cousins for the first time, and two nephews, and a couple of uncles and aunts. Fabulous stuff.  Now, on to something quite interesting that arose when we were chatting about our family history.  I was born Della Parkhurst.  My father was Peter Parkhurst, his father was Patrick Frank Parkhurst, his father was Frank William Parkhurst.

So what does all this have to do with Emmeline Pankhurst? Well… according to one of my aunts, who’s the custodian of our family history, Frank William Parkhurst was actually a Pankhurst, but he and his wife, Florence, were so horrified by another member of their family, Emmeline Pankhurst doing such embarrassing things such as chaining herself to the railings that they decided to disassociate themselves from her and changed their name by sleight of pen from Pankhurst to Parkhurst.

I was blown away when I learned of this fact. So if this is true – and apparently it’s been passed down my family over the years, and everyone thinks it’s true, then I’m related to Emmeline Pankhurst. How amazing is that. (It also explains a lot about my character, tee hee!).

I haven’t actually chained myself to any railings, but I have been passionate about one or two causes and have even been an activist in the past (long story). However, I would definitely have been up for some railing chaining in Emmeline’s time. My next step is to dig around a little and see if I can verify this, one way or the other. I’m sure one of you genealogy experts can tell me how to do it too.

Now, lets get back to writing, and also on to the most bizarre bit of this story. I sold a story a couple of years ago which was called Fifteen Minutes of Fame – it was published by The Weekly News, and it was about a girl who chains herself to the railings to save her grandfather’s allotments. Someone then lies to the newspapers that she is the great great great granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst.

How spooky is that 🙂

If you’d like any more advice on writing short stories, please check out my writing guides. How to Write and Sell Short Stories  and Moving On, Short Story to Novel, published by Accent Press and The Short Story Writers’ Toolshed published by

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