The writing of Maria’s Papers

The simple act of being able to write Maria’s Papers was so incredibly unlikely that had it not been for a series of exceptionally tenuous links falling into place over a one-hundred-and-fifty year period, it could not have happened.

In the 1850’s my Great, Great Aunt Maria Clegg rigorously pursued ownership of the Whitewall Estate in Walmersley, Lancashire for 17 years, until the family who were incumbent there paid to have her incarcerated in a Lunatic Asylum. She was committed for having “delusions of exaltation” and was kept locked up until she died twenty years later, but before she was incarcerated she managed to hand all of her research documentation i.e. Maria’s Papers, to her niece Charlotte.

Fifty-one years later, in 1921 my nine-year-old father was passing a pub where he knew that he had an old Aunt, and going in and hoping for a free orange juice, he was ushered up to her bedroom and given Maria’s Papers to keep. Charlotte, aged ninety-one, died the next day.

Forty-four years after that, in 1965, my father remembered that he had hidden them in the attic of his old family home, now some ten miles away from where we lived, but upon asking, he was given access, and managed to find them for the first time since 1921. He then showed them to my brother and me.

They were truly amazing, letters, file notes, a bloodstained wallet and pocket book, and all manner of other things, and they are now preserved for posterity in a bank vault.

In 1975, whilst on business, somebody cancelled an appointment at the last minute and I realised that I was situated in Walmersley, (for the first time in my life), somewhere near the old estate, and with the aid of a lady curator in a cottage museum, I was able to find the now named Whitewall Farm and became the first Clegg to go there since Maria in 1867.

When I got there, to my utter astonishment, I nearly had the door slammed in my face by the suspicious owners when I told them that my name was Clegg, and only after a lot of reassurance by me, they told me, that there was still an outstanding claim, dating back from Maria’s time, held in Chancery for nine-hundred-and-ninety-nine years and  one day, contesting ownership of the farm by the Clegg family!

In 2006, I decided to record all of this, and embellish it by turning it into an exciting novel to pass on to my children with no intention of ever getting it published, but whilst on holiday in Italy in 2007, fate changed all of that.

Following a day trip to the Isle of Capri, my wife, and I overheard an American couple trying to find a bus to Amalfi where we were staying, so we offered them a lift, which they gratefully accepted. When we got there, we parted company never expecting to meet again, but two days later they turned up at our hotel to buy us a few ‘thank you’ drinks. During that evening, the couple informed us that they loved history; I told them about my old Great Aunt, and that I had written it down in a novel format for the kids.

Promising to look after it, Steve Robitaille, the American, asked if he could read it and I agreed.

Four weeks later, Steve emailed me and told me that he not only loved the story, but that he was an Emmy Award winning film producer, and he asked if I would enter into a contract with him for the screenplay.

He went on to encourage me to get the novel published, and following a massive learning curve and several re-writes, it is now published. But there was to be one last huge coincidence.

Without my father’s visit to his dying Aunt in 1921, none of this could have happened, and in recognition of that, I dedicated the novel to my Great, Great Aunt Maria, and to my father.

On the 25th April 2012, Austin & Macauley independently announced the publication date of my novel, as being the 28th May 2012. The 28th May 2012, would have been my father’s 100th birthday.

So now you see, if any one of those threads, spreading back to 1867 had been broken, none of this would be happening. Fate has guided the telling of this story, and it must now be for a significant purpose. I wait with baited breath.