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Writing about Reading and Writing

The Long Road to Publication - Part III - Travel for research

Katie at Joanna Vassa Bromley's grave in Abney Park Cemetery, London, England

 I love research! My students question my sanity, but honestly, one of the parts of writing historical fiction I love the best is the research--so much so that I need to forcibly stop myself from continuing to research and start writing my novel. In the process of research for my historical novel about the daughter (Joanna Vassa) and sister (name unknown) of Olaudah Equiano, I came across four scholars/historians and Equiano aficionados. 


It was my first trip to England in June 2011, and Prince William and Princess Kate had recently married. My husband, William, and I (Catherine) claim we were the first William and Kate! On our second trip to England in 2013 we arrived on the day Prince George was born! 


My travels started in London. Arthur Torrington, the President of the Equiano Society in London, took a whole day to guide me around London to the spots where Equiano lived and wrote his memoir, and he took me to Joanna's grave, which was discovered a few years earlier by Dr. Vincent Carretta, buried under vines in Abney Park Cemetery.  Standing with Arthur and looking at Joanna's gravestone the reality hit me—this is a real person I'm writing about. She lived, and breathed, and died—and is buried right here. The grounds of Abney Park Cemetery are beautiful, wild, overgrown with weeds, and traversed with dirt paths, abundant trees overlook the graves. Joanna (and her husband) are buried close to Isaac Watts' towering memorial (famous hymn writer).  

I had very much wanted to meet Angelina Osborne, and I had the privilege the next day.  She has done the most extensive research on Joanna Vassa Bromley, and she answered all my questions over a delicious Indian lunch. Next stop, Hull! While it's not a tourist destination, it is the birthplace of William Wilberforce and houses a museum in his honor. Vanessa Salter, at the Wilberforce Museum, shared my passion for William Wilberforce and gave me much-needed advice. 


Stephen Wombwell was an unexpected gift!  My husband and I took the train to Clavering, to visit the church where Joanna's husband (Henry Bromley) served as pastor, and see the countryside, and Stephen, the organist at Clavering Christian Centre, was very gracious. He showed us the church where Joanna and Henry ministered, treated us to lunch at a nearby pub, and tea and cake at his home, sharing with us his knowledge of the church and of the Bromleys. He also gave me a copy of Henry Bromley's history of the church. The church building Rev. Henry Bromley and Joanna ministered at is no longer there, but the current church was built in 1872, and Rev. Bromley preached there when it opened, though Joanna had died several years earlier.


My final stop was Cambridge. I took the train to Cambridge and a bus to Chesterton to visit St. Andrew's Church, which features a plaque with a poem commemorating Joanna's sister Anna Maria, who died at the age of four.  


Visiting England had a monumental impact on Remnant. I'm thankful I had the opportunity to visit the places where Joanna lived and died and to meet amazing people who also care about Equiano and his family. These newfound friends deepened my knowledge of Joanna and her life in England.  


What kinds of wonderful people have come into your life through your research?

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