The Beauty of Old Photographs

Francesca takes a look at an old (ish) photograph that helped inspire her village of Dorcalon

I’ve talked often of how my mother’s family, and in particular, a great grandfather’s First World War record, were instrumental in me starting the Valleys series. Some of you may have noticed a few of the photographs I’ve used in my publicity for the books. Most were taken by me, but there is one old (ish) one, taken by my father.

My mother and grandmother were born in the village of Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley, which forms the basis of my imaginary village of Dorcalon. When I was a child, although much of the family had moved by then (some as far as Australia), we still had cousins in Merthyr Tydfil, who we stayed with from time to time. They used to love driving us around Wales, and consequently I got to see the village where my mother was born.

The photo above was taken by my father in 1973, and although not nearly as old as the setting in the novels, it does show buildings that were there in World War 1, that have since disappeared. The original is in black and white, but I managed to find a site to colourise it. The tall Ainon Baptist Chapel (attended by my great grandparents and their family), built in 1906 in the Romanesque style, had the large front portion demolished in 1997, leaving now only a single storey building at the back. The Workmen’s Institute, opened in 1910, has since been demolished. The McLaren Arms (The McKenzie Arms in my novels) was demolished in 2005.

The colliery, dating from 1895, stood on the grassed area on the right of the photo and was closed in 1959 (or 1969, depending on which source you read!). Most, if not all of it seems to have disappeared by 1973.

The two public buildings that have survived from that time are the school (which my grandmother and her siblings will have attended) and the parish church.

There are some very much older photographs of Abertysswg that have been massively helpful in picturing what it was like. I don’t have the copyright to them to be able to put them on the blog, but here are some links to them: Workmen’s InstituteAbertysswgMcLaren Mine

The next photograph is one I took in 2014 of Abertysswg, though it’s side on to the village.

It’s easy to see that the most imposing buildings have gone. Despite this, apart from a few added domestic buildings, the houses are much as they were a hundred years ago. At the forefront of the photo, slightly to the left, you can see McLaren House, where the colliery manager lived (McKenzie House in the books) and either side, McLaren Cottages (McKenzie Cottages).

What a shame most of the wonderful old public buildings have now disappeared. They would have all been hubs of the mining community, the Workmen’s Institute in particular, with its library and staged talks, plays and musical events. Today there is a much smaller Working Men’s Club on the edge of the village. Times change, but it’s great to have these old photographs to allow us to glimpse into the past.

The original photograph taken by my father in 1973


A competition for you to enter, to win signed copies of Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys

The celebrate the publication of the paperbacks of Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys, I’m running a couple of easy-to-enter competitions this week and next to win signed copies of both books.
Just follow the link below to my author page and follow the instructions there for the current competition that runs until 6pm on Saturday 6th March. Pob lwc! (Good luck!) 😀


The books can be purchased HERE





Publication Day and Competition Time!

Francesca celebrates the paperback publication of her Valleys novels with a competition

Today I’m utterly delighted to report that my first two Valleys novels, Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys are published in paperback today. It’s been lovely seeing them as ebooks, and, in the case of Heartbreak, hearing it as an audio, but there’s still something special about holding a paper book in you hands.

Back in World War 1, when the books are set, they would have been amazed at ebook technology.  I wonder what my imaginary bookseller, Mr Schenck, would have had to say about it, though being a philosophical sort, he’d probably have taken it in his stride.  All the same, he may well have been relieved at the opportunity to sell a physical copy.

To celebrate the paperback publications, there are two chances this week to win copies of both novels in competitions over on my Facebook author page. The first one is up from today. All you have to do is like or follow the author page, then answer a simple question on the thread.  You’ll find the thread HERE

Good luck, or as Anwen and Violet might say, pob lwc!

Buying links
Heartbreak in the Valleys:

Amazon              Kobo              Apple

War in the Valleys:

Amazon              Kobo              Apple






Exciting News of an Award Nomination for Heartbreak in the Valleys

Francesca still can’t quite believe her latest piece of good news…

I have some absolutely thrilling news, which I really must share on here. My first historical saga novel, Heartbreak in the Valleys, has been shortlisted for one of the Romantic Novelists’ Association awards, know as the RoNAs: the Goldboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award.

I was aware that my lovely publisher, Hera Books, had entered it, but I didn’t think in a million years I’d be shortlisted. Well, most people don’t, do they? It’s really exciting to be up against some wonderful novelists, such as Julie Cohen and Elizabeth Chadwick, both of whom have won RoNAs in previous years. No pressure then!

The ceremony takes place on 8th March at 7pm. Unfortunately, it won’t, as usual, be held at a lovely venue in London as in previous years but will be a virtual event online (more details later!). But at least that means it’ll be open to those who wouldn’t normally be able to watch it.

Now I’ve got to think about what I’m going to wear, because despite being online, it looks like people are going to town and making a big effort. Wonderful! I heartily approve.

Heartbreak in the Valleys is available as an ebook and on audio, and also for pre-order in paperback (published on 25th February). Available here


I’m up against a wonderful group of nominees