The Conclusion Of Mrs McKeiver’s Stories Awaits
Have you been following the Mrs McKeiver series? Last year we told you about Mrs McKeiver’s Secrets, the first book by Margaret Morgan. Today we want to tell you more about Margaret and the third book in the historical fiction series, Mrs McKeiver’s Remedies.
Margaret’s career began in teaching. She came to a devastating diagnosis of MS at the age of 45, after years of head and back pain. After accepting retirement, Margaret knew that she wanted to write. With an interest in history, the Regency period beckoned as a fascinating time period to Margaret. Together with stories of her mother’s fascinating grandmothers, Mrs McKeiver was born! Whilst Margaret’s first challenge and achievement as an author was Mrs McKeiver’s Secrets and its successors, she has also had success with children’s books and short stories. Margaret told us of the struggles she faced when having to retire. She felt lost for some weeks though always knew she wanted to write. The inspiration for Mrs McKeiver came from Margaret’s relatives, particularly her grandmothers; one was a land worker in Linconshire, thus having a wide herbal knowledge and the other helped the village midwife in Yorkshire. A general knowledge of eighteenth century living came quite easily to Margaret after growing up on a farm in Herefordshire without electricity, indoor plumbing or piped water. Their farm buildings were built in 1750, and nothing was altered or updated until the 1950s when electricity and tractors arrived! Margaret knew straight away that a trilogy was in her sights, as all she needed to do was build on the characters to add to the historical setting before her word count grew.
When the task of creating Mrs McKeiver’s story began, Margaret wrote the ‘bones’ of all three books before filling them in. Therefore, when she reached Mrs McKeiver’s Remedies, Margaret approached it with real enthusiasm because she had a collection of research sources to hand, and had a feel for her material. By this point, Mrs McKeiver had almost become real; Margaret could anticipate how she would respond to situations. Each book in the trilogy features beautiful cover artwork. Margaret explained that it was created by her sister who is now a professional artist. Whilst the featured herbs have a part in the book, the human stories are the most important. Clement, Mrs McKeiver’s disabled son, is being upset daily by the behaviour of his predatory employer; Mrs McKeiver is overwhelmed by work and worry; heavily pregnant Hester is troubled with swollen legs; Mrs Frazer dreads arrest and Liza’s runaway brothers fear Farmer Logan’s wrath on their return!
Margaret told us of her dislike for ‘Regency Romps’ types of books. She said that life for the majority of people was pure drudgery interspersed with the types of activity we all enjoy today: a family get together, enjoyment of music, theatre and conversation. Margaret wanted to include the terrible lives of those disabled therefore housebound. A review of the book’s prequel suggests that the story dwelled too much on people’s ‘toilet problems’, though as Margaret explained, she thought details of their difficulties was important to include. Perhaps, as a sufferer of MS, Margaret is more conscious of ‘toilet needs’ than others, leading to a richer insight of each character and the struggles they may face. Also, Margaret wanted to look at problems like the Enclosures Act through the eyes of the ordinary person. She explained this to us…
“Historically, the terrible effects of this may have been ‘swept under the carpet’; had the common land not been enclosed, cities would not have grown huge slum areas and workhouses would not have been needed throughout the land. Taking away people’s ability to grow their own bread, keep stock and fend for themselves has given us today’s social evils, in my opinion. The Enclosures Acts gave vital common land farmed by the ordinary families to farmers and landowners. An added insult was the ordinary people had to pay for the new land to be fenced, taking away all their meagre savings”.
Of course, succeeding in the creation of the third book came with challenges. A difficulty for Margaret was ensuring her knowledge of the historical facts. She used three sources including remedies in popular papers of the time and the poetry used by Clement. Margaret told us how poems can often be written a long time before their publication date, so you can jump to conclusions and be proved wrong which may lose the readers’ faith. As well as this, Margaret experimented with slightly localised speech for the residents. She admitted that this was quite tricky, as flow of speech has to be effortlessly readable. Despite all of the challenges Margaret faced, she felt pleased to have written a book which tied up all the loose ends, yet left some questions for the next book that will be set five years hence!
If you have followed Mrs McKeiver’s stories from the first book, you may wish to know how the story of Mrs McKeiver’s Remedies developes from the previous books. Margaret answered this as follows…
“As the time period is so short for all three books (the length of Hester’s pregnancy) the characters are still ‘growing into their skins’. Mrs McKeiver, marrying again in this book, is more aware of her position as the wife of a respected farmer. For the first time she curtsies to Sir Lofthouse Small, their local landowner”.
Being the last book in a trilogy, we were interested in the route and focus that would be taken on in Mrs McKeiver’s Remedies. Margaret explained that she wanted ‘just desserts’ to be given to those deserving of them. There are also some surprising deaths! Some prior cliffhangers are addressed, such as the father of Hester’s child. Though Hester is not aware that Mrs McKeiver aways knows more than she reveals… Other topics addressed are the complications that arose in medicine which we may overlook today. For example, it is intersting to see how much help a pregnant woman with swollen legs could be given in 1799, for what we would perhaps recognise as high blood pressure! All Mrs McKeiver could do was give diuretic teas, footbaths and advise putting the legs up!