Why I Wrote ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’

Until I got married and had my own family there was only ever my mother and me. I knew very little about my mother’s family or past because of her reluctance to talk about my father or her family in Jamaica. Consequently, growing up in Brighton, a seaside town on the south-east coast of England, I had a great sense of “not belonging” which for years caused me to feel insecure and become dysfunctional.

Although Mum couldn’t afford it she was adamant that I had a good education and so sent me to private Catholic convents and to pay for my education she worked as a cook in two restaurants.

I was not typical of the other girls in my school because I didn’t have their family status nor a proper home. My home was one small shabby, dreary room with basic furniture which had seen better days on the top floor of a four storey boarding house. Just outside the room on a small landing was a one ring gas stove for cooking which we shared with our neighbour, an Irish labourer, whose room was next door to us. Both the bathroom and toilet were on the first floor.

Status counted for a lot at my school, the Blessed Sacrament Convent and great emphasis was put on religious instruction, being pure of mind and body, good manners and deportment and of course behaving like a lady. Because Mum was coloured my skin was darker than the other girls and I attracted a lot of attention and questions from them. When asked where I came from I always replied Jamaica because it sounded so much more exotic than Brighton. I liked their attention but what I desperately wanted was their lifestyle, their parents, their home and all the material things they had.

As time went on I found it difficult to adjust between my two environments, school and home. Mum was having difficulty keeping me under her control and we rowed constantly. Because her wages went on me and my education Mum spent nothing on herself but at 16 I didn’t appreciate that and would criticise her for neglecting her appearance. I wanted her to look and dress like the other girls’ mothers.

When I wasn’t at school, and so that I didn’t have to stay in our room alone while Mum worked, I would spend weekends and school holidays at the cinema often going to two different cinemas in one day. One afternoon I went to see Douglas Sirk’s film Imitation of Life. It was to be a defining moment in my life.

Imitation of Life is the story of a coloured woman, Annie Johnson and her daughter Sarah Jane, who are down on their luck and looking for a decent place to live. Annie meets a white woman, Lora, who has a daughter called Susie, and Annie offers to work for Lora as her maid in exchange for food and lodging for herself and Sarah Jane. As Sarah Jane grows up her relationship with her mother deteriorates because she is ashamed of her mother’s colour and tries to pass herself off as white. Within half an hour of watching the film I had to leave the cinema because I recognised myself in Sarah Jane.

Eventually, I went back to see the complete film. It was uncomfortable sitting in the cinema watching someone on a screen that was so similar to me. Two daughters, one fictional and one real, living similar lives in very similar circumstances, with similar mothers and both daughters feeling the same way about their mothers.

Because I saw Mum in Annie it gave me some insight as to how life was for Mum and although my rebellious behaviour didn’t change for sometime, a seed was planted in that little area of the brain where feelings of guilt sit bubbling away to evolve and play havoc with your life later on. Imitation of Life had a profound effect on me and its ending haunted me for years.

Eventually, the day came when I decided to find out the truth about Mum’s past and who my father. What I discovered filled me with such admiration for her that I wanted to record her story for future generations of my family to read, so that they would know about this remarkable woman whose greatest gift to me was her unconditional love. That’s why I wrote Olga – A Daughter’s Tale.

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The Power of Humanity

Go Back To Where You Came From was an Australian TV series broadcast in 2011. It was about six ordinary Australians each of whom had different opinions on Australia’s asylum seeker debate. The six Aussies had agreed to embark on a confronting 25-day journey travelling in reverse the journey that refugees and asylum seekers have taken to reach Australia. In other words they were going back to where the refugees came from. It was an epic journey, dangerous and very challenging for them physically and emotionally.

In order for them to have a similar experience as the refugees and asylum seekers, or the ‘boat people’ as they are so often referred to, the Aussies boarded a run down boat without money, phones or passports and from which, in mid-ocean, they had to be rescued before it sank.

Their journey took them to Malaysia where they observed firsthand immigration raids on some camps and a construction site; they lived in a Kenyan refugee camp; visited slums in Jordan before going to a war zone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and another in Iraq under the protection of UN Peacekeepers and the US military.  The same countries from where some of the refugees managed to flee, having paid people smugglers vast sums of money, in the hope that they can get asylum in Australia.

I work for a humanitarian organization that supports people who are made vulnerable through the process of migration, whose survival, dignity, physical or mental health is under threat, to ensure they receive the humanitarian support they need while their immigration status is being resolved.

While the ‘boat people’ who manage to reach Australia (and, believe me, some do die on the way) wait for decisions to be made about their visas, my organisation offers them community housing, health services for their children and families, and children are enrolled in school. Thanks to volunteers, the refugees are able to have English language classes, engage with their community, have access to emergency services, social networks and other agencies.

Others within the organisation help trace and restore links between separated family  as well as finding out the fate of missing family members. They also support those made vulnerable by people trafficking.

Go back to where you came from’ was an expression I was all too familiar with when growing up in England. It would be directed at my mother who was Jamaican and who, for very personal and painful reasons, made the choice not to go back to where she came from. Mum arrived in London on 1st April 1939 intending to stay only a few months but world events, malicious intent and personal tragedy all prevented her from returning to her home and family in Kingston, Jamaica. I often wondered, and asked my mother many times, why we couldn’t go home to Jamaica or even contact her family. Her answer was always the same. “It’s too painful to talk about”.

But one day I decided to find out for myself and what I discovered filled me with so much admiration for her I wanted future generations of my family to know about Mum. So I wrote ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’. And after a while I wanted the world to know about her!

Humanity can sometimes be in very short supply which is why I’m proud to work for a humanitarian organisation that supports the most vulnerable people at their most vulnerable time.

It’s worth remembering now and again Article 25 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which says that “Everyone has the right to a decent life, including enough food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services”. 

And as for the six Australians who travelled in the refugee and asylum seekers ‘shoes’. At the end of the series their original attitude toward refugees and immigration did change, although some changes were more impressive than others.

Click here to download ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’.  Based on a true story….a family saga from Jamaica to England amidst World War II about belonging, prejudice, revenge and love.

‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’. 
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Printed Copy $13.49

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Mothers: The Unsung Heroes

I read a quote recently by Bhagwan Rajneesh, an Indian spiritual teacher, who said that “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” IMHO Rajneesh nailed it!

In the sixties (and that puts me in the category of a baby boomer!) the only resource we had was a book by a guy called Dr Spock (no not the Star Trek Spock, although honestly he might have been of more use).  There was no online tutorial, manual, syllabus or Idiots Guide To Parenting. From the beginning we hit the ground running relying on instinct, common sense and often a sense of humor to protect and nurture this new life for which we were responsible and, in my case, totally unprepared for. The most valuable resource available to new mothers is usually their Mum because she’s been there, done it and gotta know what to do! And if you’re really lucky you’ll know that the greatest gift a mother can give her child is unconditional love because that’s what yours gave you.

In my family, as husbands came and went (just the two!) and my kids got older, adolescence kicked in, hormones raged, doors nearly came off their hinges and the rows got louder, it was my mother who was the buffer between us all – the quiet arbitrator, the mediator, the counselor, the listener, the unsung hero.

Eventually things settle down and the natural order of family life prevails with mothers becoming grandmothers and the emotional, if not physical, connectivity between the family unit tightening around the grandmother like an invisible wall as she enters the autumn of her life.

Recently I came face to face with a situation that challenged that scenario and which I found disturbing.

It was lunch time and I’d left my office to get a sandwich from the local supermarket. Along with a lot of other pedestrians, I was standing on the pavement at the crossroads on the corner of King and George Street in Sydney’s CBD, a few minutes walk from two of the most famous icons in the world – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, waiting for the traffic lights to change to green.

As they changed and people started to disperse I turned and saw her standing there. The tiny figure of an elderly lady, probably in her 70s, wearing a long grey coat and a woolly hat, both of which had seen better days. In front of her she was holding a small round straw basket in which were a handful of coins. I crossed the road but stopped on the other side of the street and turned to look back at her. Immediately I felt guilt and shock. Guilt because I’d not put any money in her basket. And shock because I don’t recall ever seeing such an elderly woman begging on the streets.

I crossed back over to her and as I put some money in her basket I saw a gentle face with beautiful clear blue eyes. Loose strands of her grey hair fell from beneath her hat and danced around her face in the wind. She thanked me for the money. I asked her how long she had to stand there before she had enough money and could leave. She said she’d already been there for two hours and ‘would have to stay a bit longer as people didn’t seem to have much spare money these days’.

I hesitated before I asked my next question because I knew it was intrusive, but I couldn’t help myself. I asked her if she had any family. She didn’t answer. Instead she politely thanked me again for stopping and talking to her. She wasn’t going to share her secrets with me.

Back in my office I wondered what the circumstances were that could put her in this position and whether she had children and, if so, did they know what their mother had to do to survive.

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to look after my own mother and make the remaining years of her life comfortable and safe, but she too had her secrets – many of them.

It wasn’t until I started researching my family history that I discovered her past and the answers to questions that I’d been asking for decades. What I discovered through my research astonished me, broke my heart but in the end filled me with so much admiration for her that I was compelled to write about my discoveries in ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’.

I miss my mother and think of her nearly every day and if you’re lucky enough to have a good one, as I did, you can fly. She was the wind beneath my wings.

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To Pay or Not To Pay for Press Releases – That is the Question

When I first started seriously marketing my book  ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’  I paid  for two press release services to promote it to newspapers and magazines.  A friend of mine, who’s in Media put the press release together for me.  The results – nothing!  I’d been hoping that some book reviewers might ask for a copy to review it.  Disenchanted I thought ‘what the hell’ I might as well use a free press release service since they couldn’t do any worse than the paid ones.

So I  used two free press release sites to promote my book –   PRLog and  Free Press Release.   Unfortunately, with free press release you don’t have the option to create links  which can be a bit of bind if you’re trying to sell something.   Actually, that’s not true.  You can create links but you have to pay for them.   Did they generate any sales?  Not to my knowledge.  So why use them?  Just in case they generate a sale and they’re FREE!  The only cost is my time in submitting the press release which is really easy to do. 

Recently I heard about another FREE  press release website MediaSyndicate and with this one you can create links and you’re not charged for them. BONUS!   MediaSyndicate don’t charge a fee but you do have an option to Donate.  So I did – $25 and for that my press release is pitched for a further three months, but so far I cannot see any results.   

In summary I’ve tried free, paid and donate websites that offer a press release syndication and so far……….. nothing!     I don’t believe press releases, paid or free, work for new authors, particularly if they are self published.  

Solution?  Spend the money you would spend on press releases and get some lovely bookmarks printed with all your contact details on and a brief summary of  your book and then hand them out at your local supermarket or better still anywhere where there is a queue and you’ve got a captive market.  That’s what I’m going to do because I think most people like bookmarks.  Will let you know how I get on:)  Don’t forget to ask them for feedback. 


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Blog Talk Radio Interviews

Here we are at the beginning of 2011 and I haven’t posted since last November.  I know why.  It’s because I got despondent again struggling to get a my book ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’ picked up by either a literary agent ora  publisher.  I’ve sent hundreds of query letters but either I get no response or a rejection letter.   I self published it on Lulu.com a couple of years ago and nothing much happened there either.

But recently I discovered Smashwords which takes all the hard work out of formatting your book/s yourself and formats it/them for you, FREE,  into various formats for e-readers.  So I published on Smashwords and priced my book at $1.99 – hardly a fortune, but there were no takers.  It’s true what I read on the internet.  Generally speaking people wont spend money on an new author even though I’ve got some really good reviews.  So I got disheartened again, but it’s a New Year, so I decided to take my own advice in a previous post.  Never give up if you believe in what you’ve written.  

Anyway, I’ve now offered  my book for FREE on Smashwords and guess what?  I’m getting quite a view downloads so I’ll give it away for a while and then increase it to $0.99 when no one’s looking.  I have a plan to try and reach 50,000 downloads on Smashwords by the middle of the year.  I’m obviously not in it for the money!  

I’ve been looking at  other ways to promote my book and I’m going to try doing some Blog Talk Radio  Interviews.  This article  is very informative about how to give a successful interview.  When I do my first interview I’ll let you know how I get on.

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Self-Published Author’s Marketing Strategies

It’s really bizarre.  The last time I wrote on this blog was in June and I was writing about a guy call Gerard Jones who has the most wonderful literary/publishing website I’ve come across – full of names of literary agents and publishers  everyonewhosanyone.com   My last entry on that blog was “ Gerard Jones is one of the reasons I keep going looking for a literary agent or a publisher – after his book Ginny Good was rejected thousands of times, he finally got a publisher!” 

But I didn’t pay any attention to  my own words!  I got disheartened, fed up and ran out of steam because I couldn’t find a literary agent to take on my book  ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’.  It’s silly of me because even in that frame of mind I never had any doubts about the book.  It’s quite simply a great story!  And although literary agents may not like it, the public does.  I’ve had some great reviews from members of the public and a couple of literary agents (who don’t think the time is right for a human interest story?).  Anyway, I’m off again with Round 2 or is it 22:)  And while I’m keeping you up to date with my marketing strategies for getting my book out there, I’ll sharewith you some great websites I’ve come across.

Although I stopped writing on this blog for a few months, I suppose I wasn’t completely disheartened, because I was still busy promoting my book.  As a self-published author being responsible for my own marketing strategies, I decided to make my book  ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’  available for download onto e-book readers. I discovered Smashwords.com a website that  makes it fast, free and easy to publish, distribute and sell your ebooks to a worldwide audience at the largest ebook retailers

All they ask is that you format your book to meet their requirements so they can convert it into different formats for e-book readers.  All free.

REVIEW:  ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’ I’ve really enjoyed reading your family story. It’s an incredible tale and it is really beautifully written. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is right for our list at this time. The majority of the memoirs we publish are very mass market – the type that are typically sold in supermarkets, which I don’t think is right for your story.  I think it is a really fantastic book though and I wish you the best of luck with securing a publishing deal elsewhere.  All the best  Vicky McGeown  Harper Collins UK

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Researching “Olga – A Daughter’s Tale”

When asked what genre I consider my book “Olga – A Daughter’s Tale”  to come under I list biographical fiction.   The events that I write about occurred and were told to me by my mother, Olga, and her sister Ruby.  However, because by the time I heard about them decades later both Olga and Ruby’s memories, for at least some of the events, were not so sharp and I was prompted to do some research about  Jamaica.

The  first place I headed for was the library in my hometown of Brighton in the UK, now known as the Jubliee Library.  I’d spend hours there pouring over microfilm of the early 1900s from The Times Archive (London), frequently forgetting my original purpose and getting absorbed in something else totally unrelated to my original search. 

In my book, “Olga – A Daughter’s Tale” I wrote a fair bit about Kingston, Jamaica around 1930 and to gain more information I turned to the The Newspaper Archives of  The Jamaica Gleaner.  The  archives  gave me a great feel for the social structure and the differing class and social status of Jamaicans – whether they were white, coloured or black something I hadn’t been too aware of previously.  

I travelled a few times to Kew in Richmond Surrey on the south east coast of England to visit the The National Archives, were a collection of over 11 million historical government and public records are held and which collection is one of the largest in the world.  From the Domesday Book to modern government papers and digital files, their collection includes paper and parchment, electronic records and websites, photographs, posters, maps, drawings and paintings.

But the reason I was there was to research my Family History.  I was interested in trying to locate through the UK Census of 1901 members of my family.  The other reason I went there was because the National Archive holds  lists of passengers and ships who arrived into and departed from the UK between 1878 to 1960, a really great resource for genealogists and I was looking for evidence of my mother’s arrival to England.

And then, of course, there was the BBC’s wartime Archive Department a prime resource to discover what life was like for the people of London between the years 1939 – 1945. 

Using these resources made me aware how important it is to preserve and learn about the past, whether it’s one’s own personal history or more general.  I got as much enjoyment accessing records from such diverse resources as I did writing my book and I’m so grateful we all have these illustrious organisations to learn from.

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