“I am especially interested in looking at plausibility in historical fiction as part of the creative narrative,” Bethany says. “I can use creativity as a way to speculate the answer to the mystery — but it needs to be plausible.
“I want my dad and his siblings to read the novel and say ‘yes, this could be what happened’. I want my family and those who knew her to recognise her in the story,” Bethany says. This is why there are also limits to Bethany’s imagining of her grandmother’s life in the 1950s. “For instance, I can't say that she ran away to join the circus because that is absolutely not plausible.”
The truth is not always easy to digest
One of Bethany’s relatives suggested that her grandmother may have gone back to England for the year, which Bethany says seemed plausible. However, archival research was able to provide clear answers to this question. “I looked up the immigration records and I couldn't find hers,” Bethany says. “So, now I know she probably didn't leave the country.”
Bethany says that when researching family history it is important to look beyond the simple details of names, dates and occupations. “Think closely about the people and the context in which they lived. It can be difficult, it can be painful, and you can uncover things that you might not want to uncover,” she says. “But it will give a richer understanding of the past and where your family came from.”
Applying for divorce in the 1950s
When going back in time, it’s also important to understand that social attitudes were different to how they are now. For example, in the 1950s, less than ten per cent of marriages ended in divorce, Bethany says.
“My grandmother was a survivor of domestic and family violence. She successfully obtained a divorce from my grandfather for domestic violence in an era when it was very difficult to do so,” Bethany says.
“At the time, less than four per cent of divorces in New South Wales were for domestic violence. In some states it wasn't even grounds for divorce.”
Bethany says that this made her think about the environment that her grandmother was living in, and that the late 1950s must have been a difficult time for a mother of three away from the support of her extended family.