I was fortunate as a child, to have both my parents around, but I only knew one of my grandparents. Her name was Lily Heppell (nee England) and she lived with us. She was little, with wavy, dark hair, a little grey at the edges but always neat, and she wore glasses and an apron. That’s how I remember her.

We did have other family; Aunts, Uncles, Cousins; all from Mum’s side of the family. They lived across town, so we didn’t see much of them, Christmas holidays usually, and the occasional meet up at the park or town.

One day, when in my early teens, we had a visitor, Malcolm, my Mum’s cousin. He had recently been appointed Lord Mayor of York. This was probably the first time I had met him. He was friendly and chatty and had brought with him a handful of sheets of A4 paper with some intriguing typed passages containing names and dates. Malcolm explained that this was the Heppell family tree that had been compiled by a local historian and it would be lodged in the library archives once complete. Malcolm had come to ask for our details, so our names could be included. I thought this was very interesting and exciting so I asked if I could look over the pages of information. Malcolm left a copy of the tree with me much to my delight! I laid the pages out on the floor in front of me, trying to piece together the names into one large chart and started reading.

family tree image

The pages told me that John, James, William, Jeffrey, amongst others, were shoemakers, printers, tailors and many other trades. One was a medical botanist; I had no idea what that was, but I felt sure that he was probably not a ‘real’ doctor! They lived around the yards and alleys of York, within a stones throw of the Minster and tucked behind the grand shops that lined the streets I was so familiar with. I was already familiar with the Heppell name and I also knew my grandmother’s maiden name, as we often joked that before she married, Lily was Miss England! There were names on these few sheets that I had never heard of before, Gallimore, Knowlson, Pipes, Alcock, Rennison. Who were they all? I knew then that I wanted to know more. I wanted to know about everyone who had gone before me, whose families had become mine, how I had come to be who I was. I realised that my existence was not just down to my two parents, I had been created from many people who lived before them. I was one tiny leaf on a massive tree. One page in an epic novel. I knew then that I wanted to know every character in my book.