I’m delighted to welcome Rebecca to my blog today on a very special day! Today is the publication day of Rebecca’s book Ann Walker, The Life & Death of Gentleman Jack’s Wife.
Rebecca Batley is an archaeologist and historian, with a particular interest in women’s history. Her work can be found in numerous publications including New Scientist, Gay and Lesbian Review and AHM. She regularly writes for Ancient Origins and has worked for, amongst others, MOLA and Wessex Archaeology.
Lesbian. Lover. Lunatic. These are just some of the words usually used to describe Ann Walker, the oft overlooked wife of Anne Lister, better known by some as Gentleman Jack. Ann was one half of England’s first same-sex marriage and yet the rainbow plaque that marks their historic union on the wall of the Holy Trinity Church, York, features Ann’s name in a font only half the size of her wife’s. Her story has been long forgotten. Born into wealth and privilege Ann was one of the most eligible heiresses in 19th century Yorkshire and the question on everyone’s lips in 1830’s Halifax was why a respectable young heiress, with property, fortune and connection risked everything, even her freedom, to become entangled with the notorious Gentleman Jack? The answer to this question reveals a woman of immense courage, faith, and determination, but her voice has remained silent….until now. Within the depths of Ann’s diary – discovered by Diane Halford in 2020 – the answers to some of the above questions can be found, as can insight into Ann as an independent woman. The life of Ann is worthy of its own narrative and it is time for Ann to step out of the shadow of Gentleman Jack and tell her own story.
Your book Ann Walker: The Life and Death of Gentleman Jack’s Wife is released today! Can you tell us a little about it?
My book is a biography of Ann Walker, best known today as the wife of Anne Lister, the Gentleman Jack of the television show. It tells her own story, as full as possible and attempts to extricate her from Anne Lister, at least in part, so that she may speak for herself.
Is this your first book?
It is, although I have written archaeological reports and historical articles for publication before. My work has appeared in numerous publications including, New Scientist, American Naval History, Medieval History, Medieval Warfare, Ancient History, NILE, Gay and Lesbian Review, The Pilgrim, Mental Floss, Reverb, Mental Floss and American History. I also regularly write for Ancient Origins.
What drew you towards Ann and writing about her?
Many years ago now I watched a tv show called The Lives and Lives of Anne Lister, which unlike the Gentleman Jack tv show, focused primarily on her relationship with Mariana Lawton, who was arguably the real love of her life. Ann Walker features in it, but only in a very minor role and she said so little I thought that surely there had to be more to her story than was portrayed and so I began my research. Very quickly I was drawn in by Ann’s passion, her bravery and like many people I also wanted to try to solve the riddle of her later ‘lunacy’ and mental health issues.
How did you approach your research?
I work as a historian and archaeologist primarily and I followed a similar approach to that which I would usually take at work. So basically I went back to the primary source material, I began by accessing the archival documents and records, transcribing them and trying to build up a picture of Ann and her world. The diaries of Anne Lister are the primary way in which Ann is recorded but I avoided using those until later as I wanted to get an impression of Ann independent from her wifes. Although later Anne Lister’s diaries would of course prove to be invaluable. The discovery in 2020 of Ann’s own diary, by the wonderful and very supportive Diane Halford, made my job a lot easier because suddenly Ann was talking in her own voice for a prolonged period of time. I transcribed Ann’s diary independently, again in order that I should gain an impression of Ann’s words myself before looking at the transition and opinions of others – notably the excellent work done by all those at in Search of Ann Walker. I found myself often going down many historical rabbit holes, such as researching the lives of other women confined to asylums during the period, or the fairly horrific ingredients of medicines in the 1800’s.
Is there anything surprising you came across that you were not expecting? No spoilers please!
Very difficult to answer that one without giving anything away, but I think the sheer level of detail that is contained in Ann’s diary was unexpected. It is not really a spoiler to say that you could reconstruct her entire visit to Canterbury cathedral for example, and literally walk in her footsteps without too much difficulty – and indeed I did. I wasn’t really expecting that level of connection to be possible. I also wasn’t expecting to research the availability of fresh fruit in the 19th century in quite so much detail either – to find out why you’ll have to read the book
What would you like people to understand about Ann?
That she was a strong, independent, brave and fiercely intelligent woman in her own right. Who had lives and loves independent of Anne Lister and that she was equally as remarkable.
Following release, do you have any events coming up in relation to your book?
I will be giving a talk at the Anne Lister Birthday Weekend 2023 which I am really looking forward to and signing books. I am also thrilled to say my book is being stocked by Shiden Hall when it reopens in March.
What advice would you give to first time authors?
To just write, to get the words down on paper and then take it from there. Be brave, be bold and when you need to don’t be afraid to ask for help. No book is written in isolation and I would never have been able to write this book without the support of Diane Halford, those at In Search of Anne Walker, the staff at Shibden Hall, those at the Calderdale archives…in fact too many to mention. The fact that everyone was so kind and supportive made a huge difference.
Are you working on anything else that you would be happy to share?
I am currently working on my second book, which will be published in July 2024. It’s a bit of a change in time period for me but I’m still writing about a woman named Anne…..
Bit of a cryptic answer there! Very intriguing!
You can find out more about Rebecca and her writing on Twitter and her Blog
Thank you so much for joining me, my review of Ann Walker will be up shortly! In the meantime if you’d like to get your hands on a copy it’s available in all the usual bookstores!