Jan Brown, from Powys, has published her third book, People Like Us, based on the true story of her ancestor, Margaret, who was cook and housekeeper at Gregynog Hall, near Newtown.
Jan trained to be a teacher at the college which would become the University of Chester, from 1971 to 1974, and recently visited the University’s department of English to share more with students and staff, about her latest publication.
Talking about the inspiration behind the novel, she told students and staff: “I have always loved anything to do with reading and writing, I have always been a writer and previously self-published.
“I had returned to mid-Wales to live and went to visit Gregynog Hall, just purely for a Sunday afternoon out, where I had a very strange experience – I felt very strongly that I had been there before. The more I went around the building, the more I felt it.
“I couldn’t explain it, so I went to speak to my very elderly father who told me he had never taken me there but ‘it’s very strange you should ask because your great-grandmother was the cook/housekeeper in that building in the late 1800s’.
“I had never heard that story from family at all, so I then started researching and found her story, and the book is very closely based on her life.”
The novel follows how Margaret comes from a poor background and, despite setbacks, she climbs the ladder to become cook at the Hall, a real achievement considering the challenges and her beginnings.
Marriage and later widowhood see her succumb to the fate of many women at that time, with little or no control over their own lives.
Although she slides down into relative obscurity, the book honours her great courage.
Jan added: “She had a life that I liken to a game of snakes and ladders. She started off very poorly and dragged herself up; she climbed up again, and life knocked her down.
“It’s very much a rags-to-riches, back-to-rags story. She was an ordinary woman, and it seems to me a lot of literature focuses on the exceptions, the people who live in the ‘big house’, not necessarily the people that do the hard work, who experience struggle.
“This is the story of an ordinary woman living an extraordinary life.”
Looking back to her time in Chester, Jan described it as “a great experience that I really enjoyed and which enabled me to pursue a career in teaching”.
Published by Y Lolfa, People Like Us has been selected as their English language title for Wales Book of the Year 2023.