So, What’s With The Tree?

Newsletter #3

So, What’s With The Tree?

(February 2022)

Authors are supposed to remember the precise moment when the idea for their book came to them. 



Don’t remember.

The Descent of Chloe Jackson was born a few a years ago, but I’m afraid I don’t recall exactly where, when or how. The idea of structuring a book around a family tree was just something that emerged slowly, and gradually took shape.

The truth is, I wanted to write a novel, but I wasn’t sure I could sustain a single story for that long. So, I went looking for a structure that might allow me to tell any number of shorter stories, all linked together.

And I’ve had a long-standing interest in history and genealogy. I’ve done a lot of research into my own family, and I love the way it throws up little snapshots – moments in the lives of this fairly random collection of interlinked people who happen to share a chunk of DNA with me.

There’s nothing mystical or romantic about it. I don’t feel a close connection to those great great ancestors who I’ve never met, and who lived their lives with barely a thought for my future existence. 

But I am fascinated by their lives, and by the randomness of it all.

Back in 1854, my great great great grandparents, Samuel and Elizabeth Skelton, lost three of their four children to cholera over the space of less than a week. Samuel was ill, but survived. Family legend has it that Elizabeth avoided infection because she only drank beer – it  was believed to be good for breast-feeding infants.

A rather sad branch of my family tree. George, Anne and Elizabeth all died in the cholera outbreak in Soho in 1854. Martha and Mary died of whooping cough and croupe within the year.

If Samuel had succumbed, I wouldn’t be here. I’m descended from Benjamin Skelton, Samuel and Elizabeth’s thirteenth child (of fifteen!), born eight years after the epidemic.

That’s not profound, or magical. There’s no destiny involved. Just a lot of chance.

And chances like that happen all the time. They don’t have to be as big as a cholera epidemic. Little incidents, individual decisions, accidents, missed opportunities – they all change the future, all the time.

So, that’s what the tree is all about. That’s what The Descent of Chloe Jackson is all about. Those moments, big and small, when the future heads off in one particular direction, instead of all the others.

As always, drop me a line if you’ve any ideas for a future Newsletter, or any thoughts on family trees and the staggeringly unlikely fact of our own existence. 

And, if you’re enjoying these Newsletters, do please pass them on.

All the best