Set in rural Essex, new book Searching for Bessie is an adventure in family history, poetry and recipes. Columnist Sharon Mooney shares her thoughts on the fascinating, albeit tragic, story that unfolds.

WHO doesn't love peeking into people's lives? 

Hands up if family history is your thing.

Hands up higher if you love to delve into lives past lived. You do?

Well, what a treat is coming your way.

Searching for Bessie is a book about to be released giving a glimpse of family life gone by in rural Essex.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

Four of the Reason sisters with mother Emily

A book that delights us with one family's journey of love, grief and shame, with some seriously good recipes and delightful prose and poetry thrown in.    

Bessie Emma Reason was one of the five daughters of George and Emily Reason - a daughter that brought shame to their doorstep with an illegitimate child born just after the First World War ended.

Abandoned by the father of her child but accepted back into the fold with her newborn daughter, we learn of Bessie's untimely death in the autumn of 1919.

A cycling accident robs the family of Bessie, yet she is ever-present throughout the pages written by her granddaughter - author Sheila Kelly.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

The cover of Searching for Bessie

Sheila lovingly intersperses biographical facts with a little fiction to give Bessie some cheery chapters before we learn of her demise.   

Sheila shares her family history in a way that gives a wonderful, relatable picture of bygone days on the banks of the River Stour.

She tells us much about George and Emily and their daughters, Flo, Bessie, Millie, Elsie and Ella, the five sisters and their family dynamics, their lives lived and their eventual families.

We also learn about both Sheila and her mother's relationship with them.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

Author Sheila Kelly

As the story comes into the latter part of the 20th Century, Sheila turns autobiographical and we get to understand the desire to find her invisible grandmother - never spoken about, never there. 

Part of the journey details how Sheila pieced together Bessie's life from the facts located in the records of births, deaths and marriages and how this 20-plus year quest filled her time.  

As a regular 'time traveller' myself, or rather family historian, I followed Sheila's biographical facts to confirm her findings and, in doing that, felt I was following in Bessie's footsteps.

From entries in the 1901 and 1911 census, to the entry of death and the news report on the accident, I found all of the actual pieces for myself.

Harwich and Manningtree Standard:

Columnist Sharon Mooney

However, in reading Sheila's account, I really felt like I lived next door to the Reason family and that all of this was unfolding on the other side of my twitching curtains. 

If you love family history or social history, or you are local to the Manningtree/Mistley area, then it's probably a read you won't want to miss.

The book Searching for Bessie is published on July 1 and will be available at Red Lion Books, priced at £12.