Consider Frances Miller Ashford, One of My Original Characters
Who is Frances Miller Ashford?
When Ceilidh is hired to work for the Edwards, the first thing readers should notice is: it’s a big house. There are obviously going to be other people working there.
At the same time, I knew that not everyone would know the nuances of Victorian era living. Plus, I needed to have a good way to get across the look and feel of the Edwards House.
Where Did Frances Miller Ashford Come From?
I wanted very much to have an immigrant much like Ceilidh but better settled in the story. Also, I needed for Ceilidh to have someone she could talk to. Frances fills the bill rather nicely in both areas. Further, I needed Ceilidh to have someone who had an English accent she could emulate. It didn’t seem realistic to have Ceilidh remember Captain Underwood perfectly for years. But Frances was a lot more plausible.
Originally, her last name was Marshall, but then I had too many scenes with Barry Marsh. Hence, Frances got a slight tweak.
The Past is Prologue — Backstory for Frances Miller Ashford
An orphan who never knew her family, I never actually wrote her extremely early life. But Frances could have been the child of people who died—perhaps of any of the many diseases flying around Britain at the time.
Or she could have been the child of an unwed mother, left at a church or even the orphanage where she grew up. I don’t see her as a female Oliver Twist, the child who’s in the orphanage but should have been raised by their own wealthy family.
No. Frances was to be a real foundling, with a hard beginning.
Coming to America
In keeping with what really happened to some people, I wanted Frances to have kind of gotten to Boston in a roundabout way. Ceilidh means to go to Boston. But Frances? Not necessarily.
As she got older, the orphanage was clearly going to toss someone like her out on her ear. The orphanage wouldn’t necessarily care if she ended up working, married, turning tricks, or dead. They would simply want her bed.
And so I decided there would be someone who would come and promise the older girls husbands if they left the country. This would be an irresistible offer for not only someone like Frances, but also for girls like her and the orphanage itself.
But when they arrive in the United States, there are no waiting husbands. Rather, Frances and her cohorts become Lowell Girls, working for a mill.
After she bides her time, eventually, she gets a day off and ventures into the big city of Boston. Frances has main advantages: a pleasant voice and demeanor, a high class-sounding accent to Mrs. Edwards, and a willingness to work hard. As a result, Frances is hired. She doesn’t keep in touch with the other girls, and has no idea what happened to them.
Frances has dark eyes and dark brown curls. I always hear her as having a somewhat breathy voice. Her British accent is via Manchester. It is the kind of accent Americans generally think of when we think of British accents.
Coming from Ballyvaughan, Ceilidh has never used indoor plumbing before. In this scene, Frances explains what to do:
Frances lifted the lid, and showed Ceilidh there was a lacquered wooden seat. “Now here’s all you do, see. You lift the lid like so and let it rest against the back here, see? And then you gather your skirts or your nightgown up and sit down, facing the back.”
“Right, yes, I see.”
“And you do your business, of course. Then you take a sheet of these papers and use it cleanse yourself.”
“What do you do with the paper afterwards?”
“You place it into the bowl, where you just did your business.”
“And then what do you do?”
“You see the lever, and the little frog pull?”
“Yes, ‘tis rather amusing.”
“You pull once and hold it for as long as it takes in your head, to say,” Frances giggled a little, “God Save the Queen.”
Frances has two main relationships. Her romantic one is with her husband, Gregory Ashford. They meet when the plumber is called in, to clear away a clog in the bathroom shared by all the women servants. Gregory is the assistant. While fixing the toilet, he and Ceilidh talk a little. He asks her, “Who is the vision?”
Ceilidh asks for clarification, and he says the vision has brown curls. Ceilidh makes sure to tell Gregory that Frances is Miss Frances Miller.
The only other relationship (really) for Frances is her close friendship with Ceilidh. When Ceilidh arrives, unsure of whether she’ll get work, Frances is the one to help Ceilidh along and assure she gets a job as a scullery maid. Frances wants a friend, someone she can talk to. No one else in the Edwards household can fill that need for her.
The truest of friends, Ceilidh convinces Frances to give Gregory a chance, because plumbers will always have work, so she’ll never starve. Coming from grinding poverty, that’s an enormous plus, so far as Ceilidh is concerned.
Conflict and Turning Point
In the first book, The Real Hub of the Universe, the conflict and turning point for Frances are nearly the same as those for Ceilidh. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the real issue is that both Ceilidh and Frances could have lost everything. When Judge Lowell helps out, Frances realizes she’s come from nothing, but has come to have powerful friends.
Gregory’s Brighton, Massachusetts house ties in with, of all things, Mettle. It’s just down the street from the house where Craig and Mei-Lin find the solar panels—about 140 years later.
I don’t really have future places for her, simply because the series is done. But never say never, for I did write a few short one-offs with her, Ceilidh, Gregory, and Devon. She may very well turn up again. Here’s hoping!
Frances Miller Ashford: Takeaways
Every main character needs a sidekick, a kind of bounce off person. Frances is that type of character. This survivor, against all odds, is still sweet and charming. This makes her one of the more optimistic characters I have ever written.
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