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Author Catherine Bailey appeared at a sell-out event at Sheffield Hallam University as part of the Off The Shelf literary festival.

Catherine described the difficulties she encountered in researching her first book, Black Diamonds, which she likens to a real-life Downton Abbey. The book recounts the social history of South Yorkshire's Wentworth estate in the early 20th century.

Due to the destruction of documents relating to the Fitzwilliam family, who ran the estate, Catherine found she needed excellent investigative skills to uncover the story behind the estate. She enlisted the help of ex-police detective and Wentworth resident Martyn Johnson.

She said: "The whole story is based on primary historical sources. Sometimes people think it's fiction because of the way it's written - the story unfolds like a novelistic narrative - but it's all true.

"It was very hard to research, but there were enough clues in various documents to be able to piece together the main family story. On the mining side, there are some wonderful accounts written by miners of their experiences in the pit at the turn of the last century.

Author Catherine Bailey
Catherine Bailey in conversation with John Palmer, director of communications at the University
John Palmer, Catherine Bailey and Martyn Johnson

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"There was also the oral history - I could talk to those people whose parents and grandparents had worked down the pit, and some of whom had worked in the Fitzwilliam pits."

During the sell-out 'in conversation' event, Catherine also spoke of her unusual and varied career, which includes a year spent chauffeuring the MP Roy Jenkins. She has also had a highly successful career as an award-winning television documentary film-maker.

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