Family Likeness2

FAMILY LIKENESS FINAL PP COVERPublished by Hutchinson, 2013, and Windmill, 2014,

ISBN-10: 0091944171, ISBN-13: 978-0091944179.

Also available as an Audio Book, Isis Publishing 9781445035253

And large print, F A Thorpe 9781444820898

Available at independent bookshops, Waterstones, Amazon and other online sites. Find your nearest independent bookshop.


‘A beautiful story of family and loss. Haunting and compelling’- Lisa Jewell

‘Heart-rending’ – Anne Berry, author of The Adoption

‘An absorbing, beautifully-written and very topical novel’ – Amanda Craig, author of Hearts and Minds

Davies is an unfussy and intelligent storyteller with a gift for translating the complexities of ordinary lives into novelistic form,’ Emma Hagestadt, the Independent

A quickly engaging domestic mystery…gently ingenious,’ Lesley McDowell, the Sunday Herald

‘This moving tale of life-long searches and accountability will pull at the heart strings,’ Lulu Trask, the Lady Magazine

‘The passages describing young Muriel’s coming to terms with her abandonment are movingly done,’ David Evans, the Independent on Sunday

‘A remarkable read…Family Likeness probes into the issue of colour and subtle racism…hard to put down,’ Beata Kasale, the Voice, Botswana

The stories behind the book:

For a long time I wanted to write a novel about a babysitter. As a teenager I worked as a babysitter for years and I never felt much burdened by the responsibility of looking after someone else’s child. I was quite happy to be left alone with a baby just a few months old. I only rarely checked on a child once they were asleep; I had none of the worries an actual parent might have.

But I was always aware of what an odd role it was. I was in someone’s home; I had access to intimate things. I was told – or discovered – secrets.

And I was nosy. I studied photographs, riffled bookshelves, read opened post that was left lying around. Sometimes I was just a little amazed that I was all alone in a house, in charge of a child. Why was this family trusting me?

A babysitter has a unique position, an insider privy to family drama, but also an outsider. I knew my character would need an agenda but I didn’t yet know what that would be. So I had the idea in the back of my head for years. Then other ideas came along as well:


Around six years ago I was wandering around Kenwood on Hampstead Heath with my then seven-year-old daughter. It was a rainy day and we went into the house and she ran around from room to room. Then suddenly she stopped in front of a painting.


The painting showed two cousins, the woman in the background is Dido Elizabeth Belle, described by some as Britain’s ‘first black aristocrat’. In the 1790s she’d lived at Kenwood, with her cousin Elizabeth (shown in the foreground).

Dido was born around 1761, the daughter of an African woman called Maria Belle and a British navy captain called John Lindsay. A few years later Dido was sent to live with her father’s uncle, The Earl of Mansfield.

At the time I saw the painting – which was then on loan to Kenwood and which normally resides at Scone Palace in Perth – I could find virtually nothing about Dido’s life. I wondered how she’d lived, what her status had been – not quite family, not quite servant.


 Kenwood today…

….and in the 18th century when Dido lived there


(Read an article on writing the book in Hampstead Matters, February 2014)

By the time I started thinking about Dido again, there was much more available to read. I contacted two people whose work I found on the Internet, Gene Adams who had written a paper on Dido, and Sarah Minney, a genealogist and record agent who was researching Dido’s life. Sarah kindly sent me a copy of Dido’s intriguing baptism certificate:Dido baptism


Another idea came from a character in The Ghost of Lily Painter, a few people asked what had happened to him, and I wondered that too. This was Louis, a black American who arrives in the UK in the early 1940s.

He has a passionate love affair with a white English woman, she becomes pregnant, and she never sees him again.

I’d already started to try and find out more about GIs who were over here in World War Two and I was shocked that I couldn’t discover much about any of the black troops. But I did read some books about what happened to babies born to GI fathers.


This led me to a group called War Babes, founded in 1984, and TRACE founded in 1986. War Babes were the British-born children of American GI soldiers during World War Two. Now adults, they wanted to know who their missing fathers were, to build up a picture of their roots, to discover where they came from and perhaps meet a family they had never known. It made me think about family and belonging in a new way: what would it be like not to know where you came from? And that in turn led me to two new organisations dedicated to helping people find relatives – GI Trace and GI & Family International Search.


These new groups make full use of social media. So I got in touch, asking whether what I had written so far rang true, and had an immediate and enthusiastic response. I’m indebted to all of those who stayed in contact and helped me along the way.


Many children born in the UK to GI fathers grew up at children’s homes like Barnardo’s. I wrote to their archives asking if I could have access to documents that might illuminate life in the 1950s, and the archive manager invited me to Barkingside. This was a strange visit for me, because by then I knew my other central character quite well and I felt as if it was her – not me – that was coming back to a place she’d known as a child.



waterstones_3687Cake made by Kate at

A lovely group of people, from organisations that help those searching for their GI fathers

waterstones_group_3692Far left is Monica, who supported me right the way through writing Family Likeness

Monica 2And here above is Monica’s dad, Paris Mack


Read about ‘GI babies’ and the background to the book in Discover Your History Magazine, April 2014

gi babies page1 (dragged)


July 5th, Highgate Library mini-festival, 12-4pm, ‘Dido Elizabeth Belle and the story behind Family Likeness‘, time to be confirmed

April 16th, 1-3pm, Word for Word writing workshop (using artifacts), Crouch End Library, London

April 28th, 7.45pm, GI ‘war babies’, Stanford-le-Hope Ladies’ Club, Essex

May 31st Finchley Literary Festival, Avenue House, Finchley


Further Reviews:

‘An engaging dual-narrative that runs the reader through a whole gamut of emotions, including suspicion, fear, pity, sadness and joy as the full story unfolds…it is one of those stories that will stay with the reader for some time after the book has finished,’ Louise Jones, the Bookbag

‘A mix of compelling family story, exquisite historical detail and layers of mystery, this is a very satisfying novel indeed. One of this summer’s must reads!’ Helen Hunt, Fiction is Stranger than Fact

‘A story of prejudice, war, secrets and the search to belong,’ The Ham & High

‘Family Likeness is a fascinating story, and a moving exploration of issues of race, family and belonging,’ Writers’ Hub

‘Family secrets and lies haunt the book,’ Books Teens & Magazines

‘A suspenseful novel. Muriel’s story, infused with the sadness of growing up not knowing why her parents abandoned her, has a ripple effect throughout the lives of the other characters .. culminating is some remarkable and moving scenes,’ Camden New Journal

‘A thoughtful and involving look at the social consequences of race and illegitimacy and how one’s need for a place to belong never really goes away,’ Sarah Johnson, Historical Novels Review

‘A surprising and poignant novel of three very different women, of what it is to grow up motherless and different and how important it is – or not – to know where we come from. Cleverly and deftly woven together, the unfolding plot is gripping and fresh,’


Further background on the novel/related articles:

Family Likeness is a fascinating story, and a moving exploration of issues of race, family and belonging. – See more at:
Family Likeness is a fascinating story, and a moving exploration of issues of race, family and belonging. – See more at:
Family Likeness is a fascinating story, and a moving exploration of issues of race, family and belonging. – See more at:

A blog post on Genes Reunited about searching for GI fathers.

An interview with Writers’ Hub


TALKS  2013:

December 11th, Creating Characters from History, Christ’s College, Finchley, Speakers for Schools

November 22nd, 8pm  The Highgate Society

November 12th, 7.30pm West End Lane Books

September 25th, 6.30pm, with Michele Hanson and Wendy Wallace at the ArchWay With Words Literary Festival

September 21st, 12pm, with Joanna Briscoe, at the ArchWay With Words Literary Festival

September 17th, 12.30pm, in conversation with Wendy Wallace, at the Ham & High Literary Festival

September 5th, eiClub London, Breakfast Subject Salon: Autumn Books – Looking Ahead to the Frankfurt Book Fair, at the Swedish Ambassador’s Residence

July 16th, at the Owl Bookshop, Kentish Town

July 10th, an Islington Libraries Event at the revamped Archway Library