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The Importance of Life-Affirming Stories.

Posted on 6th December, 2019

For any of you who missed my latest article for Frost Magazine, here it is:

 

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Why We Need Life-Affirming Stories

 

Certain types of books have a way of touching readers on a very personal level. For example, starting-again stories are deservedly popular. Who hasn’t at some point said to themselves, “If I could go back and do it all again...” or words to that effect? Call it a natural thought process based on experience or disappointment; call it pure fantasy.

 

The point is that wondering “What if…?” it is part of the human condition and starting-again novels speak to us in a direct way that we can all relate to. One such book is the wonderfully funny and fulfilling The Summer of Second Chances by Maddie Please. Written with a light touch and plenty of chuckles along the way, this is a witty romp that deals with serious themes that add depth to the story.

 

Another type of book that touches readers in a similar way if the life-affirming story, the sort of book that touches on the strength of the human heart, and encompasses the resilience of the individual and a basic belief in goodness and hope.

 

Take Minty by Christina Banach. This is a YA book, but, as an adult reader, I was completely drawn into it. It deals with the difficult subject of death and bereavement and is beautifully observed and deeply moving. As well as tragedy and grief, there is also humour and wit and both the characterisation and the depiction of relationships are both spot-on.

 

The book’s ending is an extraordinary piece of writing, being both heartbreaking and uplifting, and it will take your breath away. In spite of Minty’s central topic, we are very much in life-affirming territory, thanks to Christina Banach’s skill and empathy as a writer. (If this blog makes you buy the book, I’ll know when you are all reading the ending, because shares in Kleenex will go through the roof.)

 

Recently I read Christmas at the Foyles Bookshop by Elaine Roberts. This is the last in a trilogy set in the early part of the 20th century, about three friends, Alice, Molly and Victoria, with each girl taking centre stage in one of the stories. Right from the beginning, the girl I most wanted to read about was Victoria, whose parents died tragically when she was just sixteen, at which point she had to assume responsibility for the younger children; but I had to wait until the final book to delve into her life and find out the answers to all those questions. Victoria has known her share of heartache and now she faces the challenge of a family mystery.

 

Set against the backdrop of the First World War, Christmas at the Foyles Bookshop is an emotional story, filled with love and loss, friendship and family, mystery and duty, heartache and hope. Elaine Roberts has written a heart-warming and engrossing saga that rounds off the trilogy perfectly. It gradually builds up to a gloriously satisfying ending brimming with that special life-affirming quality that, put simply, makes the reader feel good about the world.

 

A Wonderful Week - And It's Only Tuesday...

Posted on 3rd December, 2019

A wonderful week - and it's only Tuesday....

 

My week started with more of The Surplus Girl's ARC reviewers getting in touch to say they had recevied their paperback copies, which was lovely of them, but for me the biggest and best moment was when I received my own copies.

 

 

 

It is always such a proud and emotional moment when a writer holds their own book for the first time.

 

So that was Monday and my week was off to a flying start.

 

I'm writing this on Tuesday and Allison & Busby are featuring a guest blog of mine on their website as part of the celebration surrounding paperback publication of The Poor Relation.

 

The blog is about a character who - unexpectedly, from my point of view - took off with the readers and has become a much-loved person in the story.

 

Here is the link. I hope you enjoy reading it.

 

 

 

Now let's see what the rest of the week brings!

 

Wishing you all the best.

 

 

A Short Blog - But A Happy One

Posted on 29th November, 2019

A short blog - but a very happy one.

 

The ARCs (advance review copies) of The Surplus Girls have started to arrive. A number of reviewers have been in touch to say so, which is lovely of them. (If you are expecting an ARC and it hasn't come yet, more are being posted on Monday 2nd.)

 

 

Catherine Boardman, who runs the Catherine's Cutural Wednesdays website, has received hers.....
.... and the romcom writer Maddie Please has had hers too.

I hope that Catherine and Maddie - and all the other reviewers - will enjoy reading my new book.

 

It's now that scary time while I wait for feedback....

 

Not the Best NaNo

Posted on 25th November, 2019

Okay - it's official. This year, NaNoWriMo hasn't worked for me. I have had some hugely satisfying NaNos and some difficult NaNos. This year's falls somewhere in between. I'm in the process of producing a decent word count - but the satisfaction factor is missing for various reasons.

 

The first 10 days went very well, but then copy-edits landed in my inbox and had to be attended to. Which took time. I did think I could do copy-edits in the mornings and NaNo in the afternoons, but copy-edits really don't work like that - or not for me, anyway. It's important to concentrate on them and not work at other things. So that was the point when NaNo slipped.

 

Yes, I caught up again and got my word count back to where it should be, and even a little further on; but now I am approaching the end of all that detailed planning I did in preparation. Part of me is delighted to think I managed to do 40,000+ words of planning, but now I know that - just as the copy-edits had to take priority - now it is time for the rest of the book's planning to be done. I'm finding it hard to concentrate on NaNo because I know that my particular writing process is urging me to leave off the writing and go back to planning, not least because there is a plot-strand that needs a lot of thought.

 

So, yes, I will continue with NaNo to the end of the month, but it is going to be given a back seat and priority will go to some serious planning.

 

 

 

To those of you who are writing like mad to meet your NaNo target, the best of luck to you and more than anything, I wish all NaNo writers a feeling of huge satisfaction and achievement on November 30th

 

 

For NetGalley Readers

Posted on 23rd November, 2019

For all you NetGalley book reviewers out there, The Surplus Girls is available for review. Here is the link:

 

https://www.netgalley.co.uk/widget/207054/redeem/d20db8740b7a62b759c0bfe9594d1f48bf53ee595d1494628a0750488a55d032  

 

 


 

Manchester, January 1922.

Belinda Layton is a surplus girl - one of the many young women whose dreams of marriage perished in the Great War, with the death of her beloved fiancé Ben. After four years of mourning, she finally feels ready to face whatever her future holds without him. But Ben's mother and grandmother, with whom Belinda lives, can't countenance her putting him to rest, while her own family - well, all they care about is getting hold of her meagre factory wages.

 

When Belinda joins a secretarial class to try to better herself, little does she imagine that it will open up a whole new world to her. For not only does she learn to type, but she meets the beguiling bookshop owner Richard Carson... and falls head over heels in love. But who is this man to whom she has entrusted with her heart, and what does he really want?

 

As Belinda fights to follow her dreams, can she move forwards from all the devastation and loss, and take a chance at happiness?

 

NaNoWriMo Update

Posted on 19th November, 2019

Well, a couple of blogs ago, I said I'd keep you up to date with my NaNoWriMo progress and let's just say it's nothing to write home about. I spent more time working on copy-edits than I was expecting to, which of course took priority over everything else and there were a couple of days when no NaNo was done at all. 

 

Anyway, I have tried to catch up and, as of Tuesday 19th, my NaNo total stands at 33,304, which means I am ahead of the 31,637 which is the average for today's date, working on the basis of doing 1667 per day.

 

Fingers crossed, please, for a few good days of output. I don't think I'll be reproducing last year's triumphant 66,000!

 

 

 

Chatting With Linda Huber

Posted on 10th November, 2019

In case you missed it, here is a copy of my interview on Linda Huber's blog.

 

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Tell us a little about where – and when – your book is set.

The Surplus Girls, which is written under the name Polly Heron, is set in Manchester in 1922. It is the first in a trilogy and each story covers four months of that year, so the first one takes place between January and April and the last one ends at Christmas. The year is important. The Great War has been over for some time, but everybody is still living with the consequences. In my heroine’s home, three generations of women are still in mourning for Ben – the son, grandson and fiancé they all loved – but whereas his mother and grandmother look set to remain in mourning for ever, young Belinda has laid her memories to rest and wants to look to the future, assuming she can build up the courage to tell her honorary mother- and grandmother-in-law, that is.

 
What kind of research did this book need?

I have always been interested in social and domestic history, so I already had a certain amount of knowledge. Specifically, I had to look into the lives of some real surplus girls, and women in general, to find out about their work prospects and the kind of living standards that their wages were likely to give them. This was crucial to the plight of the surplus girl. Having lost her chance of marriage, she faced a future of providing for herself.

 

How do you write – do you edit as you go, or have a specific routine, or…?

I am quite disciplined. I set targets. I set a word count target for the month and divide it into weeks. I edit as I go, but I don’t let the editing take over. It’s important to feel the book is moving along – and, of course, those weekly targets keep me focused. For me, the most important working day is Monday. It is important to get plenty done on Monday so that my week gets off to a good start. When I have finished writing the book, I send it to my agent, who makes editing suggestions for improving it. After I have worked on those, I return it to her for her to send to the publisher.

 

How do you relax?

I live at the seaside and I love getting out and about in the fresh air. Living beside the sea, and specifically living in Llandudno in North Wales, was a childhood dream of mine and we have been here for six years now. Best of all, I like to take my writing pad with me and settle down by the sea to work.

 

 
What’s next?

What’s next for The Surplus Girls in publishing terms is book 2, which is already written, and in writing terms, is book 3. As well as being part of a trilogy, each book is a stand-alone novel with its own heroine – Belinda, Molly and Nancy. Each book explores different a different theme. Loyalty and loss in Belinda’s story; independence and sexism in Molly’s; and courage and self-belief in Nancy’s.

 

The Annual Madness of NaNoWriMo

Posted on 5th November, 2019

Well, it's November again and for writers all over the world, that means NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - in which the aim is to get as much written as possible in 30 days. The official word count target is a whopping 50,000 words, and I'm sure that many writers who don't get to that point are hugely disappointed, but the way I see it, what matters is to get more written that you usually would and if you achieve that, then you have succeeded.

 

I was very much in two minds this year as to whether to participate. After all, I am now a full-time writer, working on the whole from Monday to Friday, and dear old NaNo means writing every day, with your own personal word count graph onthe NaNoWriMo site to spur you on to do just that.

 

But in the end I decided to do it. I spent the preceeding 2 - 3 weeks doing masses of detailed planning and now I am busy getting the story on the computer. This is for the book that will be published in October 2020.

 

So how am I getting on?

 

Well, on Day 2, this is what my word count looked like:

 

And here is what I have achieved this morning on Day 5:

 

So I am well on my way.

 

Last year, I managed an astonishing 66,000 words - well, I was  astonished, anyway. That was when I was writing the second book in The Surplus Girls series, which you may be aware I am writing under the name Polly Heron.

 

The previous year, it was book 1 of the series, entitled The Surplus Girls, which was my NaNo book. The first 50,000+ words was written during Nano. (You are always advised to do some extra words instead of stopping dead on 50,000 in case the word count pixies are a few 'out' when they do their counting.)

 

 

Do check back during the month to see how I'm getting on.

 

 

In case you missed it on Jan Baynham's blog, here is she interview she conducted with me in my Polly Heron guise. I love the question about book groups - I've never been asked that one before.

 

Here am I with Jan at an RNA Conference:

 

 

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Introducing Polly Heron

I’m delighted to welcome author Polly Heron to the blog for the first time. Polly lives on the beautiful North Wales coast but originally hails from Manchester, which provides the setting and inspiration for her family sagas. Her new book The Surplus Girls will be published by Corvus on January 2nd 2020. Polly also writes as Susanna Bavin.

 

Polly, welcome. Please tell us about your writing. What is the appeal of family sagas to you?

It’s lovely to be here, Jan. Thank you for inviting me. I suppose that, like many writers, I write what I want to read. I love strong, dramatic story-lines peopled by well-rounded, credible characters who develop and are changed by their experiences. For me, the cherry on the cake is the historical setting. I am fascinated by social history. I love to see characters, especially women, having to cope with challenges within the social and legal context of the time. I also enjoy the domestic history – the clothes, food, furniture and so on.

 

The Surplus Girls is your first book writing as Polly Heron. What is the novel about and what was its inspiration?

 

The real surplus girls were that generation of young women whose possible husband perished on the battlefields in the Great War. These were girls who had grown up expecting to get married, but now they faced a lifetime of fending for themselves. I have always been interested in the problems women faced in the past and this one appealed to me, partly because it is in living memory. When my mother was at grammar school, her teachers had been surplus girls.

 

How will the novel fit in with your other books, written as Susanna Bavin? For example, the themes, location and historical period?

Certain themes will be familiar to readers of my Susanna Bavin books – the social and financial position of women in the past. There is a will that causes complications. I once heard a radio programme about wills and a solicitor said, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a war.’ I love that! A will featured in The Poor Relation and there’s another in The Surplus Girls. And I also explore the themes of loss and loyalty, both of which are deeply important to Belinda, the heroine.

 

As for the period, the book is set in 1922, so around the same time as The Deserter’s Daughter and A Respectable Woman. And I explore familiar territory, as much of the story is set in Chorlton, though Belinda’s family lives up the road in Stretford. My dad was a talented artist and he drew some highly detailed maps of Chorlton as it was when he was growing up in the 20s and 30s, so I know the exact location of various shops etc.

 

Having been impressed that you’ve previously written detailed synopses of your novels before writing them, I now try to do that myself as part of planning a new story. Did you do that for The Surplus Girls?

Very much so! When you’re writing a series, you can’t afford to take chances. Whatever gets published in book 1, you’re stuck with, even if it turns out to be unhelpful to what happens in book 2 or 3, so it seems to me that planning in advance is essential. I have a mammoth 20-something page synopsis. Planning in detail was a big help in creating the links between the stories. For example, there is a small plot-point in book 1 that turns into a major plot-point in book 3.

 

Which came first, the characters or the plot?

The characters, definitely. The heroine is Belinda, who got engaged to Ben when she was just 15 and went to live with his mother and grandmother. She was more than happy to do so, not just to be part of Ben’s family, but also to escape from a pretty awful home life with her money-grabbing, ne’er-do-well father and downtrodden, self-pitying mother, not to mention younger brothers running wild. But Ben is killed in action in the final year of the Great War, leaving Belinda in the odd position of being almost-but-not-quite a widow. Four years later, when the story starts, Belinda has laid Ben’s memory to rest, but his mother and grandmother very definitely haven’t. How can Belinda start to make something of her life when the two women to whom she owes so much are determined to keep her swathed in black for ever?

 

With Belinda and her situation so firmly established in my mind, it was easy to see how her plot would develop. The same is true of Gabriel, the hero.

 

What are the plans for subsequent books?

The heroine of the second book is Molly. She is very different to Belinda – older, more experienced. If the themes of Belinda’s story are loss and loyalty, then Molly’s are independence and what we would call sexism. Although each book is part of the series, each one will also be a stand-alone novel.

 

If the book is chosen by a book group, what do you think would make a good discussion question?

What a brilliant question. It so happens that on my Susanna Bavin website, I have a page of book group questions for each of my novels and I am in the process of building a bank of questions for The Surplus Girls.

 

A general question about the book as a whole would be: In the book, is it preferable to be a wife, a widow or a spinster?

 

A question specific to Belinda would be: Does Belinda spend too much time trying to please other people?

 

Thank you, Polly. I can’t wait to read your new book and be introduced to Belinda and the other characters in The Surplus Girls.

 

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Polly's website: pollyheron.co.uk

 

Polly's author page on Amazon

 

On Twitter: @SusannaBavin

 

 

The Moment That Never Stops Being Special

Posted on 25th October, 2019

In all the ups and downs in a writer's life, there is one occasion that always creates excitement - namely, when you open up your box of author copies from the publisher. It doesn't matter how many times it happens. It always makes you feel chuffed.

 

My box of The Poor Relation paperbacks arrived this week. Cue lots of delight.

Mind you, I ought to come clean and tell you what happened when my box of hardbacks of The Deserter's Daughter arrived. I didn't know the box was coming and I was out for the day, but my husband was at home and he took delivery. When I got home, I saw the box in the hall and assumed it was something he had ordered. It was only a little while later that he said, "What was in your parcel...?"

h

As you can see, I did get my exciting moment in the end. A little late, but never mind!