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A Look at Kirsten's New Book

Posted on 9th April, 2021

For those of you who have been regular readers of my blog, you’ll know exactly who Kirsten Hesketh is. She is my friend and fellow author, who used to write a monthly post here in the days before she had a website and blog of her own.

 

Kirsten’s debut novel, Another Us, was published last May and at the end of April this year, her debut saga, The Post Office Girls, will be published under the pen name Poppy Cooper.

 

I have read an ARC (advance review copy) of The Post Office Girls and I’d like to share my thoughts with you. It’s a bit scary, actually, when one of your friends has a book published, because you want to like it … but what if you don’t? Well, I’ve yet to find out the answer to that question, because Kirsten’s book – or should I say Poppy’s book – is a joy.

 

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Set during the First World War, the story is told through the eyes and experiences of Beth, a young, rather innocent girl, who has to grow up quickly. She is an endearing character, who tries hard to do the right thing, and whose mistakes make her very relatable.

 

The plot is pacey and engrossing and very emotional in places, and it brims over with period detail that draws the reader right inside the story. The research that has gone into this book is truly remarkable. There are some books where the author is so determined to share what s/he has learned that there are times when the narrative borders on a lecture. I’m remembering a novel in which the heroine was going to work in a theatre that exists in real life …. and the author spent a page and a half explaining the building’s history. Grrr! But there is none of that here. Kirsten/Poppy’s research is so deftly written into the fabric of the story that it feels utterly natural, creating both depth and context.

 

All in all, this debut saga is a thoroughly enjoyable read. But be warned. You will never stick a stamp on an envelope quite so casually ever again…

h

 * * * *

 

Here are links to The Post Office Girls on Amazon Kindle and in paperback. The Kindle editon is published on April 29th and the paperback comes out on May 13th.

 

 

"A Brilliant and Compelling Read..."

Posted on 2nd April, 2021

I'll be honest. I had hoped that this week I would be showing you a photo of The Surplus Girls' Orphans featured on the books page of a national monthly magazine - but, alas, as it turned out, mine wasn't one of the books that was selected for review.

 

Instead I'm going to share with you a rather lovely review of The Sewing Room Girl that appeared this week on the Short Book and Scribes book blog site.

 

Here is a snippet of the review:

 

"I felt totally drawn into the story, not just of Juliet, but her friends and foes too. Whilst she meets some lovely, lifelong, friends, she also makes some wicked enemies, and all the characters are well-drawn and play an important part in the story which the author weaves together so well. There were quite a few surprises that I never saw coming at all, plenty of heartbreaking moments, and some that made me smile too. I really enjoyed the late 19th century setting, and Juliet’s work as a seamstress. I could put myself right there with her as she designed and made garments, and went from a village setting to the bustling heart of Manchester.

 

"The Sewing Room Girl is an absolutely brilliant and compelling read that I didn’t want to come to an end. I highly recommend it for all saga lovers."

 

Wow! Isn't that wonderful? If you would like to read the whole review, click here

 

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The Sewing Room Girl on Amazon  

 

 

Blurb:

1892. When her beloved father dies, Juliet and her mother, the difficult but vulnerable Agnes, are left to fend for themselves. When Agnes lands a job as a seamstress for a titled family, things appear to be looking up. But just as the pair begin to find their feet, Juliet finds herself defenceless and alone.

 

Without her mother to protect her, Juliet becomes the victim of a traumatic incident and is left to face an impossible dilemma. She flees to Manchester seeking support from her estranged family but comes up against her formidable grandmother, who is determined to bend Juliet to her will. It will take all Juliet’s ingenuity to escape the clutches of her ruthless grandmother and make her own way in life.

 

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If you follow me on Twitter, head over there to join in a prize giveaway of a copy of The Sewing Room Girl. You'll find the relevant information in my pinned tweet. Good luck!

 

See you next week.

Susanna / Polly xxx

 

 

 

Christmassy Cover Reveal!

Posted on 26th March, 2021

Okay, I know it's a bit early for Christmas, but along with other writers and readers on Twitter and Facebook, I'm happy to share the excitement of the cover reveal of Christmas with the Railway Girls by Maisie Thomas, which will be published in November.

 

 

Here is the blurb:

Manchester, 1941
 
Christmas is the season for family and friends, and this year the railway girls will need each other more than ever.
 
Dot's dear friend Cordelia appears to have the perfect life. When her daughter Emily arrives home unexpectedly, she can't wait to introduce her to her friends. But things don't go smoothly and Cordelia has to decide where her loyalty lies.
 
Things aren't going too smoothly for Alison either. Her beloved boyfriend has yet to propose, but there's a charity fundraiser dance and she's dressed up especially. Surely, tonight must be the night.
 
Colette's friends are envious of her devoted husband. He meets her after every shift on the railway, and accompanies her around town. Colette has a secret, one that will change her life, if only she knew who to confide in.
 
The railway girls have survived unsettling times, and while the bombings might have eased, their own turmoil has only just begun. With Christmas fast approaching, will their wishes come true?

 

* * * *

 

Link to Maisie Thomas's author page on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

Where I Wrote . . .

Posted on 19th March, 2021

 

This week, it's time for another in my Where I Wrote .... series. This time, I'm happy to show you where the opening of The Surplus Girls' Orphans was written.

The first thing I ought to say is that the beginning of the book was written in several places, including in student accommodation at an RNA Conference and also while waiting for a classical guitar concert to start . . . because I just couldn't find the right opening scene. But the 'real' place where the book got started was in beautiful Happy Valley in Llandudno.

 

I actually wrote the opening scene in the summer, but here is how Happy Valley looks at the moment in March.

 


 

If you imagine yourself standing here looking out at the pier, it was behind this, in the gardens themselves where I sat to do my writing.

 

 

 

* * * *

 

Here is the beginning of the opening scene:

 

Molly folded over the tops of the cone-shaped white paper bags, gathering them in front of her on the counter. ‘That’s tuppence ha’penny, please, Mrs Preston.’

    ‘There you go, love.’

    Taking the proffered tanner, she opened the till, dropping the coin into the little wooden compartment with the other silver sixpences and sliding the change up the smooth sides of other boxes into her palm before counting it into Mrs Preston’s hand.

    ‘Your Nora’s children are lucky to have a generous grandma like you.’

    She wasn’t buttering Mrs Preston up, even though she intended to ask for a donation. It was the simple truth. Mrs Preston’s grandchildren were presented with a quarter of dolly mixtures each – each! – every Saturday afternoon.

    ‘Aye, well, you can’t take it with you,’ said Mrs Preston.

    Molly beamed. She couldn’t have hoped for a better opening. ‘Then I wonder...’

    ‘What’s this box for?’ Mrs Preston prodded one of the collecting-boxes.

    ‘Upton’s is collecting for the orphans.’

    ‘Why have you drawn a barber’s pole on’t box?’

    She laughed. ‘That’s not a barber’s pole. It’s meant to be a maypole – for the maypole dancing in the orphanage playground on Monday. So much for my artistic skills! I’m asking folk if they wouldn’t mind popping in a farthing or a ha’penny if they can spare it, to buy sweets for the maypole dancers.’

    ‘As a reward.’

    ‘That’s right; and the other box is for sweets for the rest of the orphans.’

    ‘That’s a kind thought of yours, Molly; and I’m sure it was your thought, not Mr Upton’s. Here’s a penny.’

    ‘A whole penny? I don’t want you to think I’m being cheeky.’

    ‘Take it, love, and I’ll leave it to you to decide which box it goes in or whether you split it between the two.’

    ‘Thank you. I appreciate it – and so will the children.’

    ‘Well, if you can’t help your fellow man...’ Mrs Preston slipped her bags of dolly mixtures into her wicker basket and left the shop, setting the brass bell jingling above the door.

Molly considered, then dropped the penny into the plain box. Folk seemed readier to donate a bit of copper into the maypole box and, yes, it would be nice to reward the young dancers for their efforts, but it didn’t feel right to leave out the others, which, let’s face it, was most of them. It was Mr Upton who had decreed there must be two boxes – well, no, what he had said was that the money should be just for the dancers, but Molly had got round that by adding the second box.

    It might be the tail-end of April, but it was as hot as the height of June. Would it stay like this for the maypole dancing on Monday afternoon? She pulled down the blind on the side-window, where sunshine glared through, putting the boot laces and broken chunks of inferior chocolate on the farthing tray in danger of gluing themselves together. The sugar mice already had a sheen on them. The shop’s twin smells of wood and sugar thickened the hot air.

    With a lull between customers, Molly quickly assembled a couple of dozen paper bags. Fold, fold, twist, flatten. She could do it in her sleep. She had been doing it in her sleep since she left school. She had thought, while she was away down south during the war, that when she returned home, she wouldn’t be happy in Upton’s any more, would need work that was more stimulating; but that had been before her life had changed for ever. When she was finally sent home, it had been a relief to be invited back to Upton’s. It was somewhere safe, familiar, undemanding; a place where she could, with no effort, behave normally on the outside even while she was reeling with shock and despair on the inside.

 

* * * *

 

My author page on Amazon as Polly Heron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Love . . . With Karen Coles

Posted on 12th March, 2021

 

This week it is a special pleasure to welcome my friend Karen Coles to my blog to share the cover design of her debut novel, The Asylum. Karen is a painter and sculptor. She lives in Wales, not far from a town which once had three Victorian asylums. Their history inspired the writing of her novel.

 

* * * *

 

Thanks so much, Susanna, for inviting me to appear on your blog to talk about cover love. Love is certainly the right word in my case. Having been a visual artist for most of my life, I was really hoping to like one of the cover designs Welbeck created. When I saw this one, I didn’t just like it, I loved it! A shiver ran over my skin when I saw the beautiful design. It was everything I could have wished for and made me quite emotional.

 

I still can’t quite believe what’s happened in the last two years. It already felt like a dream come true to be represented by the brilliant Victoria Hobbs at A.M. Heath, but then to have an editor like Welbeck’s Rosa Schierenberg, whose ideas about the book were so utterly in tune with my own, felt almost miraculous. I didn’t think it could get any better, but when I saw the cover designed by Welbeck’s brilliant art director, Alexandra Allden, which so perfectly encapsulated the story, it was just the icing on the cake (sorry about the cliché). I couldn’t have wished for a better experience.

 

 

 

I love the way Alex has included elements of the story in the lovely cover design. The brain, unravelling on the right side, dotted with flowers, moths and butterflies. The wrought iron decoration that brings to mind the gates of the asylum, the gates of Ashton House too. And that colour! Blue has always been my favourite colour, but this particular shade is my favourite of all.

 

As you can probably tell, I’m besotted with my book cover, and feel hugely lucky to have such talented people working on my book.

 


* * * *

 

Blurb:

 

1906: Being a woman is dangerous, being different is deadly.

Maud Lovell has been at Angelton Lunatic Asylum for five years. She is not sure how she came to be there and knows nothing beyond its four walls. She is hysterical, distressed, untrustworthy. Badly unstable and prone to violence. Or so she has been told.

 

When a new doctor arrives, keen to experiment with the revolutionary practice of medical hypnosis, Maud's lack of history makes her the perfect case study. But as Doctor Dimmond delves deeper into the past, it becomes clear that confinement and high doses are there to keep her silent.

 

When Maud finally remembers what has been done to her, and by whom, her mind turns to her past and to revenge.

h

* * * *

 

Publication day is April 1st. Click here to go to Amazon.

 

 

A Christmassy Cover Reveal!

Posted on 4th March, 2021

Today I am thrilled to show you the cover for the third Surplus Girls book, Christmas with the Surplus Girls, which will be published in October. Currently, you can only pre-order it in paperback, but don't worry if you are a Kindle reader - the Kindle version will be available for pre-order in due course.

 

Here it is. Isn't it gorgeous?

 

 

 

I'll write a blog soon to tell you a bit about how the cover came about, but for now I just wanted to share it with you, because I love it!

 

Here is the blurb:

 

Nancy Pike is out of her depth. A pupil at the Miss Heskeths' school for surplus girls, she's blundering through her lessons and her job placements. She never wanted to leave her beloved pie-shop job, but she knows she needs to better herself. Her only joy is getting to know the children at St Anthony's orphanage. And working for Mr Zachary Milner twice a week.

 

Zachary's new business is off to a flying start. Alone in the world since the death of his brother, he's determined to do well for the both of them. And Nancy's presence has brought a little sunshine back into his life. But when she makes a terrible mistake that puts his livelihood in jeopardy, he has no choice but to let her go.

 

As Nancy struggles to find a way to make it up to him, she must also try to make this Christmas the best the orphans have ever seen - or risk losing yet another chance to help her family. As she battles the prejudices around her, and her own fear, can she bring a little Christmas cheer to the orphanage, and maybe even to Zachary Milner?

 

 

And if you're a paperback lover (I am!), here is the pre-order link.

 

 

Where I Wrote . . . .

Posted on 26th February, 2021

Last year I ran an occasional series called Where I Wrote . . . which was about various places in Llandudno where I produced certain scenes from my books. One location I was dying to share with you had to wait until now, because I had to wait for The Surplus Girls' Orphans to be published.

 

The scene in question appears quite early on in the story and in it Mary, the heroine, is in the sweet shop where she works. I had a ball describing Mr Upton's shop and all the lovely goodies stocked on the shelves. I didn't want to mention the same type of sweet twice and I will admit that I ended up making up a couple of my own. I shan't tell you what they were - I wonder if those of you who read the book will spot them. All I will say is that they sound delicious!

 

This scene was written in a favourite place of mine - a little bay on the other side of the pier from North Shore. This little bay is just below Happy Valley.

 

Now it's time for the photos. This first one shows the little bay with the tide right in. In the bottom-left corner, you can see the steps leading down to it from the road.

 


 

And here it is when the tide is out a little way:

 


 

* * * *

 

And here is what I wrote. Molly has been collecting money in the shop to buy sweets for the children in the local orphanage, but one of the collecting boxes has been stolen. . . .

 

Well, I did tell you to stop collecting money this morning,’ said Mr Upton, as if Molly should have foreseen the theft. His I-told-you-so air was hard to take, but she swallowed it. What else was she to do? You didn’t answer back to your boss. She felt like answering back, though. No, she didn’t. She was too sick at heart. She had looked forward to giving the orphans a treat and now half the money had disappeared – no, not half. It was the other children’s box that had been taken. The dancers’ box was still here, containing more money even though it was for considerably fewer children.

    ‘Perhaps we could use the dancers’ money for all the children...’ she dared to suggest, but Mr Upton was having none of it.

    ‘That’s for the dancers. I said all along we should be collecting only for them.’

    We? What had he done to help? He hadn’t asked a single customer for a donation, though he had been happy to take the glory when anyone praised the idea.

    ‘Excuse me a minute.’

    She went into the back and took her purse from her handbag. She didn’t have much on her, but it was a start. Back behind the counter, she examined the contents of the farthing and ha’penny trays.

Mr Upton glanced up from behind a display he was constructing of chocolate boxes and Walnut Whips. ‘Do the trays need topping up, Miss Watson?’

    ‘No.’ Molly slid her money onto the counter, eyeing it in the hope that it was somehow more than it had been inside her purse. ‘If I buy dolly mixtures, I wonder how many each child would get.’

    ‘If they get just one each, it would be one more than they have any right to expect.’

    Inside Molly something deflated, but only for a moment. She looked Mr Upton straight in the eye. ‘Will you let me have an advance on my week’s wages? I want to treat the children. Half a crown should do it.’

    ‘Two and sixpence!’ Mr Upton froze. A Walnut Whip fell from his lifeless fingers. ‘My dear Miss Watson, you forget yourself. What would Mr Hartley say if I let you fritter your hard-earned money in such a manner?’

    ‘This is nothing to do with Norris.’

    ‘Of course it is. He’s your fiancé and you know how careful he is with his money.’ As if this settled the matter, he ducked his head behind the display once more.

    ‘Exactly: with his money. This isn’t his, it’s mine.’

    ‘Actually,’ Mr Upton corrected her, his face bobbing up briefly, ‘it’s mine at present.’

    ‘Which I am in the process of earning.’ Oops: that sounded tart. She switched on a smile, injecting all the warmth she could into her voice since Mr Upton was concentrating on his display again. ‘I want to do the right thing. I’m concerned about letting Upton’s down, as well as the children.’

    ‘Upton’s?’ Mr Upton popped up like a jack-in-the-box.

    ‘Now that the collecting has gone wrong, I feel responsible. Please let me put it right.’

    It was the right thing to say. Mr Upton gave her half a crown, which she spent on boot laces, which she cut into quarters, and midget gems. It looked like a decent haul if you didn’t think closely about the hundred and twenty children for whom it was destined. Meanwhile Mr Upton, having finished his display, prepared the sweets for the dancers, each of whom was going to receive a paper bag of goodies from the ha’penny and penny trays, lucky beggars.

 

* * * *

 

Click here to go to

The Surplus Girls' Orphans

on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Look at Some Lovely Covers

Posted on 19th February, 2021

Now that the second Surplus Girls book, The Surplus Girls' Orphans, is available as an audiobook on CD and MP3, I thought this was a good opportunity to take a look at my audiobook covers, as it's normally the book covers that are used for photos.

 

Here are the two Surplus Girls audio covers:

 

 

They are a good match for one another, aren't they? As are.....

 

 

Here are my other two Susanna books in audio format:

 

 

 

Which cover do you like the best? I have a special fondness for The Deserter's Daughter because it was my very first audiobook. And I love the quiet determination of The Sewing Room Girl. And the model on the cover of The Surplus Girls has a gorgeous smile, doesn't she?

 

I hope you have access to your public library in these strange times. Here in Llandudno, I am browsing online through the catalogue and making requests, which I can then collect at an allocated time. If you have a similar set-up where you are, then you might like to borrow one (or more!) of my audiobooks. The Susanna books are also available on Audible (click here) and so is The Surplus Girls (click here), while The Surplus Girls' Orphans will appear on Audible by the end of the month.

 

I always have two books on the go - one print book and one audio. I love to think of my readers also being my listeners!

 

Stay safe

Susanna / Polly xx

 

Welcome Back, Kirsten . . . and Poppy!

Posted on 12th February, 2021

 

This week I am delighted to welcome Kirsten back to my blog. As many of you will remember, Kirsten used to have a monthly slot here, when she was in the porcess of looking for an agent. Well, that is all in the dim and distant past. She signed with a wonderful agent and her debut novel, Another Us, has just hit the Amazon bestseller position for the second time.

 

But today Kirsten isn't here to chat about the success of Another Us. She's here to tell us about her latest venture in the writing world.... writing a new saga series under the name Poppy Cooper.

 

 

 

Kirsten, welcome back!

 

Hello Sue. Thank you very much for having me. It’s super to be back on your lovely blog.

 

First of all, please can you introduce Poppy books to us.

I’d be delighted to. The Post Office Girls is a ‘lively, engaging saga’ about the lives, loves and adventures of the women working in the Army Post Office in World War One. There were so many letters being sent to the various fronts, that the Army Post Office built a huge wooden ‘Home Depot’ on The Regent’s Park to cope with it all. At the time, it was the largest wooden structure in the world and there are some amazing photos of the interior.

 


 

How did you set about researching for the books?

It’s been a really steep learning curve! As well as finding out everything I could about the Home Depot, I’ve also had to grips with life on the home front during World War One. And all this during a global pandemic when the libraries and museums have been largely closed! Of course, I’ve read as widely as I could about the period – both fiction and non-fiction – and also read a variety of contemporary diaries and picked the brains of as many experts as I could get talk to me! The Postal Museum has been a wealth of information – a large book has survived which lists details of many of the women who worked at the Home Depot together with any accidents which befell them at work and things that they were reprimanded for. It’s absolutely fascinating!

 

Can you share a fact that particularly stood out for you?

In terms of interesting facts, it is often the little things that have stood out and tickled me. Did you know that in world war one, there was an underground station called simply Post Office - and the main post office it served looks more like a palace than a post office! It’s now an accountancy firm.

 

What did you find out about the way women were treated?

WW1 clearly opened up opportunities and broadened horizons for many women. In fact, my main character, Beth, would probably have stayed at home, serving in the family shop until she got married were it not for the war. And, of course, there were men who were unhappy to come back from the war and to find women in ‘their’ jobs. I think this was particularly true for the Post Office which has traditionally – and well before WW1 – been the place that invalided soldiers were given work. I’ve tried to touch on some of these tensions in the book. That said, the book is set in the latter half of 1915 when there was an enormous recruitment drive to cope with the staggering amounts of post in the run up to Christmas - so I think it really was a case of all hands on deck. It was later in 1916 when huge numbers of injured men began to return home – including those from the Post Office Rifles. – that the tensions reached breaking point – and I hope to cover these in later books.

 
When you are writing as Poppy, do you use a different writing voice to when you are writing as Kirsten?

I think so. The two protagonists lived a century apart and are from different generations so I hope that’s reflected in the writing. Also Another Us (as Kirsten) is written in the first person and we spend a lot of time in Emma’s head, with all her hopes and fears and skewed perceptions. I deliberately wrote it to feel a bit uncomfortable. The Post Office Girls (as Poppy) is written in the third person. I’ve written it as quite a close third, so it is always from Beth’s point of view, but I hope it’s not quite as claustrophobic.

 
Another Us is a very emotional book, full of highs and lows, with moments of deep poignancy and also laugh-out-loud moments. Do your Poppy books have the same wide emotional range?

I hope so. There are definitely highs and lows in The Post Office Girls and I hope moments of deep poignancy interspersed with much more light-hearted and lively ones. However, Another Us has been marketed as a funny’ character-driven novel (although I didn’t necessarily set out to write a ‘funny’ book) and The Post Office Girls is more a plot-driven drama. (I think!)
 
Has writing as Poppy enabled you to explore different themes?

A couple of weeks ago, I would have said definitely yes. I would have said The Post Office Girls was a coming of age story exploring themes such as ‘how far would you go to do the right thing?’ and ‘you have to know what you believe in, even if it means hurting those close to you’. Another Us explores themes such as what can happen when communication breaks down - in the space between the words? But then, blow me, a reviewer described Another Us as an adult coming of age story – so maybe they aren’t that different after all.
 
Tell us what a writing day looks like for you. Has lockdown affected your writing regime?

I’d say lockdown has affected my head, rather than my writing regime, if that makes sense? The past year has been difficult, hasn’t it? For example, my teenage daughter had to have two hospital stays for throat surgery last summer – and I don’t think I’ve yet processed how hard I found it not to be able to visit and comfort her. And I would give anything to hug my parents. So, on the one hand, yes, I have found it difficult to both read and write at times – whereas I also think it has been the ability to keep writing and meeting deadlines that has kept me vaguely sane in the midst of all this madness! Swings and roundabouts.

 

* * * *

 

Blurb:

1915. On Beth Healey's eighteenth birthday, she hopes that she will be able to forget the ghastly war and celebrate. But that evening, her twin brother Ned announces that he has signed up to fight.

 

No longer able to stand working in her parents' village shop while others are doing their bit, Beth applies to join the Army Post Office's new Home Depot on the Regent's Park, and is astounded to be accepted. She will be responsible for making sure that letters and parcels get through to the troops on the front line.

 

Beth is thrilled to be a crucial part of the war effort and soon makes friends with fellow post girls Milly and Nora, and meets the handsome James. But just as she begins to feel that her life has finally begun, everything starts falling apart, with devastating consequences for Beth and perhaps even the outcome of the war itself. Can Beth and her new friends keep it all together and find happiness at last?

 

Link to The Post Office Girls on Amazon UK

"The Best Saga I Have Read..."

Posted on 5th February, 2021

Last week I shared with you my review of THE FERRYMAN'S DAUGHTER  by Juliet Greenwood, which was far and away my favourite book of 2020. This week I was amazed and very proud when a similar sort of accolade was given to THE SURPLUS GIRLS' ORPHANS.

 

 

The book was reviewed in Frost, the online culture and lifestyle magazine, and let's just say the reviewer loved it.

 

Here is the review:

 

Much as I enjoyed Polly Heron’s The Surplus Girls, I can honestly say that The Surplus Girls’ Orphans is the best saga I have read. The restricted lives of women in the inter-war period is captured perfectly, but with a fresh eye and brilliant story-telling that avoids the ‘grit and grim’ which I find makes some sagas less than a pleasure to read.

 

I know, as a writer, that the essential structure of a saga is to pour increasingly huge problems onto the heroine, twisting and turning the plot until she (apparently) has no way out. But of course, as a reader, you know she will find one. While all the time I find myself wondering how much more of the unremitting misery I can take.

 

Polly Heron’s books are not like that. There is joy and beauty in small things; in the orphans playing pirates on a wet evening, in the barley-sugar legs of a washstand, in children dancing around a maypole. And the plots and subplots are so beautifully drawn together than even when life is incredibly tough – which was, after all the reality of the time – as a reader you are led from one storyline to another without ever having time to get depressed. Angry, frightened, heart-warmed, amused… but never down right miserable.

 

Drawing on some of the characters in The Surplus Girls, and still wound into the story of the Miss Hesketh’s business school, The Surplus Girls’ Orphans is a standalone novel in its own right, although readers will get more out of the story having read the first book. As well as the Hesketh family, two of the Layton children feature, also as Mrs Atwood, and of course the backdrop is still the Chorlton area of Manchester.

 

However there is an entirely new main character in the form of Molly Watson, who is suffering perhaps the longest engagement ever, to a penny-pinching, controlling man. Deciding she would rather be a surplus girl, to the horror and shame of her family she breaks free to find work in an office, and then the orphanage, where she looks to change the lives of those around her and not just her own.

 

Her relationship with Aaron Abrams unfolds beautifully; the initial misunderstandings never overdone, the attraction between them perfectly paced. Nothing is sugar-coated and although the ending is perhaps inevitable (as it has to be to satisfy the genre) their journey feels unforced in a way all the best fictional romances do.

 

The subplots work perfectly too, in symmetry with the main story. A single thread connects Molly and the Hesketh household as secrets are revealed, with certainly some big surprises along the way. And Jacob Layton’s bullying at the hands of the inescapable thug Shirl brings an at times terrifying tension to the book.

 

Polly Heron has tremendous skill as a story-teller, but on top of that the quality of her writing shines through. She has a knack of wasting not a word on description, but of weaving detail into the action so the reader had a perfect mental image of a place and time as the story unfolds around them.