Latest Posts

Two Beautiful Covers

Posted on 7th December, 2023

Today I am delighted to join in with the cover reveals that have been taking place on social media by sharing with you the covers of two First World War sagas that will be published in 2024 - Wartime on Sanctuary Lane and A Christmas Miracle on Sanctuary Lane by Kirsty Dougal.


You may already know Kirsty as Poppy Cooper, the author of the books about the Post Office Girls, or as Kirsten Hesketh, the author of a contemporary family story.


Wartime on Sanctuary Lane




As the Great War rages across Europe, twenty-one year old Ruby Archer decides to ‘do her bit’ at an East End munitions factory. The work is relentless and deafening, but the camaraderie of the other girls carries her through.


As the threat of another Zeppelin attack grows by the day, Ruby cannot ignore the abandoned animals scavenging the local streets. She rescues a stray kitten, Tess, and takes in an injured terrier Mac, but when all the local cats mysteriously disappear, she knows she needs to do more, and with the help of her friends plans to open a weekly animal clinic.


But opposition quickly closes in from all sides – when there is a war to win everyone from the local vet to Ruby’s own family are against the idea. With the help of her friends, can Ruby convince them that in wartime every life matters?



A Christmas Miracle on Sanctuary Lane




The Sanctuary Lane Animal Hospital is up and running, and proving a huge success. For Ruby Archer, this is a dream come true – and her blossoming romance with a handsome local boy is the icing on the cake.


But this is wartime, and things change in the blink of an eye. When a heartbreaking tragedy shatters Ruby’s world, suddenly she is at odds with everyone - her family, her friends, and even her new sweetheart. And when disaster strikes, endangering the future of the hospital, she is not sure who she can trust.


With the festive season fast approaching, Ruby desperately needs a miracle. In troubled war times, where can she turn? And is there time to find out what really matters in time for Christmas?


* * * *


Amazon links:


Wartime on Sanctuary Lane


A Christmas Miracle on Sanctuary Lane




A Look Back at The Deserter's Daughter

Posted on 30th November, 2023

I've been having a clear-out of the Blogs folder on my computer and I came across a Q&A I did for a book blogger ages and ages ago at the time of the paperback publication of The Deserter's Daughter. In the end, the Q&A was never published online, so I thought I'd let it see the light of day here. I hope you find it interesting.


What attracted you to writing historical fiction and specifically to the early 20th century?

My favourite subject at school was history and it was natural to gravitate towards reading historical fiction – Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton and especially Victoria Holt, whose gothic romances I loved. For years I wrote Victorian stories, but when I decided to write with an eye to publication I looked at the saga market and realised that 20th century sagas had taken over from the Victorian stories I loved; so I moved – reluctantly, at the time, though now I love it – into the 20th century.


What drew you to writing sagas?

I suppose that like many writers, I wrote what I wanted to read. I love strong, dramatic story-lines peopled by well-rounded, believable characters who develop and are changed by what happens to them. For me, the cherry on the cake is the historical setting. I am fascinated by social and domestic history and the disadvantages women faced simply because they were women.


What are the challenges of writing sagas?

You have to be true to the historical context while appealing to the 21st century reader. Carrie, the heroine of The Deserter’s Daughter, is very much a girl of her time and her class, in that she has grown up wanting marriage and children; so it is important that, in her own quiet way, she is shown to be spirited, capable, and able to make and act upon her own decisions, so that the modern reader is happy to identify with her.



Who is your favourite character in the novel?

Tricky question. Some readers have told me they particularly enjoy Evadne’s story because of the way her character develops and the lessons she learns along the way. Others tell me that they love Carrie because she endures so much but never gives in; and others have said that Ralph is a truly frightening individual. My own favourite? To be honest, I don’t have one. I wrote five drafts of the book before it was published and I feel that I have done justice to all the characters.


What did you enjoy most about writing The Deserter’s Daughter?

One of the best moments was when I met my agent, Laura Longrigg, for the first time and she said, “Why is the book so short? It needs to be 20,000 words longer.” I had previously been advised to keep the book under 100,000 words, which was a struggle, because it has a big plot. Being given permission to expand the original was wonderful. I was able to add more depth and detail. The finished book is 126,000 words long.


* * * *


Link to The Deserter's Daughter on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited



A Very Happy Anniversary

Posted on 22nd November, 2023

Usually I post my new blog on a Friday morning, or possibly on the Thursday afternoon, but today I am posting it on Wednesday 22nd because this is a special aniversary.


On this day in 2021, I 'outed' myself as Maisie Thomas. When the Railway Girls series first came out, I wasn't allowed to tell anyone that I also wrote as Susanna Bavin and Polly Heron. Then, finally, on 22nd November 2021, I made my big announcement that Maisie, Polly and Susanna were all the same person. It was such an exciting day. A very busy one, too - I had to change my websites, my Twitter info and my Amazon author pages info.


Why wasn't I allowed to tell anyone before that? Well, Penguin was keen to establish the series without any other ties, so I was asked to keep quiet about my identity.


It wasn’t always been easy. As Susanna, I was unable to blog about this exciting development in my writing career and I’m sure that readers who were used to me writing two books a year wondered why I had suddenly gone down to one book … whereas I was in fact writing three a year - two as Maisie and one as Polly.


Being Maisie also had some unintended consequences. For example, there was one occasion when, as Maisie, I wrote a guest blog for Jan Baynham about my experience of writing a series. The blog generated quite a few replies and questions … which I was happy to answer, except that the ‘reply’ function on Jan’s site knew full well that I was Susanna and wouldn’t let me call myself Maisie! So I had to send my replies to Jan, who then posted them, pretending that Maisie was having trouble with her internet connection.


But I don’t want to make it sound as if all of it was difficult. A small handful of writer friends and book bloggers were been in on the secret and gave me/Maisie staunch support. I couldn’t have managed without them.


But undoubtedly life and work became a lot easier when I could finally share my secret!


For some pics taken on the day, please see my Welcome page.


Writers Need Other Writers

Posted on 16th November, 2023

I'm writing this from a gorgeous old house (build 1791) deep in rural Shropshire, where I'm on a writing retreat with my writing chums Jane Cable (aka Eva Glyn), Cass Grafton, Kitty Wilson and Kirsten Hesketh (aka Poppy Cooper and Kirsty Dougal).


This was us the first time we went away together to write, back in October 2018 - and, yes, that was champagne in the glasses, because Kitty was having a publication day.


top to bottom:

Kitty, Jane, Cass, Kirsten and me.


Writing is generally is solitary process so being together feels like a great treat. For years I thought of this as normal, something I put down to a mixture of two things. Firstly, I am an introvert by nature; and secondly, I was a child writer. When I was a school, a couple of friends had a go at writing because of me, but they didn't stick with it for long, so I grew up thinking of writing as being something you do on your own.


But I learned that writers need other writers after I saw an ad for a writing holiday by the sea in Cornwall and I signed up for it. It was the first time I had ever had the chance to talk about writing with people who understood. Writers are always interested in other writers - in their work, their careers and their experiences. Writers will always share what they know and provide encouragement and support. It is a wonderful profession in that respect.


Railway Photos

Posted on 9th November, 2023

Here are some photos I took in Llangollen on the heritage railway line to show the kinds of things that appear in the Railway Girls books.




First of all, a couple of flatbed trolleys, as used by Dot!



And of course a sack-trolley, as used by Lizzie and Joan when they were porters, and now used by Emily.


These carriages are the colour of the LMS coaches. That dark red is called Crimson Lake.






Questions for Maisie

Posted on 2nd November, 2023

A question I get asked in my guise as Maisie is:


Why did you pick the railways as the war work the girls did?


The simple answer is that someone else made that decision. Cassandra di Bello, who was a commissioning editor with Penguin, thought up the idea of women working on the railways and then needed an author to write the series for her. She rang my agent, Laura Longrigg, to see if Laura had anyone suitable and Laura suggested me.


She sent Cass a pre-publicaton copy of The Surplus Girls (written as Polly Heron). Cass liked my writing style – and I got the job!


I already had a long-standing interest in WW2 and had several shelves on books on the subject. You won’t be surprised to hear that I now have several more shelves. My husband has also been a big help to me, thanks to his love and knowledge of old railways. He quickly got used to answering random questions, such as ‘When a steam train is going to pull out of the station, in what order do you hear all the sounds?’ and ‘How does a water-tower work?’. Incidentally, he is also the person who checks that the trains on the book-covers are correct.



A follow-up question I then get asked is:


How did you find out what women did on the railways in the war?


I got lots of information from Female Railway Workers of World War II by Susan Major (Pen & Sword Transport, 2018). This book includes masses of oral history, which I found invaluable. It is thanks to this book that Dot became a parcels porter, Cordelia became a lampwoman, Mabel worked as a lengthman and Lizzie and Joan were given jobs as station porters.



Much of the information that enabled me to promote Persephone to the rank of ticket inspector in Courage of the Railway Girls came from How We Lived Then: A History of Everyday Life During the Second World War by Norman Longmate (Hutchinson & Co Ltd, 1971). Margaret’s engine-cleaning experiences came from various sources, mainly More Tales of the Old Railwaymen by Tom Quinn (Aurum Press Ltd, 2002) and Steaming to Victory: How Britain’s Railway’s Won the War by Michael Williams (Arrow Books, 2014).





The Research Behind the Stories

Posted on 27th October, 2023

A question I am often asked is: How much research do you do before writing a story?


Because of my love of social and domestic history and the reading I have done over the years, I carry a certain amount of residual knowledge in my head. But yes, I also have to do research for each individual book, which is a mixture of the general and the specific.


I usually start by finding out about important events that took place in the year in which the book is set; for example, in The Surplus Girls, there is a passing reference to a coal strike. I also check the calendar for the year. In The Surplus Girls, it would have helped if April Fool’s Day could have been on a weekday, but it wasn’t – it fell on a Saturday, so I had to allow for that.



I also like to read documents from the time to get a sense of the prevailing attitudes. A letter written by an Edwardian clergyman provided me with a small detail that grew into the plot-strand about Mary’s marriage in The Poor Relation. 



No research is ever wasted. Back in the 1980s I came across a wonderful snippet of Victorian law that I was dying to use in a story – but it was twenty-something years later before it I was able to insert it naturally into The Sewing Room Girl.


I think that what’s important in bringing the era to life is to make sure that your knowledge and research aren’t be on show for all to see. I once read a novel in which the writer spent a page and a half describing the history of a particular building. That wasn’t the story, it was a lecture! Getting the details right is important, but they should be a comfortable and natural part of the story.



With the Railway Girls series, I’ve found that the best way to tackle the research is to read a variety of books about the home front without necessarily looking for specific information. If I come across something I want to incorporate into the story, then fine, I make notes, but otherwise I work on the basis that simply having lots of general knowledge will inform my writing in a natural way.


This means that the books I choose have to be enjoyable as well as interesting. My favourite book is undoubtedly How We Lived Then: a History of Everyday Life During the Second World War by Normal Longmate. As well as being the most comprehensive book I have come across, it is also highly readable and entertaining and I recommend it to anybody who has an interest in the subject.


As well as general information, there are also many occasions when I require specific information. For example, the oral history in Female Railway Workers in World War II by Susan Major was invaluable in helping me to choose different railway jobs for my characters. I was amazed by the huge variety of jobs available and, from reader feedback, I know this has fascinated lots of other people too.



I've picked up a lot of new knowledge along the way. Here are three examples for you:


- We think of recycling as being a modern phenomenon, but it was an important feature of everyday life in wartime. (You'll find out more about this in my new Home Front Girls trilogy, which will be published next year.)



- I was astonished (and vastly entertained) by stories of how completely disorienting the blackout could be. There are numerous tales of stone cold sober people leaving buildings and walking outside into surroundings they had known for years and finding themselves wandering around, hopelessly lost in the darkness, or even heading straight into a ditch or a duck pond.


- And you know those little circles of paper you get when you use a hole-puncher? Well, if you’re ever in need of confetti…

Favourite Characters

Posted on 20th October, 2023

A question I am often asked - and I imagine other authors get asked it too - is: Which of your characters is your favourite and why? That’s quite a difficult question. I couldn't pick out just one character, any more than I could pick out a single book and say it was my favourite.



In the Railway Girls books, I know Dot is hugely popular with my readers and they also feel very concerned about Colette, though I won't say more than that here because of giving away spoilers.


Personally, I have a soft spot for Mrs Cooper. She was only intended to have a brief walk-on part in book 1, but I liked her so much that I just had to keep her in the story. Losing her beloved Lizzie was the most terrible thing that could possibly have happened to her, but she carries on with quiet courage and I love the way she takes such care of her young lodgers.


I'm also very fond of Margaret. Alison has always been very interesting to write because, of all the characters, I think she is the one who has grown and developed the most as a person.


In The Poor Relation, Helen Rawley is someone I receive a lot of comments about. Spiky Helen grows on readers, the more they find out about her. I love Helen - she is a very flawed character who grows during the course of the story.


I must admit I do like writing baddy-characters. Ralph Armstong in my first published book The Deserter's Daughter and Edmund Tanner in A Respectable Woman are two great favourites of mine. A lot of readers have told me that Ralph Armstrong is one of the scariest villains they have ever come across.


Another possibly-baddy is Gran (or is 'baddy' the wrong word?) in the Railway Girls books - Mrs Foster, Joan's grandmother. Readers see her very much as the baddy until book 3, and many readers continue to dislke her even after they find out about her past. Personally, I like her because she is a complicated person. Like all of us, she is the product of what has befallen her in the past.


I particularly enjoyed writing Christmas with the Surplus Girls. Not only was it the very first Christmas book I ever wrote, but I loved Nancy and Zachary, the heroine and her hero. Unlike the other heroines in the series - Belinda, Molly and Jess - Nancy is definitely not cut out for the secretarial work she is being trained to do and I loved the way she had to rise above all the difficulties she faced in order to find her true niche in the workplace.


A character who took me very much by surprise is Cecily in The Sewing Room Girl. Like Mrs Cooper in The Railway Girls, she was only ever meant to have a walk-on part. Then I gave her a name and before I knew it, she'd become Juliet's best friend and had her own romantic sub-plot.


One thing I have realised through writing this blog is the difference between liking a character and enjoying writing a character. For example, I didn't like Edmund Tanner in A Respectable Woman in the slightest - he was a manipulative bully with a vicous streak - but I loved writing him because he was a complex person with an important part to play in the book. Likewise I loved writing Ralph Armstrong in The Deserter's Daughter. And of course The Sewing Room Girl had not one, not two, but three baddies in it.




Publication Day for Christmas Wishes

Posted on 12th October, 2023

I'm writing this on publication day and I'd like to say a huge thank-you to all of you who pre-ordered Christmas Wishes for the Railway Girls. I hope you're all going to love finding out what happens next to the girls.




The three viewpoint characters are (left to right on the cover) Margaret, Alison and Joan. It the second half of 1943 and, much as she loves her little boy, Joan longs to return to work as a railway girl and carry on doing her bit for the war effort. Meanwhile, Alison is looking forward to a happy future... but the past is about to catch up with both her and Margaret.


I have a couple of publication day photos to share with you.


First, here are my publication day flowers. Aren't they beautiful?



And next, just look at these little beauties! They were sent to me by my good friend Cass Grafton, who said she was aiming for a gift "that said Christmas and railways and women"!!




I'm also happy and proud to share with you the first review, which appeared on Amazon first thing this morning from Booklover Bev, who had a pre-publication copy.


She says: 

"Inspiring, magical, perfect for the season, the author has once again giving readers a wonderful read to be cherished."


Wow! Isn't that wonderful?


Thank you to everyone for making today special for me.


A Bargain for October

Posted on 5th October, 2023

I'm delighted to tell you that Christmas with the Railway Girls, book 4 in the series, is currently 99p on Kindle.




I loved writing this book. Well, I love all the books, of course, but this one was special because it was so lovely to have three new viewpoint characters. In books 1, 2 and 3, Alison, Colette and Cordelia were only ever seen through the eyes of Joan, Dot and Mabel, who were the viewpoint charcters in those three books, so it was interesting and a great pleasure to see the world through fresh eyes and let my readers into the private lives of Cordelia, Colette and Alison.


I receive a lot of messages concerning Colette's story and I feel touched to know that her tale resonates with so many people.