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Names are very important whe you're writing. You have to find the right name for each character. Very often, when a character appears into my mind, they are fully-formed in terms of personality, looks and background, and generally speaking they arrive in my head complete with a name.

 

If you've read The Sewing Room Girl, you may remember Juliet's friend Cecily, who sticks with Juliet through thick and thin. But would it surprise you to know that Cecily was only ever meant to have the briefest of walk-on parts early on in the story?

 

When I started writing the book, Cecily didn't have a name. She didn't need one. She only had a walk-on part, so she didn't need to be called anything.

 

Hardback, paperback & ebook cover

Audiobook cover

 

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Near the beginning of the story, Juliet's mother Agnes is given the job of resident seamstress in the household of Lord Drysdale. Because Juliet isn’t old enough to live on her own, she is allowed to accompany her mother to Moorside, the grand house where the Drysdale family has lived for generations. Not being an official member of the household means that Juliet isn’t invited to eat in the servants’ hall. Instead, meals are carried upstairs to the sewing room for her and Agnes.

 

And this is where my walk-on character appeared. In the first draft of the book, she was referred to as nothing more than “the maid who brought their tray upstairs.” I called her that once. Then, a little later, it was necessary for her to appear with another tray, so I called her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs” again.

 

The trouble was, she appeared a third time and – well, I couldn’t go on calling her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs,” could I? So I gave her a name. It didn’t matter what the name was, because she only had a walk-on part. I called her Cecily.

 

And from that moment, there was no stopping her. Before I knew it, she was Juliet’s best friend. Not only that, but she her own sub-plot and her own love story.

 

I swear that Cecily was never meant to do anything more than fetch and carry meal-trays and that she was supposed to drop out of the story as soon as Juliet left Moorside. But the moment she was given her own name, she also acquired a full personality – and a family – and an unshakable determination to bag herself a husband.

 

What’s in a name? As it turned out, considerably more than I had expected.

 

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The Sewing Room Girl at Amazon   

 

The Sewing Room Girl at Kobo  

 

The Sewing Room Girl at Waterstones 

 

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And on a different subject ....

 

Monday 23rd May is the book-birthday of The Poor Relation and I'll be hosting a giveaway on my Maisie Thomas Author Facebook page. There will be two prizes - one for a UK reader and the other for a reader overseas. I'll be introducing the prize draw on Monday, then the competition will take place on Tuesday through until Wednesday. The winners will be announced on Wednesday afternoon BST. Do come and join in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Like Catching Up With Old Friends."

Posted on 13th May, 2022

This week I'd like to share a review of Hope for the Railway Girls with you. It's such a lovely review, starting with "It really is like catching up with old friends," and that means so much to me because that's exactly how I want readers to feel. When writing a series, it's essential to create characters the readers can truly care about and feel invested in, and to have Cordelia, Joan, Alison and the rest referred to as 'old friends' is such a huge compliment to me as the author.

 

Zoe Morton ends her review with "If you're looking for a series to escape to.... you can't go wrong with The Railway Girls." Isn't that a wonderful ting to say?

 

If you'd like to take a look at the whole review, click here. The post is dated May 11th.

 

That Moment That's Always Special

Posted on 6th May, 2022

A day or two ago, this arrived ...

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Look what it contained! Actually, I received a few copies a while ago, which I sent straight out to book bloggers and reviewers, plus keeping one for myself, of course(!). Now the rest of my author copies of Hope for the Railway Girls have been delivered and don't they look lovely? The excitement and joy of opening up a box of author copies is something that writers never get tired of!

 

 

To celebrate, I'll be holding a book giveaway next week (week beginning Monday 9th) on my Maisie Thomas Author Facebook page. There will be two prizes - one for a UK reader and for one a readers overseas - so if you don't already follow my Maisie page, now is a good time to start. You'll be very welcome.

 

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Some Book Bargains

 

It might be May, but here are two Christmassy book bargains for you:

 

 

Christmas with the Railway Girls is currently 99p on a time-limited Kindle deal and the forthcoming A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls is £1.99 on Kindle. You can find both books here.

 

 

 

Books 1 and 2 in the Surplus Girls series, The Surplus Girls and The Surplus Girls' Orphans, are both on Kindle Unlimited. You can find them on this page (you may need to scroll down).

 

 

 

The Deserter's Daughter, which was the very first book I had published, is also available on Kindle Unlimited.

 

 

Back in November, I wrote a blog about how I tackle writing my two series - The Surplus Girls 1920s sagas written as Polly Heron and my Second World War series, The Railway Girls, written as Maisie Thomas.

 

Since then, a new Railway Girls book, Hope for the Railway Girls, has been published; the sixth book in the series, A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls, has been written; and the fourth Surplus Girls book has been finished!

 

 

The blog back in November concentrated on the importance of planning. In particular, I discussed how I wrote a 25-page synopsis of the whole series of The Surplus Girls before I put pen to paper and started writing book 1.

 

But it isn't just a matter of producing a synopsis, however detailed. There's much more to it than that.

 

Here is the rest of the process, using a Railway Girls book as an example:

 

A step-by-step guide to planning a Railway Girls book

 

1. I come up with plots for the three viewpoint characters and discuss them with my editor. I would much rather make sure she is happy with the plots in advance - it saves having to do edits later!

 

2. I make a note of which day of the week started each month in the time-frame of the book. I note down what day of the week Valentine's Day, Christmas Day etc took place. I make a note of the date of Easter Sunday and the bank holidays.

 

3. I list the important wartime events, with dates.

 

4. I list, with dates, things that happened on the home front. Changes to the rationing rules is an obvious example.

 

5. Do I need to sow the seeds of something that's going to happen in a future book? For example, in Hope for the Railway Girls something happens that has nothing to do with Hope but which is essential to something that's going to happen in A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls.

 

6. Using the plot-outlines agreed with my editor, and using a separate sheet of A4 for each scene, I note the main thrust of each scene for each viewpoint character, including how each scene will end.

 

7. The three characters don't have to have the same number of scenes, but it helps if they have approximately the same. Having said that, in the sixth Railway Girls book, A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls, which comes out later this year, one of the POV (point of view) characters has a chunk of scenes in the middle of the book, because that was what was needed. It isn't an exact science!

 

8. Each set of plot-strands needs to be checked against the dates. My books are woven around real events and the individual plots reflect this.

 

9. Now the scenes for the three characters have to be put together into a single sequence.

 

10. I make a month-by-month time-line, starting at the end of the book. Why start at the end? Because this is what everything is building up to. I know it sounds more sensible to start a time-line at the beginning, but I find them easier to spread out across the given time by starting at the end and working backwards. Does anyone else do this or is it just me?

 

11. Although it's important to balance the book fairly evenly in terms of the three character viewpoints, it's more important to create an overall plot that makes sense in terms of the time that is passing. (For example, I read a book a couple of years ago in which there were four POV characters, one of whom was pregnant, so her condition dictated the amount of time the story had to last. But this stretched another character's plot to snapping point, because this plot would have been far more believeable if it had been wrapped up in a matter of a few weeks.)

 

12. I go through the individual scenes to add references to real events and details. Many of these references are date-sensitive, but obviously there are others that aren't. NB: these details can only be added to a scene if they fit there naturally. Yes, books take a lot of research, but it must never look like research - it must be woven seamlessly into the narrative.

 

So there are the 12 steps that go into the planning. Then it's time to start writing the book!

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The Railway Girls books on Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Canadian Love Letter to Britain

Posted on 22nd April, 2022

 

This week, I'm delighted to welcome Jen Gilroy to my blog to talk about her new dual-time novel, The Sweetheart Locket, which was published recently. Jen writes warm-hearted stories which explore relationships, family life and the ways in which people face challenges.

 

The Sweetheart Locket: My love letter to Britain and British people

When Susanna invited me to write a guest post about my new book, The Sweetheart Locket, it felt as if the story had come full circle.

When I visited Susanna in Llandudno in July 2019, I was considering the focus of my next book.

Since I’m interested in British history, she took me to the wonderful Home Front Museum which helped me learn more about life in Britain during the Second World War.

At that museum, I discovered the ‘sweetheart jewellery’ men serving in the armed forces in both World Wars gave to loved ones at home.

 

From there, ideas for The Sweetheart Locket, a story where a treasured Royal Air Force sweetheart locket connects past and present, developed.

It’s my first primarily British-set book, my first women’s fiction title and my first historical dual timeline, set between the Second World War and 2019. Amongst all these ‘firsts,’ it’s also a book celebrating my affection for British people, life and landscapes.

 

Place

As Willow, the American heroine of the contemporary story, reflects when she arrives in England for a work trip and hoping to find out more about her family’s history:

The past was intertwined with the present here in a way it wasn’t in California.’

That ‘past’ is part of my own too having lived for many years in London and Berkshire where much of the book is set.

Both Willow, and Maggie, the heroine of the historical story, live in London’s Bloomsbury area, a neighbourhood I first fell in love with as a Canadian postgraduate student at University College London (UCL).

Little Brimford, the fictional Berkshire village that features in both stories, reflects my own experience of living in the Thames Valley and country walks and visits to historic properties in that beautiful part of England.

 

People and culture

The Sweetheart Locket also celebrates British people.

From wartime bravery, including women’s clandestine work for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), to the British sense of humour, Victoria Sponge Cake and many more, my characters represent and express things that I, an outsider, value about British life.

Being British is about more than tea and cake. It’s a way of looking at and being in the world and a way of keeping going through good times and bad.’

 

Family and friendship

Along with a romance in both the historical and contemporary strands, The Sweetheart Locket is a story of family, friendship and secrets—some extending across generations.

It’s also about repairing fractured family relationships, building new families and strong female friendships. The latter like friendships I share with Susanna and other British authors.

We might not be a family by birth but we’re a family by choice, a patchwork family.’

 

Home

A theme that runs through all my writing is one of finding home. And, like my fictional characters, I’ll always have two homes.

Because ‘maybe you never truly [know] where [home] is until you [leave].’

 

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For a limited time, the Kindle edition of The Sweetheart Locket is on sale on Amazon UK for only 99p. Find out more and get a copy here:

The Sweetheart Locket on Amazon

 

 

 

Light, Camera, Action! Part 2

Posted on 12th April, 2022

There was no blog last week because I was away at a family wedding. If I tell you that the wedding was originally meant to take place in May 2020, you'll understand how much everyone was looking forward to it. It was a truly wonderful and very happy day. To those of you who are in a similar position, anticipating long-postponed events, I send you my warmest wishes together with the hope that your special occasion, when it takes place, will be as lovely as my nephew's wedding was.

 

My previous blog, back on April 1st, was about making a promo video for Hope for the Railway Girls, which will be published this coming Thursday. Now that Penguin have shared the video on the Penny Street FB page, I can show it to you here. Behind the camera was my husband (it's so useful for a writer to have a techie-husband!) and sharing the spotlight is Alf. The video lasts just under a minute. I hope you like it. Stay with it to the end to see Alf's little moment of internet glory!

 

 

 

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As well as this, I have another promo video to show you. This one is just amaazing. It was made by Hope Butler and her team her Cornerstone and I just love it. Make sure you have the sound on - the music is fab!

 

 

 

 

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Hope for the Railway Girls on Amazon.

 

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Blurb:

Manchester, 1942 and a new year brings new hope for the railway girls.

Alison

's romance with the charming Dr Maitland is blossoming, but then she is posted away from Manchester. Working in a canteen isn't part of her plan, nor is meeting her beau's old girlfriend - one who just happens to want him back.

Margaret

is supportive of her friend's new relationship until she realises exactly who he is. Torn between keeping her secret and warning Alison, she turns to Joan for help.

 

Working in Lost Property wouldn't be Joan's first choice of job, but with a baby on the way she knows she can't continue being a station porter. As she looks to the future, can she put the troubles of her past behind her?

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Lights, Camera, Action!

Posted on 1st April, 2022

This week I was asked by the publicity people at Penguin to make a short video for Facebook, introducing my new Maisie Thomas book, Hope for the Railway Girls. My lovely techie husband did all the clever stuff and we made the video in just three takes .... which is a lot quicker than last year's video for The Railway Girls in Love was done!

 

I never shared the video of The Railway Girls in Love with you because back then my identity as Maisie was still a secret, so I'm putting it here now so you can have a look. And when the new Hope video has been published on Facebook, I'll share that here too.

 

 

I hope you like the video. It was fun to make and I'm looking forward to showing you the new video for Hope for the Railway Girls. Hope will be published on April 14th.

 

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Hope for the Railway Girls on Amazon 

 

Blurb:

Being a railway girl isn't always easy but together, they can overcome every challenge that stands in their way...

 

Manchester, 1942

A new year brings new hope for the railway girls.

 
Alison's romance with the charming Dr Maitland is blossoming, but then she is posted away from Manchester. Working in a canteen isn't part of her plan, nor is meeting her beau's old girlfriend - one who just happens to want him back.

 
Margaret
is supportive of her friend's new relationship until she realises exactly who he is. Torn between keeping her secret and warning Alison, she turns to Joan for help.
 
Working in Lost Property wouldn't be Joan's first choice of job, but with a baby on the way she knows she can't continue being a station porter. As she looks to the future, can she put the troubles of her past behind her?

 

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It Doesn't Matter How Many Times ...

Posted on 25th March, 2022

It doesn't matter how many times it happens. When you receive the first copy of your book and you can hold the real thing in your hands ... it's just wonderful.

 

 

 

Here's my first copy of the new Railway girls book, Hope for the Railway Girls, which will be published on April 14th.

 

Soon I should have another photo for you - of a whole box of copies of Hope.

 

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Blurb:

Manchester, 1942

A new year brings new hope for the railway girls.


Alison
's romance with the charming Dr Maitland is blossoming, but then she is posted away from Manchester. Working in a canteen isn't part of her plan, nor is meeting her beau's old girlfriend - one who just happens to want him back.

Margaret
is supportive of her friend's new relationship until she realises exactly who he is. Torn between keeping her secret and warning Alison, she turns to Joan for help.

Working in Lost Property wouldn't be Joan's first choice of job, but with a baby on the way she knows she can't continue being a station porter. As she looks to the future, can she put the troubles of her past behind her?

 

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Hope for the Railway Girls on Amazon  

 

 

Introducing 'The Sweetheart Locket'

Posted on 17th March, 2022

The publication of a new book from Jen Gilroy is always a treat, but The Sweetheart Locket is a particular joy because it is Jen's first UK-set novel. Jen is Canadian and has previously written for the North American Market, but she also lived in the UK for a long time and now has set a story over here.

 

 

The Sweetheart Locket is a dual-time story of family and romance, love and loss, loyalty and longing. It is also a story of profound courage. Although the long-ago romance drives the book along, this is much more than a love story. Other relationships are explored in depth and the characters grow and change as events unfold, bringing new challenges.

 

There are two heroines - Maggie in the Second World War and Willow, her granddaughter in the present. A DNA test that starts out as a fun thing to do for family history reasons instead creates a mystery that turns Willow's beliefs about herself upside down.

 

Other dual-time stories I have read have been distinctly separated into part 1 (the past) and part 2 (the present), but Jen Gilroy has used a different structure and in this book, the chapters alternate between the past and the present, which adds to the warmth and immediacy of the writing and at times cranks up the tension. It also shows the care and thought that must have gone into planning this novel. The unfolding of the two stories side by side, without one plot overtaking the other in terms of what is revealed, is in itself a remarkable achievement.

 

Jen Gilroy writes with compassion and understanding, allowing her characters to weave their way through their troubles. The various events and unfolding relationships create situations that are emotionally complex and Jen dips into the hearts and minds of her characters so that we can share their experiences and live their lives with them.

 

A warm, absorbing, beautifully crafted dual-time story that will linger in your heart long after you finish it.

 

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Blurb:

What if the key to your present lies in the past?

London, 1939
On the eve of the Second World War, Canadian Maggie Wyndham defies her family and stays in England to do her bit for the war effort. Torn between two countries, two men and living a life of lies working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Maggie's RAF sweetheart locket is part of who she is...and who she isn't.

San Francisco, 2019
Over twenty years after Maggie's death, her daughter Millie and granddaughter Willow take a DNA test that's supposed to be a bit of fun but instead yields unexpected results. Willow has always treasured her grandmother's sweetheart locket, both family heirloom and a symbol of her grandparents' love story. But now she doesn't know what to believe. She embarks on a search for the truth, one she doesn't know will reveal far more about herself...

 

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The Sweetheart Locket on Amazon  

 

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A dual British-Canadian citizen, Jen lived in England for many years and earned a doctorate (with a focus on British cultural studies and social history) from University College London. Returning to where her Irish family roots run deep, she now lives with her husband, teenage daughter and floppy-eared rescue hound in small-town Eastern Ontario, Canada.

When not writing, she enjoys reading, ice cream, ballet and paddling her purple kayak.

 

 

 

 

A Story With Particular Resonance

Posted on 10th March, 2022

Some time ago, I wrote about The Italian House by Teresa Crane, which I have always firmly belived should have a warning emblazoned across the cover:

 

Beware! If you read this book, you will want to sell everything you possess and move to Italy.

 

This week I'm sharing my review of The Olive Grove by Eva Glyn and as I was reading, I kept thinking that here's another book that deserves a similar Beware! warning.

 

Eva Glyn is the pen name of Jane Cable and if you're a regular visitor here, you'll know how much I admire her writing. As always with Eva/Jane, you get an absorbing, compelling and well-crafted story in which the layers are peeled away until you finally arrive at the truth.

 

 

I suppose that having given the Beware! build-up, I ought to start with the book's setting. We are in Croatia and the various settings are beatifully drawn. The descriptions are just gorgeous and appeal to all the senses.

 

The characters are richly drawn as well. The heroine is Antonia. In some ways, this is a "starting again" story - a type of tale that I think resonates very deeply with many people, appealing as it does to the "if only" and the "if I could do it all again" feelings that we all have from time to time. In Antonia's case, having extricated herself from a relationship with a married man, she embarks not just upon a new job but upon a move not simply to a new home but actually to a new country. Cue all those wonderful descriptions.

 

She meets Damir, who is the other main character. Damir has been profoundly affected by his experiences of war during his young years. His has coped with the traumas of the past, but now an emotional upheaval in the present brings old feelings to the surface.

 

The story uses occasional flashbacks to explain in greater depth why certain things happen and, as always in a novel by Eva/Jane, there are surprises in the plot. The book has been thoroughly researched, but there no sense of the author pushing what she has learned into the story. Everything melts into the narrative in an entirely natural way. And of course, the story has a particular resonance when read in the light of current events.

 

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The Olive Grove on Amazon