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Book Review and Prize Draw

Posted on 24th January, 2020

I'd like to share a book review of The Surplus Girls with you because it links to a prize draw giveaway for any of you who would like the chance to win a signed paperback copy.

 

The review is from Sharon Goodwin's book blog and the review comes from her saga reader, Alice-Jane.

Alice-Jane says:

 

The Surplus Girls is a thoroughly heart-warming romantic story of love and honour and a woman’s rigid place in society. For heroine Belinda Layton, her struggles to reach higher than her dictated social standing hinder her chances of bettering her life, particularly in a society that has very limited marriage prospects due to the many male lives lost in the war.

 

The chauvinistic lives led by all in the 1920’s make it an extremely trying and difficult situation for any girl wishing to work and become self-sufficient. For Belinda though the added struggles of her family and the harsh realities of a male dominated hierarchy, mean she has to find a means of balancing work, family and romance. Her mother’s dependence and expectation on her daughters to provide for the men only add to Belinda’s determination to step away from this lifestyle.

 

The First World War left so many scars even to those who didn’t fight as they deal with grief and then for Gabriel Linkworth- memory loss.

 

I would heartily recommend this moving tale of one young woman’s battle to move on with her life in a steadfast direction.

 

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If you would like to take part in the prize draw, click on the link to the Polly Heron book review page and scroll down to the end. Good luck!

 

 

A Lovely Large Print Cover

Posted on 22nd January, 2020

The large print edition of The Sewing Room Girl has been published and I have received my author copies. The cover has the same picture as the audiobook - isn't it appealing?

 

 

 

I have a special love for large print, because my dad was a reader of it, back in the days when large print books were colour-coded. Remember that? Horizontal black bands on the cover for crime and mystery, crimson for romance and orange for general fiction.

 

Large print books are far more attractive these days. I hope you like The Sewing Room Girl's cover.

 

 

 

 

Writing With a View

Posted on 17th January, 2020

The weather forecast said we'd have sunshine today at this end of North Wales. Maybe we will later on, but so far the cloud cover is dense and dark and, as well as intermittent rain, we've also had a couple of minutes of hail!

 

Many writers, if not most, write straight onto the computer screen. Personally, I think best when using a pen and paper, so I make what are meant to be detailed notes but which often turn into the actual writing of the story, before I go anywhere near the computer. More often than not, this is done at a desk, but, living in such a beautiful place, I love to take my work outdoors with me.

 

Here are some of the places where I have worked:

 

You may have seen this picture before, but for new blog-readers who haven't, this is where I sat to write the chase-through-the-fog scene in The Deserter's Daughter. It was first thing on a cool May morning during a half-term holiday.

 

 

 

 

And this photo was taken last February - do you remember that glorious warm spell we had? I never thought I'd be picnicking in Fenruary. This was my view sitting on a bench overlooking Happy Valley and the pier while I got on with some writing.

 

 

 

 

Here is another Happy Valley picture. This is where I sat when I was writing the scene in The Sewing Room Girl where Juliet visits her grandmother's factory for the first time.

 

 

 

 

I hope you've enjoyed my pictures. I'll share more writing places another time.

 

 

Polly's First Cover Reveal

Posted on 11th January, 2020

A cover reveal is always an exciting moment. It comes after the writer has seen the cover in development. During this process, everything about it is always, of course, a big secret; but finally, the finished version is ready and the author is told when s/he can release it into the world. Doing so is a very proud moment.

 

Here, my audio cover for The Surplus Girls is making its debut and you, my lovely blog readers, are seeing it first, before I share it on social media.

 

I hope you love it as much as I do.

 

 

 

 

 

And the Best Book is....

Posted on 6th January, 2020

After the excitement of last week's launch of the Surplus Girls, maybe you'd expect me to be looking ahead to what's coming next, but I'm going to use this blog to take a look back instead, because 2019 ended with not one but two of my books being included in Best Books of the Year lists.

 

Even before publication, The Surplus Girls appeared as a Best Book on the Catherine's Cultural Wednesdays website. Catherine had read an ARC (advance review copy) and loved it so much she wanted to celebrate it right away.

 

Here is the link. You need to scroll right down to the bottom.

 

 

The other book that was chosen for this honour was A Respectable Woman, which was selected by Lou Capper, who runs the popular Waggy Tales book blog.

 

Here are the book's three covers - print & e-book, audio and large print....

 

... and here is what Lou said:

 

"Lovers of historical fiction will adore this book, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Susanna Bavin has quickly become one of my favourite authors."

 

If you'd like to see the other books, Lou chose, click here.

 

So I'm feeling pretty chuffed. The end of 2019 and the start of 2020 have been very kind to me - and I hope they have been to you too.

 

 

Publication Day for Polly Heron

Posted on 2nd January, 2020

Today is publication day for The Surplus Girls and I'd like to share the excitement with you. Every publication day is special - of course - but this one has extra twinkly bits because it is my first as Polly Heron and I am thrilled that my new saga series has been launched. It's also special for two of the book's characters, Prudence and Patience Hesketh, who have been waiting since the 1990s to appear in a book!

 

Reviews have been appearing on Goodreads for a while, but other reviewers have kept back their reviews until publication day. Looking at reviews on the day itself involves a mixture of excitement and nervousness, but today's reviews are generous in their praise and I am a very happy bunny.

 

Here is a flavour for you:

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Jane Cable in Frost Magazine:

"Polly Heron has a rare talent for portraying the atmosphere of a setting with a few carefully selected sentences, which never detract from the pace of the plot. And pacey plot it is, making The Surplus Girls hard to put down. The detail of the era is there, forming a rich background tapestry, but I never once felt I was bogged down by it. While I could see, hear and breathe the world the characters inhabited, as a reader I was free to enjoy being transported there and immerse myself in their story. And it takes a great deal of skill for an author to achieve that."

 

Tara Greaves on her After The Rain website:

"I made a huge mistake with The Surplus Girls; I got into bed, picked it up and thought “I’ll just read the first few pages”. The next thing I know it’s way beyond my bedtime and I still don’t want to put it down.... It has everything you could want; a gripping story, interesting characters and it is set in an absolutely  fascinating period in history."

 

Grace J, Reviewer Lady:

"This is a great read, and in preparing for this review post I’ve discovered it’s first in a trilogy so now I’m really excited!... Polly Heron spins a fine tale.... This is a well written, enthralling read which captivated my attention from first to last."

 

Okay, I'll stop there before my head swells so much that I can't get through doorways.

 

And, since, as we all know, the best surprises come in boxes.....

 

 


 

.... Above is the box of paperbacks the lovely people at Corvus sent me, and below is the box I received on publication day morning....

 

 


 

.... beautiful flowers from my fellow Sister Scribes.

 

 


 

Huge thanks to everyone who has helped get my (and Polly's!) year off to such a wonderful start. And to everyone who has The Surplus Girls on their reading pile, I hope you'll love reading it as much as I loved writing it.

 

 

 

Publicaton Day Eve

Posted on 1st January, 2020

I am writing this the day before publication of The Surplus Girls, the first in  1920s saga trilogy written as Polly Heron. Reviews have been appearing on Goodreads for a while and they are very good (phew!) apart from one 2-star review (ouch).

 

More reviews should appear tomorrow, both on Goodreads and also on Amazon.

The Kindle version of The Surplus Girls is on a time limited Kindle deal and it has leapt up the Amazon charts as a result.

 

This morning, its stats were:

 

 

This evening, it has risen to:

 

 

Huge thanks to all of you have have pre-ordered my book. I hope you will love reading Belinda's story as much as I loved writing it.

 

 

Highlights of 2019

Posted on 26th December, 2019

Hello to all of you and I hope you have had a happy Christmas. In this space in between Christmas and New Year, I thought I'd look back at some of the special moments of 2019.

 

First of all, one of my books was featured on the radio! Back in May, Radio Berkshire made The Deserter's Daughter their Book of the Month. If you haven't already heard it, here is the bit where the three reviewers gave their feedback on the story.

 

 

It takes just over 4 minutes to listen to.

 

 

 

 

Another highlight was watching the success of The Sewing Room Girl when it came out in paperback. This was partly owing to a successful blog tour organised by Lesley Crooks, my editor at Allison & Busby, and partly to the book's being featured on Book Bub.

 

As a result of these two, it reached the dizzy heights of number 10 in the Amazon Saga chart and number 13 in the Family Sagas and Romance Sagas charts.

 

 

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Another important moment was introducing my new pen name. I have wanted to write a series for a long time and, as Polly Heron, that's what I'm going to do. I've also wanted for ages to write a Chrsitmas-themed book, but you'll have to wait until book 3 is published for that!

 

So I'm feeling very good about 2019 and I'm looking forward to 2020, which kicks off with the e-book and paperback publication of The Surplus Girls on January 2nd.

 

And there is something else I'm very much looking forward to as well. It's under wraps for now, but I'll share it as soon as I can and I hope you'll be as excited as I am.

 

Wishing you all the best for 2019.

 

My Writing World

Posted on 16th December, 2019

For any of you who missed seeing my blog interview with Lou Capper on her Waggy Tales book blog, here it is:

 

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I know that you live in Llandudno in North Wales, one of my favourite places in the UK. I always look forward to a stroll down the pier and come away feeling refreshed from the strong sea breeze. What do you love about Llandudno and how do you feel it helps your work as an author?

 

I didn’t know you were familiar with Llandudno, Lou. It has been my favourite place ever since I was a child and I always knew that I would come to live here one day. I love being by the sea and Llandudno has such variety. It was built as a Victorian holiday resort, complete with a long, curved promenade with a pier, a Punch and Judy, and hotels all along the sea-front; and of course we have the Great and Little Ormes, as well as being a stone’s throw from Conwy and Snowdonia. My husband and I have lived here for six years now and that “Wow! We really live here” feeling never goes away. We are so lucky.

 

How does being here help me as an author? Well, the way I work best is by scribbling detailed notes, which are then turned into the real thing on the computer. In fine weather, I love to take my work outdoors and sit by the sea or in the gardens in Happy Valley or on the Great Orme. That way, I can combine my writing with enjoying the wonderful views. I know you have recently read The Deserter’s Daughter. The chase-through-the-fog scene was written one beautiful May morning, sitting on the rocks near the pier – anything less like a pea-souper in Manchester would be heard to imagine!

 

I love books featuring strong, independent women and have noticed that your novels are extremely character-driven. How do you find the inspiration to create such well-rounded characters?

 

I have been asked once or twice which is more important – plot or character? I am always surprised by the question because I don’t think you can choose one over the other. You could have the most exciting, compelling plot in the world, but if the characters are two-dimensional and stereotypical, readers will feel let down. Equally, you could create the most rounded, complex characters, but if nothing interesting happens to them, who will carry on reading?

 

It isn’t just a matter of what a character is like, but knowing why they are like that. Moreover, taking part in the story has to make them develop and change as they respond to the various experiences. Sometimes a character will appear in my head fully formed and I know everything about them right away. This was the case with Evadne in The Deserter’s Daughter. I knew from the outset about her background and how her snobbery hid real desperation about what her future might hold. These two things put together made her the perfect victim for Alex’s sneaky scheme and also meant she had some serious life-lessons to learn.

The other way in which I develop my characters is by creating detailed character studies. For example, the next book of mine that is going to be published is The Surplus Girls, written under the name Polly Heron. I had some general ideas about Belinda, the heroine, and I wrote them down. In my experience, the act of writing generates more ideas and so Belinda’s background (pretty dire) and current circumstances (once promising but now stifling) became more detailed – and in fact grew to the extent that they were not simply her starting-point as a character in the story, but actually generated their own plot-strands… which takes me back to what I said earlier about plot and character being of equal importance.

 

I’ve just finished reading The Deserter’s Daughter and found the historical references really informative and compelling. It must take an enormous amount of time to do the research, especially as some of the subjects are not widely talked about. Could you talk us through your research process?

 

Social and domestic history have long been great interests of mine and I have lots of books, some of which I refer to again and again, so I suppose you could say that I have a certain amount of residual knowledge. But yes, I do also have to do research for each individual book. My starting point is usually to look up significant national events from the year in which the book is set – for example, in The Surplus Girls, there is a passing reference to the possibility of a coal strike. I also look at the calendar for that year – for example, in A Respectable Woman, when Nell hands in her notice, I had to take a bank holiday into account. Or I might need to find out how much something cost or what kind of meal a cash-strapped family might eat. Little details like that are important to me. I also use documents that date from the time of my book – for instance, in The Poor Relation, the plot-strand concerning the fate of Mary’s marriage is based on something written by an Edwardian vicar.

 

Finally, what is coming up for you next and can we look forward to a new publication from you soon?

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, my next book is due out on January 2nd and is The Surplus Girls, written under my new pen name, Polly Heron. It is the first of a trilogy which takes place throughout the year 1922. Each book covers four months of the year and the final one will end at Christmas – I have wanted for ages to write a Christmas-themed book! I have already mentioned Belinda, the heroine of the first novel. The hero is Gabriel and I don’t want to give away too much, but I would like to say that Gabriel’s viewpoint scenes are written in a style I haven’t used before, but which I hope will draw readers right into his difficult situation.

 

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.