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A Good Week for The Surplus Girls' Orphans

Posted on 15th January, 2021

It's been a very happy week following the publication of The Surplus Girls' Orphans on January 7th. Early reviews are saying . . . .


"This is another brilliant storyline that centres around the women after the war and the expectations that were placed on them by their family and society, no matter what their own hopes and dreams were!"


"This is a book which has completely engaged me and I really have felt as though I have been right there with the characters."


"I am totally in love with these books. I love the characters. Molly is such a sweetie and doesn't let anything stop her or hold her back. Such an inspiration. I loved the 'will they won't they' moments with Aaron. It was nice to see a few characters from the first book and see a softer side to them. Beautifully written, uplifting with lots of charm. I can't wait for the next book."


Many thanks to all the reviewers who have shared their thoughts about the book.


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Last week, I promised that today I'd share my list of Reading Group questions for The Surplus Girls' Orphans, but before we get to that, may I share another couple of pieces of news?


For those of you who are Kobo readers, The Surplus Girls' Orphans is one of Kobo's Books of the Month in its Romance section.


Here's the link:


And the book is also doing well on Amazon. Here it is in the Hot New Releases chart for Coming of Age fiction.




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And now (big fanfare) we finally come to the promised questions for your Reading Groups. I hope you find them interesting and that they add to your enjoyment of the story.




The Surplus Girls’ Orphans


1. Do you think Molly is happy at the start of the book? Does Molly think she is happy? What compromises has she had to make?

2. Why is Norris generally seen as good husband material? How do you think Norris views himself? How does he view Molly and their relationship?

3. In the first book, Patience Hesketh was a viewpoint character, ie part of the story was seen through her eyes and her experiences. What difference does it make to this book to have Prudence Hesketh as a viewpoint character? Has it changed your opinion of Prudence?

4. If you have read the first book, what was your opinion of Lawrence Hesketh then? What have you learned about him in this book through what happens to Lucy?

5. What do Vivienne and Molly see in one another that makes them become friends?

6. Is Molly right to take Danny to Southport to see his dad? Why/why not? Is Mrs Rostron right to dismiss her?

7. After living under his brother Thad’s thumb, is it inevitable that Jacob won’t get free of Shirl? Is Jacob a natural victim or is he just unlucky?

8. How does the bond grow between Danny and Aaron?

9. In what ways is the theme of ‘family’ explored in the story?

10. In what ways is the theme of ‘independence’ explored?


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That's all for this week. I'm hoping that there will be a lovely sunny day in the next few days so that next week I can share one of my lockdown walks with you.


Something else to look forward to, at the end of January, is a blog about my Book of the Year 2020. If you are on Twitter, or if you are a reader of the Sister Scribes pages of Frost magazine, you'll already know which book was my runaway winner. If not, you'll have to be patient for a while longer....


Stay safe.

Susanna/Polly xxx


I'm writing this on January 7th and it is publication day for The Surplus Girls' Orphans, the second in the Surplus Girls series, which I write as Polly Heron.



Publication day is always an exciting event and I'm grateful to my writer friends and colleagues who have taken to Twitter and Facebook to share the celebration.


In my next blog, I'll be sharing the Reading Group questions I've prepared to accompany the book. In the meantime, here is the blurb:




Manchester, 1922


Molly Watson has had enough. Engaged for the last three years to a penny-pinching pedant, she finally decides she'd rather be a 'surplus girl' than marry a man she doesn't truly love. Aware of the need to support herself if she is to remain single all her life, Molly joins a secretarial class to learn new skills, and a whole new world opens up to her.


When she gets a job at St Anthony's Orphanage, she befriends caretaker Aaron Abrams. But a misunderstanding leaves them at loggerheads and damages her in the eyes of the children she has come to care so deeply about. Can Molly recover her reputation, her livelihood and her budding friendship before it's too late?


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  The Surplus Girls' Orphans  at Amazon UK


..... at Amazon US  


..... at Amazon Australia  


..... at Amazon Canada






Another Special Day

Posted on 18th December, 2020
Last week I told you about receiving my box of author copies of The Surplus Girls' Orphans. This week I have another special moment to share with you....

.... the cover of the audiobook.


Isn't it lovely?....

....and such a good match for the audiobook of the first book in the series, don't you think?

The paperback and ebook of The Surplus Girls' Orphans will be published on January 7th. The audio book follows on February 1st (publishing details to follow).


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This is my last blog until the new year. Many thanks to all my regular readers for your support throughout this year. I hope you all stay safe over the festive season.


Gyda dymuniadau gorau ar gyfer y Nadolig a'r Flywyddn Newydd.


With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.


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A Special Delivery

Posted on 11th December, 2020

I had a wonderful surprise this week - my box of author copies of The Surplus Girls' Orphans arrived, so of course I want to show you this photo so you can share the excitement.




Here is the blurb:


Manchester, 1922


Molly Watson has had enough. Engaged for the last three years to a penny-pinching pedant, she finally decides she'd rather be a surplus girl than marry a man she doesn't truly love. Aware of the need to support herself if she is to remain single all her life, Molly joins a secretarial class to learn new skills, and a whole new world opens up to her.


When she gets a job at St Anthony's Orphanage, she befriends careaker Aaron Abrams.  But a misunderstanding leaves them at loggerheads and damages her in the eyes of the children she has come to care so deeply about. Can Molly recover her reputation, her livelihood and her budding friendship before its too late?



The Surplus Girls' Orphans


on Kindle


and in paperback


Published on January 7th







A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog based around Tania Crosse's wonderful historical novel, The Gunpowder Girl. This week, I am delighted to welcome Tania herself to the blog to talk about three of her novels - The Gunpowder Girl, The Quarry Girl and the Railway Girl and the reserach and inspiration behind the three of them.


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The whole of my Devonshire series is inspired by the rich and fascinating history of west Dartmoor and the surrounding area. Drive across Dartmoor today, and most visitors will see the savage beauty of the rugged, spectacular landscape, and the adorable ponies, sheep and occasional cows grazing wild among the rocks and heather. Few, though, will realise that, as well as being grazed more intensely, in the past, Dartmoor was a place of dangerous and demanding industry. Each of the books in the series sets out to explore a different aspect of life on the moor, from leading a harsh existence and scraping a living from farming and mining, to other more unexpected employment.



The Gunpowder Girl is based on the history of the Cherrybrook Gunpowder Mills, sited at a remote spot in the middle of the moor and which existed throughout the second half of the Nineteenth Century but gradually went into decline with the invention of more sophisticated explosives. I simply let my imagination loose to envisage what it would have been like for a young woman to be living in such an isolated spot, but with strong loyalties to her family and friends. There is one other element in the story, however, that visitors to that part of the moor cannot fail to notice, and that is Her Majesty’s largest hotel – the infamous prison. In Victorian times, it was just as brutal, inhumane and barbaric as you might imagine. But it wasn’t just a hard life for the offenders. The prison officers and their families also led difficult lives in the exposed, windswept prison town of Princetown. Being only a few miles from Cherrybrook, it made sense to amalgamate the two into a tale of courage, determination and doomed love.



Dartmoor is littered with granite quarries, some so small only a few men worked them and you would scarcely notice them today. However, others were huge enterprises and supplied stone for famous landmarks in London. Haytor on the east side of the moor is well-known, but just as impressive – indeed to me, more so – is Foggintor on the west side. Approached along the granite sets of an original horse-drawn tramway, the quarry opens up into a massive amphitheatre where once a hardy race of men shinned up ladders and drove explosives into the natural cracks in the rocks to blast them apart. Most of these men lived in tiny, one-up, one-down cottages around a square, the ruins of which can clearly be seen today. On one corner can be seen the foundations of what was a small chapel that also served as a school – which is where my intelligent heroine, a quarryman’s daughter, works as the school assistant. Though engaged to her childhood quarryman sweetheart, The Quarry Girl yearns to learn about the world outside – and then in 1883, along comes the Princetown railway, opening up her horizons and connecting her to the outside world. On the day of the opening celebrations, she suffers an accident which brings a handsome young doctor into her life – an association that will tear her apart with conflicting emotions. Even the weather will play a part, notably the Great Flood of 1890 and the Great Blizzard of 1891.



For The Railway Girl, we move to the market town of Tavistock on the western side of the moor. The original GWR railway came to the town in 1859, but towards the end of the century, the London and South West Railway drove a different route through the town, and it was the building of this that inspired this novel. The mining boom was over and times were lean, especially for those working on the land. Soup kitchens were set up in the town, and the workhouse at the top of Bannawell Street was crowded. But when two thousand relatively well-paid navvies and their families appear on the scene, the local economy takes a step up. Itinerant farm labourer, Emmanuel, seeks employment on the railway, bringing his dairymaid daughter with him. She, though, is the driving force behind his lax ways. Their relationship with his Irish foreman on the railway is a challenging one, that will bring defiance, heartbreak and tragedy. Later, after its completion, the railway will play a part in the most horrendous trauma a woman can experience – the abduction of her child.

If you already know the magnificent landscape of Dartmoor, you will understand how it has always provided me with such creative inspiration. But if you didn’t know about its history, I hope you will join with me in thinking about how it influenced the lives of those who lived on its wild uplands and surrounding towns in the past.


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Tania's Links:

Tania's books on Amazon   


Tania's Twitter page  


Tania's page on Facebook  


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A Spot of Editing

Posted on 27th November, 2020

If you have seen the Latest News slots on my Welcome page here or on my Polly Heron websites recently, you'll know that the third in the Surplus Girls series is going through the editing process at the moment, so I thought you might like to have a little glimpse into the world of writing. My editor wanted me to change around the order of some of the events in the first part of the book, so this is how I tackled it.


First I made an A4 sheet for each scene, complete with all the things that happened. I laid them all over the floor in order... and then I started rearranging them....



.... with a little help from Cassie (who doesn't look very pleased to be having her picture taken).



It wasn't just a matter of switching scenes around - it was bits within scenes in some cases. And of course every time a piece of plot moves, it's essential think through all the possible knock-on effects.


I imagine that most writers these days would do this job on-screen, but for me, it's pen and paper every time. That way I can see the whole layout all in one go. All I can say is, it works for me.


Anyway, it's been a time-consuming business that has required loads of concentration, but the end is in sight and I'll be sending the revised book back to my editor next week. Fingers crossed, everyone, please!


Susanna / Polly




A Dip Into The Past

Posted on 20th November, 2020

You may recall a blog I wrote a few weeks ago about novels that incorporate such a wonderful sense of place that they make you, the reader, feel as if you have been transported to that geographical setting. Then, a couple of weeks back, I wrote a companion piece about an historical novel that had a similar effect, but instead of a geographical place, it transported the reader back in time through the author's skilful use of historical detail - and by 'skilful', part of what I mean is that the detail is added to the story in a completely natural way. This book was A Borrowed Past by Juliette Lawson. 


This week, I have another such historical for you - The Gunpowder Girl by Tania Crosse.


The Historical Novels Review calls it a "gripping and heartbreaking tale . . . well-drawn characters, intelligent and fast-paced plotting, real authenticity make this novel a page-turner."


The story is centred around Dartmoor, an area with which Tania Crosse is very familiar, as is obvious from any of her books.


Of the inspiration behind the book, Tania says:


"The rugged, savage beauty of Dartmoor is inspirational enough in itself, but its secret history has provided the basis for so many of my novels. In the case of THE GUNPOWDER GIRL, the discovery of the ruins of the 19th century Cherrybrook Gunpowder Mills drove me to write a story to illustrate what it would have been like for a beautiful, intelligent young woman to live at this remote, unforgiving location. The other element in the book, still very much in evidence and currently still in use, are the forbidding buildings of Dartmoor Prison. In Victorian times, life there could be hell, not just for the inmates - some of whom were guilty of what today would be considered relatively minor offences - but also for the prison warders and their families who were forced to live in the isolated and exposed prison settlement of Princetown"


Rose is a wonderful character, who has so many challenges to overcome. Following her through her story, I was cheering her on all the way. She has a true streak of independence, but just because she shows capability and spirit, that doesn't mean that her path through life is an easy one.


The themes of the story include love, independence, justice versus injustice, and the way in which important choices impact on not just the life of the decision-maker but on others as well.


This is an engrossing historical novel set in Victorian times and for me, the world of the gunpowder mill was a new experience. Tania Crosse has evidently done her research thoroughly, but never fear - all the information is delivered with a light touch. When I reviewed Juliette Lawson's A Borrowed Past, I said that Juliette's research had informed her writing and I pay Tania the same compliment. Historically speaking, she knows her stuff so well that it pours naturally from her pen (or possibly from her fingertps onto her keyboard).


What better way to end this blog than by quoting from Juliette's own review of The Gunpowder Girl:


"I loved this book, the first by Tania that I’ve read (but it definitely won’t be the last). The research is worn lightly and used skilfully to create a wholly convincing picture of the time and place.... The narrative engaged all my senses, and made it so easy to imagine the landscape, houses and outbuildings, as well as the interactions between the characters, a strong cast who held the story together very naturally."


* * * *




Tania's books on Amazon Kindle  


Tania on Facebook  


Tania on Twitter   


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Food For The Spirit

Posted on 12th November, 2020

Wales has come out of lockdown just as England goes into it, so I thought this would be a good time to share some of my favourite photos of my lovely home town of Llandudno, so you can have a virtial visit. I know that during the spring lockdown I very much appreciated other people's online pictures of their own beautiful places. Food for the spirit!


I love this picture of the pier. It's so peaceful. You can barely see the join between the sea and the sky.



Here are some of the daffodils that flower in Happy Valley each springtime. Daffodils have a special place in my heart as they remind me of a certain person whom I lost twenty years ago.



At this special time of year, I have to share a photo of the Cenotaph on the promenade.



An image from the spring lockdwn, when the Great Orme goats came to live in the almost deserted roads of the town. These particular goats are half of a group that took up residence in a church car park.



This is a view of Happy Valley that was taken in February of last year - when we had a heatwave. Remember that?



And lastly, here is a view from the Great orme, looking across to Puffin Island and Anglesey.


I'll see you again next week when I'll be writing another of my blogs about historical novels. Next week it's going to be The Gunpowder Girl by Tania Crosse.


Until then, stay safe.


Susanna/Polly xx









"A Highly Intelligent Story. . ."

Posted on 6th November, 2020

I don't normally use my blog as an advertising place for my books, but this week's blog is a special message to my readers down under, to let you know that The Surplus Girls is a Kindle special deal on Australian Amazon for the month of November, so now is a good time to try it if you haven't before. And it's a doubly good time because of book 2 in the series, The Surplus Girls' Orphans, being published in a few weeks time!


Here is the link to The Surplus Girls on Amazon Australia's Kindle.

In a recent book review, Julie Barham, who blogs as Northern Reader, said of The Surplus Girls: "This is a highly intelligent story of a young woman desperately trying to improve her lot in a world where there are few opportunities for uneducated women, and many men are coping with the legacy of a traumatic war."


If you would like to see the whole review, click here.  


And if you would like to see the latest news about my Polly Heron books, including what my editor said when she finished reading the recently finished book 3 in the series, why not pop over to my Polly Heron website and take a look. I'll see you over there!


Take care

Susanna/Polly xx



In my previous blog, I celebrated two novels, A Mother’s Secret and The Italian House, which are notable for their wonderful sense of place. In these stories, the authors, respectively Jan Baynham and Teresa Crane, created their settings so evocatively that they produced books of the type that make readers say, “It made me feel I was there.”


This week and in another blog in November, I’m writing about novels that have a particular depth and interest thanks to the attention paid to the historical detail. Part of the authors’ skill in this is the way each of them has woven the details into the narrative with a deft touch. Their historical details are never popped in just for the sake of it, but always to enrich the story.


The first book is A Borrowed Past by Juliette Lawson, a clever and increasingly intriguing family mystery set in the Victorian era. A strong narrative is combined with believable dialogue and a lively mixture of characters, not all of whom are what they seem. Add to this the many tiny details of life at the time and the result is an engrossing read.

The story opens in 1875 in a seaside village in England’s north east, where young William dreams of becoming an artist – a vocation he knows his father will never permit him to follow. William’s life is turned upside down when he stumbles across a dark family secret that changes the way he views his family, the world around him and even himself.


A Borrowed Past seemed to start out as a what you might call a straightforward historical novel, with an appealing young hero, a well-produced setting and the promise of a rattling good plot, but gradually that dark secret William found at the beginning becomes more important until you find yourself in the middle of a full-blown mystery, with layer upon layer of secrets, deceptions, assumptions and hidden agendas being revealed one by one as William struggles to find the truth at the heart of what happened years ago.


As Juliette Lawson says, “People are essentially the same in every era, trying to do what's right, looking out for their families and finding the best way through any challenges that they have to face. My aim is to bring the past to life through my stories, revealing that it's the situations my characters are in which bring out their true spirit.”


A Borrowed Past is an enjoyable and engrossing read for various reasons. I could have put it into a blog about mystery stories, but the reason I’m writing about it here is the quality of its historical setting. It is clear from the start that Juliette has done her homework and not only that, she has loved every moment of the research. How can I tell? Because the historical details that augent the story are dropped into the narrative in such a natural way, that’s how. Juliette’s love for the past informs every single page.


She says, “I became fascinated by genealogy and local history long before I began to write fiction. I love to imagine my local area in earlier times: ordinary people living out their lives in a different social context. The research I did for a parish history, predominantly Victorian, was the inspiration for my fiction. It revealed a seaside village community of rich and poor, of all classes, occupations from labourers to professionals, all bound together by fellowship, faith and humanity.”


As one reviewer of A Borrowed Past put it, the historical setting is “as much a heart and soul of the story as the characters.” And what greater compliment could you pay an historical writer than that?


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Juliette Lawson’s links:


A Borrowed Past at Amazon


Juliette’s page on Twitter @juliette_author


Her website