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Why Readers Love Joan

Posted on 22nd February, 2024

Joan is a much-loved character in the Railway Girls series – and has been a viewpoint character no fewer than five times to date. So what is it about her that appeals to readers?

 

Here are some of the comments made about her in reviews from the early books:

 

“…kind-hearted Joan… I loved the relationship between her and her sister…”

 

"She is held back by her ultra-strict upbringingHow I wish she could break free of Gran!”

 

“Joan seems to be hiding something, even as her storyline and her personality take shape.”

 

* * * *

I’ve got to be careful how much I say here, because I mustn’t give away any spoilers – in fact, that’s why I chose to quote from reviews of the first three books in the series (The Railway Girls, Secrets of the Railway Girls and The Railway Girls in Love), in all of which Joan is one of the viewpoint characters.

 

 

 

Joan has had a tough upbringing. She and her sister were brought up by their grandmother, a stern, judgemental woman. As far as Gran is concerned, Joan is very much the second-best granddaughter. Even so, Joan feels no jealousy or resentment towards Letitia. The two sisters truly love one another and provide each other with friendship and emotional support. Joan admires her clever sister, whose aptitude for maths has gained her a special wartime job.

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Joan’s first job on the railways is as a clerk in an office – much to her disappointment. She so wanted to be given a role on a station – ticket-collector or porter or announcer – or on a train – but she ended up as a clerk. Worse, though, she has to cope with having a dirty old man as her boss, something that brings Dot and Cordelia together as friends when they sort out this nasty problem for her. It gave me great satisfaction to write that particular scene!

 

As a volunteer first aider, taking care of the injured during air raids, Joan starts to grow as a person and her innate courage begins to show itself. Joan doesn’t just have physical courage – she has moral courage too, and this is tested to the limit by that mention of ‘hiding something’ that appeared in the review snippet quoted above. Even she has no idea of just how far she will have to go to protect her family when the past comes back to haunt them.

 

 

Joan is an important part of the Railway girls’ group, so why do the others value her? They admire the quiet courage that sees her cope with personal tragedy and they are delighted to see the happiness she eventually finds in her personal life, a happiness they feel she very much deserves. She is a staunch friend too – as Margaret in particular can testify. And while she has a stubborn streak, she will always dig deep into her thoughts and feelings and do what she knows to be right.

 

* * * *

 

Book 1

The Railway Girls

 

Book 2

Secrets of the Railway Girls

 

Book 3

The Railway Girls in Love

 

Book 4

Christmas with the Railway Girls

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Book 5

 

Hope for the Railway Girls

 

Book 6

A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls

 

Book 7

Courage of the Railway Girls

 

Book 8

Christmas Wishes for the Railway Girls

 

Book 9

Springtime with the Railway Girls

 

 

A Book to be Treasured

Posted on 15th February, 2024

This week I am delighted to share my pre-publication review of The Dubrovnik Book Club by Eva Glyn.

 

Eva combines her interest in relation-driven stories with her love of travel. In particular she loves Croatia, where her novels The Olive Grove, An Island of Secrets, The Collaborator's Daughter and now The Dubrovnik Book Club are all set. Eva also writes as Jane Cable.

 

Review of The Dubrovnik Book Club by Eva Glyn

 

My dad always listened to Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, but personally I prefer Desert Island Books. The principle is the same. It’s just that… well, you don’t need me to explain, do you? I know readers who take Desert Island Books very seriously. If they find a new contender for their list, which one is going to be struck off to make room? Only eight titles are allowed!

 

That’s the position I’m in now, because I have a new entry for my Desert Island Books list and it’s The Dubrovnik Book Club by Eva Glyn, who writes stories that are driven by emotion and relationships, set in Croatia, a place that is dear to her heart.

 

Unlike other Eva Glyn books, this one is not a dual-time, but is fixed firmly in the post-pandemic world, with a heroine, Claire, who is recovering from Long Covid and has lost the confidence to live her life to the full. She isn’t alone in not living the life she longs for. Luna, who is an assistant in the bookshop where Claire is the new manager, is gay and longs to come out – but how can she when she feels surrounded by prejudice? The friendship between these two characters and the way they support one another is one of the joys of the book.

 

The various characters, especially the four viewpoint characters, are beautifully drawn and I cared about all of them. Eva Glyn usually touches on the effects of war on the individual throughout their life. In The Dubrovnik Book Club, the war plays an important part in the story, but it is the effects of other issues that impact on these characters the most. The many-layered plot and multi-viewpoint telling is all held together by the bookshop itself and the mystery that Claire and Luna set out to solve. No spoilers here but when Karmela finds out what she finds out, you’ll want to run a victory lap.

 

This is Eva Glyn’s best book yet. It’s just plain wonderful – captivating, thought-provoking and atmospheric. Written with a light touch, it will make you feel that you’re sitting at a table on the pavement outside the local cafe, watching events unfold. A book to be treasured.

 

* * * *

 

The Dubrovnik Book Club will be published on Kindle on March 8th.... and in paperback on March 14th.

 

Creating a Character: Belinda Layton

Posted on 9th February, 2024

Before I started writing my Surplus Girls Quartet (written as Polly Heron), I planned it all out in meticulous detail. As well as writing a series, I wanted each of the books to be able to be enjoyed as a stand-alone.

 

 

 

To achieve this, I decided that:

- each book would have its own heroine and hero;

- the heroines would have secretarial school in common;

- the two sisters, Prudence and Patience Hesketh, who run the secretarial school would have a continuing story that progressed from book to book, but...

- each part of the Heskeths' story must feel complete to the reader of that individual book;

- characters from previous books would appear in the other books; and

- a tiny plot point in book 1 would become a major plot point in book 3.

 

I started by putting together a huge synopsis of 20-something pages, with each book's characters and plot written in detail. I didn't write it as a consecutive document - book 1, then book 2 etc. I wrote the synopses for all the books at the same time. This meant that if I got stuck, say, on Molly's story (book 2), I could switch to Nancy's (book 3) and concentrate on that for a while until I hit a wall, at which point I might switch back to Belinda in book 1.

 

When planning each book, I used the same formula:

- write about the heroine, her family background, her personality, her job, her hopes etc;

- ditto for the hero;

- work out the full plot, including information about the other characters;

- plan that book's allocation of the continuing story of the Hesketh sisters.

 

 

 

Here is what I wrote about Belinda, the heroine of book 1, in the synopsis:

 

In the first book, the heroine is BELINDA LAYTON. Belinda is from a large, impoverished family. The Laytons are pretty awful. They used to be respectable, hard-working working-class. But dad DENBY has gone from bad to worse where jobs are concerned and each job has dragged his family further down the social ladder. Mum KATHLEEN despairs of him and whenever she appears, you can smell the burning martyr. Denby is always trying to get money out of his three working children, much to Kathleen’s annoyance… but then she creeps after them and tries to wheedle money out of them herself.

 

Belinda moved in with her fiancé’s widowed mother ENID SLOAN and grandmother BEATTIE SLOAN when, aged 15, she got engaged; but her fiancé, BEN SLOAN, died towards the end of the Great War and since then Belinda has been a pretend-widow. She owes a lot to Enid and Beattie. Their cottage might be tiny but it is a big step up for Belinda, whose family is crammed into two rooms in a shabby house containing four families, all of whom share a stinking privy in the back yard. For Belinda, being invited to live with Enid and Beattie was a massive relief, but also a source of guilt, because she feels she shouldn’t be glad not to live with her family. Every week now, after she has tipped up for her bed and board with Enid and Beattie, and slipped Kathleen some money to help out, she has only a few coppers left for herself and she can’t see how to change this. Had Ben lived, it would have sorted itself out naturally once they got married, but now it feels like she is in a financial trap.

 

Belinda has received nothing but kindness from Enid and Beattie and is deeply grateful to them. Moreover, their shared grief has brought them extra close – but is she grateful enough to spend the rest of her life in mourning for Ben? For a long time she was happy to wear black and live in mourning, but now she wants to live a normal life again. She doesn’t expect ever to meet another man – she doesn’t even want to – but she is no longer content to live her life swathed in black. She wants to gain some skills so she can support herself and have a decent future, but Enid and Beattie struggle with the idea. Will Belinda rise above them in the world? They love her and don’t want to lose her, but above all, they believe Ben would want Belinda to stay with them.

 

* * * *

 

Book 1:

The Surplus Girls

 

Amazon link

 

The Surplus Girls is also available on Kindle Unlimited.

 

Book 2:

The Surplus Girls' Orphans

 

Amazon link

 

The Surplus Girls' Orphans is also available on Kindle Unlimited.

 

Book 3:

Christmas with the Surplus Girls

 

Amazon link

 

Book 4:

New Beginnings for the Surplus Girls

 

Amazon link

 

 

Dot Green: an Enduringly Popular Character

Posted on 2nd February, 2024

With six weeks to go until publication of book 9 in the Railway Girls series, Springtime with the Railway Girls, I'm taking a look this week at the character who is arguably the most popular out of the cast of characters - Dot Green.

 

Here is a detail from the cover of book 3, The Railway Girls in Love, with Dot in the centre, wearing her porter's uniform.

 

Here are some of the comments about Dot in reviews:

 

"...she comes across as a motherly figure looking out for everyone..."

 

"...Dot is the 'glue' in the centre of the group of friends: she is wise, her arms are always open for a hug and she is a sensitive but strong woman."

 

"...so kind-hearted but downtrodden by her family and her immense strength cried out to be put to better use."

 

"... a grandmother who stands for many women in the war, trying to combine housework, her family and a full time job."

 

* * * *

 

It's easy to see how much loved Dot is. She is full of common sense and good humour and her heart overflows with generosity. Readers also sympathise with her because of being married to Ratty Reg.

 

Wartime Britain was full of women like Dot - women who put in long hours doing war work and then went home to their domestic duties. There was a broad assumption at the time that domestic responsibilties would not be neglected, even though women didn't actually get any acknowledgement for keeping their homes running smoothly and looking after their families. It was just taken for granted that they would do this on top of doing their war work.

 

In Springtime with the Railway Girls, Cordelia and Dot discuss this:

 

According to Dot, ‘The powers that be couldn’t manage without us doing all the jobs we’ve moved into, but it never occurs to them that there’s any effort involved in also running our homes and taking care of our families. It’s just taken for granted that all the domestic stuff gets done. We don’t get any credit for it.’

‘They probably think the pixies do it in the night,’ Cordelia had said drily.

Dot had laughed at that. ‘I wouldn’t say no if a few pixies turned up at my house to lend a hand.’

 

* * * *

 

Dot is a staunch friend, a real looker-after, who keeps an eye on everyone around her and is always willing to lend a hand. She is good at tea and sympathy, but she isn’t just someone you go to for a shoulder to cry on. She is always practical in a crisis. No wonder Joan instinctively goes to Dot’s house after she leaves home.

 

Mind you, it wasn't Dot's intention to be the looker-after of the group when she started working on the railways. She felt she had more than enough of that role in her home life, thanks very much. But Dot's caring nature couldn't be denied and she did indeed become the mother-figure.

 

Above all else, Dot is a mum and a nan. Her two sons, Archie and Harry, mean the world to her. Dot would have loved to have more children but, sadly for her, it wasn’t to be. She could never imagine loving anyone as much as she loves her sons – until her grandchildren came along. Archie and Harry, Jimmy and Jenny, are the reasons Dot keeps going.

 

She longs for her sons to come home safely when the war is over. Meanwhile she does everything in her power to support Archie's wife Pammy and Harry's wife Sheila, while at the same time hiding her reservations about them.

 

Her job as a parcels porter has provided Dot a fresh sense of her own identity. Yes, she is a proud housewife with a spotless front step, but having a job outside the home has instilled in her a new sense of self-worth, a realisation that, as deeply as family life matters, it is important to her to have something more. It’s her way of contributing to the war effort, but it has also given her a sense of quiet pride in herself as an individual as well as extending her personal life to include the railway friends she cares about so much.

 

* * * *

 

Book 1: The Railway Girls

 

Book 2: Secrets of the Railway Girls

 

Book 3: The Railway Girls in Love

 

Book 4: Christmas with the Railway Girls

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 Book 5: Hope for the Railway Girls

 

Book 6: A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls

 

Book 7: Courage of the Railway Girls

 

Book 8: Christmas Wishes

for the Railway Girls

 

Book 9: Springtime with the Railway Girls

 

The Home Front Girls

Posted on 25th January, 2024

You may have seen the cover reveal for The Home Front Girls on my Welcome page - but I do have a lot of followers who come straight to my blog - so, just for all of them, here is the wonderful cover.

 

 

The two girls are Sally (hands on hips) and Betty, who are the two viewpoint characters in this book. In the next book, they will be joined by another viewpoint character. If you recall the photo I shared a couple of weeks ago of the manuscript, you may remember her name is Lorna.

 

Currently, The Home Front Girls is available for pre-order on Kindle only (click here: https://geni.us/B0CSG3WLMVcover). If, like me, you like your books as paperbacks, then you'll need to wait a while. The paperback will be available to be pre-ordered apprx four weeks before the book is published. Don't worry - I'll let you know when it's up on Amazon.

 

And would you like to hear a bit of sneaky news? I've just seen the cover of book 2 - and it's a cracker! It won't be long before I can show you.

How to Buy Springtime With the Railway Girls

Posted on 18th January, 2024

Important news about

SPRINGTIME WITH THE RAILWAY GIRLS

 

I’m sorry to tell you that Springtime with the Railway Girls isn’t going to be available in any of the UK supermarkets.

 

This is a huge shame and I know that lots of you will be disappointed – I am too.

 

Other ways for you to get your copy:
 
Here are the links to the Amazon paperback and Kindle.
 
Here's the link to Kobo. This page has the e-book and the audiobook.
 
You can also order your paperback in person from any branch of WH Smith’s, Waterstone’s or any bookshop. You won’t be charged for placing an order. You can order pre-publication.
 
And of course you can request the book from your local public library. Coming from a family of lifelong library users, and as a former librarian, I love it when readers borrow my books!
 
 
 
 

Good News From The Home Front

Posted on 10th January, 2024

Welcome to my first blog of 2024. I hope you all had a good festive season. If you are one of those who suffered inthe storms and the flooding in the UK, I send you my best wishes.

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My break was just a break from the computer - I didn't stop working. I finished book 3 in the Home Front Girls trilogy that I am writing for Bookouture, all three books of which will be published in 2024.

 

Would you like to see what a finished book looks like? Here it is:

 

 

Yes, if you were previously unaware of it, I do write my books by hand. I love putting pen to paper. After that comes the typing onto the screen (I'm 27,212 words into the typing at the time of posting this blog).

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And if you're wondering about the post-it notes....

 

 

....they mark where the scenes begin. Each viewpoint character has her own colour - lilac for Lorna (who doesn't arrive on the scene until book 2), light yellow for Betty (my editor loves Betty) and gold for Sally.

 

I can't wait for you all to meet the girls. I hope you're going to love following their stories and finding out what happens to them.

Some Christmas Wishes News

Posted on 13th December, 2023
This week I have two pieces of news for you concerning Christmas Wishes for the Railway Girls.

 

The Kindle version is 99p for the month of December.

 

And here is the cover of the audiobook version, which is published this month.

 

 

Isn't it lovely? I hope you like it. As with all my books, this one is narrated by Julia Franklin. If you enjoy listening to stories, I hope you'll get it on Audible or else request it from your library.

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.

 

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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