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Wow! What a week it's been. Huge thanks to everybody who has shown support and interest in the news that I write as Maisie Thomas. I love writing The Railway Girls series. As you know, this isn't my only series - I have The Surplus Girls 1920s series too.

 

Something I've been asked a number of times this week is how I tackle writing a series, so today I'm happy to share some of my experiences with you. If you're a reader, I hope you'll enjoy the glimpse of the process behind the stories and if you're a writer, I hope you'll find something useful that helps you in your own work.

 

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Writing a Series

 

It’s all in the planning!

 

When I start writing a book, I have not just an overall synopsis but a thorough scene-by-scene plan beside me. For me, this keeps the writing flowing. Moreover, because each of my books is written from the viewpoint of different characters (three viewpoints in each Railway Girls book; four in The Surplus Girls books), it ensures that each plot is of roughly equal size and is spaced out evenly across the story.

 

I also have an overarching plan that looks ahead to future books. In the case of The Surplus Girls, this was very highly detailed. Before I wrote a word of book 1, I produced a 25-page synopsis of the whole series. What difference did this make? Well, for example, a very small plot-point in The Surplus Girls, book 1 in the series, became a major plot-strand in book 3, Christmas with the Surplus Girls. It was only possible to have that plot in Nancy's story in book 3 because I'd sown the seed in Belinda's tale in book 1. There's no such thing as too much planning!

 

 

 

The importance of the stand-alone novel.

This is an essential part of producing a series. Each book has to lead into the next, but it also has to be complete in itself. The reader mustn’t be left with a sense of irritating loose ends, but with the satisfaction of a story well-told and perhaps with a sense of openings that could lead to new plot-lines in future books.

 

Sometimes as a writer, you can be sneaky! I like to end a plot within a book in such a way that the reader feels that sense of completeness and has every reason to believe that this particluar plot-line is all done and dusted, when actually I know that it isn't. I'm thinking now of a plot in a book I finished earlier this year. My editor helped me to complete one of the plot-lines in a way that the reader would find satisfying; then she pointed out that if I added a certain thing to it, that would tie up every single possible loose end...

 

To which my reply was, "Wouldn't it be better to leave that teeny-tiny, almost invisible loose end dangling, so that in a later book, there is the possibility of turning it into a big plot-point and a new story-line with all its challenges for certain characters?"

 

 

When you're writing a series, you always have to think ahead. In other words - there's no such thing as too much planning!

 

I hope you've found this interesting. If you're a fellow writer, maybe you found something useful in it. Or maybe you are a committed pantster and the thought of all that planning horrifies you! Not all that long ago, it would have horrified me too. Does that surprise you?

 

Happy reading and writing, everyone.

Susanna / Polly / Maisie xxx

 

 

Susanna, Polly . . . and Maisie

Posted on 22nd November, 2021

My big news that I’ve waited a long time to share with you is that as well as writing as Susanna Bavin and Polly Heron, I also write The Railway Girls saga series as Maisie Thomas.

 


 

Back in November 2018, Cassandra di Bello, who was then the commissioning editor for Arrow, Penguin's saga imprint, came up with the inspired idea of a new saga series based around the lives of the brave women and girls who worked on Britain’s railways in the Second World War. I was asked to create a series proposal. Cass liked my ideas and my vision for the series and in December 2018, she took my series proposal to Arrow's acquisitions meeting and got the go-ahead.

 

Why haven’t I told you this before? Well, Arrow was keen to establish the series without any other ties, so I was asked to keep quiet about my identity. Hence the pen name. And also hence the fact that I haven’t said anything to you about it before now.

 


 

I’ll be honest. It hasn’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!

 

Being Maisie also had some unintended consequences. 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 it’s all been difficult. A small handful of writer friends and book bloggers have been in on the secret and have given me/Maisie staunch support. I couldn’t have managed without them.

 

Moreover, as Maisie I have found a wide and enthusiastic readership. Some of my readers have now joined me on my new Maisie Facebook page – and I hope you’ll like and follow my page too so that you can get all the latest news about my writing as well as glimpses into my research. Now that the Maisie/Susanna/Polly link has been made public, I’ll be able to share Susanna and Polly news on the Maisie FB page as well.

 

So there we are – my wonderful news. It’s such a joy to share it with you at last – and if you’re here because you enjoy my Susanna and Polly books, I hope you’ll be excited at the idea of reading my Maisie books too. Do take a look at the new Maisie page on my website by clicking on the new tab at the side.

 

See you next time.

Susanna / Polly / Maisie xxxx

 


 

 

 

 

Take Two Characters ... with Poppy Cooper

Posted on 19th November, 2021

STOP PRESS * * * * STOP PRESS * * * * STOP PRESS * * * * STOP PRESS * * * *

 

Before I introduce this week's blog, I wanted to grab your attention to ask you to join me here on my website on Monday 22nd for some special news.

 

* * * *

 

And now onto the main business, which is Kirsten's return to my blog, this time in her Poppy Cooper persona. Poppy's second novel in her Post Office Girls saga series will be published on 25th November and she's here today to reveal some insights into one of her characters, but first she's going to tell us about a character into a different book.

 

* * * *

 

I’m was so thrilled when Susanna asked me to participate in her marvellous Take Two Characters series as I’ve really enjoyed reading all the contributions to date. Thank you so much for asking me to get involved, Sue.

 

I've just finished Louise Fein's wonderful novel, The Hidden Child, a poignant and thought-provoking book - and my first memorable character comes from there. Set in 1929, the novel explores some terrifying themes - most noticeably the burgeoning eugenics movement in the UK.

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The bumpf tells us:

 

Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.

When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the 'undesirable' conditions that Edward campaigns against.

Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward's life's work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried.

Will Eleanor and Edward be able to fight for their family? Or will the truth destroy them?’

I loved the character of Eleanor. Louise Fein is brilliant at bringing to life characters who can have pretty unpalatable beliefs and yet who remain real and credible and multi-dimensional. Eleanor is a product of her time and place and she has to develop the inner strength and conviction to overturn the social mores of the time and to do what she thinks is right – despite what she is almost certain to lose in the process. She is compelling both as a mother and a warrior (or maybe the two go hand in hand!) and I loved both her and the book as a whole.

* * * *

 

For a character from one of my own books, I turned to Milly Woods who is the protagonist in my latest book, A Post Office Christmas. This is the second in my Post Office Girls series - written as Poppy Cooper - which takes place in the Army Post Office’s Home Depot in London’s Regent Park in World War One.

 

Like Louise Fein’s Eleanor, Milly is very much a product of her time and place – although she is several years younger than Eleanor, comes of age fifteen years earlier and is form an altogether humbler background in the East End of London. When war breaks out, Milly is determined both to ‘do her bit’ but also to make the most of the hitherto undreamed-of opportunities that are opening up to women while their menfolk are away fighting.

 

 

Milly is also passionate about righting some of the wrongs in her world; in particular, the fact that women don’t have the same rights as men – and do not even have the vote. Like Eleanor, Milly has to learn to stand up and fight for the things that she believes in; a more fiery and headstrong character than Eleanor, she also needs to learn - the hard way! - when she has gone too far and how to rein it in.

 

Milly was a fabulous character to research and write and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her, her strengths and weaknesses and her softer, more vulnerable side. The war was a great melting point for women of all backgrounds and Milly forms two great friendships with women she would not otherwise have met. I enjoyed writing about their camaraderie and their tensions and whenever I needed inspiration on that front, I had only to look at my own eighteen-year-old daughter – another ordinary young woman (although never to me!) living through extraordinary times.

 

Thank you, Sue, for inviting me back onto your wonderful blog and for asking me to participate in your fabulous series. I’ve really enjoyed it.

 

 

* * * *

 

Kirsten's / Poppy's Links:

 

A Post Office Christmas on Amazon  

 

The Post Office Girls on Amazon 

 

Poppy Cooper's author page on Amazon

 

Kirsten's author page on Amazon 

 

Kirsten's page on Twitter  

 

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Take Two Characters... With Chris Manby

Posted on 12th November, 2021

This week we're having a Take Two Characters blog with a difference. Usually, my guests chooses two fictional characters, but Chrissie Manby has written something different and utterly wonderful, which I hope you'll love.

 

You may remember my review of Chrissie's latest book, Saying Goodbye to Tuesday, from a few weeks ago. In that, I said: "It is a deeply touching story, filled with emotion - hope, fear, despair, courage, humour - but above all, with love. . . because this is a story told by a dog whose love for his owner and her baby knows no bounds." One of the characters in the book is a guide dog called Zena ... and that's Chrissie's cue to get started with her blog.

 

* * * *

 

When Susanna kindly asked me to contribute to her blog, writing about a favourite character and that character’s influence on my latest novel, I knew at once who I wanted to write about. The only problem was that the character isn’t human. Neither is she a work of fiction, though she is the star of a book. Kika, the yellow Labrador at the heart of Dr Amit Patel’s memoir, Kika and Me, is a true canine heroine. She’s a guide dog.

 

Amit was an ambitious A and E doctor, newly-married to Seema, when keratoconus plunged him into blindness. His memoir charts the horror of realising that his sight was gone for good and the physical pain and psychological despair that followed. Amit was convinced that the life he had hoped for was forever out of reach. Seema would surely leave him. He’d never be able to work again or have the family he longed for.

 

What came next was a long and difficult period of adjustment as Amit learned to navigate the world without sight. With Seema’s unwavering support, he learned how to read braille and mastered the art of walking with a white cane. But when Seema suggested that he consider putting himself on the waiting list for a guide dog, Amit balked at the idea of letting an animal be his eyes. How could he put his trust in a dog, who might drag him out in front of a bus on the promise of a treat on the other side of the road?

 

 

It’s a valid question, but as Kika And Me reveals, guide dogs are the canine elite, chosen as puppies for a training regime that lasts many months and costs many thousands of pounds to deliver. By the time Kika was introduced to Amit, she had completed the equivalent of a doggy doctorate, learning how to respond to dozens of commands and take the initiative when she saw danger ahead – like a car blocking a crossing or a low hanging branch. When, during their first intensive training course together, Kika kept Amit from entering a bathroom with a floor left dangerously slippery by a leaking tap, he realised that he could trust her.

 

With Kika on the team, Amit’s horizons were dramatically widened again. He went back to work as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant and is now a well-known media personality. Most importantly, with Kika on side, Amit and Seema’s dream of becoming parents suddenly seemed like a possibility again. They now have two children – a boy and a girl – to whom Kika is a furry “big sister”. As Amit says in his book, Kika has “changed his world”.

 

The fascinating story of Kika’s training (including her rebellious puppy days) and the difference she’s made to Amit’s life, inspired me to create Zena, the guide dog in my new novel Saying Goodbye To Tuesday. The story is narrated by another dog – Stupendo – who has recently been killed in a road accident (stay with me!). For some reason, Stupendo has not “crossed the rainbow bridge” but while he’s stuck in limbo at the house where he once lived, Stupendo’s humans – his owner Tuesday and baby William - can no longer see him. Animals can, however, and guide dog Zena is among the creatures who help Stupendo to solve the mystery of his death and make sure that Tuesday and William are happy before he moves on to canine heaven.

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Zen  is a German Shepherd dog. People usually think of Labradors when they think of guide dogs but many other breeds are trained for the role, such as labradoodles, who can be trained to work with people with pet allergies. As I was writing Zena, I could hear her “voice” in my head and imagined her to be much as I imagine Kika: diligent, sensible, but with a wicked sense of humour (apparently Kika will occasionally walk Amit through a puddle).

 

I hope that when people read Saying Goodbye To Tuesday, it will pique their interest in the world of guide dogs and their owners and point them in the direction of Kika’s story to learn more. Having had the chance to meet Kika and Amit in real life, I’ve seen first-hand what a wonderful team they are. Kika and Me is a great place to start if you want to know what it takes to make a guide dog and, just as importantly, the kind of courage it takes to trust one to be your eyes.

 

* * * *

 

Blurb:

Stupendo the dog has died. But that's just the beginning of his story.
 
To love and protect. The code of the good dog is clear. When single mother Tuesday took on mongrel pup Stupendo, she made a friend for life. Through the best and the worst of times, Stupendo has been there for her. Ever faithful, ever loyal, ever true. Nothing could break their bond. Until last week.
 
Stupendo doesn't know why Tuesday is suddenly ignoring him or why his doggy antics no longer seem to soothe Baby William. It takes his worst enemy - the cat next door - to break the news that Stupendo has become a ghost.
 
Somehow left behind on Earth, Stupendo knows he has unfinished business. Enlisting the help of the community of animals in the neighbourhood, Stupendo must get to the bottom of the very human sadness that hangs over his old home and keeps him from saying goodbye to Tuesday.

 

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Saying Goodbye to Tuesday on Amazon

 

Chrissie's Twitter page

 

Her author page on Facebook

 

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Dr Amit Patel on Twitter 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I am delighted to welcome Kitty Wilson back to my blog. Here she is cutting the book-cake on a publication day when, with other friends, we were on holiday - oops, sorry, I mean when we were ona writing retreat in Bath.

 

Today Kitty is here to chat about her latest novel, Every Day in December.

 

Kitty, many congratulations on signing with One More Chapter. Can you tell us how that came about?

Thank you, I feel that I've landed on my feet with One More Chapter and am really enjoying writing for them. I was really lucky in the way in which it came about. My very first editor, the one who was responsible for picking up the Cornish Village School books, had moved publisher and she and my agent discussed me joining her. I really wanted to write Every Day In December so I pitched that and she signed me up for that and one more stand alone romcom. I was absolutely over the moon.

 

 

When you and your agent were discussing your book contract with One More Chapter, what was it like keeping the secret from everyone?
It was so hard, I was madly excited because One More Chapter have such a great reputation and are part of the Harper Collins family so it was a great next step for my career and – on a slightly more shallow level - they hold the best parties. I had signed the contract back in October 2019 so knew I couldn't say anything for ages and I still had one more Cornish Village School book to write. Whilst we were discussing it, I was as quiet as a mouse but the minute I signed I did squeal a lot at my family and very close friends but stayed schtum everywhere else. I thought I had outed myself though because early in 2020 I went to a OMC party in London and obviously the photos went up on social media but I got away with it. The hardest part was seeing lots of my friends making announcements and I wanted to jump up and down and squeak 'me too, me too, I'm going to be there with you!' but had to restrict myself to a much tamer - but entirely genuine - congratulations message instead.

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Whose idea was it to write a Christmas story?

I love writing Christmas so it was my idea. In fact, I was so keen to write this Christmas story I was prepared to do it on spec. Belle was a character who has sat with me for a while and I couldn't find a place for her in the Cornish Village School series and wanted her to have a book of her own. I also really wanted to write a Christmas book with each chapter representing one day in the month and the two seemed like a natural pairing. Although my one chapter per day idea definitely had flaws come execution, I hadn't considered how tricky it was going to be to condense a whole day's action into one chapter.


For your new book, you've left Cornwall behind (the location for your previous five books) and moved the story to Bristol. It's easy to understand why Cornwall is such a wonderful setting for a book. Tell us how Bristol inspired you.
I was so happy living in Cornwall and it was the natural setting for my first books but I moved to Bristol soon after the first book came out and I have always had a huge soft spot for this city. Bristol is so alive, colourful and vibrant and yet somehow manages to combine that with a real laid-back vibe. It appeals to all parts of my personality and I defy anyone not to find something that suits them here. The area in which I live has a really strong community ethos and I loved weaving elements of that through. I lived here as a student and was so happy that many things I like about this city were still very much present. Knowing about this book before I began to actually write it meant I was lucky enough to be able to drag my partner across Bristol on lots of Christmas themed activities in 2019 before we all had to lockdown. So pretty much all the activities that Belle and Rory did around and about in the city, my partner and I also did. He has sat through Dickensian improv on SS Brunel – although the filthy jokes are all mine, I'm afraid - and we also did the Christmassy activities at Tyntesfield. The exception is the horse ride which I did by myself. Having booked my ticket, I faced some very odd looks when I arrived and had to explain that yes, it was just one ticket for me. Once I got to the horse and the carriage I realised it was aimed at very small children. I did feel a bit of a fool but I channelled four-year-old me and really enjoyed myself.

 


 

Introduce us to your new heroine and hero. What faces them at the start of the book?

Belle and Rory are my main characters in this book and whilst I am biased, I really do love them. Belle appears to be a little chaotic but once we scratch the surface, we see there are valid reasons behind this and that she is actually highly disciplined, albeit in her own unique way. Rory seems to be the opposite; he is remarkably controlled and very successful whereas Belle is broke and jobless.

 

This is the first time I have ever written a prologue, and with the main action of the book taking place over the course of the month I wanted to give some context between the Belle and Rory of five years ago and the ones we meet in the body of the novel. In the prologue, Belle is about to be made a godmother but only on the understanding that she stops her reckless and self-destructive behaviour. As Belle is about to have new life enter hers, Rory has an important life taken from him. By the time we reach the first chapter we see that Belle has settled a little bit, is lost in her love for Shakespeare and is a very hands-on Godmother whereas Rory is flying into the UK after a five-year absence to support his mother, whom he adores, and who is unwell.

 
How invested do you get in your characters?

I usually get quite invested in my characters but with this book I became a little obsessed. I truly love Belle and Rory and it's almost hard to believe they are characters I have made up rather than living and breathing people I have known my whole life. I always get hugely involved in my supporting cast as well, and really enjoy writing these more minor roles, which I can often make a little more extreme and have really good fun with. I thoroughly enjoyed writing Marsha, Belle's goddaughter in Every Day In December, as well as Alison, Rory's Mum, and Temperance who owns the shop below Belle's flat. When the reviews come in, I get really excited when readers talk about how they felt about the characters I have created. So far, they have said gorgeous things about Belle and Rory, with Temperance and Alison getting special mentions and calls for Marsha to have her very own spin-off!
 
How do you write? Do you edit as you go... do you have a specific routine...?

I am disciplined about my writing and try to write every day, bar weekends, and make sure I hit my word count. I like to do it as early in the day as I struggle to relax until I have done enough to keep me satisfied. If I haven't hit my word count then I don't allow myself a Saturday or Sunday until it is done.

 

I tend to have a rough overarching plan as I go, although by the nature of its structure Every Day In December had to be planned a lot more than I would normally. Once my daily word count is done, I like to take some time to plan the next day's words, and although this sounds bizarre, I find this is best done whilst I am sat in water. I think it is because I tend to have a bit of a butterfly mind and will shoot off here, there and everywhere but if I'm in the bath, or the hot tub at my local lido, or even the paddling pool in summer, then all distractions are taken away. I can't just jump up and do a quick chore, I can't get lost on the internet, I have to focus. That way I know exactly what I'm doing when I start afresh the next day. All my family are water-babies, we are happier in the sea than anywhere else but the sea is a bit far away now I'm in Bristol, so this water thing isn't just effective, it's a little bit of a treat as well.

 

I always aim to do a quick very rough first draft before I edit but this has never really happened. I tend to read through and have a quick edit at the 25k, 50k, and 75k mark. This enables me to remind myself of threads I may have dropped or ones I meant to develop further. Sometimes – and particularly with my current WIP – I know something isn't right or that I have changed direction from my original intention and prefer this new path, in which case I will go back and strip things out and run new threads through. Going back when I'm stuck has a magical way of clarifying my mind and allowing me to go forward quickly again. One day though I shall manage to write a whole first draft without needing to revisit.
 
How did you cope with writing during lockdown? Some writers dived into their work - others struggled because of the lack of human contact. How was your writing affected?

In writing terms, when lockdown hit I felt very grateful for the recently arrived structural edits on my final Cornish Village School book and knew that I wouldn't have much time to get them done. Somehow the discipline of having a lot of tasks to do and knowing the order in which I had to do them, meant I could bury myself in my work and it gave me a firm structure to my day that most people lost when we were locked down.

 

On the flip side though, it is hard to be creative when there is no outside stimuli and I have found it quite difficult to generate ideas and be creative as lockdown continued, normally being out and about and interacting with people offers up a wealth of inspiration and I did feel it's lack quite considerably. With this next book, the inability to research effectively is having an impact even as things open up. It is a case of having to write first, research later which doesn't suit the way I like to tackle a book. However, I am remarkably grateful that my family remained well, especially with my daughter working in care, so the odd writing niggle can certainly be tolerated.

 

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Blurb:

Two people. One month to fall in love.

 

Belle Wilde loves December. Yes, she’s just lost her job and Christmas is not a good time to find yourself ‘financially challenged’. And yes, her parents are still going on about the fact that she really should have it all together by now. But Belle believes that in December, magic can happen.

 

Rory Walters hates December. Whilst it looks like his life is together, he’s still reeling from a winter’s night five years ago when his life changed forever. Now back at home, he’s certain that this will be yet another Christmas to endure rather than enjoy.

But as midnight on December 31st draws closer, Belle and Rory’s time together is coming to an end. With a little help from a Christmas miracle could Belle find the one thing she really wants underneath the mistletoe?

 

Every Day in December at Amazon

 

Kitty's page on Twitter...

 

...and her Facebook page

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

Surplus Girls and Comfort Reads

Posted on 29th October, 2021

Earlier this week, I finished the final read-through of the fourth book in The Surplus Girls series and now it is ready to be sent to my agent for her to read. It has to take its turn in the reading pile and it is actually going to be read in the second week of November. Fingers crossed, everyone, please!

 

Meanwhile, Christmas with the Surplus Girls has climbed to number 7 in the Hot New Releases chart on Amazon. At the time of writing this, it is 99p on Kindle, but I don't know whether this will last beyond the end of October.

 

 

And if any of you use Bookbub, it is 99p there too until October 31st.

 

And don't forget that you can pre-order books 1-3 as a single volume on Kindle. Publication day is 3rd February.

 

* * * *

 

Changing the subject - do you follow Linda Huber's blog? Linda runs a series called Classic Comfort reads and my choices were featured in the blog posted on October 24th. What you have to do is choose a favourite 'classic' title from before the war and also a favourite 'comfort' read.

 

My choices were:

 

....short story collections

from the 1920s and 30s....

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....and We Wish You a Merry Murder by Valerie Woltzien.

 

Pop across to Linda's blog to find out why I made my choices.

 

10 Years Ago This Weekend

Posted on 22nd October, 2021

What were you doing 10 years ago this weekend? Me - I signed up to take part in NaNoWriMo for the first time and then spent the remaining days of October in a state of panic. For the uninitiated, that's National Novel Writing Month, when writers all over the world aim to produce 50,000 words in a month - and not just any month, but November, which has one day fewer than most other months. That's a daily average of 1,667 words. Whether you think that is a lot or a not much depends on your personal circumstances, but for me 10 years ago, it meant combining it with my job as a teacher. Hence the panic.

 

That November 1st I spent the day at school, then came home and wrote 1,400 words, which on any other day would have been a splendid achievement; but in NaNo terms, I had fallen behind. That pretty well summed up the NaNo experience for me. Some writers surged ahead. Apparently, the age group that is the most successful is the over-55s: retired people. As for me, I worked jolly hard; I wrote every day and on the days I wasn't at work I tried to produce at least 2,000 words - and usually succeeded.

 

I remember one day in particular. I wrote a single scene and the writing swam along. Finishing that scene felt like a huge achievement, especially as that day at school was extra long because of parents' evening. Even though I wrote "only" 1,000 words, I remember to this day the satisfaction I felt.

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Did I hit the 50,000 word target? Good grief, no. I managed 32,000 words. I could have written more (though nowhere near enough to get me anywhere near 50,000) except that I fell into the editing trap. When you do NaNoWriMo, the one piece of advice you are given over and over is not to stop. Keep going. Save the editing for later.

 

Many writers more than doubled my word count, but I felt I had acquitted myself well. I had written every day for a month. I had worked hard and my average daily word count was over 1,000, which in the context of writing alongside going out to work felt rather good. More than good. I had the most marvellous feeling of achievement.

 

To everyone who'll be tackling NaNoWriMo this year, especially those of you who are doing it for the first time, I wish you the very best. Enjoy it. It's tremendous fun. Just don't expect to have the energy to do much at the beginning of December.

 

It's time to let the plot-bunnies out of the hutch ...

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My NaNoWriMo novels:

 

 

The Poor Relation

 

32,000 words

 

NaNoWriMo 2011

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The Surplus Girls

 

54,000 words

 

NaNoWriMo 2017

 

The Surplus Girls' Orphans

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66,000 w ords

 

NaNoWriMo 2018

 

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Finishing Book 4

Posted on 15th October, 2021

As I write this blog, I am part way through writing the final scene of the fourth Surplus Girls book - you may have noticed that I only ever refer to it as "the fourth Surplus Girls book" or "Surplus Girls book 4". I expect you can guess why! That's right - there isn't a title yet, not even a working title.

 

When I've finished writing it, my next job will be to go back to the start and read it through, looking for edits that need doing. I've got a short list of things that need to be added, so that will be by my side. Maybe inspiration will strike and a title will pop into my head(!), but I doubt it. I don't really believe in inspiration. I think that if you wait for inspiration to strike, you could well find yourself waiting a jolly long time.

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I wanted to show you this photo of my lovely publication day flowers:

 

 

It all seems a long way away from this.....

 

 

.... when I was asked by my editor to make substantial changes to the oder of some of the events in Christmas with the Surplus Girls and the only way to get to grips with it was to make a page for every scene and lay them out on the floor. The above picture is an early version of the outcome - later, every scene ended up plastered in post-it notes with additional details, such as the new date for each scene.

 

Mind you, Cassie quite liked it ....

 

 

See you all next week.

Susanna / Polly xxx

 

 

"The Perfect Christmas Read."

Posted on 7th October, 2021

I am writing this on the morning of publication day. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who placed pre-publication orders for Christmas with the Surpus Girls. If you would like the Amazon link, here it is.

 

I'd like to share with you a wonderful review in Frost, the online culture and life style magazine.

 

"I make no secret of the fact I love Polly Heron’s books, so the moment the review copy of this one was available I requested it and dived straight in. For a start, I think the premise of this series is brilliant; the stories of the women who had expected to marry, only for the First World War to kill so many men. Their battle to make something of their lives as single women in the 1920s is seldom told and quite frankly it should be.

 

"A saga series needs central characters and in the Surplus Girls these take the form of unmarried sisters, Prudence and Patience Hesketh, who run a business school from their home to train women in the skills they need. In this, the third book, our understanding of their position deepens and their stories move on too, for one of them at least in a quite unexpected way.

 

"Christmas with the Surplus Girls is a wonderful blend of the comfortingly familiar (characters from previous books making appearances, the orphanage as the heart-warming seasonal setting, and, of course, the love story) with quite a few twists and turns. There are moments when nothing is quite as it seems, as well as breath-takingly written passages of true drama, but to say more would spoil it for the reader.

 

"For the saga fan, this is the perfect Christmas read. As ever with Polly Heron’s writing there is no mawkish sentimentality, there is genuine emotion, elegantly portrayed. And even better, if you haven’t read the other Surplus Girls books there is still time to catch up with them before it’s time to pour yourself a glass of festive cheer and settle down with this beauty."

 

 

 

Cover Love. . . with Jan Baynham

Posted on 1st October, 2021

This week I am delighted to welcome Jan Baynham back to my blog to talk about her latest dual-timeline novel, in particular why the cover illustration is so apt.

 

After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked!

 

Following a novel-writing course, Jan began to write her first full length novel. She loves being able to explore characters in greater depth and delve into their stories. She writes about family secrets and the bond between mothers and daughters.

 

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Thank you for inviting me onto your blog as part of your series, ‘Cover Love’, Susanna. The old saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is not one I can agree with when it comes to books. For me, the cover and the blurb will often be what attracts me to a book and will be what persuades me to read it.

 

Her Nanny’s Secret, published in September by Ruby Fiction, is my third novel and like the other two is a dual timeline. The story opens in 1941 at the beginning of WW2 and my main character, Annie, works as a nanny at Cefn Court, a country manor house in the heart of rural mid-Wales, after a short spell as a female groom in the stables there. Although parts of the novel are also set in German-occupied Normandy and 1960s Wales and France, it’s the image that the cover designer has captured on the front of the book that gets to the essence of the story.

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The chosen image of Annie is perfect. In the novel, I describe her as being seventeen with long auburn hair and although we cannot see from the cover, I know her eyes are going to be green. This is how Clara describes her:

 

Annie had wavy auburn hair and hazel eyes that appeared to change from green to nut-brown depending on the colour she was wearing.’

 

On another occasion, we read:

 

She decided on her best dress, smocked and tucked over the bodice in a bottle-green fine cord that suited her so well with her auburn curls. The colour matches your eyes, bach, her da had said.’

 

Annie has a secret. I like the way the designer has chosen an image where Annie is looking away. What is she thinking?

 

The child on the cover is Clara and with her blonde hair and fair colouring, the image is just right for Annie’s charge who we first meet as a new-born baby. The fact that she’s reading a book outside in the garden is maybe a hint of the academic, studious young woman she becomes by the later parts of the novel in 1963.

 

My lovely publisher always involves the author in the choice of cover designs. When I saw this cover with the large gabled house built in the honey-coloured stone in the background, this was my first choice. The building was Cefn Court manor house in my eyes. Surrounded by shrubs and flowers edging a stone flagged path, I could imagine Annie leading Clara down into the front gardens to enjoy the fresh air.

 

The colours on the cover are very calming and, apart from one blip along the way, I like to think that’s how the relationship between Annie and Clara was. Lady Delia told her daughter that they couldn’t manage without Annie:

 

I don’t know what I would have done without Nanny M., Clara,’ my mother had said. ‘She was here to take over when that awful telegram arrived… You were just a baby and she made sure you were her priority. No matter how much I withdrew into my shell, she never gave up on me. In the end, she got me back to health.’

 

I hope readers will be attracted by the cover and the intrigue in the blurb enough to want to read Her Nanny’s Secret. It’s a story I very much enjoyed writing and I do hope readers will like what they find behind this lovely cover.

 

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BLURB:

How far would you go to save the person you loved the most?

 

It’s 1941, and Annie Beynon has just become the first stable girl for the most powerful family in her Welsh village. Whilst her gift for working with horses is clear, there are some who are willing to make her life very difficult on the Pryce estate, simply for being a girl.

 

There are other – secret – ways Annie is defying conventions, too. As the war rages, and when Edmund, the heir to the Pryce fortune, leaves to join the RAF, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before Annie’s secret is exposed. That is, until she makes a shocking decision.

 

It’s 1963 before Annie is able to face up to the secret she chose to keep over twenty years before. Justifying that decision takes her to Normandy in France, and an outcome she could never have expected …

 

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Jan's links:

 

Her author page on Amazon  

 

Jan on Twitter

 

Her Facebook page

 

Buying links for Her Nanny's Secret

 

Amazon 

 

Kobo  

 

Barnes & Noble 

 

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