How the Hesketh Sisters Arrived in the 1920s... Via the 1800s, 1930s, 1910s and 1940s

Posted on 26th September, 2019

Two important characters in The Surplus Girls – both the book and the series – are Prudence and Patience Hesketh, a pair of middle-aged spinster sisters, who set up a business school to train surplus girls in office skills so they can aspire to better jobs. That makes the Heskeths sound altruistic, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s part of a plot to ensure they can hang onto the family home, from which their not-so-dear brother wants to oust them so he can move in with his family.


Prudence and Patience have been imaginary companions of mine for a long time. They first popped into my head in 1990 or ’91. In those days, they were the middle-aged spinster daughters of an impoverished country rector in Victorian times. I ended up not writing that particular book, but the Hesketh sisters hung around in my mind and a couple of years later I wrote the first version of what20 years afterwards – became The Poor Relation.


In its first incarnation, The Poor Relation was set in the 1930s and Prudence and Patience were middle-aged spinster sisters with a very much younger half-sister, who was the heroine. Incidentally, if you have read The Poor Relation, the hero was Eleanor’s grown-up son.


The trouble with that 1930s book was that I knew so much about the characters’ lives before the story started and it was all relevant to the plot… so I wrote another book, telling the tale of the previous generation – though I set it in Edwardian times rather than going back into the 19th century. At this point, the story began to look a bit more like the eventual The Poor Relation.


In this version, Prudence and Patience, for once, weren’t middle-aged but were youngsters. Although the book was fine in many ways, it wasn’t right, so I wrote another version, still in Edwardian times, but with Prudence now aged 23.


It wasn’t until 23-year-old Prudence Hesketh morphed into 23-year-old Mary Maitland that everything finally fell into place and The Poor Relation was written.


What next for the Hesketh sisters? Well, they went back to being middle-aged spinster sisters, only this time in the 1940s…. and there they stayed until The Surplus Girls came along and took them into the 1920s, and finally I had found the right book for them.



As sisters, they are very different. Prudence is critical and judgemental, someone who doesn’t suffer fools, and if she is hard on other people, she is harder on herself. But there are reasons behind her being the way she is. Patience, by contrast, is the gentle one, a kindly soul who has spent her life acting as family peacemaker. Comparing herself to Prudence, Patience sees herself as the weak one, but her strength lies in her compassion and understanding.


At the start of The Surplus Girls, the sisters’ father dies. They go into the solicitor’s office, confident that they know what Pa’s will says, and leave a while later, with every aspect of their lives thrown to the four winds. It isn’t just the surplus girls who need to make plans for their future – these two middle-aged spinsters do too.


I hope you will enjoy their part of the story and will cheer them on as they embark on their battle with their brother.


As for me, I am delighted that I have finally given them what feels like their right and proper home within the pages of a book.


And a word of advice to writers – never throw anything away. It will get used in the end!


* * * *


The Surplus Girls  

UK Kindle           UK paperback


US Kindle          Canadian Kindle          Australian Kindle



The Poor Relation 

UK Kindle         UK paperback   


US Kindle       Canadian Kindle     Australian Kindle  


Make A Comment

Characters left: 2000

Comments (0)