A Chat With Polly - Part 2

Posted on 14th February, 2020

At the beginning of the week, I published the first part of my blog interview with Isis Soundings, who are the publishers of my audiobooks. As promised, here is the second part:


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How do you develop characters? Do any have grounding in real people?

Very often a character will appear in my head fully formed. In terms of development, I think it is essential – and I’m speaking now as a reader as well as a writer – that characters change and grow as a consequence of what happens to them in the course of the plot. As for using real people, I am more likely to pick up on things that happened to other people than I am to use actual personality traits.


How did you go about researching the historical setting for your novel and bringing the era to life?

Social history in its broadest sense – encompassing all things domestic as well as the social conventions of the day – has long been a great interest of mine and I have masses of books covering all aspects of the subject. I think that what’s important in bringing the era to life is to make sure that your knowledge and research aren’t be on show for all to see. I once read a novel in which the writer spent a page and a half describing the history of a particular building. That wasn’t the story, it was a lecture! Getting the details right is important, but they should be a comfortable and natural part of the story.


Why is this time period an interesting setting for a novel?

In the case of The Surplus Girls, the time period is not so much interesting as essential. The real surplus girls faced a lifetime of supporting themselves after their possible husbands died in the Great War, so the book takes place in 1922. Beyond that, of course, this is an interesting period because of the shadow of loss under which everyone lived and – my favourite theme – the restrictions that were placed on women.


Why did you choose Manchester as a setting?

I’m a Mancunian girl and I grew up in Chorlton, which is where my dad’s family has lived, going back at least to the beginning of the 1800s. I could take you for a walk around Chorlton and point out various houses my ancestors lived in. Another reason why I think Chorlton provides a good setting for my novels is that, while the city centre is just a few miles away, Chorlton was in the past a quiet place close to the River Mersey, with miles of water-meadows along its banks, so I have a variety of different types of settings to draw upon.


How does writing a series compare to writing stand-alone novels?

I plan before I write, so to write a series, I had to produce a huge plan. My synopsis is 24 pages long. And, although I am writing a series, it’s important to note that each of the books will also be a stand-alone. I have achieved this partly by giving each book its own heroine, so the first story is Belinda’s, the second is Molly’s and the third will be Nancy's - I am writing her story at the moment.


How important is it to you that your books are available in audio?

Enormously! I firmly believe that we never grow out of enjoying being read to. When I was a teacher, I read to my class every day. I always have two books on the go – a print book and an audiobook. As well as having favourite authors, I also have favourite readers and sometimes I choose a talking book by an author I have never read, simply because I know I will enjoy the reader’s performance.



I also think that the provision of audiobooks makes books more accessible to people who, for whatever reason, do not or cannot read books. My grandad was nearly blind and my dad also had a visual impairment that meant he used to read large print books. They both loved listening to the radio, including stories and plays on Radio 4, and Grandad loved The Archers. I think that listening to stories enhances people’s lives.



How does listening to books compare to the reading experience?

It adds an extra dimension of pleasure. Narrating a story is a truly specialist skill. The narrator has to tell the story so as to convey character and atmosphere, but without his/her voice intruding on the listener’s consciousness. That’s quite a tall order. I am proud that my Susanna Bavin novels are narrated by Julia Franklin, who has been a favourite reader of mine ever since I heard her read Our Polly by Anna Jacobs.


How important are libraries to authors?

Hugely. Every community should have a library. For readers, access to library stock is essential. For authors, having their titles in public library stock means that more readers have the chance to read their books. In its very first week of publication, The Deserter’s Daughter was borrowed 179 times countrywide; and in its first year the book, the large print edition and the audiobook between them were borrowed 3,644 times. I am very proud of that. And I hope those 3,644 people enjoyed it.


What’s next for The Surplus Girls?

I’d better not share the title I gave the second book, because I think the publisher is going to change it(!), but I can tell you it is about Molly. She is older and more experienced than Belinda and she has a deeply buried secret. She also has a fiancé whom I hope the readers will love to hate, as, by modern standards, he is horribly sexist. I had great fun writing him, but at the same time it was sobering to think that his sexism simply reflected the ordinary attitudes of the time.


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That's the end of the interview - but I do have a special STOP PRESS for you. Answering the final question, I said I expected the title of book 2 to be changed. Well, it has been changed - and I'm happy to say I was the one who suggested the key word - SECRETS - for the new title.


I am delighted to tell you that the next book in the series will be either Secrets of the Surplus Girls or The Surplus Girls' Secrets. I'll look forward to giving you a few hints about those secrets a bit nearer to pubilcation.


In the meantime, take care. And if you are one of my UK readers, take special care this weekend as Storm Dennis hits us.


Susanna / Polly xx


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Susanna on Amazon   


Polly on Amazon  


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