Where I Wrote . . .

Posted on 19th March, 2021


This week, it's time for another in my Where I Wrote .... series. This time, I'm happy to show you where the opening of The Surplus Girls' Orphans was written.

The first thing I ought to say is that the beginning of the book was written in several places, including in student accommodation at an RNA Conference and also while waiting for a classical guitar concert to start . . . because I just couldn't find the right opening scene. But the 'real' place where the book got started was in beautiful Happy Valley in Llandudno.


I actually wrote the opening scene in the summer, but here is how Happy Valley looks at the moment in March.



If you imagine yourself standing here looking out at the pier, it was behind this, in the gardens themselves where I sat to do my writing.




* * * *


Here is the beginning of the opening scene:


Molly folded over the tops of the cone-shaped white paper bags, gathering them in front of her on the counter. ‘That’s tuppence ha’penny, please, Mrs Preston.’

    ‘There you go, love.’

    Taking the proffered tanner, she opened the till, dropping the coin into the little wooden compartment with the other silver sixpences and sliding the change up the smooth sides of other boxes into her palm before counting it into Mrs Preston’s hand.

    ‘Your Nora’s children are lucky to have a generous grandma like you.’

    She wasn’t buttering Mrs Preston up, even though she intended to ask for a donation. It was the simple truth. Mrs Preston’s grandchildren were presented with a quarter of dolly mixtures each – each! – every Saturday afternoon.

    ‘Aye, well, you can’t take it with you,’ said Mrs Preston.

    Molly beamed. She couldn’t have hoped for a better opening. ‘Then I wonder...’

    ‘What’s this box for?’ Mrs Preston prodded one of the collecting-boxes.

    ‘Upton’s is collecting for the orphans.’

    ‘Why have you drawn a barber’s pole on’t box?’

    She laughed. ‘That’s not a barber’s pole. It’s meant to be a maypole – for the maypole dancing in the orphanage playground on Monday. So much for my artistic skills! I’m asking folk if they wouldn’t mind popping in a farthing or a ha’penny if they can spare it, to buy sweets for the maypole dancers.’

    ‘As a reward.’

    ‘That’s right; and the other box is for sweets for the rest of the orphans.’

    ‘That’s a kind thought of yours, Molly; and I’m sure it was your thought, not Mr Upton’s. Here’s a penny.’

    ‘A whole penny? I don’t want you to think I’m being cheeky.’

    ‘Take it, love, and I’ll leave it to you to decide which box it goes in or whether you split it between the two.’

    ‘Thank you. I appreciate it – and so will the children.’

    ‘Well, if you can’t help your fellow man...’ Mrs Preston slipped her bags of dolly mixtures into her wicker basket and left the shop, setting the brass bell jingling above the door.

Molly considered, then dropped the penny into the plain box. Folk seemed readier to donate a bit of copper into the maypole box and, yes, it would be nice to reward the young dancers for their efforts, but it didn’t feel right to leave out the others, which, let’s face it, was most of them. It was Mr Upton who had decreed there must be two boxes – well, no, what he had said was that the money should be just for the dancers, but Molly had got round that by adding the second box.

    It might be the tail-end of April, but it was as hot as the height of June. Would it stay like this for the maypole dancing on Monday afternoon? She pulled down the blind on the side-window, where sunshine glared through, putting the boot laces and broken chunks of inferior chocolate on the farthing tray in danger of gluing themselves together. The sugar mice already had a sheen on them. The shop’s twin smells of wood and sugar thickened the hot air.

    With a lull between customers, Molly quickly assembled a couple of dozen paper bags. Fold, fold, twist, flatten. She could do it in her sleep. She had been doing it in her sleep since she left school. She had thought, while she was away down south during the war, that when she returned home, she wouldn’t be happy in Upton’s any more, would need work that was more stimulating; but that had been before her life had changed for ever. When she was finally sent home, it had been a relief to be invited back to Upton’s. It was somewhere safe, familiar, undemanding; a place where she could, with no effort, behave normally on the outside even while she was reeling with shock and despair on the inside.


* * * *


My author page on Amazon as Polly Heron.












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Comments (1)

Such beautiful photos of what is a special place to me. I loved ‘The Surplus Girls’ Orphans’ and it’s lovely to see where you wrote parts of it. xx