The Nitty Gritty of Planning a Railway Girls Book

Posted on 28th April, 2022

Back in November, I wrote a blog about how I tackle writing my two series - The Surplus Girls 1920s sagas written as Polly Heron and my Second World War series, The Railway Girls, written as Maisie Thomas.


Since then, a new Railway Girls book, Hope for the Railway Girls, has been published; the sixth book in the series, A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls, has been written; and the fourth Surplus Girls book has been finished!



The blog back in November concentrated on the importance of planning. In particular, I discussed how I wrote a 25-page synopsis of the whole series of The Surplus Girls before I put pen to paper and started writing book 1.


But it isn't just a matter of producing a synopsis, however detailed. There's much more to it than that.


Here is the rest of the process, using a Railway Girls book as an example:


A step-by-step guide to planning a Railway Girls book


1. I come up with plots for the three viewpoint characters and discuss them with my editor. I would much rather make sure she is happy with the plots in advance - it saves having to do edits later!


2. I make a note of which day of the week started each month in the time-frame of the book. I note down what day of the week Valentine's Day, Christmas Day etc took place. I make a note of the date of Easter Sunday and the bank holidays.


3. I list the important wartime events, with dates.


4. I list, with dates, things that happened on the home front. Changes to the rationing rules is an obvious example.


5. Do I need to sow the seeds of something that's going to happen in a future book? For example, in Hope for the Railway Girls something happens that has nothing to do with Hope but which is essential to something that's going to happen in A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls.


6. Using the plot-outlines agreed with my editor, and using a separate sheet of A4 for each scene, I note the main thrust of each scene for each viewpoint character, including how each scene will end.


7. The three characters don't have to have the same number of scenes, but it helps if they have approximately the same. Having said that, in the sixth Railway Girls book, A Christmas Miracle for the Railway Girls, which comes out later this year, one of the POV (point of view) characters has a chunk of scenes in the middle of the book, because that was what was needed. It isn't an exact science!


8. Each set of plot-strands needs to be checked against the dates. My books are woven around real events and the individual plots reflect this.


9. Now the scenes for the three characters have to be put together into a single sequence.


10. I make a month-by-month time-line, starting at the end of the book. Why start at the end? Because this is what everything is building up to. I know it sounds more sensible to start a time-line at the beginning, but I find them easier to spread out across the given time by starting at the end and working backwards. Does anyone else do this or is it just me?


11. Although it's important to balance the book fairly evenly in terms of the three character viewpoints, it's more important to create an overall plot that makes sense in terms of the time that is passing. (For example, I read a book a couple of years ago in which there were four POV characters, one of whom was pregnant, so her condition dictated the amount of time the story had to last. But this stretched another character's plot to snapping point, because this plot would have been far more believeable if it had been wrapped up in a matter of a few weeks.)


12. I go through the individual scenes to add references to real events and details. Many of these references are date-sensitive, but obviously there are others that aren't. NB: these details can only be added to a scene if they fit there naturally. Yes, books take a lot of research, but it must never look like research - it must be woven seamlessly into the narrative.


So there are the 12 steps that go into the planning. Then it's time to start writing the book!



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The Railway Girls books on Amazon








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