Creating a Character: Belinda Layton

Posted on 9th February, 2024

Before I started writing my Surplus Girls Quartet (written as Polly Heron), I planned it all out in meticulous detail. As well as writing a series, I wanted each of the books to be able to be enjoyed as a stand-alone.




To achieve this, I decided that:

- each book would have its own heroine and hero;

- the heroines would have secretarial school in common;

- the two sisters, Prudence and Patience Hesketh, who run the secretarial school would have a continuing story that progressed from book to book, but...

- each part of the Heskeths' story must feel complete to the reader of that individual book;

- characters from previous books would appear in the other books; and

- a tiny plot point in book 1 would become a major plot point in book 3.


I started by putting together a huge synopsis of 20-something pages, with each book's characters and plot written in detail. I didn't write it as a consecutive document - book 1, then book 2 etc. I wrote the synopses for all the books at the same time. This meant that if I got stuck, say, on Molly's story (book 2), I could switch to Nancy's (book 3) and concentrate on that for a while until I hit a wall, at which point I might switch back to Belinda in book 1.


When planning each book, I used the same formula:

- write about the heroine, her family background, her personality, her job, her hopes etc;

- ditto for the hero;

- work out the full plot, including information about the other characters;

- plan that book's allocation of the continuing story of the Hesketh sisters.




Here is what I wrote about Belinda, the heroine of book 1, in the synopsis:


In the first book, the heroine is BELINDA LAYTON. Belinda is from a large, impoverished family. The Laytons are pretty awful. They used to be respectable, hard-working working-class. But dad DENBY has gone from bad to worse where jobs are concerned and each job has dragged his family further down the social ladder. Mum KATHLEEN despairs of him and whenever she appears, you can smell the burning martyr. Denby is always trying to get money out of his three working children, much to Kathleen’s annoyance… but then she creeps after them and tries to wheedle money out of them herself.


Belinda moved in with her fiancé’s widowed mother ENID SLOAN and grandmother BEATTIE SLOAN when, aged 15, she got engaged; but her fiancé, BEN SLOAN, died towards the end of the Great War and since then Belinda has been a pretend-widow. She owes a lot to Enid and Beattie. Their cottage might be tiny but it is a big step up for Belinda, whose family is crammed into two rooms in a shabby house containing four families, all of whom share a stinking privy in the back yard. For Belinda, being invited to live with Enid and Beattie was a massive relief, but also a source of guilt, because she feels she shouldn’t be glad not to live with her family. Every week now, after she has tipped up for her bed and board with Enid and Beattie, and slipped Kathleen some money to help out, she has only a few coppers left for herself and she can’t see how to change this. Had Ben lived, it would have sorted itself out naturally once they got married, but now it feels like she is in a financial trap.


Belinda has received nothing but kindness from Enid and Beattie and is deeply grateful to them. Moreover, their shared grief has brought them extra close – but is she grateful enough to spend the rest of her life in mourning for Ben? For a long time she was happy to wear black and live in mourning, but now she wants to live a normal life again. She doesn’t expect ever to meet another man – she doesn’t even want to – but she is no longer content to live her life swathed in black. She wants to gain some skills so she can support herself and have a decent future, but Enid and Beattie struggle with the idea. Will Belinda rise above them in the world? They love her and don’t want to lose her, but above all, they believe Ben would want Belinda to stay with them.


* * * *


Book 1:

The Surplus Girls


Amazon link


The Surplus Girls is also available on Kindle Unlimited.


Book 2:

The Surplus Girls' Orphans


Amazon link


The Surplus Girls' Orphans is also available on Kindle Unlimited.


Book 3:

Christmas with the Surplus Girls


Amazon link


Book 4:

New Beginnings for the Surplus Girls


Amazon link



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