Green, Green Grass Of Home…

Francesca and Elaine are thrilled to bits to welcome Angela Johnson to our blog to talk about her debut novel, Arianwen.

ARIANWEN is set in my native West Wales, a place of gentle hills and valleys and a beautiful coastline, which is an integral part of my mental landscape. We are formed by the experiences of childhood, and the music of the language and the stories I heard in a small, and not very private, community were all relevant in the formation of my story.

The novel roams over the old kingdom of Dyfed: Ceredigion, North Pembrokeshire, and Carmarthenshire. My protagonist, Arianwen, grew up in a woollen mill set in a deep valley, which is based on a  real place I knew and visited as a child, a place of tall trees and the persistent sound of running water, and, a recurring motif in the novel, the wheel turning in the power of the water, a strange creaking whirr which remains with me still.

For a child it was a most magical place to visit, and even now, many years after, I can smell the dankness from the stream, hear its silver music, and see the trees, verdant in spring, and their strange balletic movements in autumn storms. The old mill creaked as you walked through it, but there was nothing Gothically terrifying about it. For me it was a place of benedictions.

Arianwen’s adult life is in another village, whose topography is very different from that of her home, a place of  wide spaces, closer to the sea, and more open to the weather than the enclosed valley of her childhood, a place of bleating lambs in spring and heather and gorse in late summer.

I am Welsh speaking and the rhythms of the language form the person that I am, even though I spent many years working as an English teacher in the Home Counties.

Most of the novel is set at a time when Welsh was the main language of the neighbourhoods I portray. The villages are much changed, prettified, less Welsh, less rural in character. Something has been irretrievably lost.

I chose this setting because I wanted to write for the first time at any length, about the places and the people who moulded me, my work, mainly, being set in England where I have lived most of my life.

It is also a tribute to all those agricultural workers on both sides of my family whose lives were hard and unrelenting and whose love of their few acres destroyed them.

Alas, I don’t have a favourite writing place. My writing place is a place of compromise and pragmatism. My computer and I, occupy a dull corner of my dining room while my husband occupies a rather pleasant, if chaotic study overlooking the garden. I stare at a blank wall and one solitary picture of a Lady’s Slipper Orchid. There is no obvious symbolism to the Lady’s Slipper, although if I think about it long enough I shall find one.

I am easily distracted, so there is no radio, no music, only in the background the vapid hum of suburbia. This place is blank, the pale green wall, the light comes from the window to my left. It is a writing place, which suits me well.

I’m a great believer in sustenance for writers, yes, food and drink helps, especially the odd glass of chilled Sauvignon, but we also need sustenance for the mind, and that means getting away from the computer and living a life. I like going out for coffee with friends, a bit of gossip, and, on my own, a rewarding listen to others’ conversation. Even the banal can be fascinating.

Before lockdown, I used to enjoy swimming, the most solitary of occupations, meditative, stimulating, and the perfect exercise for thinking about narrative development and character delineation.

I like walking and looking, observation is fundamental for the writer, simple things like the shape and colour of a leaf, the sheen on a horse’s back, and the silly hopping of a crow, and just this week, I passed a decrepit cottage with weeds growing out of the chimney, bit clichéd, but, outside was parked an ancient car which had once been red, and is now completely overgrown with rampant vegetation. Such possibilities there.

I love travelling to exotic countries. I have watched birds all over the world, and in this country on winter days on the North Kent marshes, huge flocks of lapwings and marsh harriers low over the banks of the Thames, and in the summer I enjoy looking for wild orchids with my in house orchid expert and love to see the strange beauty of these small flowers. And I love reading the papers, one particular one, but I won’t divulge which one.

The book I’m working on now is a return to West Wales, this time to my beloved Ceredigion and its lovely coastline of small coves and cliffs, and one particular one which I have always loved, a small beach overlooked by a tall cliff and a tiny ancient white church, a place where peregrines fly and choughs hop around the car park.

My protagonist lives near here, and she is a very different character from Arianwen, a professional woman, not this time a teacher, a woman who has never conformed, who looks at the world as a battle place and challenges it.

Her life has always focused on independence, on doing exactly what she wants to do, but gradually she is drawn by the various characters who impinge on her life with their various need, into a different kind of caring from that which was demanded of her in her professional life.

Thank you for chatting to us Angela. it’s lovely to get an insight into your novel.

Arianwen

Born in a hidden valley in West Wales during the first half of the 20th century, Arianwen is one of the blessed to whom life comes easily. Hers is an ordinary life, similar to the lives we all live, filled with the small pleasures that help us bear life’s tragedies, in the hope that things will get better again.

But, in a fast changing world, Arianwen must learn the hard way. It is endurance that will see her through real adversity.

Elegantly written, with an understated humour, and a lyricism that reflects the natural rhythms of the Welsh language, Arianwen is a captivating portrait of one woman who represents us all.

Published by Black Bee Books and available on:

Amazon

Waterstones

About Angela Johnson

Angela Johnson was born in West Wales and is a Welsh speaker. Her work is often inspired by the Welsh countryside, the characters she knew in childhood and the tales they told.

In a previous incarnation she was an English teacher, and taught in a number of schools in the South East of England. She then studied creative writing at the University of Kent. Her novel Harriet and her Women was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for Fiction, and she has won the Poetry Prize at the Folkestone Arts Festival.

She lives in Kent, enjoys travelling to look at birds and plants in exotic places, and is a passionate environmentalist, and, latterly, is spending too much time fulminating about politics.

Facebook

Twitter

Do you have a dream?

Elaine is looking at our dreams and ambitions ahead of the publication of her novel The West End  Girls on Thursday.

The novel is set in World War One London. The main character, Annie, in The West End Girls had a childhood dream, that wouldn’t go away, but it didn’t match what her parents wanted for her. Annie had to decide how far she would go for it. As they say nothing comes for free. She needed the support of her friends, and a wake up call, to give her the push she needed to move forward with it.

Dreams and ambitions come in many forms; they can be for you, your family, and friends or for the people of the world.

Do you have a dream? Can you share what would motivate you to try to achieve it? Can you tell people what it is? Are there people in your life that would support you if they knew about it? That support may not be directly helping with your ambition, it might be to do the ironing or other tasks to free up your time. Is it something you can put the building blocks in place for when you’re ready to take the risk of going for it?

My ambition for as long as I can remember was to write, but life got in the way of it that is until about ten years ago. I was in my fifties then and I suddenly realised that time was running away from me. So with the support of my family I started to attend classes to learn, that was in 2012.

I also watch a poet on YouTube, Prince Ea. His poem, Everybody Dies But Not Everybody Lives, struck a very powerful cord within me and I would definitely recommend listening to it. I will add the link at the bottom of the post. I haven’t listened to all his posts so I’m only talking about this particularly poem. It made me realise I don’t want to be a ‘Kinda’ person; which is what he talks about. I wanted to at least try to achieve my dream so whenever I got down I listened to the poem again and received the much-needed boost.

Reaching your dream can be a wonderful thing, a massive feeling of achievement, but sometimes it’s not always as we imagined it would be. It took me six years to achieve my dream, it was a compromise on my original one but I’m more than happy with it.

Good luck with whatever you wish to do in life, just make sure you live it.

You Tube: Prince Ea – Everybody Dies But Not Everybody Lives

Amazon: The West End Girls

Growing up on a farm in the country, Annie Cradwell has always dreamt of singing on stage. So when she hears her friend Joyce has a room to spare in London, she sets off with best friend Rose for an adventure beyond anything they could have imagined. 

In London, Annie and Rose stumble into jobs at the Lyceum Theatre. Being a dresser to capricious star Kitty Smythe wasn’t exactly what Annie had in mind. But then the musical director, Matthew Harris, offers her singing lessons. And Annie starts to wonder – could this be her chance? Or is it all too good to be true? 

With the threat of war in the air, everything is uncertain. Is there a place for hopes and dreams when so much is at stake? 

Annie, Rose and Joyce are three girls with very different dreams – but the same great friendship. 

Elaine’s New Photo

Author Bio

Elaine Roberts had a dream to write for a living. She completed her first novel in her twenties and received her first very nice rejection. Life then got in the way again until she picked it up again in 2010. She joined a creative writing class, The Write Place, in 2012 and shortly afterwards had her first short story published. Elaine is very proud of The Foyles Bookshop Girls saga trilogy, which her late husband encouraged her to write. She, and her extended family, live in and around Dartford, Kent and her home is always busy with children, grandchildren, grand dogs and cats visiting.

Heartbreak in the Valleys: Blog Tour

Francesca shares the dates for the upcoming blog tour for Heartbreak in the Valleys

Only one more sleep and it’ll be publication day for my debut saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys. Despite all the short stories and the three pocket novels I’ve had published, this marks a new chapter in my writing life.

The blog will be a mixture of interviews and reviews. Do pop in if you have time and say hello.

In the meantime, Heartbreak is available for downloads by reviewers and bloggers on:

Net Galley  

Good Reads 

 

Book Links

Amazon

Kobo

Apple

 

Find me on

Facebook  

Twitter  

Instagram

 

It’s the Pits

Francesca has a look at a coal miner’s life a hundred years ago, ahead of the publication of her novel, Heartbreak in the Valleys on Wednesday

In the post a couple of days back, I had a look at a working-class woman’s life a hundred years ago. Today, I thought I’d look at the life of a working-class man, a coal miner, to be exact. While it’s true women worked double the hours in the home, the life of pitmen was no bed of roses, but a backbreaking, health compromising slog.

Big Pit at Blaenavon, as it is today

Shift patterns varied a little, so these are all examples, but they tended to be eight hours a day by this time. In previous years, they’d have been longer. There were often three shifts, the morning (around 6am till 2pm), the afternoon (2pm till 10pm) and the night shift (10pm till 6am). Those who worked underground, which would have been the majority, faced eight hours in a cramped space, their immediate area lit only by a lamp, breathing in cold dust and noxious gases, among them black damp (including carbon dioxide), white damp (including carbon monoxide) and firedamp (which was highly flammable and caused many explosions).

Any food or drink they took down would have to be consumed in these gritty conditions. One account I found described taking bread and dripping (a staple of working-class diets at this time) in newspaper. To drink, they’d often take a tin water bottle containing tea (which presumably went cold quickly).

The chances of an early death were high. The local newspapers of the time are full of reports of fatal accidents. I came across over 20,000 results searching over only the four years of World War 1. Being knocked over by a runaway tram was extremely common, as was being crushed by a roof fall. Pit cages (in which men travelled down to the shafts) were occasionally known to crash and kill the occupants. Then there were the explosions, caused by the gases that accumulated, particularly firedamp. If you survived an explosion, but didn’t get out of the pit quickly, afterdamp, the toxic gas left, would quite likely see you off.

If you managed to avoid or survive the many misfortunes that could befall you in the mine, your health would likely still be compromised by an inflammatory skin condition or a respiratory disease. The latter could include pneumoconiosis, asthma, emphysema and lung cancer. One of my great grandfathers had emphysema recorded on his death certificate, and he hadn’t worked in the mine for forty years.

Abertysswg today

In 1902, there was an explosion in the McLaren Colliery in Abertysswg, Monmouthshre, the place I based my fictional village in Heartbreak in the Valley on. Sixteen men were killed, half of whom were under thirty, the youngest being seventeen. The worst ever mining accident in the United Kingdom took place at Senghenydd Colliery, near Caerphilly, in 1913. The explosion killed 439 miners.

A few years ago, on a trip out from the Writers’ Holiday in Caerleon, I visited Big Pit at Blaenavon. It’s been closed as a mine for forty years and is now a tourist attraction. Going down to the tunnels gave only a tiny taste of what it was like to have worked there. At one point our guide, a former miner, turned off the lights to give us some idea of what being trapped in real darkness would be like.

It’s not something I’d want to experience for more than a few seconds.

Link: Big Pit, Blaenavon

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

The world was crumbling, but her love stayed strong

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

“Heartbreak in the Valley is a fabulous debut. Rich with well drawn characters, twists and turns, sense of history and place…  it was hard to put down. I loved it!” Author Rosie Hendry

Available on:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XUSTyB

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2XZ0RGI

Apple: https://apple.co/2KsIfqJ

 

Come and find me on:

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

 

Welcome to our own Francesca Capaldi and Heartbreak in the Valleys

Today Francesca is popping in to answer a few questions

 

Tell us about your setting and why you chose it?

Abertysswg today

The setting came out of the initial idea. Since that was to do with a miner being discharged from the army, it seemed likely he’d come home to a mining area. And since it was based on my own great grandfather Hugh’s experience, and he was from the Rhymney Valley, that seemed like the perfect choice. However, I didn’t even consider Hugh’s actual place of residence at the time as the basis of my imaginary village. He was living in New Tredegar. I immediately knew I wanted to set it in a village based on one up the road, Abertysswg. This is where my other great grandparents were living, along with my great great grandfather. I’d visited it a couple of times, once with my mother, who was born there, and later with one of my children, so had a better idea of its layout. It was built around 1900 as a ‘model village’, according to newspaper reports, for the workers of the McLaren pit. The houses were placed on the hillside overlooking the colliery in the dip of the valley.

As I researched the village, largely via the Welsh local newspapers which can be accessed online, I discovered there was quite a community here. The funds for both the hospital and the Workmen’s Institute were raised by the villagers themselves, through subs. Health care continued to be paid for by subs, a kind of early national health system. The Workmen’s Institute, far from being just for the men, laid on all sort of talks and social activities. It also contained a library. Studying the village was like researching my own past, knowing that my grandparents and some of their family members would have partaken of these activities.

Abertysswg with red outline showing roughly where the colliery was.

I took the decision to rename the village Dorcalon (which literally means ‘heartbreak’) because I wanted to be flexible with some details and dates. For instance, there was a mining disaster in Abertysswg in 1902, but I needed one in 1915. Where real places are concerned, I do try to be as accurate as I can. My village does sit in the same spot on the map though, with Rhymney up the road and New Tredegar down the road. The other useful aspect of picking somewhere real as a basis is that it’s easier to be consistent with places like chapels or shops.

The pit itself was closed in 1969 and is long gone. I’ve never seen it in reality, but have seen plenty of photographs which give me an idea of what it must have been like to live with such a brooding presence. It’s a character in itself.

Where do your ideas come from?

As with Heartbreak in the Valleys, quite a few of my ideas have been sparked by my family, including a serial I wrote for The People’s Friend and several short stories. A few have come from my own childhood, living on the Sussex coast. Often something will occur that makes me think, there’s a story there. Stories in the media and overheard snatches of conversation are good too.

Do you have a favourite writing place?

Whitstable – where I’ve often sat to write

If I could, I’d sit by the beach for ever, writing, but since I don’t have a seaside shack at my disposal, I tend to sit in the dining room at home so I’m overlooking the garden. I go on week-long writing retreats with writing friends every now and again, and invariably a seaside location is picked by us all. On occasion the house will overlook the sea, which is marvellous. I’m the one most likely to take my notebook down to the beach or to a café overlooking it, to write. There is something soothing about the water and the lapping of the waves.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished the second Valleys book, which is now with the publisher. I’m not sure yet whether they’ll want a third in the series, so I’ve gone back to another saga I was writing, again set in the First World War. This time it’s set by the seaside (surprise surprise!).

 How do you select the names of your characters?

For Heartbreak in the Valleys I looked at the 1911 census, a list of top names in different decades and an online list of Welsh names. I think there are possibly more Welsh names in my novel than there would have been in that area at the time, judging by the census, but I’m unrepentant! The local newspapers were also handy for this.

 

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

The world was crumbling, but her love stayed strong

November 1915. For young housemaid, Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement. And when tragedy once again strikes her family, Anwen’s heart is completely broken.

But when an explosion at the pit brings unimaginable heartache to Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

“Heartbreak in the Valley is a fabulous debut. Rich with well drawn characters, twists and turns, sense of history and place…  it was hard to put down. I loved it!” Author Rosie Hendry

Book Links

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2XUSTyB

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2XZ0RGI

Apple: https://apple.co/2KsIfqJ

 

Social Media

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

 

A Woman’s Work…

Francesca looks at how a working class woman would have spent her week a hundred odd years ago, after the research she did for her saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys.

Imagine doing without your vacuum cleaner, washing machine, fan oven with controllable temperature, dishwasher, fridge and freezer. I wonder if you could live even a week without at least some of them.

Turn back the clock a hundred or so years, and imagine yourself as a full time housewife, having none of those conveniences to hand.

Let’s start with your lack of washing machine, not to mention the tumble dryer. It’s Monday, a typical wash day. You have your washing board standing in the sink, which is full of water (boiled, as you have no running hot water). You’ve made the water nice and soapy, but not with your super powerful laundry liquid or washing powder, but with a bar of soap, maybe Puritan or Sunlight. To get the clothes clean, you haven’t got the drum action of your washing machine, but have to rub them rigorously against the washing board. You’ll change the water two or three times while you’re washing. Then comes the rinsing. Seven times should do it, if you’re lucky. Next, get them them through the mangle to squeeze out excess water. Now you can put them into your basket and hang them out on the washing line, a nice long, rope one of course, none of your rotary lines. If it’s raining, you might be lucky enough to have an indoor dryer hanging from the ceiling in the kitchen, near the range.

If you happen to be a miner’s wife, you’ll probably wash the pit clothes separately in a wooden tub in the back yard, using a dolly. As for blankets and curtains, you’ll likely wash them in the zinc bath. You’ll need to boil a few buckets of water for that.

Come Tuesday you’ll be thinking about ironing. You won’t have one of those electric ones on which you can adjust the heat. Your flat iron will be sitting on the grate, getting hot. You’ll sprinkle each item with water and roll it up to dampen it. To test the temperature, spitting on the iron is favourite. Once it’s sizzling nicely, you’ll insert it into a metal cover so that the clothes aren’t soiled by the ash it might have picked up.

Now you’ve been nicely tired out by all that activity, it must be time for a rest, yes?

No. During the course of the week you’ll in all likelihood be the first up in the morning and the last to bed at night. You’ll do around double the hours of work your husband does. It’s quite likely you’ll be short of food, especially during the First World War, but you’ll make sure your husband and children have enough –even if you go without.

You might well allocate Wednesday to baking (if there’s anything left in the shop to bake with). You’ll walk to the shops with your basket and carry home all your goods (no car), and you’ll probably do this most days.

And what of cleaning? Among the items on your list each day will be scrubbing floors, beating mats, cleaning walls and windows, polishing brass, blackleading the grate, scrubbing the front step, windowsills and pavement, sweeping and dusting, emptying and filling the grate, polishing the furniture and carrying and boiling water – particularly when your husband comes home covered in coal dust. Preparing the huge zinc bath, normally carried from the scullery to the kitchen, is a whole set of jobs on its own. Talking of coal dust, the constant presence of it in the air makes your job twice as hard.

On top of this, there’ll be preparing and cleaning away meals (don’t expect any help from your husband), nursing and caring for children (of which you may have quite a few), painting and papering walls and repairing shoes. Don’t forget the mending of clothes. At least you can have a sit down for this. If you’re nifty with a needle, perhaps you even make your own clothes.

If you’re thinking, ‘I could have some days off after all that lot, surely,’ don’t forget your neighbours will be eyeing up your efforts and making sure your house is spotless, otherwise they’ll be whispering to others about what a slattern you are.

Of course, you could be widowed, since death rates in mining were higher than in a lot of other occupations. Then you might have to on a job as well, or take in other people’s washing, or offer a mending service.

If all that has worn you out just reading it, spare a thought for the poor working class women of my imaginary village of Dorcalon in Heartbreak in the Valleys. The village might be imaginary, but the work women did back then was real enough.

So, all hail the modern household appliances. I certainly appreciate them even more now.

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

November 1915. For Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement.

When tragedy strikes Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

Published 10th June 2020 by Hera Books

Book Links:

Amazon

Kobo

Apple

Come and find me on:

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

 

Image attributions

Wash tub: Image by Thomas Wolter

Flat Iron: Image by Greg McMahan

Other photos copyright of Francesca Burgess

Didn’t We Have a Lovely Time…

Francesca looks back at her holidays in Wales ahead of the publication of her Welsh saga, Heartbreak in the Valleys

Mountains, Gandalf!

As a child we didn’t have many holidays, mainly because my father’s business relied on spring and summer trade, so when we did go it tended to be in the autumn. We always went to the same place, to stay with my cousins in Merthyr Tydfil.

 

Cardiff Castle

Now as far as I recall, I’ve never been to Bangor, the subject of the song in the title above. However, our cousins, being very partial to a drive out, certainly took us to a lot of other places. We’d drive for hours around mountain roads, admiring the wonderful landscape. I remember being particularly fascinated by the tiny streams that used to run in crevices down the mountains. My cousins were particularly fond of picnics, so most days we’d park up in a beauty spot to enjoy some sandwiches and scenery.

With Mum and a cousin at Mumbles

I loved the trips to Swansea, particularly Mumbles, looking out at the Gower peninsular. I always remember it being sunny, which was lucky considering we always went around mid October.

 

Devil’s Bridge

Another favourite spot was Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion. The great height of water, cascading down into an abyss (or so it seems) is quite something to behold.

Now don’t ask me why, but my family had a penchant for visiting reservoirs. I have dad’s old photographs of several dams, three of which I’ve identified as Llyn Brianne, Elan Valley and Ponsticill.

Elan Valley Reservoir

Castles, of which Wales has many, were another favoured trip out. I found the more ruined ones the most romantic, invoking tales of long ago. One trip to Cardiff Castle was particularly memorable as there was an art exhibition on. My mother, never the most subtle of people, made some comment about anyone being able to paint that rubbish, only to find the artist standing behind her. Oops. She wasn’t best pleased, as you can imagine!

Llandovery Castle

One day we drove to the house where my mum and grandma were born, the one in which my great gran lived for many years. This was in the village of Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley. Little did I know then that I’d one day write about somewhere based on that village, except I called it Dorcalon.

Abertyssyg in the Rhymney Valley

 

ABOUT HEARTBREAK IN THE VALLEYS

November 1915. For Anwen Rhys, life is hard in the Welsh mining village of Dorcalon, deep in the Rhymney Valley. She cares for her ill mother and beloved younger sister Sara, all while shielding them from her father’s drunken, violent temper. Anwen comforts herself with her love for childhood sweetheart, Idris Hughes, away fighting in the Great War.

Yet when Idris returns, he is a changed man; no longer the innocent boy she loved, he is harder, more distant, quickly breaking off their engagement.

When tragedy strikes Dorcalon, Anwen and Idris put their feelings aside to unite their mining community.

In the midst of despair, can Anwen find hope again? And will she ever find the happiness she deserves?

Published 10th June 2020 by Hera Books

Book Links

Amazon

Kobo

Apple

 

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Don’t We All Love A Wedding?

Francesca and Elaine are chatting to the lovely Jean Fullerton about her new novel A Ration Book Wedding.

Hello Jean, thank you for joining us today. Can you give us an insight into your main character?

My main character at the moment is Cathy Brogan who is the middle sister of the three Brogan girls. Like the rest of her family she lives in Wapping East London, a few streets back from the London Docks. Like a great many in the area they are a second-generation Irish family. We first met her in A Ration Book Dream, which started the morning of her wedding on Saturday 2nd  September the day before Great Britain declared war on German. She married Stanley Wheeler. He had his own van and worked at Spitalfields fruit market as a delivery driver. He also rented a more spacious semi-detached house with a garden, a step up from her parent’s three-up three-down tenement house with just a backyard.

When war started her father, Jeremiah, was the local rag and bone man but because the price of scrap metal  was being strictly controlled by the Government, he has now built a successful delivery and removal business. Her mother, Ida, who used to scrub other people’s floors, now looks after the office side of the business. Unperturbed by the turmoil of war, Cathy’s feisty gran Queenie Brogan, tealeaf reader and one-time bookies runner, keeps a close and affectionate eye on the family.

However, since then life hasn’t been easy for Cathy as her husband has turned out to be a brute with dangerous friends.  Mercifully, now he, like most men of fighting age, is in the army, leaving Cathy at the mercy of his equally vicious mother. She is now reconciled to her sister Mattie after a rift caused by her husband Stanley’s actions. She’s also seen her two sisters, Mattie and Jo, marry the love of their lives, but for Cathy after three years of marriage, love and happiness are just a crushed dream.

Her only joy is her two-and-half-year-old son Peter. That is until a chance meeting with Sergeant Archie McIntosh, a member of East London’s Bomb disposal team, while the bells are ringing after the victory at El Alemain, is set to change all that.

Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

I am all my heroines and fall in love with all of my heroes.

If you could tell your younger self anything what would it be?

To start writing sooner. I only began writing twenty years ago and I really wish I’d started a decade earlier.

Where do your ideas come from?

That’s an easy one to answer. I have absolutely no idea. I write to contract so I can’t just write the first thing that pops into my head so I start by thinking of a period or scenario that might suit the story then mull it over both consciously and subconsciously for about a week, making notes and sketching out possible scenes, after which I put a very loose plan together. I then start and as I get further into my characters and story the initial ideas just seem to build and develop.

What does success look like to you?

Although the money’s nice, success for me is having a reader contact me and tell me how much they enjoy my books. That is how I measure my success.

A Ration Book Wedding.

In the darkest days of the Blitz, love is more important than ever.

It’s February 1942, and as the Americans finally join Britain and her allies, twenty-three-year-old Francesca Fabrino is doing her bit for the war effort in a factory in East London. But her thoughts are constantly occupied by recently married Charlie Brogan, who is fighting in North Africa with the Eighth Army.

When Francesca starts a new job for the BBC Overseas department, she meets handsome Count Leo D’Angelo and begins to put her hopeless love for Charlie aside. But then Charlie returns from the front, his marriage in ruins and his heart burning for Francesca at last. Could she, a good Catholic girl, countenance an affair with the man she has always longed for? Or should she choose Leo and a different, less dangerous path?

Amazon:  A Ration Book Wedding

Bio

Jean Fullerton is the author of twelve novels all set in East London where she was born. She worked as a district nurse in East London for over twenty-five years and is now a full-time author.

She is a qualified District and Queen’s nurse who has spent most of her working life in the East End of London, first as a Sister in charge of a team, and then as a District Nurse tutor.

She has won multiple awards and all her books are set in her native East London. Her latest book, A RATION BOOK WEDDING, is the fourth in her East London WW2 Ration Book series featuring sisters Mattie, Jo and Cathy Brogan and their family.

Website

Facebook 

Twitter

Thank you for talking to us today and we look forward to catching up again in the near future.

Welcoming Guest Elaine Everest to Talk of Weddings and Woolworths

Today we welcome back saga author Elaine Everest, whose novel Wedding Bells for Woolworths, was published on 30th April.

Hello Elaine, and welcome back to the blog.

Hello,
Thank you both so much for inviting me back. I see you have decorated since I was last here!

Yes, we’ve changed the furniture around a bit!

You’ve built up an impressive cast of characters over the course of the Woolworths series. How do you keep track of them all, their stories and their characteristics?

I would like to say that I keep it all in my head, but sadly as I can hardly remember one day from the other right now let alone what I had for lunch yesterday, I will have to confess to keeping records. I have notebooks for each of my books with several pages for each character. These notebooks are usually given to me as gifts and stand out on my desk – there’s no chance of mistaking them for the ones I scribble in and in which I write my shopping lists. When starting a new book (or series) I will simply head the page with the person’s name. Then, as I decide on characteristic and traits, I will add to the pages. I will also cross-reference. Even then it is possible to forget something, so my best reference books are my own novels when checking up on a character.
As for their individual stories I will read back through my timelines of previous books then update the pages in my notebook with current ages etc – and create a new timeline for the current WIP

Freda hadn’t long had her stint in The Butlins Girls. Was it hard fitting her story between the Woolworths books?

It was interesting as The Butlins Girls was written straight after The Woolworths Girls at a time when there wasn’t to be anymore Woolies books. With books taking over a year to be published I was writing a teashop book when The Woolworths Girls was published. A call from my then editor informing me that the book was a bestseller and so write another one really did throw me as I’d taken Freda forward to 1946 and stuck her in the Butlins story. Not only that but she’d mentioned colleagues, babies and her boss. I had to be careful to check the timelines for these characters so as not to make a mistake. Gradually as more Woolworths books were written I was aware we were approaching 1946 so had to keep Freda footloose and fancy free…
For a while we thought A Gift from Woolworths, which finished Christmas 1945 would be the end of the series, but I was wrong. A request for another had me thinking I needed to skip 1946 and carry Freda into 1947 and onwards. It was a joy to give her a major part in Wedding Bells for Woolworths although she has a bumpy journey. I never seem to make things easy for myself!

The name Lemuel, belonging to your Trinidadian character, is an unusual one. How do you select the names of your characters?

I love that name!
I came across it while working on my family tree. The Lemuel in my family was a chimney sweep and my great, great, uncle. I use many names from my Family tree – for my characters –the Caseltons, Nevilles, Whiffens and Missons are all ancestors and from the area where my books are set. Lemuel can be found in Gulliver’s Travels and also the bible (Proverbs). My grandfather and great grandfather were both named Job. When this beautiful man from Trinidad walked into Alan Gilbert’s workshop, I knew I’d met Lemuel.
Dipping into my tree again I’ve come across Esther Hester and Johannah Fitzgerald who are waiting in the wings for a part, while I’ve just used a Tomkins in my last completed MS along with my paternal nan’s name, Cissie. In fact, a little of my nan’s life started the idea for the book.

I know we asked you this question way back when the first Woolworths Girls book was released in 2016, but a lot of characters have come and gone since then. So, who is now your favourite character in the series?

I would have to say Ruby Caselton nee Tomkins, who later became Ruby Jackson. She is the matriarch of the family and loved by all. I have just handed in a book about Ruby going right back to 1905 when she moved to Erith with her son, George and first husband, Eddie. It was wonderful to write Ruby’s story and see how she turned into the person we know so well in the Woolworths books. With the editing process going on at the moment I feel very close to her.

Tell us something about the Medway Maid and the Kentish Queen. A trip down the Thames to Margate sounds wonderful. Have you ever taken this trip?

I did take a trip on a Thames paddle boat as a child. In fact, my parents lost me! Their version of the story was that I ran off but I’m not so sure! The trip was from the pier at Erith down to Southend. My Dad and Grandad worked at Erith Oil and Cake Mills, a major company in Erith with a very good social club. I remember many events and also the dances and the live bands. We’d just docked at Southend and like any young child I ran and ran and ran – they stopped and screamed and screamed and screamed…
The first time I featured a paddle steamer was in Gracie’s War when Gracie Sayers (another family surname – although Gracie was my dog’s name) worked with her dad on his paddle steamer during WW2. The name Kentish Queen came from the PS Medway Queen which was one of the ‘Little Ships’ used during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. I’d followed the campaign to have the steam driven paddle boat restored, so when I needed a name for the Sayers’ boat, I wanted it to be similar. Throughout my Woolworths books I bring in The Kentish Queen and many a trip has been taken on her. In Wedding Bells for Woolworths I didn’t want to use The Kentish Queen – I won’t say why here – so along came The Medway Maid keeping the local theme alive.

 So, is this it for the Woolworth’s Girls?

I don’t think so. Woolworths didn’t close until 2008 so there are plenty of adventures for the girls. It is down to my publisher to decide, but I’m sure we will meet the girls again before too long.

What can your readers look forward to next?

We visit the Kent coast for Christmas with the Teashop Girls in September (hardback) and October for the big launch of paperback, eBook and Audio. The book is already listed on Amazon for pre orders.

 Thank you for dropping by to talk to us, Elaine, and the very best of luck with Wedding Bells for Woolworths

Thank you for inviting me.

Elaine xx

WEDDING BELLS FOR WOOLWORTHS

Wedding Bells for Woolworth is the latest feel-good novel in former Woolies girl Elaine Everest’s bestselling Woolworths Girls series. It sees the return of her well-loved characters in another heartfelt and gripping story.

July 1947. Britain is still gripped by rationing, even as the excitement of Princess Elizabeth’s engagement sweeps the nation…

In the Woolworths’ canteen, Freda is still dreaming of meeting her own Prince Charming. So far she’s been unlucky in love. When she has an accident on her motorbike, knocking a cyclist off his bicycle, it seems bad luck is still following her around. Anthony is not only a fellow Woolworths employee but was an Olympic hopeful. Will his injured leg heal in time for him to compete? Can he ever forgive Freda?

Sarah’s idyllic family life is under threat with worries about her husband, Alan. Does he still love her?The friends must rally round to face some of the toughest challenges of their lives together. And although they experience loss, hardship and shocks along the way, love is on the horizon for the Woolworths girls.

Available on Amazon

ABOUT ELAINE EVEREST

Elaine Everest is from North West Kent and she grew up listening to stories of the war years in her home town of Erith, which features in her bestselling Woolworths Girls series. A former journalist, and author of nonfiction books for dog owners, Elaine has written over sixty short stories for the women’s magazine market. When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Hextable, Kent. She lives with her husband, Michael and sheepdog Henry. You can find out more about Elaine on:

Twitter

Facebook

Read more about Elaine and Wedding Bells for Woolworths by catching up with her tour:

From Piano Playing To Writing

Francesca and Elaine are thrilled to have Mollie Walton as their guest on The Write Minds Blog today chatting about her writing life and what makes her happy.

Other than writing what else do you love to do?

I love to play classical piano. During the lockdown, I’ve been posting daily piano pieces on Facebook for three weeks. I’ve called it Piano Therapy, because it seems to help with anxiety. I’m loving learning new pieces and having a target to aim for. That’s a good thing in these strange days.

Do you see yourself in any of your characters?

I think there are snippets of me in all of my characters, probably, even the baddies! I try to identify with all of them, however far from me they seem. I wish I had the bravery of some of my characters. I hope I have some of their strength. I’ve had to be strong at various difficult times in my life, so I know how it feels to have to battle through something. That certainly helps me to identify with my saga characters, who I put through the worst of times, the poor things!

How do you select the names of your characters?

Mostly I look up the popular baby names in each character’s year of birth. I will also look at regional variations, such as with my latest trilogy, which is set in Shropshire. There are some names that are particularly common in that area, so I’ve chosen those too. This is especially true of surnames. I have a list of common Shropshire surnames and have only used names from that list for all my Shropshire characters. It’s great because then I’ve been contacted by Shropshire readers with the same name, saying how happy they were to see their surname immortalised in print!

If you could tell your younger self anything what would it be?

I would tell her not to worry so much about the future. Things have a way of working themselves out. I would also tell her to start writing novels earlier, as it took me years to finally get published!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on Book 3 in the Ironbridge Saga, which will be out next April. It’s pretty hard to focus in the current climate. The words don’t come easy! But I’m getting a lot of the historical research done, which I find my brain finds easier to focus on. It’ll get done! It always does.

Do you have a favourite writing place?

I live in a very small bungalow, so I write at a desk in my bedroom! It’s very comfy and snug. I used to have neck problems so I have to use a decent chair and a raised monitor etc. If I don’t work at my desk, my RSI starts playing up again. So, that’s my best and most sensible writing place. I’d rather write in bed though!

What does success look like to you?

Writing is a funny old game. Just when you think you’re doing all right, the goal posts shift! For years, my aim has been to live solely from my writing and I’m just about to achieve that this year for the first time. So, that’s success to me, because it means I can afford to write and it’s actually paying its way. Writing is the only thing I ever wanted to do as a job, so if it pays enough to get by, that means I can keep doing it. And that not only means success to me, but also pure happiness!

Thank you,  Mollie, for sharing your wonderful day with us today. Read below about Mollie Walton’s The Secrets of Ironbridge.

Amazon Link: The Secrets of Ironbridge

The Secrets of Ironbridge, out now in e-book and out in paperback April 30th. It will be available in Tesco from that date and also in Morrisons from the end of June. Also available for order from independent bookshops and also all online book retailers:

1850s Shropshire.

Returning to her mother’s birthplace at the age of eighteen, Beatrice Ashford encounters a complex family she barely knows. Her great-grandmother Queenie adores her, but the privileged social position of Beatrice’s family as masters of the local brickworks begins to make her uncomfortable.

And then she meets Owen Malone: handsome, different, refreshing – and from a class beneath her own. They fall for each other fast, but an old family feud and growing industrial unrest threatens to drive them apart.

Can they overcome their different backgrounds? And can Beatrice make amends for her family’s past?

Mollie’s Bio

Mollie Walton is the saga pen-name of historical novelist Rebecca Mascull. She is currently a Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund at the University of Lincoln and she lives by the sea in the east of England.