Monday, 28 February 2011

Learning something new every day.

As a native East Ender I pride myself that I know the London docks and the Wapping and Shadwell area of Stepney pretty well. I should do. My family, the Fullertons, have lived in and around St George’s in the East for the past two years but one of the joys of being a historical writer is that you discover such wonderful snippets of knowledge as you go along.
For example, I remembered in the early 60s that the west end of Cable Street was a no-go area for respectable women as it was rife with prostitution and the seedy strip joint that were no more than cafes with rickety tables. But I didn’t know that a century earlier the densely populated other end was nicknamed Knockfergus because of the Irish family who lived there. It’s actual cited on some old maps.
But it’s not just the area that gives me a surprise or two but some of the jobs and industries also.
In my latest book, Perhaps Tomorrow, my heroine, Mattie Maguire, is a young widow who is trying to make ends meet running the family coal yard. This might seem simple enough but the story is set in 1847. Coal was the Victorian’s petrol and vast quantities were needed for both domestic and industrial uses. OK I that information can be found on any history website or book but what about the day to day details Mattie would have to grapple with? Like, what were the different grades? How much a tone was? Was it always sold by the hundredweight or could you buy a bucket to tide you over until the end of the week? And what about the delivery men and their wagons?
Of course, Mattie’s story isn’t about coal. It’s about her struggle to keep the family’s East End business solvent, while she raises her young son and cares for her troubled mother-in-law and how everything she has worked for is threated because corrupt local benefactor Amos Stebbins. Help is at hand, in the handsome shape of fugitive Nathaniel Tate. Nathaniel knows all about Amos as he was wrongfully imprisoned by him. On hearing of the death of his family Nathaniel escapes and tracks Amos, the man he holds responsible for their death, down to Maguire’s and meets Mattie, who offers him work. As Nathaniel begins to help Mattie turn around the fortunes of the business he starts to think less of revenge and more of the possibility of a new future with Mattie. But then his true identity is revealed. On the run from the police, Nathaniel has to prove his innocence, expose Amos, and win back the heart of Mattie. But a furious Amos has other plans…

In the story the coal, wagons and the day to day running of the yard are only mentioned in passing but when they are, the authentic details are there in order to transport you, the reader, back to a 19th century coal yard. Of course, to see if I’ve succeeded in that regard you’ll have to read Mattie’s story for yourself.

Perhaps Tomorrow
Orion Books
ISBN: 978-1409122913
£9.99 or less.

Friday, 25 February 2011

New cover: The House of Women

My Victorian historical novel, The House of Women, will be released May 9th!
more details soon.

Monday, 21 February 2011



I am often asked how I get the ideas for my books.  The answer is anywhere and everywhere: books, newspapers, things I've experienced, things people tell me, and a book might have more than one source of inspiration as in the case of THE SUMMER HOUSE, published in 2009 by Allison and Busby.
My grandmother was an indomitable lady who was midwife, nurse and confidante to the whole village of Necton in Norfolk from before the first World War until the coming of the National Health Service in 1948.  She was not unique in what she did, there were thousands of women doing the same job.  They were referred to as 'the handywoman' or 'the woman you sent for.'  And when she was sent for, she always went, whatever the time of day or night
            She lived with my grandfather and a maiden aunt on a small holding with no electricity, gas, main drains sewerage or telephone, just four walls and a roof and a few acres of land.  The loo was down the garden, the bath hung on a hook on the outside wall and the cooking was done on the kitchen range  When it got dark we sat by the light of an oil lamp and lit our way to bed with a candle.
Grandma was a fund of stories, told when something jogged her memory.  When she began with 'That time o'day,' she wasn't talking about hours and minutes but times gone by and I knew there was a story coming.  I heard about my grandfather's work as a shepherd, their disastrous wedding day, my mother's illness as an infant, helping the doctor take out a child's tonsils on the window sill of a cottage during an earthquake, about the first World War and the Zeppelins.  I soaked them all up and the result was her biography, The Mother of Necton..
I was evacuated to stay with her during the second world war and it was that time which was the initial inspiration for The Summer House.  WW2 is now considered history by publishers, which both amuses and horrifies me.  I remember it so vividly it seems like yesterday.  I remember the blackout, the blitz, rationing, shortages, the black market, the evacuees.  That did not mean I didn't have to do any research.  It is easy, looking back, to get times and dates wrong and things in the wrong sequence. The plot must fit the facts, not the other way about, though some of the films you see on TV nowadays seem to ignore that!   I had my background.  But background is only a part of it.  I needed characters and a plot.
Just after the war my mother worked in a home for unmarried mothers.  The girls (some of them very young) were taken there a few weeks before the birth to have their babies who were then taken away for adoption.  A week or two later were sent home and expected to get on with their lives as if nothing had happened.  She told me some heart-rending stories of what went on there and how she often had to take the new babies by train to London and hand them over on the station platform to another social worker who took them to their new parents.  That way mother and adoptive parents were kept as far from each other as possible.
That tale stuck in my memory.  I could not help wondering about the poor mothers and how they must have felt.  Could that be a basis for a story?   It was then I tried the what if exercise.  What if one of my characters had an illegitimate baby? In the second world war it was still a disgrace, though becoming more common.  In the Great War its impact would be even worse for the mother-to-be.  What if my mother-to–be was an aristocrat?  What if she was married to a serviceman who was away fighting in France?  What if the marriage was not happy and she fell in love with someone else?  What if he, too, was sent away to France, leaving her pregnant?  What if her parents insisted on having the child adopted?  How would she feel?  How would she cope?
I asked myself what kind of life would this baby have? What would her adoptive parents be like?  Rich or poor?  Why were they adopting?  Would she be cared for and loved?  Would she be told the story of her birth or would it be kept a secret from her?  What if the real mother does find her daughter again, how would she feel?  What could she do about it?

In answering those questions I had my story.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Memories of You

My mother, the youngest of thirteen children, was a scholarship girl. At the age of fourteen her parents told her they could no longer afford to keep her at school and that she had to leave and work for her living. She ran away from home - all the way to London where she got a job in a big house. After a while she left domestic service and found work as a 'Nippy' in a Lyon's Corner House. Helen, the heroine of my new book, 'Memories of You', is taken away from grammar school at the age of fifteen and eventually ends up in London. Helen finds work in a cafe in Soho and discovers a new and exciting world. She not only falls in love, she makes an entirely new life for herself. So did my mother, make a new life that is. For the difference is that mother came home for a holiday, met my father, and never went back to London. Helen stays and I'm pretty sure my mother would have approved of the way the story ends.

Friday, 18 February 2011

My Family.

Spiked perhaps by the TV program “Who do you think you are?” I’ve recently developed an interest in discovering my ancestors. This is because we migrated to Australia from England over four decades ago, and it will give my children and those who come after, a back-story of family history.

Seeking out deceased relatives hasn’t become an obsession with me yet, but the more I uncover the more my curiosity is piqued, and the more the feeling of kinship with those who have departed grows.

Nothing remarkable has turned up yet. Both sides of the family I’ve managed to unearth so far were housekeepers, domestic gardeners, cattle dealers, brick-makers, chauffeurs, laundry-maids, fishermen and mothers.

And goodness, were they mothers! These women did it tough, with five, nine or even a dozen kids being a fairly normal brood - and the offspring being thinned out by disease, just as normal. Life is short when measured in decades, and it makes me wonder what humanity is all about sometimes. But this is the stuff historical sagas are made of, especially those that cross generations.

I always knew my “down south” paternal grandfather was a chauffeur. I have photographs of him in his uniform at the wheel of a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. The copy of the County of London driving licence I have for him is dated 10th April 1911, and is valid for a year. However, by digging a little deeper I discovered he was a coachman before he drove a car, something I didn’t know. I’m in awe of anyone who can stay on a horse, let alone drive a team perhaps, and with a carriage attached.

My “up north” grandfather on the maternal side owned two fishing boats and he and his sons fished the North Sea. With a family of about eleven children to feed and clothe, life must have been extremely hard and dangerous. When I met him he also had an allotment.

Despite their humble occupations, there is pathos to be discovered . . . an uncle who died in the battle of Jutland at the tender age of 17. He was a boy seaman HMS Invincible his first ship. Imagine how excited and proud he must have been when he stepped on board for the first time. Then there are several infants in various churchyards who died of God knows what.

As for my other uncles, I found a little bald patch in the research for two of them. Then I remembered talk of Irish in the family. A bit of probing and I discovered they’d been born in Ireland, for I found them as infants on the Irish Census. And that was probably when grandfather used his coachman skills.

I’ve done my share of menial jobs like being a cleaning lady, a waitress, a shop assistant, wife, and mother to four – and at one time I followed a family trait of chauffeuring people around by being a taxi driver.

Now I’m an author . . . a saga writer, and that’s what I’d rather be remembered for – my creative input rather than my practical skills.

Snooping into the lives of the ancestors has given me lots of ideas for novels. I wonder . . . will a fall of the genetic dice produce a set of DNA similar enough to mine to create another author? Then again, there might already be one out there that I haven’t found. I guess I’ll just remain the odd one out on the family tree until I discover different.

Janet Woods

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Writing what you know

Writers are told to write about what they know. Good advice, although it doesn't take long to realise how little you do know when you start writing a book.

Luckpenny Land was the first saga I ever wrote. We were living on a small-holding at the time, out on Shap Fell in Cumbria, and as I trekked up the fellside in the freezing dark to check if our sheep were about to lamb, or to feed a pet lamb, I would be thinking: ‘There must be a book in this.’ But who would want to read about a middle-aged mum, with arthritis, being so stupid as to choose to live in a place where the pantry was colder than her wonderful Zanussi fridge, the winter snows would freeze the mains water supply in the field below the house every winter, as well as the battery of her car as it stands buried in snow in the yard. This was not a place for sun-loving wimps, which is what I’ve turned into now, of course.

So I thought why not write about a girl who wants to be a sheep farmer during World War II, only her Victorian father thinks it’s not women’s work. I could then use many of the incidents and anecdotes, the difficulties and drama of living this life, but write it as fiction. Of course, I realised that running a smallholding did not qualify me to write knowledgeably about running a large sheep farm, let alone during WWII, so I began by interviewing farmers.

Cumbrian farmers are a breed apart. Stoic, strong, taciturn, and distrustful of strangers, particularly those who have not lived in Cumbria for three generations. It’s not that they are unfriendly, only they’re more used to the company of themselves and their animals rather than a nosy, would-be author. At this point in my career I’d published 5 Mills & Boon historicals, but the prospect of a full-length saga was daunting, and I’d never done an interview in my life.

When I rang the first name on my list, a farmer out in the Langdales, I spoke first to his wife to ask if he would see me. ‘Happen’, she said, which I took as a yes. To be on the safe side I took my husband with me as he was used to dealing with Lakeland farmers in his business. And it worked like a charm. I asked the farmer a question, and he told David the answer. I was so nervous I didn’t even dare to switch on the brand new tape recorder I’d taken with me, so I scribbled notes like mad, and then even more later. I didn’t make that mistake again. But he was marvellous. He took me through his farming year, explained everything he did most carefully, and showed me pictures of his dogs. Not his family, his dogs. All the farmers I interviewed did that. It’s a nonsense to say farmers don’t care about their working dogs. Mr G’s dog appeared in the book, much to his delight, although the accident the fictional dog suffered was far more dramatic to that of the real dog, even if it had the same outcome. And no, I can’t say anymore on that without spoiling it.

Some of the farmers I spoke to were women. Although farming was a reserved occupation during the war, some men opted to join up and leave their wives to run the farm. I learned how to kill and scald a pig, how to wring a chicken’s neck and pluck it. (I kept hens myself but they all lived to a ripe old age) And all the various wangles they got up to during the war, like dressing up a pig as a person in the car so they wouldn’t be caught out selling one. Talking to these women inspired many plot incidents and ideas, many based on real life, including the most dramatic which takes place in Luckpenny Land. And I won’t spoil it by telling you that either.

I loved writing this series of books, now available in ebook form on Amazon, Apple etc. Luckpenny Land is also newly out in Large Print as the original version was too long, being nearly 200,000 words. I’ve now cut it in half. The second part is called Storm Clouds Over Broombank, also available as an ebook, and coming soon in Large Print. I’ll tell you about the last two books in the series another time.

You'll see that the covers are different, the one above is the Large Print, availabe in your local library, the one below is the ebook.

Life is hard for Meg Turner. She lives on a lonely farm in the bleak but beautiful mountains of the English Lake District with a bully of a father and a brother who resents her. They want to keep her stuck at home, but Meg wants more than the kitchen sink. For love and comfort she turns to her best friend Kath, and to Lanky Lawson, who’s more of a father figure than her own father will ever be. But it’s Lanky’s son, Jack, with his dark good looks, she loves and hopes to marry one day. Loyalties are threatened as World War Two approaches and Meg gradually realises that the only thing she can really count on is her passion for the haunting land she loves. Until one day a stranger arrives in the dale and her world changes for ever.

You can check out my website for an extract

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Heart of The Home

HEART OF THE HOME is the third book in my Home series, following on from Dreams of Home and A Home of Our Own.

Dean Scott and Avril Gray are the best of friends but their paths seem set to part when Avril goes to university. She has a promising career ahead but fate intervenes. She promises to care for her two young brothers although she believes no young man will want to share such a responsibility.
Dean is struggling to forge his own path as a dairy farmer and feels he is not good enough for an educated girl like Avril.
His mother is determined to keep them apart. When she discovers Avril is illegitimate and does not know who her father is the knowledge provides ammunition. She has a vicious tongue and confronts Avril in public, almost destroying her fragile confidence so that she thinks she ought to stay away from Dean.

Subject of girls' night out: Do you write SECRETS in your diary?

Whilst enjoying a night out,crammed with comfort foods and hot gossip, I was asked if I had a good tip for writing enthusiasts. Apart from my usual “a tube of glue to spread on your pants before sitting down at the computer” ha, ha, I admitted that I would never go anywhere without a notebook. If you are thinking about writing a novel/story/bestseller I’d recommend a glance through your notebook or diary right now. Ideas should leap off the page, especially if you keep that diary locked! And re-read those crumpled notes under your pillow and in the scrapbook beside your bed. What has happened to raise your eyebrows? What secret confidence have you shared? What drama stretched you to breaking point? Who or what gave you the greatest joy/sadness/excitement/thrill? It’s the emotion you felt at this time that you can transplant into a fictional character. Mary Shelley did it so well when she wrote Frankenstein. Were the monster’s emotions also hers? Was she as lonely and desperate, as fearful and vulnerable as her creation? Mary adored her husband. But obsession was his undoing. Was it also Mary’s? We may never know the true story. The strong emotions on every mysterious and enthralling page are so vivid and honest that they give us an insight into Mary herself. And so it is for a writer. It’s the emotion that leads the way in – and creates the foundation for your bestseller.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Shortlist for Pure Passion Awards UK

Katie Fforde, chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association is delighted to announce the shortlist for the Pure Passion Awards 2011.

The RNA Pure Passion Awards celebrate the very best in romantic fiction. Over 200 titles were submitted for this year’s four categories, from the long-standing and hotly-contested Romantic Novel of the Year, to more recent additions which recognise the breadth of romantic fiction – the Historical Novel Prize, Romantic Comedy Award, and Love Story of the Year.

‘This year's short list represents the whole gamut of romantic fiction,’ said Katie Fforde, RNA Chair. ‘We have royalty, love letters, history and humour, from both newcomers and established authors. A truly impressive list.’
The shortlists
Over 200 books were submitted for the greatly-prized Romantic Novel of the Year. The shortlist of six titles have been selected by a panel of 85 readers from the general public. The winner will be selected by three independent judges – Amanda Craig, author and book reviewer, Foyle’s War actor and contributor to the blog Vulpes Libris, Jay Benedict, and fiction buyer for Waterstone’s, Janine Cook. The shortlist, in alphabetical order by author name, is:
To Defy a King Elizabeth Chadwick Sphere
The Golden Prince Rebecca Dean HarperCollins
Kissing Mr Wrong Sarah Duncan Headline Review
The Jewel of St. Petersburg Kate Furnivall Sphere
Amazir Tom Gamble Beautiful Books
The Last Letter From Your Lover JoJo Moyes Hodder & Stoughton

The Romantic Comedy Prize is organised and administered in the same way as the Romantic Novel of the Year. To reach the shortlist, the books must be laugh-out-loud funny. The winner is chosen by a panel of judges - Jane Wenham-Jones, author and columnist in magazine Booktime, Glenda Wood, Head of Libraries, Culture and Learning for Hertfordshire County Council, and Sara Craven, author of over 80 books for Mills & Boon. The shortlist is:
The Way to a Woman’s Heart Christina Jones Piatkus
I Heart Paris Lindsey Kelk HarperCollins
Mini Shopaholic Sophie Kinsella Bantam Press
Take a Chance on Me Jill Mansell Headline Review
Katy Carter Wants A Hero Ruth Saberton Orion
A Date in your Diary Jules Stanbridge Little Black Dress

Fiction submitted which is set pre-1960 is eligible for the Historical Novel Prize. As with Romantic Novel of the Year and Romantic Comedy Prize, a shortlist of six is selected by a panel of readers, and the winner selected by three judges – Richard Lee, founder of the Historical Novel Association, Elizabeth Hawksley, author and creative writing teacher, and Diane Pearson, president of the RNA since 1987.
The shortlist is:
To Defy a King Elizabeth Chadwick Sphere
Trade Winds Christina Courtenay Choc Lit
The Golden Prince Rebecca Dean HarperCollins
The Wayward Governess Joanna Fulford Mills & Boon Historical
The Jewel of St. Petersburg Kate Furnivall Sphere
Heart of Stone Jane Jackson Severn House

The Love Story of the Year is for a shorter romance where there is a strong emphasis on the developing central relationship. A shortlist of six is again chosen by the reading public, with the winner selected by three judges.
The shortlist is:
The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst Louise Allen Mills & Boon Historical
Mother of the Bride Caroline Anderson Mills & Boon Romance
Bride in a Gilded Cage Abby Green Mills & Boon Modern
Moving On Valerie Holmes Linford Romance
Fortunate Wager Jan Jones Robert Hale
The Captain’s Mysterious Lady Mary Nichols Mills & Boon Historical

Two Lifetime Achievement Awards will be presented to two people who have made outstanding contributions to romantic fiction and the Romantic Novelists' Association.

The winners for each award will be named at the Pure Passion Awards 2011, Monday, 7th March 2011 at a champagne reception at One Whitehall Place, Westminster.