Friday, 26 August 2011

Finding Inspiration

I am often asked how I get the ideas for my books. The answer is anywhere and everywhere: from books, newspapers, things I've experienced, stories people tell me.
For instance, just after WW2, 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 they were sent home and expected to get on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
That story stuck in my mind. I couldn’t help wondering how the poor mothers must have felt. Could that be a basis for a story? What if my heroine was married to a serviceman who was away fighting in France in the Great War? What if she fell in love with someone else? What if he, too, was sent away to France, leaving her pregnant? That would have been the ultimate disgrace in those times. 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? 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 The Summer House.

On the other hand, The Fountain was inspired by a competition run by my local newspaper some time before to design a new fountain to go on the market square. It resulted in hundreds of entries, some well drawn, others scribbled on the backs of envelopes. None of them was ever used, except by me as inspiration. I set it between the wars when it was easier for unscrupulous public servants to get away with corruption. If my heroine was married to such a one, how would she react? Would she support him or would she rebel?

The Kirilov Star was the result of my fascination with the Russian Revolution and the fate of the aristocracy, particularly the story of the possible survival of Grand Duchess Anastasia, (since disproved), but supposing my heroine did survive and was brought out of Russia as a child to be adopted and brought up in England? How strong would her Russian roots be? Would they be strong enough to make her abandon a comfortable life to go in search of them?

The Stubble Field also came about from two books I had been reading: The Workhouse by Norman Longmate and The Railway Navvies by Terry Coleman. I asked myself what it must be have been like to be forced into the workhouse where husbands were separated from wives, brothers from sisters and what happened to the children when they went out into the world? Did they ever see their siblings again? The hard lives of the navvies fascinated me: all those miles and miles of railway lines built with nothing but shovels and strong muscles. Together they gave me my story.
The book is long out of print, but recently I have put my toe in the water of e-publishing and now renamed A Line Through Chevington, it is once again on sale as an e-book, together with its sequel Promises and Pie Crusts.  

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The bobbin makers of Grizedale Forest

Stott Park bobbin mill is most definitely worth a visit for anyone who wants to see a living piece of history. Tucked away in the Grizedale Forest in a most beautiful setting, the bobbin makers carried out their sometimes dangerous craft with diligence. The moment I visited I knew I had to write about it.

The late Bill Hogarth spent hours taking me through Grizedale Forest teaching me the tricks of his trade on coppicing, making hurdles and swill baskets. Stan Crabtree and Bill Grant also enlightened and entertained me on the skills of forestry.
Even the charcoal maker patiently explained his craft to me.

Most of all I loved the evening I spent with the ‘Bobbin Girls’ themselves Eileen Thompson, Joyce Wilson and Pat Hogarth regaled me with their yarns and the wonderful tricks they played on each other in the bobbin mill. How they would put a mouse in a friend’s bait box (lunch) which meant there would be little left of the poor girl’s sandwiches. Mice were a common pest among the wood shavings. They also painstakingly described all that was involved in the making of bobbins, a skill I would not wish to try considering the hidden difficulties and dangers. Bobbin makers are well known for being a digit short. Fortunately, Eileen, Joyce and Pat still have all of theirs.

The Bobbin Girls is one of my favourite historical sagas, now available as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. It was a joy to revisit it for editing purposes, as I’d largely forgotten it.

And is there a romance in this book? Of course.

Alena Townsen, a fiery tomboy from a large, happy family, wants nothing more than to spend the rest of her life with her childhood friend, Rob, the only son of James Hollinthwaite, a wealthy landowner. Hollinthwaite, however, has other ideas and when he forces the two to part Rob is sent away to school while Alena must start work in the local bobbin mill. Life is hard and her love for Rob severely tested. Torn between two men, her indecision is heightened by the knowledge of a tragic secret. Dolly Sutton has problems of a more intimate nature, while shy and unassuming, Sandra Myers finds herself an unlikely campaigner against Hollinthwaite’s destructive plans for the village when he ruthlessly sacks the man she loves. This is a moving tale of thwarted young love, and trust me, you will like the ending.

The Bobbin Girls. Now available in the Kindle Store:

Monday, 8 August 2011

RIP: Jean Saunders

I was very sorry to hear of author Jean Saunders's death last week. A prolific author of many fiction, non-fiction books and short stories, Jean was also known by her pen names: ROWENA SUMMERS, RACHEL MOORE, JEAN INNES, SALLY BLAKE and JODI NICOL. Although many a saga author, Jean also wrote crime (published by Robert Hale, a UK library publisher) and the odd erotica story.

For more about Jean you can visit her website:

Some of the books Jean wrote: