Looking forward to a happier 2022 and new books!

Well, it’s the start of a brand-new year. The vaccines are successfully battling Covid, including the new Omicron variant, thank goodness. I’m a ‘glass half full’ woman and feel sure that a little further into the year we’ll be able to live a much closer-to-normal life. How I’ve missed meeting friends at the cinema and theatre. Casual nights out we took for granted. I can’t wait to attend all of them again, but without the dreaded mask.

Nothing was more depressing on New Year’s Day than to see a thousand people at the magical New Year’s Concert in Vienna’s Musikverein hall all having to wear face masks to be admitted. The musicians of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra only removed their masks they’d worn at every rehearsal for the big day itself. This is all a sensible precaution, but may the day soon come when we can see people’s faces and more importantly, their expressions.

The nights are drawing out! Pulling the curtains at four-thirty, you might think this sounds premature, but every day from now on we get an extra two minutes of daylight. By mid-February this rockets to a heady three minutes! And they add up. That’s already 24 minutes as I write this. And by the time my next book comes out in April we should at a rough guess be enjoying around four extra hours of daylight, speeded up by putting the clocks forward an hour at the end of March.

Talking about the next book, I have an exciting announcement to make for a brand-new series called: The Bletchley Park Girls. The first title is Summer Secrets at Bletchley Park, to be published by Avon HarperCollins on 28th April this year and the second title: A Winter Wedding at Bletchley Park follows in November, in good time for Christmas.

The two heroines couldn’t come from more differing backgrounds and each has her own problems. But the one thing they have in common is that they are determined to do their bit for  the war effort. At the start of the war in 1939, Dale Treadwell in Summer Secrets is a junior reporter on a London newspaper and Rosie Frost in Winter Wedding works in a factory in Norwich, Norfolk. Neither girl, along with practically every member of the public, has any knowledge of the secret goings-on in a certain mansion in Buckinghamshire – that is, until fate takes their hand and leads them to Bletchley Park.

I hope you’ll join these two valiant heroines as they struggle to crack the German and Italian codes as well as juggling family relationships and friends – not to mention secrets, betrayals and romantic suitors.

A Happy New Year to you all and see you next month!

Where do those ideas come from?

1931 advertisement (Public domain)

Readers are always asking where I get my ideas. Well, I have to confess that the setting for the first trilogy would never have been my immediate thought.

This was a request by Avon HarperCollins who’d just offered me a 3-book deal! In fact, they gave me four words to write these three books: Dr Barnardo’s, Liverpool, orphans, and WW2.

After the initial euphoria I had a complete wobbly. The only recognisable request was the period. That was fine. But I knew little about Dr Barnardo, only that he was more than just an observer of society in the 19th century, and especially of children, but set up a home to take in homeless boys and give them a chance in life. Well, I guessed I could do some more research on him. But three books set in a Dr Barnado’s home – filled with children?

I don’t have any children and am rarely around them. How would I know how children felt, spoke, learnt, misbehaved, interacted – and orphans would have many more problems to deal with. Lastly, I’d never been to Liverpool, and to be honest it didn’t really appeal. I was beginning to think my dearest wish of being published by my dream publisher was doomed before it had even taken off! Anyway, they left me to think about whether I would accept the offer to write The Dr Barnardo’s Trilogy.

Fortunately, my small group of writing friends brought me to my senses and made me ring the editor immediately saying I’d be delighted. I now had to find out everything I could through books and a visit to Liverpool. To my amazement I found Liverpool a fantastic city with some of the friendliest people I’d ever come across. But since the city was the most heavily bombed after London during the war, much was destroyed. However, enough buildings remained for me to take notes of the places where my heroine grew up, and the museums were invaluable to capture the period.

Liverpool 1946 Public domain (https://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/en/image/EAW001918)

Back home, I watched old films to see the way children behaved and spoke, but mostly I wrote almost instinctively, imagining I was that child.

The next trilogy was entirely my own idea. I wanted to write about three sisters doing completely different jobs in the war effort. I knew them quite well as characters but had no idea what they would set out to do. Then I watched a TV programme about Mary Ellis, at 101 years of age describing her time as a pilot in the Air Transport Auxiliary, delivering aeroplanes, including Spitfires, to the fighter pilots. Perfect for independent Raine, the eldest sister!

The middle sister, Suzanne, was musical, so I knew she would join ENSA – that’s the Entertainment National Service Association – and like my heroine, Vera Lynn, would sing to the troops abroad.

The idea for the youngest sister, Ronnie, a tomboy, came late in the day. I wanted something unusual and came across an article about young girls and women carrying cargo from London to Birmingham on the Grand Union Canal in the Second World War. Apparently, the work was so backbreaking, only about 40 of them ever did this work. It would be just up Ronnie’s street.

To complete the family would be a prickly French mother who the girls called ‘Maman’.

Now I’m writing a new series. A tingle shot right through me as my editor said the words ‘Bletchley Park’. I jumped at it. I’d been to Bletchley Park three times over the last 20 years, so it wasn’t unfamiliar territory. However, I knew it would be difficult for me to get to grips with all the code-breaking, but the many books I bought and borrowed played a huge part in my research.

In between the current pandemic restrictions, I managed a day trip with a historical tutor, and this propelled my new heroine to life in that most secret of buildings. More next month about The Bletchley Park Girls!

On that note, I do hope the New Year has all good things – including plenty of fabulous books – in store for you