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Christmas World War Two style.

It’s Christmas 1942 and Edie goes home on leave from the WAAF…

She saw the stockings hanging in their usual place on the mantelpiece. Her mother took Edie’s hands to her lips and kissed them. ‘I’m sorry, my dear, I couldn’t bear not to put his stocking up again this year. I know it’s silly but I hope you’ll indulge me?’

‘Of course, Mummy. I understand.’ As long as the stocking was there, they could fool themselves that everything was the same. Jimmy had been gone for over a year and a half but it was still a bitter pill to swallow.

As soon as she got changed into her civvies, she helped to put the final decorations on the tree. It was a family tradition to wait until they were all gathered together to put the star on the top of it. Afterwards, they toasted the tree with a small sherry.

In the evening, Edie’s father left for his patrol. He’d been in the Home Guard from the very early days but she still found it difficult to think of him as the country’s last line of defence. He was such a sweet man, if he ever caught an enemy, he’d be more likely to give the fellow a cup of tea and a jolly good talking to than raise his gun to him.

On Christmas morning they went to church. Hannah managed to cook an excellent Christmas lunch considering the shortages. After lunch, they opened presents. Inside Edie’s stocking was a new pen, a bottle of ink and some chocolate. ‘I’m afraid oranges were nowhere to be had this year but we managed to bag the chocolate,’ said her mother. ‘This one is thanks to Daddy. They’re not quite as nice as your usual, but everything is in such short supply.’ She gave Edie a brown paper package which she’d made prettier with a ribbon tied in a bow. It contained three notebooks, rather utilitarian compared to her usual leather-bound journals but no less welcome since she was down to her last twenty pages on her current one.

Before she had a chance to thank them, her father handed her a large flat box, from Lewis’s. ‘And now, la pièce de résistance.’

She opened it to find the most divine silk dress, the colour of cornflowers. ‘Oh gosh, it’s beautiful. It must have cost the earth, as well as your clothing rations for a year.’

Her mother gave a little shrug. ‘We have plenty of clothes. You’re a young lady now, Edith. You’re allowed to dress like one occasionally, even if there is a war on.’  

Could you go to war at eighteen?

1942 is a life-changing year for Edith Pinsent. At the age of eighteen she joins the WAAF and becomes a plotter in the Operations Room at RAF Rudloe Manor. Here’s what Edie has to say about working in the Operations Room:

‘Edie’s first few weeks in the Ops Room were both terrifying and thrilling. She had been fully trained up but she still went to work every day fearful that she would get something wrong. Being in there was like taking part in a huge and very noisy board game, with the highest of stakes. To the side of the room, and on a balcony above it were the higher ranking airmen and women – officers who kept an eye on everything and relayed instructions to and from the outside. In the middle was a large map table surrounded by the plotters, mostly airwomen, who assimilated the information fed through their headsets and moved wooden blocks and arrows around with long poles. One of the girls said they were like croupiers in a casino. Edie had never been to one so she couldn’t say whether that was an apt description or not.

‘At first, the descent to the underground Ops Room gave Edie a queasy feeling. She thought it was the lift and the stale air but, without her noticing it, the feeling gradually disappeared. After a month, she realised it was completely gone. She saw then that the queasiness had been nothing more than nerves which was understandable. From day one she, not long out of school and not much more than a child, was responsible for her own section of that operations table. The fate of men’s lives lay in the hands of her and others like her. From the moment she entered the room she felt an intoxicating surge of adrenalin like nothing she’d ever experienced before. It was the most exhilarating place to work in, a world away from her father’s offices in Birmingham, and there was nowhere else she’d rather be.’

Sometimes even the most fearful of situations can be thrilling and it’s amazing how the human spirit can rise to the occasion when needed. Imagine yourself at eighteen. Could you have handled that kind of responsibility?

Finding Edith Pinsent – Out 10 January 2022. Available for pre-order now.

More research: saving a Bob in the Pound

While I haven’t actually mentioned this campaign in Finding Edith Pinsent, it made me smile.

‘Save a Bob in the Pound’ was a British World War Two campaign that encouraged the public to invest in government savings bonds for a ‘brighter’ post-war future. A bob was slang for a shilling. Pre-decimalisation in 1971, there were twenty shillings to the pound and twelve pennies to the shilling.

I love the poster but TalkingPictures TV came up trumps again with this old film. Despite our present day sophisitcation there’s something quite joyous and lovely about it.

In these days of sharp imagery and slick presentation this animated karaoke-style cinema ad looks and sounds archaic but there is something quite lovely and nostalgic about it. It’s voiced by Tommy Handley who was a popular comedian back then and features a cartoon character called – yes, you guessed it – Bob.

My parents and grandparents lived through the war and I can imagine them singing along with it. I have to admit I did too.

Research can bring up the funniest things.

I’ve had to do a lot of research for my next book, Finding Edith Pinsent because Edie’s story spans almost eight decades. I’ve read quite a few books set in the early periods – the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s – and I’ve watched a lot of television. My go-to TV channel has been one called ‘Talking Pictures TV’. It’s full of old movies and short information films that were made as far back as the late 1930s. They’re brilliant for giving you a glimpse into everyday life back then.

It’s been fascinating and ever-so-slightly addictive. For a while, I became a bit obsessed. Watching them has made me much more aware of how the way we speak changes over time. Not just the accent but the things we say. Here are a few phrases I’ve picked up from a 1940s film that, I have to admit, made me smile a little.

I do actually say good lord. I’m obviously a bit of a forties throwback. How embarrassing.

I’ll be posting more of these little insights in the build up to the release of Finding Edith Pinsent on 10th January. Look out for more snippets coming your way soon.

Exciting news

Edie is on her way and it’s earlier than expected.

The last few months have been a bit solitary. I’ve spent much of my time in my writing cave busily editing my next book Finding Edith Pinsent. I’m glad to say, it’s paid off because we’ve been able to bring the publication date forward to 10th January 2022.

I always think January’s a good time to settle down with a new book: the excesses of Christmas are over and it’s cold outside. What better time to snuggle down in your comfy cosies and wrap yourself up in an absorbing story?

I’ll be posting more Edie updates and snippets between now and 10th January, so do look out for them and, if you want a copy as soon as it comes out, you can pre-order a copy for your Kindle here.

Book Review: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite 

When Korede gets a panicky call from her beautiful younger sister Ayoola, she knows she has to drop everything and help her. Korede is a nurse and a hygiene obsessive, so who better to clean up Ayoola’s unusual situation?

And just what is that unusual situation? Well, Ayoola has killed her boyfriend again. This is the third. Apparently, that makes her a serial killer. According to Ayoola, all three were in self-defence. The first two times, Korede believed her but this latest man was a poet. A tender man who was loved by his family. Korede can’t imagine him as the brute that Ayoola paints a picture of. Then there’s the knife that once belonged to their father. If these men really attacked Ayoola out of the blue, why was she carrying the knife with her, and why does she still insist on keeping it?

Still, Ayoola’s her little sister. Korede must look after her, come what may. That is until Ayoola comes to the attention of Tade, a doctor at Korede’s hospital and the man Korede is secretly in love with. Just as they all do, Tade soon becomes obsessed with Ayoola and Korede knows, it’s only a matter of time before he becomes victim number four. How far can Korede’s loyalty stretch when the man she loves is in real danger?

I read this novel in two nights. Partly because it’s quite short but mostly because it’s one of those stories that grabs you and leaves you wanting to read just one more chapter. The plot is pacey and the humour, darkly comic. As well as the unusual premise, I particularly enjoyed the way the storyline interweaves a narrative on the Nigerian middle-class (the story is set in Lagos). I have no idea how accurately it reflects middle-class life in that country but I found it as interesting as the main plot.

There were a couple of minor negative points for me. I felt some of the characters could have been fleshed out a little more and while I understood that Ayoola was beautiful, I failed to pick up on what was so charming about her that made everyone fall at her feet – women as well as men. I realise we saw her through her sister’s eyes and her sister was equally nonplussed but an occasional hint would have added to the story’s believability. In the end, I could only conclude that Braithwaite was commenting on the shallowness of Nigerian society, or even society as a whole. That said, there is plenty in this book to like and I was so carried along with it that these slight niggles didn’t really occur to me until well after I’d finished.

Korede is an intriguing and complex character who carries the reader along with her, making it easy to see people and scenarios through her eyes. As the story unfolds through present day scenes and flashbacks, a disturbing past is revealed that explains why the two sisters are the way they are. Throughout the story Korede appears to be the innocent, dragged in against her will but as we get to the end of the book there’s a suggestion that she is perhaps not the innocent we’ve assumed she is, and a final flashback of a scene with their abusive father hints at the real reason why the two sisters are forever tied in a twisted knot.       

Overall, a gripping read. Well worth overlooking a few small gaps.

An uplifting story of love, loss and second chances.

Netta Wilde was all the things Annette Grey isn’t

Annette Grey is an empty, broken woman who hardly knows her own children. Of course, it’s her own fault. At least, that’s what her ex-husband tells her.

The one thing she is good at …
the one thing that stops her from falling …
is her job.

When the unthinkable happens, Annette makes a decision that sets her on a journey of self-discovery and reinvention. Suddenly anything seems possible. Even being Netta Wilde again.

But, is she brave enough to take that final step when the secrets she keeps locked inside are never too far away?

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A gorgeous novel about looking deep inside yourself, recognising what’s wrong and having the courage to change.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A wonderful life affirming read of not being taken for granted and being out done. Loved it.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A beautiful story about personal growth, love, loss, and friendships

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ An absolute blast of a read! 

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Wonderful debut

18th Century high fashion and she-wees

What ladies wore to court and how they answered the call of nature.

Earlier this week I managed to spend a day at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire. It’s a Georgian mansion with gardens laid out by Capability Brown. Wandering through the rooms and strolling around the plentiful walled gardens was an absolute delight, but what really captured my imaginatiion was a dress. Not just any old dress but one belonging to Ann Bangham, first lady of Berrington. It’s a restored 18th century court mantua dress.

Ann Bangham’s 18th century court mantua dress

In case you don’t know what a mantua dress is, it’s an overgown or robe typically worn over stays, stomacher and a co-ordinating petticoat (according to Wikipedia). As I understand it, mantua dresses were court dresses, designed to be worn when a lady was presented at court to the monarch.

Think of it as a high fashion catwalk dress. Intricately embriodered and threaded through with gold silk, this one was incredibly ornate and still packed a punch, despite being around 250 years old. The picture really doesn’t do it justice. It really is an incredible sight.

Talking of fashion, we’ve probably all seen some crazy concoctions in our day. Do you remember those incredible 1980s shoulder pads and how ridiculously accentuated they were on the catwalks? Well, that’s nothing compared to the bottom half of this dress. It looks like a small sofa’s been hidden under there. It makes you wonder how the poor women managed to move in it, or even stay standing! Apparently, a dance master was usually employed to teach them the tiny steps needed to walk in it. When they were on the move, it was said that the ladies looked as if they were gliding on wheels.

As for the underwear, here’s a picture of the stays and petticoat that had to be worn underneath.

And what, you ask yourself, happened if the poor dear needed to answer the call of nature? Well, it wasn’t as tricky as you might think. Knickers weren’t invented at the time so the lady essentially went commando. If she needed to ‘go’ her maid would hand her a ‘bourdaloue’ – a gravy boat shaped jug. When she’d finished the lady would hand it back to the maid to empty. A bit like an early day ‘She-wee’ then?

A bourdaloue

I wonder if that’s where the term loo comes from? If anyone knows the answer, do let us know.