13.7.18

A View of Characters

Creating characters, their names and making them believable in whatever book I’m writing, is always fascinating. Their appearance and behaviour comes into my head as I write, but I do try to work out in advance what kind of people they are. What is their main characteristic, and their major flaw? Often the two facets are linked. Independence can easily slip into stubborn obstinacy. Everyone has faults and it is these human failings which can bring a character alive for a reader, and explain their motivation for behaving as they do. Their backstory is also important, and how they relate to other people. Mothers do not treat their daughters in the same way as their father, certainly not in Girls of the Great War, but why? She’s a difficult woman who says nothing about her husband. Considering the various problems and viewpoints in a character can help to round them out.

To me, characters always come first. Also, they won’t always perform to my bidding. In Gracie’s Sin, I planned for one of the Timber Girls to have an affair, fearing she’d lost her husband in the war, but she loved him and determinedly remained loyal. Once I know a character thoroughly, who starts to live in my mind, I have to accept who they are and their plan in life. All I have to do is listen to their voice, write down their comments and the rest follows. I know it sounds crazy but that’s how it is. If I try to plot too much in advance, I somehow lose the drive to get the story down.

Though my characters often live in a fictitious village or street, which allows plenty of scope for my imagination about who lives in it and what they do, I put this into as accurate a setting as I can. I enjoy research and spend a great deal of time seeking out those little details to create a sense of reality. I take a great many photographs, draw maps and talk to people who have been involved in the type of industry or lifestyle which I am trying to recreate. I find inspiration and ideas from many sources: family memories, history of the places I’ve lived in such as the beautiful English Lake District and Cornwall. I also interview people, pick up ideas from newspapers, TV, and I have hundreds of books, old magazines, memoirs and documents of all kinds that I squirrel away in case they come in handy one day. A strong sense of place is essential for the kind of sagas and historical fiction I write.

Getting started on a new book takes time. I always have an overview, a beginning, middle and end, although how I will get there takes time for me to decide. I’m not a great plotter and planner. Once I have an idea of the main characters and the premise, I start writing into the mist and see what comes. Usually, by chapter four and five, I know what the next section will be about. When I reach three-quarters of the way, knowing all the characters well, comes the desire to write the book at greater speed, and then to edit, of course. And of course, I do lots of edits and rewrites once the original section is finished.

Extract from Girls of the Great War: 


Chapter One 

Christmas 1916 
Lights dimmed as a man dressed as Pierrot in a bright blue costume and pantaloons, peaked hat and a huge yellow bow beneath his chin, skipped merrily on to the stage singing ‘All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor’. He was quickly joined by a troop of dancing girls. They too were dressed like Pierrots, all of them looking ravishing in a pink costume with a wide frilled collar, long swirling skirt decorated with fluffy bobbles, and a tight-fitting black hat. They were complete visions of beauty who brought forth roars of excited approval from the audience. Pierrot waved his gloved hands at them, the theatre being packed with British and Belgian soldiers who responded with cheers and whistles.
    Cecily smilingly watched from the wings as she loved to do most evenings. A part of her ached to join the singers, something her mother would never agree to. Viewing herself as the star performer she expected her daughters to wait upon her hand, foot and fingers. Not that Cecily believed herself to be a good assistant, being too involved with working as a conductor on the electric trams now that most men were caught up in the war. Her mother disapproved of that. Cecily, however, firmly believed in making her own choices in life.
    Feeling a gentle tap on her shoulder, she found her sister at her side. ‘Her royal highness Queenie requires your assistance,’ Merryn whispered, her pretty freckled face wrapped in a jokey grin. ‘I’ve been dismissed, as she’s engaged in her usual bossy mood.’
    ‘Oh, not again!’ Stifling a sigh, Cecily accompanied Merryn back to the dressing room. Gazing in the mirror she recognised the familiar lack of focus in her mother’s blue eyes, proving she’d again been drinking. Despite seeing herself as a star, Queenie too often felt the need to overcome a sense of stage fright before she performed.
    ‘Merryn has made a total mess of my hair,’ she stuttered in a slurry voice.
    ‘I’m sure she didn’t mean to, Mama,’ Cecily calmly remarked, and reaching for a brush began to divide her mother’s curly blonde hair across the back of her head.
    ‘Never call me by that name. You know how I hate it.’
    She’d chosen to name herself Queenie years ago as she considered it more appropriate for her career than Martha, the name she was born with. And that was what she required her daughters to call her, having no wish to be reminded of her age. Merryn seemed to accept this. Cecily always felt the need to remind her of their true relationship, which irritatingly was not an easy one. She carefully twisted up a small strand of her mother’s hair and clipped it, then tucked the other portions neatly around before pinning them together with a glittering silver hair slide on the top of her head.
    Grabbing a curl, Queenie pulled it down to loop it over her left ear. ‘I’ve no wish for my hair to be all pinned up. Flick some over my ears.’
    ‘I thought you liked to look as neat and tidy as possible, Mama,’ Cecily said.
    ‘No, fluff it out, silly girl. How useless you are.’
    Cecily felt quite inadequate at this job and checked her success or lack of it by viewing her mother in the mirror. She was a slender, attractive woman with a pale complexion, pointed chin and ruby lips frequently curled into a pout, as they were doing now. But she was also vain, conceited, overly dramatic, emotionally unstable, selfish, overbearing and utterly neglectful. Queenie was never an easy woman to please, even when she was stone-cold sober. She was an exhibitionist and a star who demanded a great deal of nurturing and support, a task Merryn was extremely skilled and happy to do, save for when Queenie was completely blotto, as she was now. And having been scolded and dismissed countless times when her mother was drunk, her sister would sit in the corner reading Woman’s Weekly, taking not the slightest interest. Once Queenie sobered up she would happily treat her younger daughter as her favourite child in order to make Cecily feel unwanted, even though she’d done her best to help. Not that she ever felt jealous about this, always eager to act as a surrogate mother towards her beloved sister as Queenie could be equally neglectful of them both, wrapped up in herself and her tours.


Cecily Hanson longs to live life on her own terms—to leave the shadow of her overbearing mother and marry her childhood sweetheart once he returns from the Great War. But when her fiancé is lost at sea, this future is shattered. Looking for meaning again, she decides to perform for the troops in France. 

Life on the front line is both rewarding and terrifying, and Cecily soon finds herself more involved—and more in danger—than she ever thought possible. And her family has followed her to France. Her sister, Merryn, has fallen for a young drummer whose charm hides a dark side, while their mother, Queenie—a faded star of the stage tormented by her own secret heartache—seems set on a path of self-destruction. 

As the war draws to a close and their hopes turn once again to the future, Cecily and Merryn are more determined than ever to unravel the truth about their mother’s past: what has she been hiding from them—and why? 

Amazon UK

Amazon US 

6.7.18

Cecily worked for the Suffragettes

A section of this book is about the suffragette movement Cecily is involved in. originally focused in Manchester, that was where Emeline Pankhurst and her family had lived. The general election of 1905 brought it to the attention of the wider nation when Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenny interrupted Sir Edward’s speech with the cry: ‘Will the Liberal Government give votes to women?’ Many women were very much in favour of that, and some were charged with assault and arrested.

They further shocked the world by refusing to pay the shilling fine, and were consequently thrown in jail. Never before had English suffragists resorted to violence, but it was the start of a long campaign. Their headquarters were transferred from Manchester to London and by 1908, by then dubbed the suffragettes, they were marching through London, interrupting MP’s speeches, assaulting policemen who attempted to arrest them, chaining themselves to fences, even sending letter bombs and breaking the windows of department stores and shops in Bond Street. They went on hunger-strikes while incarcerated, brutalised in what became known as the ‘Cat and Mouse Act.’ This ‘war’ did not end until 1928 when women were finally granted the vote in equal terms with men. They showed enormous courage and tenacity, were prepared to make any sacrifice to achieve their ends.

Fortunately, Cecily managed to avoid the risk of jail as she went off to France to entertain the soldiers in the war. But she believed very strongly in working for the suffragists and happily helped to organise a meeting before this idea came to her. Later she met one or two people who greatly intrigued her.

Excerpt from Girls of the Great War: 

This afternoon, being a Saturday, they were attending a Suffrage meeting, which offered much satisfaction. Cecily had worked alongside this organisation from before the war, taking part in parades and demonstrations. She’d always felt a sore need to help, as she strongly believed in the rights of women. She’d spent every evening the previous week happily delivering notices to encourage people to come to this meeting.
    ‘The place is packed,’ Merryn, who was seated beside her on the front row, softly remarked, glancing around. ‘You did an excellent job encouraging so many to come.’
    ‘Thank goodness there are plenty of women here.’ This had been helped by the fact that Annie Kenney, a most special lady, was attending the meeting. As a working-class factory girl who started to follow the Pankhursts she was now almost as famous as them and she certainly gave excellent talks, being very down-to-earth. ‘Unfortunately, some working women are unable to attend these suffrage meetings because they have families to feed after they finish work, or else they fear to offend their bosses or family. Irritatingly, the occasional sour-faced father or husband would toss away the notice I delivered!’
    ‘Men can be very commanding,’ Merryn agreed.
    ‘I would never allow one to control me,’ Cecily sternly remarked.
    ‘I can understand that your sense of independence is partly the reason you enjoy working with the suffragist movement to help them seek the vote. Me too, although I am in favour of marriage and willing to be a fairly obedient wife to make my husband happy.’
    Cecily chuckled. ‘Hang on to your rights, darling. I have no doubt that we will achieve the vote one day and find the love of our life.’
    ‘Exactly.’ Stifling their giggles they listened to Annie Kenney explain how Lloyd George, who had always been supportive, was now helping ladies achieve their goal, having finally replaced Asquith as Prime Minister last December. ‘We have every reason to believe that a vote will soon be granted, if only to women of a certain class who own property and are over thirty,’ she announced.
    ‘Why is that?’ Cecily quietly asked her sister, only to find herself hushed.
    She firmly disagreed with her mother’s attitude against the working classes, particularly regarding her beloved Ewan. It seemed politicians were equally disapproving. How would she, Merryn, and most other women, ever achieve the right to vote unless they succeeded in improving their status and raised enough money to buy themselves a house? Deep in some secret part of her soul, there lurked the hope that by stimulating the new talent she’d discovered in herself during that one performance on stage, it might happen again one day and earn her an independent income. Shutting down these dreams she realised Annie Kenney was explaining the reason for this puzzle.
    ‘The government is wary of the fact that women are in the majority. Men have been in short supply for some years. Many went to work in the colonies before the war in order to find employment, a situation that could grow worse once this war is over, as so many young men have already been killed. Therefore, the number of surplus women will increase.’
    ‘Is this lack of a vote for all women, whatever their age or income, because the government has no wish to be taken over by us?’ Cecily asked, giving a wry smile. Others in the audience laughed and cheered at this remark.
    ‘I’d say that is the reason, yes,’ Annie replied with a cheerful nod. ‘As a young Yorkshire lass wishing to help women get the vote, I packed my little wicker basket, put two pounds safely in my purse - the only money I possessed - and started my journey to London to join the Pankhursts. Fortunately, Lloyd George and Asquith both now agree that the heroism of hard-working women doing men’s jobs during the war has made them reconsider our situation. This bill will make a start on improving our rights. Given time and more effort, we will hopefully succeed in widening its scope.’
    As the meeting came to an end, Cecily joined the group of stewards to help collect donations from those women able to contribute. Some carefully ignored this appeal, not being well enough off, but she did manage to gather a fairly large sum.

 
Cecily Hanson longs to live life on her own terms—to leave the shadow of her overbearing mother and marry her childhood sweetheart once he returns from the Great War. But when her fiancé is lost at sea, this future is shattered. Looking for meaning again, she decides to perform for the troops in France. 

Life on the front line is both rewarding and terrifying, and Cecily soon finds herself more involved—and more in danger—than she ever thought possible. And her family has followed her to France. Her sister, Merryn, has fallen for a young drummer whose charm hides a dark side, while their mother, Queenie—a faded star of the stage tormented by her own secret heartache—seems set on a path of self-destruction. 

As the war draws to a close and their hopes turn once again to the future, Cecily and Merryn are more determined than ever to unravel the truth about their mother’s past: what has she been hiding from them—and why? 

Amazon UK 

Amazon US 

29.6.18

Soldiers in World War 1

Their physical and mental stress was so strong at times that it blocked out their minds, filling them with fear, grim reality, tension, strain and anxiety whenever they approached a battle zone. They would fall into silence, asking themselves if they could cope with the dangers they were about to face. They always dreaded snipers, shell shock, infections and injuries, or to be damaged with shrapnel. It could make their mind go completely numb, particularly if they suffered the loss of a friend. Some could be walking wounded, or could only sleep on a groundsheet against the cold.

Infantry soldiers often knew very little about where they were or what was going on elsewhere. They lacked the facility of maps, news and information, relying on gossip and rumour. Food in Blighty was very much a problem. They might be given bacon and liver, brawn and kidneys, bread and dripping, but not too much food was available. They might have porridge with a few smashed army biscuits boiling in a mess tin with some water and sugar. Sometimes they were given a small drink of beer, and they would take a sip of rum and roll it on their tongue. Soldiers were also expected to keep their boots, caps, badges and buckles well-polished, and would hide them at night in case one of the other chaps might pinch them. Life was not easy, and they very much depended upon friends and letters from their family. It was a relief for them to be given a short break from the frontline when they were feeling worn out, perhaps to walk through the streets unthreatened by locals. Or to enjoy a performance.

 War might drain men of energy, but Cecily firmly believed that their minds and spirit needed nurturing. Her team gave regular performances in the camp and at local hospitals. It was not unusual for wounded men to be wheeled out of the wards and lie on stretchers in order to watch, having been treated or were simply waiting for the necessary care. They often happily accepted they could be soaked as rain beat down on them. Cecily would regularly sing and on one occasion, they performed a play. Because some couldn’t be moved, following a concert Cecily would visit the hospital and sing to patients in their beds, or to one alone if he was blind or dying. It was exhausting but moving, her team’s situation ripe with danger too. They performed popular songs, poetry, Shakespeare, comedy and gave a glimpse of ‘Blighty’ often to an audience of thousands. The soldiers were always overjoyed to be entertained.

Excerpt of Cecily’s first performance in Girls of the Great War. 
There was no proper stage, no curtains, dressing rooms or footlights, but they did have acetylene gas lamps glimmering brightly around the boxes. They worked for hours rehearsing and enduring more instructions from Queenie on what and how they should perform. Cecily suffered a flutter of panic as she became aware of hundreds more men gathering in the audience. A few were seated on boxes or benches, the rest of the area packed with a solid mass standing shoulder to shoulder. Many had been patiently waiting hours for the concert to start. Looking at the state of them it was evident that many had come direct from the trenches where they’d probably been trapped in horrific conditions for months. Those unable to move from their tent pulled the flaps open so that they too could hear the concert.
    Heart pounding and nerves jangling, Cecily felt the urge to turn and run as the moment for the concert to start came closer. Was her mother right and she couldn’t sing well at all? Would they roar and boo at her as they had that time at Queenie?
    She steadied her breathing, smoothed down her skirt with sweaty fingers and when she walked on stage the men gave a loud cheer of welcome. The excitement in their faces filled her with hope and as she stepped forward to the front of the boxed stage the audience instantly fell silent, looking enthralled and spellbound. She exchanged a swift glance with Merryn, counted one, two, three, four . . . and her sister and Johnny both began to play, sounding most professional. Cecily started to sing:

          There’s a Long, Long Trail A-winding.
          Into the land of my dreams,
          Where the nightingales are singing
          And a white moon beams:

    As she sang, her fears, depression and worries vanished in a surge of elation, soaring into a new life, and bringing these soldiers pleasure and relief from the war. When the song was over she received a tumultuous applause, cheers, whistles and roars of appreciation from them. Smiling broadly she went on to sing ‘Roses of Picardy’, followed by ‘Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag’ and many other popular favourites. Most of the Tommies would readily join in to sing the chorus whenever Cecily invited them to do so. Others would weep, as if fraught with emotion because they were homesick and felt greatly moved by this reminder of England. Then would again cheer and roar with happiness at the end, urging her to sing an encore.
    ‘You are doing quite well,’ her mother casually remarked during the short interval, a comment Cecily greatly appreciated. ‘Now sing some of those jolly music hall songs that I recommended.’
    ‘Right you are.’
    Cecily went on to sing ‘Burlington Bertie From Bow’and ‘Fall In And Follow Me’. These brought bright smiles and laughter to all the Tommies’ faces. She finished with ‘Your King and Country Want You’, bringing forth loud cheers of agreement. How she loved singing to these soldiers. If she hadn’t been a star before, she certainly felt like one now.


Cecily Hanson longs to live life on her own terms—to leave the shadow of her overbearing mother and marry her childhood sweetheart once he returns from the Great War. But when her fiancé is lost at sea, this future is shattered. Looking for meaning again, she decides to perform for the troops in France. 

Life on the front line is both rewarding and terrifying, and Cecily soon finds herself more involved—and more in danger—than she ever thought possible. And her family has followed her to France. Her sister, Merryn, has fallen for a young drummer whose charm hides a dark side, while their mother, Queenie—a faded star of the stage tormented by her own secret heartache—seems set on a path of self-destruction. 

As the war draws to a close and their hopes turn once again to the future, Cecily and Merryn are more determined than ever to unravel the truth about their mother’s past: what has she been hiding from them—and why? 

Amazon UK 

Amazon US 

22.6.18

Women Caught up World War One

More than 700,000 British men were killed during World War One, and women suffered badly from bereavement, grieving for their lost loved ones. More than a million women never found a man to marry, or the opportunity to bear children. They came to accept they never would have any, their lives having changed forever. They felt lonely with solitary lives and many lost their jobs, once the war was over. At least 750,000 women were made redundant in 1918. All men who returned were highly given priority, and even if a woman had children to care for, and no husband, she would still find it extremely difficult to gain a job.


Many began to seek careers, the facility to be able to vote and the opportunity to live their own life. They also wanted the freedom to enjoy themselves by going to the picture-palace or the palais-de-danse, if they wished of an evening. They weren’t interested in going back to being servants or maids, they either wished to keep the job they’d worked on during the war, or find a better one with good pay to care for themselves or any children they might have. Unfortunately they were not granted equal pay, and no right to vote unless they were over thirty and owned property in 1919.

Even those women who were married, their task now was to stay home, cook, clean and care for their family and be a dutiful wife. Their husbands generally felt ashamed of having her working and employers agreed and sacked them. Men saw themselves as the ruling section of society. But some men who had survived were likely to have been injured, maimed, or psychologically damaged, and their wives needed to be the one to work and care for them too.

There were many surplus women after the war. Those lucky enough to have secure financial independence often had no wish to hand it over to a husband and become ruled by him. Others felt desperate for a husband, but suffered loneliness, virginity, no children, grief for lost loved ones, or the loss of their job and rights. My books usually has a strong woman as the main character - who must succeed against all odds. She can be found fighting against the difficulty of her life, aspiring to better herself, and battling against the restrictions and prejudices of the time or whatever other dire circumstances she finds herself in. She must pit good against evil and win by her own efforts, no matter what she has suffered or lost along the way. Cecily greatly believed this, attempted to help her sister, and women battling to achieve an improvement in their life. As a member of the suffragists, she worked hard for them and met some interesting people who, as a consequence, had an effect upon her own situation

Extract of Girls of the Great War: 


It came to Cecily that having been involved with the suffrage movement for so long, she could possibly attempt to assist them in this battle.
    ‘Are you managing to resolve this problem?’ she asked Sally Fielding, one of her former tram workers. A group of them were standing on the Old Town Street holding posters high, one stating: Is a Woman’s Place in the Home? Another said: We Believe in Equality. ‘I can understand why I was not granted my job back on the trams, having been away entertaining the troops in France. Those of you who’ve worked for them throughout the war should have that right.’
    ‘Indeed we should,’ Sally agreed. ‘They accuse us of having less strength and more health problems than men. Absolute tosh! The bloody government treats us like servants. We were doing our bit for the duration of the war but are now being dismissed and replaced by men they consider to be more skilled. We women have worked damned hard and done well. They see us as less productive, which we’re most definitely not and surely have the right to the same pay.’
    ‘Did you join a trade union?’ Cecily asked.
    ‘We did indeed. Once we’d registered to work in the war, why would we not protect ourselves? It was recommended we do that when we were sent a leaflet issued by the War Emergency Workers’ National Committee.’
    ‘Are you managing to provide some funds for unpaid women on strike?’
    ‘Not very well,’ Sally said, pulling a face.
    ‘Right, I’ll help with that.’ She remained with them for the remainder of the day. Taking off one of her boots she held it out to passers-by, begging a donation as a token of their support . When dusk fell she handed over a fair sum of money to Sally. ‘I’ll try to collect more tomorrow. How long will this strike last?’
   ‘Maybe just a couple of days this week. Then if we don’t get anywhere, even longer next.’
    ‘I’ll be there to join you,’ she promised.
    Cecily continued to spend time each day assisting more women by raising money to provide them with an income, as they received none while on strike. It felt such a satisfaction, giving her a fresh purpose in life. Despite the troubles they were enduring she too sorely missed the work she’d been involved with during the war, and her talent. She wrote a brief letter to Boyd, to tell him of her satisfaction in helping these women on strike, being a suffragist. She sorely missed him too.
    ‘Can I do anything more to help?’ she asked her friend Sally.
    ‘Aye, you could write a newspaper report depicting our success and why we deserve to receive the same rate of bonus that is being given to men workers, as a result of the war.’
    ‘I’ll be happy to give that a go,’ Cecily agreed. She wrote at length about how many women during the war had worked in munitions, coal, gas and power supplies, factories, transport and various offices.


Cecily Hanson longs to live life on her own terms—to leave the shadow of her overbearing mother and marry her childhood sweetheart once he returns from the Great War. But when her fiancé is lost at sea, this future is shattered. Looking for meaning again, she decides to perform for the troops in France. 

Life on the front line is both rewarding and terrifying, and Cecily soon finds herself more involved—and more in danger—than she ever thought possible. And her family has followed her to France. Her sister, Merryn, has fallen for a young drummer whose charm hides a dark side, while their mother, Queenie—a faded star of the stage tormented by her own secret heartache—seems set on a path of self-destruction. 

As the war draws to a close and their hopes turn once again to the future, Cecily and Merryn are more determined than ever to unravel the truth about their mother’s past: what has she been hiding from them—and why? 

Amazon UK

Amazon US 

15.6.18

Entertainers in World War One

Entertainment was a place where soldiers could escape the harsh realities of their dangerous life. They were always overjoyed to see these performances.

Concerts took place to liven up the troops. Two or three concerts a day were often available and most popular. Drama too presented a particular challenge: contemporary comedies and romances were played with canteen furniture, and the scenery was often a backdrop of night sky. Violin solos, string quartets, operatic arias, all were performed behind the front lines. It was not unusual for the audience to be in their hospital beds, or wheeled out of the wards, even if rain beat down upon them. Shows were also given on ships, and out in the wild country or desert.

Even back in England the war naturally brought a surge in patriotism, both in drama and cinema. Music hall was one of the dominant forms in World War One. Theatre managers, newspaper editors, civic leaders and even clergymen insisted that people wanted cheering up and were not expected or even allowed to use their brains or be presented with serious matter. The war was expected to end by Christmas. Many plays were written about the suffering, but the emphasis was more on the humorous to attract the masses. There were many songs about the war, even women such as Vesta Tilley dressed as soldiers, as well as drama that was hostile to Germany. Soldiers on leave flocked to the theatres with their sweethearts, eager to be amused and entertained. There were many famous performers such as Harry Lauder, Vesta Tilley, Gertie Gitana and many others who were popular with troops out in the war or for soldiers and their families back home.

After the war, popular tastes began to change. Entertainment then preferred Charleston, jazz and syncopation. Performers would often entertain cinema audiences between films. Queues too would be entertained by dancing dogs or a man playing a banjo or accordion. Then a collection would be taken up for the soldiers and sailors. Benefit performances were held to raise money to entertain wounded soldiers; just as there were Tank Weeks, or fund raising for an ambulance. Matinees too would be held to buy x-ray or other first aid equipment.

In Girls of the Great War, Cecily, having lost the love of her life, eagerly goes to entertain the soldiers in France, filled with the need to help and overcome depression, Her sister, mother and Johnny, a drummer friend, accompanied her, a part of which proved to be a problem. I was inspired to write this because I’d been involved in amateur dramatics for much of my life. I still love the theatre, and have collected many books on the history of it and famous actors. Writing about it was a joy, and have touched on this theme in one or two other of my books.

Here is a short extract of Cecily’s first performance.

There was no proper stage, no curtains, dressing rooms or footlights, but they did have acetylene gas lamps glimmering brightly around the boxes. They worked for hours rehearsing and enduring more instructions from Queenie on what and how they should perform. Cecily suffered a flutter of panic as she became aware of hundreds more men gathering in the audience. A few were seated on boxes or benches, the rest of the area packed with a solid mass standing shoulder to shoulder. Many had been patiently waiting hours for the concert to start. Looking at the state of them it was evident that many had come direct from the trenches where they’d probably been trapped in horrific conditions for months. Those unable to move from their tent pulled the flaps open so that they too could hear the concert.
    Heart pounding and nerves jangling, Cecily felt the urge to turn and run as the moment for the concert to start came closer. Was her mother right and she couldn’t sing well at all? Would they roar and boo at her as they had that time at Queenie?
    She steadied her breathing, smoothed down her skirt with sweaty fingers and when she walked on stage the men gave a loud cheer of welcome. The excitement in their faces filled her with hope and as she stepped forward to the front of the boxed stage the audience instantly fell silent, looking enthralled and spellbound. She exchanged a swift glance with Merryn, counted one, two, three, four . . . and her sister and Johnny both began to play, sounding most professional. Cecily started to sing:
   
                 There’s a Long, Long Trail A-winding. 
                 Into the land of my dreams, 
                Where the nightingales are singing 
                And a white moon beams: 

    As she sang, her fears, depression and worries vanished in a surge of elation, soaring into a new life, and bringing these soldiers pleasure and relief from the war. When the song was over she received a tumultuous applause, cheers, whistles and roars of appreciation from them. Smiling broadly she went on to sing ‘Roses of Picardy’, followed by ‘Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag’ and many other popular favourites. Most of the Tommies would readily join in to sing the chorus whenever Cecily invited them to do so. Others would weep, as if fraught with emotion because they were homesick and felt greatly moved by this reminder of England. Then would again cheer and roar with happiness at the end, urging her to sing an encore.
    ‘You are doing quite well,’ her mother casually remarked during the short interval, a comment Cecily greatly appreciated. ‘Now sing some of those jolly music hall songs that I recommended.’
    ‘Right you are.’
    Cecily went on to sing ‘Burlington Bertie From Bow’and ‘Fall In And Follow Me’. These brought bright smiles and laughter to all the Tommies’ faces. She finished with ‘Your King and Country Want You’, bringing forth loud cheers of agreement. How she loved singing to these soldiers. If she hadn’t been a star before, she certainly felt like one now.


Cecily Hanson longs to live life on her own terms—to leave the shadow of her overbearing mother and marry her childhood sweetheart once he returns from the Great War. But when her fiancé is lost at sea, this future is shattered. Looking for meaning again, she decides to perform for the troops in France. 

Life on the front line is both rewarding and terrifying, and Cecily soon finds herself more involved—and more in danger—than she ever thought possible. And her family has followed her to France. Her sister, Merryn, has fallen for a young drummer whose charm hides a dark side, while their mother, Queenie—a faded star of the stage tormented by her own secret heartache—seems set on a path of self-destruction. 

As the war draws to a close and their hopes turn once again to the future, Cecily and Merryn are more determined than ever to unravel the truth about their mother’s past: what has she been hiding from them—and why?

Amazon UK

Amazon US

7.6.18

An excellent review of Girls of the Great War

https://bookishjottings.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/girls-of-the-great-war-by-freda-lightfoot-blog-tour-review/

A heart-breaking, engrossing and riveting novel set during the First World War, Girls of the Great War is a captivating historical tale from one of the UK’s best-loved and most popular writers of sagas and historical novels: Freda Lightfoot!

Cecily Hanson yearns to live life on her own terms and to be the mistress of her own destiny. Although her overbearing mother seems keen to control and manipulate every aspect of her life, Cecily yearns to escape the claustrophobic confines of the family home and be free to do as she pleases and marry the man she loves once he returns from the Great War. But when tragedy strikes and this future is shattered forever, a distraught Cecily finds herself desperate to look for meaning and purpose again. Realizing that the troops need entertainment and escape from the barbaric and shocking atrocities they witness every day, Cecily decides to go to France and perform for them. But hardship and heartache await Cecily amidst the falling bombs and tragedies that become a daily part of her life…

Danger might be round every corner for Cecily, but despite all of the risks, life on the front line is satisfying and invigorating. She soon becomes more involved than she initially thought possible and when her family follows her to France, further trouble is in store. Her sister Merryn soon finds herself falling head over heels with a young drummer. But could their fledgling romance be ruined by the skeletons from the past that are clattering in his closet and threaten any chance of future happiness he might have? Their mother, Queenie, who had once enjoyed great success on the stage has her own secret heartache and disappointments and as she seems to be trying her utmost to destroy whatever happiness might come her way, her daughters begin to wonder whether they can ever manage to unravel the truth about their mother’s past. What is Queenie’s real story? What has she hid from them for so long? And can Cecily and Merryn ever get to the bottom of the mystery of their mother’s past?

With the war finally coming to a close, Cecily and Merryn begin to look to the future. But will they ever manage to find the fulfillment which they crave when there are so many obstacles standing in their way? Is happiness within reach? Or are they destined to spend the rest of their lives being held hostage by secrets of the past?

Whenever you pick up a novel by Freda Lightfoot, you know that you are in very safe hands, and she has outdone herself with her latest novel. As always, Freda Lightfoot’s attention to detail and her meticulous recreation of the past is spot on and readers will be blown away by the evocative descriptions of the past that will effortlessly and deftly immerse readers into the early part of the 20th century. Girls of the Great War is a wonderful story of hope, secrets, second chances and healing from the past that is absolutely impossible to put down. The characters in this book are wonderfully realised and believable and they leap off the pages and straight into readers’ hearts from the very beginning.

A superb historical novel from one of the best writers in the business, Girls of the Great War is a compulsively readable novel I highly recommend!


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3.6.18

Review of Girls of the Great War

My rating: 5 of 5 stars 
by Ruth 
http://mydevotionalthoughts.net/2018/05/girls-of-the-great-war-by-freda-lightfoot-book-review-giveaway-guest-post-ends-6-8.html

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.

First of all, I absolutely LOVE historical fiction. It is my favorite fiction genre. I tend to have high expectations for this beloved genre of mine, and I will tell you that this book never disappointed. From the beginning, I was hooked. Be advised this is written by a British author, but that only added to the charm of this tale.

I have almost no cautions concerning the content of this book. There is no overt profanity. Sex is implied, and the reader gets a brief glimpse into the bedroom at times, but I never felt it was offensive in any way. It was tasteful without the detailed description sometimes found in contemporary and historical romances.

I salute the author for creating such phenomenal, three-dimensional characters. I adored Merryn and Cecily. There was mystery, intrigue, romance, romance, and a few heart-tugging moments. The author did an incredible job of setting the stage and truly drawing the reader into the world of WWI. In one sense, the tale is rather ordinary, and perhaps in the hands of a less-skilled writer, it would be a bit flat and boring. However, Freda Lightfoot’s expertise made the story entertaining and never vapid in any way. Even until the very end. While I simply adored so many moments within this well-crafted tale, I loved the fact that the plight of women was emphasized as it demonstrated just how strong these women were during the time. In fact, we should bless each and every one of them who stood up for themselves and broke cultural stereotypes to ultimately push us into the modern era where women were allowed and even encouraged to work.

My other favorite part is the twist the author propels into the mix towards the end of the story. I won’t spoil it here, but I advise all readers to read all the way until the conclusion of the book. You’ll be glad you did!