17.8.19

The Castlefield Collector

I often interview people when I’m working on a book, and they happily find time to talk to me and share their memories of times past, the work they used to do whether in the mill or munitions, farming or forestry, in war or peace. I like to be able to properly describe some activity for my heroine during a particular scene or while a piece of dialogue is taking place.

For this book I chatted with Bella Tweedale, May Stothard, Bessie Jones, Alice Brook and Irene Baxter who all gave up hours of their time to talk to me about life in the mill during the war, plus Dolly Fitton who was 92 at the time and very generously allowed me to name the character in my book after her, as it seemed so appropriate. There is no better way of getting the feel of an industry, occupation or area than to talk to the people who have lived it. I asked them about their routine and how they acquired their skills? Where did they ache after a long day, and what were the problems and dangers in their work?

Dolly Fitton started in the mill as a doffer at 14, knocking off the filled bobbins, or cops as they were called, replacing them with empty ones. Her real name was Mary Ann but was more affectionately known to her family and friends as Dolly, because she was fairly small. ‘I were the scrapings up off t’mill floor,’ she told me, chortling with glee. ‘Eeh, it were marvellous in t’mill. You could hear them coming a mile off up from the mill. Clattering on the setts,’ she said.

When first published it sold remarkable well and has done so many times since, and received some good comments.



Where there’s muck, there’s mettle…

Dolly Tomkins has always known what it is to live hand to mouth. In the mean streets of a Salford struggling under the mantle of the Great Depression, the only one making a decent living is the talleyman.

Though Nifty Jack has a money bag where his heart should be, Dolly’s mam is in hock up to her ears and in dire need of assistance. But when Jack offers to wipe the slate clean, Dolly just can’t bring herself to trust him.

Instead, she takes him on at his own game and in the process endangers everything she holds most dear as a revelation about the past rocks the very foundations of her world.

This is an enchanting story of love and endurance perfect for fans of Nadine Dorries and Kitty Neale. Previously published as Watch for the Talleyman. 

Praise for The Castlefield Collector '
A story which in some ways could be written about today as easily as the 1920s' 5* Reader review

'This is my first novel by Freda and it will definitely not be the last' 5* Reader review

 'I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book from start to finish' 5* Reader review


 Chapter One
1929

Dolly Tomkins put her arms about her mother’s frail shoulders and hugged her tight. ‘It’ll be all right Mam, you’ll see. Dad’ll walk through the door any minute with his wage packet in his hand.’

 

‘Aye, course he will, chuck.’

 

They both knew this to be wishful thinking. When had Calvin Tomkins ever put the needs of his family before a sure fire certainty? which was how he viewed any bet, whether on the dogs, the horses, or two raindrops running down a window. And since it was a Friday and pay day at the mill, his pocket would be full of brass, burning a hole in his pocket. Most women hereabouts would be waiting with their open hand held out to collect wages as each member of the family came home on pay day. Maisie certainly did that with the three children she still had left at home: Willy, Dolly and Aggie, but had learned that it was a pointless occupation to wait for Calvin’s pay packet. He wouldn’t give a single thought to his long-suffering wife and daughters, not for a moment. 

 

Dolly studied her mother’s face more closely as she bent to cut the cardboard to fit, and slid it into the sole of her boot. The lines seemed to be etched deeper than ever. Dark rings lay like purple bruises beneath soft grey eyes which had once shone with hope and laughter, and her too-thin shoulders were slumped with weariness. She looked what she was, a woman beaten down by life, and by a husband who thought nothing of stealing the last halfpenny from her purse in order to feed his habit, his addiction, despite the family already being on the brink of starvation.

 

Maisie handed the boots to her younger daughter with a rare smile. ‘There y’are love, see how that feels.’

 

Dolly slid her feet inside and agreed they were just fine, making no mention of how the boots pinched her toes since she’d grown quite a lot recently. They’d been Aggie’s long before they’d come to her, and probably Maisie’s before that, and their numerous patches had themselves been patched, over and over again.

 

Mending her daughters’ footwear was a task carried out each and every Friday in order to give the boots a fresh lease of life. Dolly wore clogs throughout the long working week, but in the evenings and at weekends when she wasn’t at the mill, she liked to make a show of dressing up. Worse, it’d rained for days and Dolly’s small feet were frozen to the marrow. She’d paid a visit to Edna Crawshaw’s corner shop and begged a bit of stiff cardboard off her, whole boxes being at a premium. This piece had Brooke Bond Tea stamped all over it but that didn’t trouble Dolly; the card was thick and strong and would keep out the wet for a while, which was the only consideration that mattered.

 

 Amazon

  
Now to be published by Canelo. 




10.8.19

Ruby McBride

Today the Manchester Ship Canal is a fashionable dockland area developed for leisure, commerce and housing. Affectionately known as the ‘Big Ditch’, it was formally opened by Queen Victoria in May 1894. Manchester was a fast growing city not only because of Lancashire cotton but the city was also strong on engineering and manufacture. Being landlocked, all goods had to be transported by road or rail to Liverpool docks in order to be exported, thus reducing profitability. The Canal brought shipping right into the heart of the city as well as employment not only to industry in general but also to the owners of narrow boats and barges who worked long hours in the canal basin, loading and carrying goods through the network of canals.

The day the Queen came to Manchester was a grand day for Ruby McBride and her young sister and brother. It’s glories fade into insignificance, however, when their mother, Molly, due to illness reluctantly entrusts her beloved children to Ignatious House, and the not-so-tender care of the nuns. Ruby, a rebel at heart, is always on the wrong side of authority. Her chief concern is to keep her promise to take care of Pearl and Billy, but when she is sixteen, the Board of Guardians forces her into marriage and she has to abandon her siblings, vowing she will reunite the family when she can. Convinced that her new husband is a conman, Ruby discovers life on the barge is not at all what she expected. She is furious at being robbed of the chance to be with her childhood sweetheart, Kit Jarvis, so resists Bart’s advances as long as possible. Only when Kit comes back into her life and jealousy between the two men causes events to run out of control, does Ruby realise which one she truly loves. But it takes the Great War for her to fulfil that childhood promise. . .





Ruby McBride has always been on the wrong side of authority. The grand opening of the Manchester Ship Canal is set to be a day of unfettered festivity for Ruby and her younger sister and brother. Even Queen Victoria will be in attendance. 

But the glories of the ceremony fade into insignificance when their dying mother delivers them to the imposing oak doors of Ignatius House. Abandoned in the not-so-tender care of the nuns, the siblings are soon separated. So when the Board of Guardians force Ruby into a marriage that sends her to a new home upon the Salford waterways, she makes only one vow: to reunite her family whatever the cost. 

This is an enthralling story of romance and rebellion perfect for fans of Rosie Goodwin and Dilly Court.

Praise for Ruby McBride
‘An inspiring novel about accepting change and bravely facing the future’ Bangor Chronicle

‘Compelling and heart-wrenching’ Hull Daily Mail 

Chapter One
21 May 1894

‘Rise and shine, chuck, kettle’s on.’

Ruby stretched blissfully, then lifted her arms and wrapped them about her mother’s neck in a tight, warm hug. Even if she was nearly eleven, she hoped never to be too old for a morning cuddle. ‘Is this the special day you promised us, Mam?’

 

‘It is, love, and if you don’t shape yourself, you’ll miss out on a very special breakfast an’ all. I’ve saved a bit of jam to go on us bread and marg this morning.’

 

The thrill of a day’s holiday from school made Ruby want to shout with joy, and jam on her bread took it into the realms of fantasy. She’d known too many mornings when there’d been no breakfast at all. Inside, she felt a bit sick with the wonder of it, and prayed she wouldn’t disgrace herself by not managing to eat the promised treat.

 

Molly McBride kissed her daughter and tweaked her snub nose. ‘See you wash yer lovely face and hands especially well this morning. We don’t want Her Majesty to see the McBrides looking anything less than their best, now do we, chuck? Not when she’s come all the way up from London to see us, eh?’

 

Ruby giggled as her mother gave a huge wink then, one hand at her hip and the other lifting her long cotton skirts, she sashayed away, nose in the air, just as if she were the Queen of England herself. Oh, she was a laugh a minute, her mam. But then she leaned over the table, clinging on to the edge as she started coughing, which quite ruined the effect.

 

Ruby felt the familiar jolt of panic but said nothing, knowing how her mother hated a fuss or any show of sympathy. ‘I won’t let it rob me of me sparkle,’ she would say, but the cough that had got worse all winter was a constant worry at the back of Ruby’s mind. She felt thankful that summer was almost here, for the warmer weather would surely ease it. And Mam didn’t want her to worry about anything today, not with the Queen herself coming to open the Manchester Ship Canal that had cost millions of pounds to build. ‘The big ditch’, they called it. Folk had been putting up flags and bunting for days, and there was to be a band.

 

Amazon 

Now published by Canelo.



3.8.19

Dancing on Deansgate

Jess’s problems, possessing an abusive uncle and a feckless mother, and with her beloved father away fighting in the war, she felt sorely in need of running her own life. She finally decided to do something positive, but didn’t find it easy to get the band underway.

She also worried if she’d ever be rid of the man she didn’t care for, and eventually find the one she loved and had lost?


Jess had hopes that after they’d run a dance of their own, they might sit up and people would take notice. There’d been little interest from the ballroom managers thus far, but over time she became skilled in creating a strong sense of beat.

They tried to look feminine as well as skilled musicians, and give the audience the glamour they craved. Halter tops, swirling taffeta skirts or slinky ones with thigh high slits. This would often present difficulties with a strapless gown, which would need to be pinned to a bra. It made it harder work trying to battle with inappropriate feminine trappings. A saxophone strap would be cut into a bare neck. High heels were uncomfortable when standing for hour upon hour and they would surreptitiously remove them. The drummer had a pair of flatties handy because of the bass drum pedals. Miss Mona would be under pressure to leave by some ballroom managers, or to spruce up her image and pretend to be younger than she actually is by taking off her spectacles.



They called it the Christmas Blitz, but there are no festivities for Jess, locked in the cellar by her feckless, tarty mother. And when Lizzie is imprisoned for shoplifting, Jess is sent to live with her uncle, a bullying black marketeer, who treats her like a slave. 

Jess’s natural musical talent offers an escape route - and the chance for love. But Uncle Bernie has never forgiven his niece for refusing to join his illegal schemes, and threatens to deprive Jess of her hard-won independence. 

Extract:

   ‘Women don’t have the stamina that men have,’ said one.

   ‘Limited scope,’ said another.

   ‘Women are fine on looks but short on talent.’

This attitude incensed Jess and she would tell them in no uncertain terms that her girls could play In the Mood every bit as well as they could play Greensleeves. ‘We aren’t in the business of employing young ladies who think it might be fun to show off on stage, however charming and genteel they might be.’

One manager had the gall to say that women had no real sense of rhythm in a jam session, as they were hopeless at improvising. Another, trying to be conciliatory, remarked, ‘I see why you ladies are offering to step in, with all the men having been conscripted for service and bands desperate for decent musicians. But we’re looking for professionals, not amateurs. We need the best.’

Outraged, Jess’s response was sharp. ‘We are the best, and how can we ever get to be professional if we’re never given the chance.’

He gave a shake of his head. ‘Women aren’t expected to sit on stage and blow their brains out.’

‘We could blow the men right off it.’

No bookings were forthcoming at the top ballrooms such as the Ritz, the Plaza, or any number of others in and around the Manchester area. They spread their net wider, checking out more modest venues, and finally their first professional booking came. It was at a Lad’s Club in Bury. Jess thought the manager took them on out of pity. He didn’t, however, bill them as professional musicians, but as ‘Patriotic Angels with a Big Talent.’

 

Amazon

Dancing on Deansgate is soon published by Canelo.