WW2 Manchester: Newlyweds Helen and Jim Harrison have big plans – to leave the family shop where Helen works and set up home together. But when Jim is tragically killed in an air raid, Helen is heartbroken, her life in ruins.
Battling grief and despair, Helen resolves to escape her domineering mother and rebuild her shattered world. Wartime Manchester is a dangerous place, besieged by crime and poverty. So when Helen joins the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps, working with evacuees, the destitute and the vulnerable, she finds a renewed sense of purpose. She’s come a long way from her place behind the counter in the corner shop.
But there’s still something missing in her heart. Is Helen able to accept love and happiness and find the courage to change her life?
Alrene Hughes – Author Interview
What are the inspirations behind this story?
I wanted to create a character – a young woman working in a corner shop – who has little belief in herself. When her circumstances change dramatically with the death of her husband, she is at her lowest ebb. The story twists when she joins the police, finding strength in helping others, especially women and children, and courage when she places herself in danger.
When you write what comes first the characters, the plot, or the setting?
I always know the wider setting, to begin with. In my first three novels, it was Belfast and my last two books have been set in Manchester. I’ve lived in both cities and I know the geography well but, more importantly, I have a sense of the atmosphere of the place and the character of the people. Almost at the same time, I focus on the main character, but it’s important as the story develops that she grows and changes with the events she experiences. As far as the plot is concerned, I don’t have a detailed story, just an idea to set it going and a possible ending with a few ideas in between. The detail comes when I’m immersed in the story. It’s almost as though the characters suggest what’s going to happen as it’s being written.
Do you draw your characters from real life, your imagination, or are they a mixture of both? How do you make your characters realistic?
They’re all bound up together, I think, but I never transfer a real person into a novel. It’s more like a Rubik’s cube, twisting a complex character into being. You aim for an authentic, believable person who is memorable, even if they only play a small part in the novel. Overall, I think dialogue is one of the best ways to make characters realistic.
If you could live in any time period which would it be? Why?
As a writer of WW2 sagas/romances, I would love to spend a day or two in Belfast during the war, just to see the city as it was when my family lived through that period. I would have no desire to stay any longer because, through my research, I know full well the hardships they endured.
What made you decide to become a writer and why this does this genre appeal to you?
I began to write in my thirties and for over twenty years I wrote poetry and short stories. I didn’t have the time to write anything longer because I had children and I worked as an English teacher and Assistant Head. Eventually, I decided I would write a family saga set in WW2 based on the story of my mother and her sisters who were singers, like the Andrews Sisters, entertaining the troops. That novel ‘Martha’s Girls’ was a success and I went on to write a trilogy.
What sort of books do you enjoy reading and why?
I like books that are well written. If I’ve read 3-4 chapters and it hasn’t grabbed me, I don’t persevere. I like historical novels, with elements of romance, and the occasional crime novel.
What are you currently writing?
I’m working on a third Manchester novel set in WW2. It’s the story of two sisters and their completely different experiences of war. The youngest is conscripted into the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, where she is part of the exciting Parachute Training School. The older sister stays at home looking after their invalid mother, enduring the hardships of the home front.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This story focuses on women in WW2, how their lives changed, and how many were exposed to deprivation, uncertainty and violence. The writing is full of vivid historical details and believable characters, some you dislike passionately, but most you admire, and can empathise.
Helen is newly married, living and working at her mother’s corner shop in Manchester. After a tragedy, leaves her widowed, and she finally rebels against her controlling mother in the midst of her grief, she finds herself jobless and in a home, she can’t afford.
Offered a lifeline by her godmother, she finds that not everything is as it first appears. Her brush with the seedier side of life, makes her rethink, can she give something to society and fill her lonely hours? Joining the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps seems an opportunity too good to miss.
Helen naivety is shortlived, and her compassion and courage make her an excellent police auxiliary. The story is interesting and full of emotion and historical insight that make this wartime saga a page-turner. The challenges for Helen and women in war are realistic and give this story its authenticity.
This is a compelling story with great characters and a lovely hesitant love story that gives the story its hope for the future.
Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time. Facebook Twitter