I received a copy of this book from Joffe Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
This series is becoming addictive.
The second in the DCI Rachel King series has a girl on the run, and a murder. DCI Rachel King continues to find juggling home and work life difficult. Thankfully her ex-husband is there for the girls, but now he seems on edge, just when she Rachel starts another murder case. Rachel’s ties with a supposedly reformed organised crime boss, continue to plague her, threatening the status quo both personally and workwise.
This is a well-written police procedural, with strong, and realistically flawed protagonists, and menacing antagonists. People trafficking vice and drugs themes dominate this story. There are crossovers to Rachel’s case, that bring her into to contact with DCI Kenton. They clash over their cases, and Kenton knows more than Rachel would like. Final plot twists set the scene for the next book in the series, and I can’t wait to read it.
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.
there’s still something missing in her heart. Is Helen able to accept love and
happiness and find the courage to change her life?
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
journalist, Maddy, goes to interview prostitutes in a rundown Manchester pub,
she doesn’t reckon on attracting the attention of their ruthless pimp, Gilly.
He quickly decides to use Maddy for his own gains; he just needs to work out
A TOXIC AFFAIR
In the weeks that follow, Maddy is oblivious to Gilly’s growing obsession with her, particularly when she begins a romance with a successful businessman, Aaron. Their passionate love affair starts to dominate her life, and she finds herself losing control and alienating the people around her.
A TARGET ON HER BACK
As Maddy’s safe and successful life starts to crumble around her, she must quickly work out who has it in for her, before it’s too late…
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Journalist Maddy’s latest assignment takes her to interview working girls. Their pimp sees something in Maddy, a lifestyle that used to be his, and could be again. Maddy lives with her young daughter, she has a good life, all of which her pursuit by the pimp and her new man could jeopardise.
This story is dark and menacing. Maddy, despite her professionalism, is naive and this makes her vulnerable to manipulation. All the girls have a story, why they ended up as working girls, as Maddy’s life unravels she realises how fine the line between safety and danger is.
The story is slow paced, to begin with, as the characters are introduced, and the ease with which different worlds can collide is explored. As the book progresses the adrenaline increases. An interesting start to this new series, with a contemporary, realistic edge.
How ‘The Mark’ Developed – Heather Burnside
I first found my inspiration for The Mark when watching a
TV detective series many years ago. I tend to jot down ideas as they occur to
me then revisit them years later when I’m deciding which novel I should write
next. This particular TV scene featured a senior female detective who was
sitting in a rundown pub talking to prostitutes and trying to get information
She was refined, well-dressed and well-spoken and looked
totally out of place surrounded by street girls with their provocative clothing
and garish makeup. I remember thinking how brave she was to venture into the
pub alone and that she was leaving herself open to all sorts of risks.
That gave me the seed of an idea. The police detective became my protagonist, Maddy, who is followed home from the pub by a seedy pimp, Gilly. She appeals to him because she is so different from the women he is used to dealing with and initially he sees her as a challenge. Gilly is attracted not only to Maddy but to her lifestyle too.
During the course of the novel, we find out that Gilly’s background is far different from the life he now leads. As a young man he came from an affluent middle-class home but he was thrown out of university for dealing in drugs and his parents subsequently disowned him and left him to find his own way in the world. In Maddy he sees the life he should have had and he soon becomes obsessed with her. I won’t tell you any more than that as I don’t want to give the story away.
Once I decided to write ‘The Mark’, I carried out a lot of research by reading books about the life of a prostitute and watching online videos. The videos, in particular, were a real eye-opener. They featured several street girls who discussed what they did and what led them to a life of prostitution. Most of the girls were hooked on drugs and were prostituting themselves to feed their drug habit. Many had difficult upbringings or had spent time in care and living on the streets.
Watching the videos made me think that each of the girls had their own story to tell, which made me decide to expand ‘The Mark’, into a series of books with each subsequent book featuring the story of one of the girls. So, that initial idea many years ago has led to a series of possibly four or more books.
One of the girls, in particular, stuck in my mind when I was watching the videos. She was an ageing prostitute with a bad chest problem who couldn’t afford to take time off work because she needed the money for drugs. She was therefore still plying her trade in all weathers despite her considerable health problems. That particular girl provided the inspiration for a character that appears in a later book in the series.
It’s interesting how one small idea can take root in an author’s mind and develop into the basis for a whole series of books. I suppose that’s why authors do what we do because we have such active imaginations.
Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester
and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels.
After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a
creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her
home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children.
behind the wheel of her Audi. Sapphire blue and polished until it was gleaming,
the vehicle was just as easy on the eye as its driver. She turned into the
tree-lined road in Flixton where she lived. She owned a three-bedroomed
detached house, which she shared with her eight-year-old daughter, Rebecca.
As Maddy sped into the drive, she glanced again at the clock on the dashboard. 19:58. She’d just made it. Maddy was surprised that her first interview with the prostitutes had taken so long but at least she’d gleaned some good information from them and had managed to arrange another meeting before the girls had all become nervous of someone at the bar.
ex-husband, Andy, was bringing Rebecca back at eight o’clock and, although he
was fairly easy-going, Maddy always liked to be on time. Thank God his working
hours were flexible. It meant he could pick Rebecca up from school whenever
Maddy had to work late. As she parked the car, Maddy put thoughts of her
working day out of her mind. It was time to concentrate on family now and, in
her line of business, it wasn’t always a good idea to mix the two.
soon as Maddy stepped inside her hallway she had that familiar comforting
feeling she always got when she returned home. Like everything else surrounding
Maddy, her home was immaculate and tastefully furnished. But it was more than
that; it was a cosy home that felt lived in. She quickly switched on the hall
lamp, which bathed the interior with a subtle amber glow, highlighting the
polished wooden flooring, expensive rug, and stunning artwork that hung on the
walked through the house, switching on the lights in the main rooms and
plumping up cushions before flicking the switch on the kettle. She had no
sooner pulled a mug from the cupboard than she heard the doorbell ring. Maddy
dashed to answer the door, delighted to find her daughter Rebecca standing
there with Andy by her side.
gave her mother an affectionate hug. ‘I scored a goal, Mum,’ she gushed before
OK?’ Maddy asked once Rebecca was inside.
‘Yeah, she’s fine,’ said Andy. ‘She’s been to netball club after school. They had a practice match and apparently, she was the hero of the hour.’
smiled. ‘Great,’ she said. ‘I must go and congratulate her.’
See you next weekend,’ he said.
see you then,’ said Maddy.
she shut the front door straight away and went through to the lounge to find
Rebecca. That was how it was with Andy now. After being divorced for four
years, emotion didn’t come into it as far as she was concerned. They were just
two adults sharing joint responsibility for their daughter.
was well over those early days when their separation had torn at her heart. It
had been difficult to walk away but Andy’s infidelity had left her with no
choice. She was too proud to carry on with the marriage after that and knew
that she’d never be able to trust him again.
they maintained a united front when it came to anything involving Rebecca
whilst getting on with their own lives. Maddy preferred it that way and she
knew that it was the best way to deal with the situation.
had already switched on the TV and Maddy sat down beside her, stroking
Rebecca’s hair as she held her close.
you scored a goal, did you?’
and all the girls were cheering. And Jade Coulson said after the match that I’d
saved our side from getting beat. Jade Coulson doesn’t normally bother with me
much. She’s, like, so-o-o cool. I can’t believe she likes me now.’
How do you stop a demon invasion… when you don’t believe in magic? Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning.
Suddenly the inspector is offering political asylum to dwarves, consulting with witches, getting tactical advice from elves and taking orders from a chain-smoking talking crow who, technically, outranks him.
With the fate of both the human and magic worlds in his hands, Nick will have to leave logic behind and embrace his inner mystic to solve the crime and stop an army of demons from invading Manchester!
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Creating a fantasy world that appeals to readers is difficult, everyone has their own preconceptions of what should be in this world, what the creatures look like, and how they behave. The key is perhaps to hold back on the descriptions of your fantasy creatures and let your reader imagine them. This is what I like to do, but in this mystery the creatures are so well defined, it leaves little to the imagination.
Once you’ve achieved this, the next obstacle is how to create a story that fits in with the world you’ve created, and entertains your reader. I have no problem believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, or another world running parallel to ours, but largely unseen by humans. However, some of the descriptions of the creatures living in this fantasy world didn’t resonate. Believable characters or ones you can empathise, are important for the reader to connect to the story. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that connection with any of the characters in this story.
Inspector Paris is amusing, but his addiction to cigarettes and whiskey, apparently supported by his employers didn’t ring true. A functioning alcoholic for a detective is not a new concept, but this didn’t fit with his almost naive belief in the supernatural. unless of course, they are part of his drunken haze?
The story fits into the cozy mystery genre, but the supernatural elements, if any, are usually implied rather than implict.as in this case. I admire the courage to merge genres but maybe the fantasy needs taming a little and the mystery deepening for it to work effectively.
The pacing and plot are good. The dynamics between the main players believable, and often amusing, If you are looking for a lighthearted read, and enjoy this type of urban fantasy, this is worth a read.
One chance encounter, one street side murder, will change everything…
The extraordinary new Ridpath crime thriller Manchester has been at peace for twenty years. Not any more.
DI Ridpath is in the process of getting his life back together when everything goes wrong.
Driving to meet his daughter, he is caught in a horrific motorway accident, in which a near-naked man is run down by a lorry while fleeing from a lone gunman. As Ridpath closes Manchester’s road network in search of the assailant, one question remains: why did nobody else see him?
Ridpath’s investigations, which at first seem to follow protocol, soon unearth a number of inconsistencies, which pulls the police force itself into question and hint at something sinister to come…
For Manchester is on the brink of a fresh surge of violence, unlike anything it has seen in decades. As Ridpath battles this unprecedented conflict, he must battle his own demons. One thing is for sure. There will be blood on the streets…
I received a copy of this book from Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Fast-paced, believable, complex characters, an authentic, recognisable setting and a likeable detective; four of the reasons, the DI Ridpath series is a favourite of mine.
Ridpath is a conflicted man, driven by his role in the Murder Investigation Team (MIT), he neglects his wife and daughter who he loves dearly, the situation implodes when he becomes dangerously ill. In remission and reassigned, he finds his detective skills are in constant demand, and maybe he can rebuild his family life too, as a policeman attached to the Coroner’s office.
The first chapter of this second story in the series is adrenaline-fueled and suspenseful, the writing is full of visual imagery, and it’s easy to imagine what’s happening. It would make a great TV series.
The plot is layered, with new surprises and dramatic irony, where the reader learns information that the main protagonist doesn’t know.
Ridpath’s work life balance is a constant source of conflict as he tries to rebuild both his career and his family life, this doesn’t impair his detection skill, which is insightful and tenacious.
This is an intelligent thriller, not relying on graphic images to draw the reader in. You turn the pages because you want to know if he will outsmart the criminals, his doubting colleagues and still manage to salvage his personal life.
Brother and sister Peter and Adele Robinson never stood a chance. Dragged up by an alcoholic, violent father, and a weak, beaten mother, their childhood in Manchester only prepared them for a life of crime and struggle. But Adele is determined to break the mould. She studies hard at school and, inspired by her beloved grandmother Joyce, she finally makes a successful life for herself on her own.
Peter is not so lucky. Getting more and more immersed in the murky world of crime and gangs, his close bonds with Adele gradually loosen until they look set to break altogether.
But old habits die hard, and one devastating night, Adele is forced to confront her violent past. Dragged back into her worst nightmares, there’s only one person she can turn to when her life is on the line – her brother Peter. After all, blood is thicker than water…
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus – Aria in return for an honest review.
‘Born Bad’ is the first book in the ‘Manchester Trilogy’ series, a gritty gangland crime story set in Manchester. I have read this book after reading the other two later books, and so I knew what to expect. It was good to meet Adele and Peter in the early stages of their life, the abuse and lack of care they receive make the people they become in later life.
It’s interesting that different personalities react in diverse ways to their nurturing, or lack of it and the events in this book pave the way for the further books in the series with some surprising twists.
This is a harrowing story. Domestic abuse, neglect and violence are prominent, this is hard to read, but an essential component of this genre. The story is good and well-paced. The characters are complex, flawed and realistic.
If you are looking for a British based, organised crime series, focused on the family, this is a book and series worth reading.
Guest Post – Heather Burnside
One of the themes that feature in Born Bad is mental health. The topic of nature vs nurture interests me and I, therefore, decided to reflect this in the book. Currently, there is a lot of focus in the media on looking after our mental health so I thought it would be an opportune time to explore this issue in Born Bad.
My protagonist, Adele, is affected by mental health in many
ways. To start with we hear Adele’s grandmother, Joyce, talking about Adele’s
father, Tommy’s, side of the family and their mental health issues. She tells
Adele’s mother that Tommy comes from bad blood (hence the title Born Bad) and that he had a mad great-uncle
who was always fighting and who ended up in an asylum.
Joyce also worries that Adele’s brother, Peter, might take after Tommy’s side of the family. Joyce is quite insensitive when she refers to the issue of mental health but, when you bear in mind that this was the seventies, her view was typical at that time. Fortunately, the perception of mental health issues has changed a lot since then.
Adele and Peter have a very traumatic childhood and, as the
novel progresses, they both behave in a way that wouldn’t be considered normal
or rational. Peter’s odd behaviour is first displayed when he is lining up
caterpillars and thrashing them with a whip, taking great delight in seeing
their damaged bodies.
As he gets older Peter becomes involved in criminal
activities in which he doesn’t appear to have a conscience where his victims
are concerned. Is this because of his troubled upbringing, because of genetic mental
health issues or perhaps a combination of the two?
Adele, on the other hand, does have a conscience and she tries
to do the right thing but she is affected by forces that seem to be beyond her
control. Again, she could have been driven by an inherent condition or she
could be so severely affected by her troubled childhood that she reaches
breaking point. Research has shown that both genetics and upbringing can affect
a person’s mental health.
Adele’s mother, Shirley, also has her own problems and
relies on a diet of pills to get her through each day. However, rather than
being seen as a hereditary illness, her mental health issues stem from the
stress of being married to a drunken, violent and unfeeling man. Adele sees her
as weak but, like her grandmother, her point of view could be the result of
poor awareness in the 1970s regarding mental health issues.
Mental health covers a wide spectrum of illnesses with
varying levels of severity. The UK mental health charity, Mind, estimates that
one in four people in the UK each year experiences a mental health problem. Anxiety
and depression are amongst the most common mental health conditions, and while
some of these conditions are manageable, they also vary in severity. There are
some very serious and debilitating mental health conditions too which can greatly
affect a person’s quality of life.
I think we have come a long way in highlighting mental health issues and breaking down the taboos which have previously surrounded the subject. However, we still have some way to go both in educating people about mental health and in providing greater levels of care to those affected.
Extract From Born Bad – Heather Burnside
to Deborah’s agonised screams, Adele continued to kick as rage overtook her. It
was only the sight of the dinner lady running towards her that brought her to
as she thought about the incident, she felt remorseful. If only Debby hadn’t
decided to do something so daft. If only she could have persuaded her to stop
without losing her temper. But Debby hadn’t stopped. She shouted at her a few
times, and she still didn’t stop. That’s what she would say in her defence. She
had to pull her legs away; it was her only chance.
did she have to kick her?
was feeling desperate. Oh God, it’s no good, she thought, I’m gonna be in trouble no matter
thought about what her father’s reaction would be if he found out. She dreaded
that even more than she dreaded being summoned to see the head teacher.
sound of the bell interrupted her thoughts. It was the end of the lunch period
and Adele entered the school building in a state of trepidation, to the sound
gonna be in trouble, Adele Robinson, for what you did to Debby.’
‘Yeah,’ added another girl, ‘Miss Goody Two Shoes is gonna get done, haha.’
Mr Parry announced that she and Debby were to see the head teacher
straightaway, Adele felt her stomach sink.
Mr Parry led the two girls down the long corridor towards the head teacher’s office and told them to wait outside while he knocked on the door. After he had been inside for a few minutes, he came back out and asked Debby to go inside. He then lowered his eyes towards Adele and told her to wait there until she was called for. She noticed the look of disappointment on his face and felt ashamed. Then, with nothing further to say, he left her standing outside the head teacher’s office, trembling with fear.
After what seemed like an endless wait, Debby came out of the office and looked away from Adele as she walked past her.
shouted Miss Marchant.
was already in tears by the time she entered the office and presented herself
at the other side of the head teacher’s large desk.
then, what have you been up to?’ asked Miss Marchant.
I didn’t mean it,’ muttered Adele.
mean what? And for heaven’s sake, speak up, young lady.’
didn’t mean to hurt Debby,’ Adele sobbed.
from what I’ve been told, you’ve got a bit of a temper, haven’t you young
by now very tearful, nodded in response.
can’t hear you!’ thundered Miss Marchant.
was so worked up that she thought she would vomit at any minute. To her
surprise, just when she reached the point where she felt she might faint, the
head teacher seemed to relent.
Miss Robinson, although I don’t condone your behaviour in the playground, I
have received glowing reports from your class teacher. So, I’m going to let the
matter rest on this occasion. However, I would suggest that in future you keep
that temper of yours well under wraps.’
Miss,’ answered Adele.
quickly made for the door, feeling a mixture of relief and shame, but before
she could get to the other side, she was stopped by Miss Marchant’s stern
if I ever hear of any repeat of this behaviour, you will be punished severely!’
Miss,’ Adele replied as she dashed from the office.
to be away from the head teacher’s office as soon as possible, Adele rushed
down the corridor and into her classroom.
Parry raised his eyes from the papers on his desk and abruptly ordered Adele to
sit down in the vacant seat next to Tony Lord, who had a reputation for being
the best fighter in the school.
Adele felt everyone’s eyes on her, a tear escaped from her eye. She was greeted
by a barrage of questions from the other children sitting at the table. Adele’s
feelings of guilt and shame made her shy away from their questions, even though
she could tell they were impressed that she’d beaten Debby up.
are you crying if you won the fight?’ asked Tony, puzzled.
‘Don’t know,’ muttered Adele, dipping her head.
Read my reviews of Blood Ties and Vendetta, the other books in the series.
Heather Burnside spent her teenage years on one of the toughest estates in Manchester and she draws heavily on this background as the setting for many of her novels. After taking a career break to raise two children Heather enrolled on a creative writing course. Heather now works full-time on her novels from her home in Manchester, which she shares with her two grown-up children. Twitter Facebook
In wartime, it takes courage to follow your heart.
Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie, the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory.
Gracie is a girl on the factory floor. Jacob is the boss’s charismatic nephew. When they fall in love, it seems as if the whole world is against them – especially Charlie Nuttall, who also works at the factory and has always wanted Gracie for himself.
But worse is to come when Jacob disappears and Gracie is devastated, vowing to find him. Can she solve the mystery of his whereabouts? Gracie will need all her strength and courage to find a happy ending.
Guest Post – WHY I WRITE WWII NOVELS – Alrene Hughes
I think it was inevitable. If I was going to write a novel, then I would write about the second world war. For a start, my mother, aunts and grandmother had lived through the hardships and dangers of that time. The war had ended only seven years before I was born and, growing up, I somehow absorbed their memories second-hand.
My home city of Belfast in Northern Ireland – an industrial
city of shipbuilding, aircraft manufacture and heavy engineering – was crucial
to the war effort. Needless to say, it was heavily bombed. Later, when the USA
entered the war, it was to Northern Ireland that the GIs came to train before being
As a child, I knew the gaps between the buildings were bomb sites. Once on a bus going into the city centre with my mother, she pointed out a street where she had seen the dead bodies laid out on the pavement on her way to work after an overnight bombing. But she had happy memories too of her time as a factory girl building Stirling bombers. As a housewife after the war, I remember she wore her factory clothes, trousers and a turban, to clean the house. But the biggest influence in my post-war childhood was the music.
My mother and aunts had been popular singers, in the style of the Andrews Sisters, and throughout the war, they entertained in the concert and dance halls, as well as the military camps. After my mother died, I found an old scrapbook among her possessions. It contained many concert programmes listing the acts and the Golden Sisters, as they were known, often had the titles of songs they sang next to their billing: Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree; Chattanooga Choo Choo … And then there were all the photos.
I just had to tell their wartime story. The personalities of
my mother, aunts and grandmother were etched in my brain, the snippets of wartime
memories had been passed on to me and I had the scrapbook. Add to that my
research of life in the city and the ideas that flooded my mind and it was
enough to turn it into a novel. In the end, their story became a popular WWII family
saga, the Martha’s Girls trilogy.
Now I’ve written WWII novels set in Manchester, the city
where I’ve lived most of my adult life. It’s a lot like Belfast in some ways:
the heavy bombings; the industry; the no-nonsense, resilient people. The women
in my new novels The Girl in the Pink
Raincoat and The Girl from the Corner
Shop, face tragedy and danger, experience love and loss but, throughout, their
courage shines through.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus Books in return for an honest review.
Gracie is an endearing character, young, naive, but optimistic and full of life, with a smile never far from her face. It is this bubbliness that attracts Jacob, even though he realises that any relationship between them would be fraught with conflict.
The setting and era of this story are vividly portrayed, you can imagine the raincoat factory, the bombsites and the people, as they try to live their lives during wartime. Anyone who has listened to their grandparents and parents stories about ‘the war’, will recognise familiar concepts, and it is this relatability that makes the story so powerful.
The plot is well constructed, with a mystery and romance. The prejudice rife at the time is evident and is an important theme. Wartime romance with a twist. Family drama, strong friendships and a menacing undercurrent of betrayal and obsession, something for everyone in this wartime tale.
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
Extract – The Girl In The Pink Raincoat – Alrene Hughes
to the sound of crying, and it was a moment before she realised it was coming
through the paper-thin walls of the house next door. Then she remembered it was
Friday morning and still Doris had not come to terms with her children being evacuated.
She lay for a while, watching a shaft of sunlight coming through the gap in the
curtains, and when the crying was replaced by the squeals and laughter of
excited children, she got up.
By the time the children were ready to walk to school, a crowd had gathered in the street to see them off. Gracie and Sarah stood next to Doris as she held back her tears, hugged her two little girls and told them to be good and to write every week. An older boy, John Harris, took charge and it was clear that the evacuees had been drilled for this moment. At his command, they left their mothers and lined up like little soldiers, with their gas masks and belongings, each with a brown luggage label fastened to their coat. Gracie scanned their faces: some were filled with excitement, others apprehensive; and little Gladys Clark, with no mother to see her off, was sobbing her heart out.
raised his hand and all eyes turned to him. ‘One … two … three!’ he shouted,
and what happened next made the hair stand up on the back of Gracie’s neck –
the children began to sing.