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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Earth calling BT - is anyone there?

BT have made me smile this week - or not so much  smile as laugh out loud!  I reported my mum's landline in Lancashire as faulty the other day, from my mobile phone. The automated voice said: Press 1 if you are unable to make or receive calls. So I did. Then came: Is the faulty line the number you are calling from? Er, well, no actually- it's faulty. After a few more questions I was asked if I would like to receive text messages on the progress of the fault.  Yes please. True to their word, BT sent me texts, a blow by blow account of the fault's resolution.

Which brings me to my point: maybe they should think about re-investing in mobile phone technology? Or better still, get a fleet of carrier pigeons.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

What happened to the Forgotten Evacuees?

What happened to  all the Guernsey children banished from their island home during World War Two? This is the question historian Gillian Mawson  answers in her new book Guernsey Evacuees: The Forgotten Evacuees of the Second World War,  published on November 1 by the History Press. My own father was evacuated to Oldham, Lancashire, in 1940, and, as part of The Next Big Thing  Wednesday blog, I've invited Gillian to tell us how the book came to be.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

In 2008, I discovered that around 17,000 Channel Islanders had fled the islands to mainland Britain in June 1940, just before the Nazis occupied their islands. Some did not return to Guernsey after the war but remained in the communities in which they had settled. I had to find out more about this! I began to search for surviving evacuees, and this practically took over my life. I have interviewed over 200 so far and organised several evacuee reunions. I have also formed a community group for those who live in northern England, and we share their wartime stories at public events in an interactive way.

What genre does your book fall under?

British social history – the history of Britain's World War Two Home Front

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a film?

Eleanor Roosevelt: Meryl Streep
Guernsey Headmasters: David Morrissey and Benedict Cumberbatch
Teachers: John Simm, Julie Walters, Victoria Wood
Mothers: Emily Blunt, Joanne Froggatt,
Mr Fletcher: John Savident
It would be wonderful to have some of the children from the actual evacuees' families as the children in the story.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
An unforgettable and untold true story of Second World War British evacuation

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It is being published by the History Press – a specialist history publisher.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
7 months working 9 til 5 Monday to Friday

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
'Churchill's Children' by John Welshman, 'When the Children Came Home' by Julie Summers

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Meeting the evacuees and realising that in the majority of cases, their amazing and emotional stories had not been shared with the general public. I was also given access to teachers', children's and adult evacuees' diaries which paint a vivid picture of their experiences in England during the war.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I use the evacuees' own words throughout the book, in order to bring it to life for the reader. I discuss the young mothers who left the island with their infants, leaving their husbands behind. Guernsey schools were evacuated to England and some teaches re-established their schools in England for the duration of the war.

 They received assistance from the British public, but also from Canada and the USA. One Guernsey school was financially supported by wealthy Americans, with one little girl exchanging letters with 'Aunty Eleanor' - Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, the American President's wife. For a detailed look at the chapters, see:

Thanks, Gillian, and finally please keep an eye out for the blogs of writer Peter Kenny who, along with Richard Fleming, is the author of The Guernsey Double, a book of delightfully original poems about the island.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

What is The Next Big Thing?

If you'd like to discover what books you could soon be reading, why not join in The Next Big Thing -  where writers and bloggers discuss their  work-in-progress? Today it's  my turn:

What is the working title of your book?

Sophie’s Secret

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A relative of mine discovered recently that his father was an American GI.    I wanted to show how the birth of an illegitimate  child  impacts on the lives of the generations that follow.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a film?

I’d prefer to wait till I’m asked! However, a modern-day Ingrid Bergman would be my ideal protagonist.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

You can change the future - but what if you try to change the past?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I hope it to have it represented by an agency.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It will have taken about a year by the time it’s finished.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Novels by Dilly Court and Colette Caddle

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My inspiration to write has always come from my father, the late Harry Brown, who lost his beloved brother as an evacuee at the outbreak of World War Two, but never lost his sense of humour.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a love story   spanning two generations,  from the horror of the Coventry blitz  to the emerging 'freedom' of the sixties.

Of the many writers I admire, two will soon be joining me in  The Next Big Thing. They are Gillian Mawson, whose book 'Guernsey Evacuees The Forgotten Story,' out on November 1 (The History Press) is very close to my heart and Linda Mitchelmore whose first historical romance 'To Turn Full Circle ' (Choc Lit) is currently enjoying excellent reviews.  She will be  discussing  her latest work-in-progress 'No Turning Back,' the second book of her  trilogy, this time next week. Look out for more recommendations soon.

Finally - thanks to Jack Barrow for his recommendation.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Want to say No? Yes please!

 I once got a  call from a friend begging me to go to a dinner party. 'If you don't come, she said, 'we'll run out of  conversation.'  I said yes, of course. Because those of us who  talk too much  are also the sort who never say 'no.'

All my life I've had too much to do and too many places to go because the little 'n' word has never been part of my vocabulary.  I don't mean to get involved, you, see, I just start chatting and it sort of happens.

'Dobby's mother not very good at sewing,' my  then 11-year-old daughter said mournfully as I painstakingly embroidered her  full name on the front of her new tennis kit.

'Don't worry,'  I said, taking pity on Dobby's mum. 'Just tell her I'll do hers, too.'
The following day the  kit duly appeared. 'What Dobby's surname? I inquired innocently.
 My daughter  passed me a piece of paper. The words 'Dobroslawa Przybyszewki'  were written in neat capitals. 'That's her name,' she replied. 'We call her Dobby for short.'

Then there was the time I agreed to collect  charity envelopes from one of the roads in our village. 'It's only 30 houses,' the organiser cajoled. 'You can do it in less than an hour.'

Two hours, three downpours,   four slammed doors  and several insults later, how I wished I'd just refused.

Now I've said 'Yes' again - this time to joining in a Sponsored Silence.
 'You - stop speaking?'  my other half burst out laughing when I told him.  'Now that I'd like to see!'

He's still here as I write,  shaking his head in disbelief.

Meanwhile, HUSH, Britain's only E.coli support group is busy planning  SHUSH for HUSH  next month . Along with mother-in-laws all over the country I will keep quiet for  as long as possible to help them raise desperately needed funds.

 Take a look at my page on

I promise I won't say a word...

Friday, 5 October 2012

Want to borrow a book? Take a pew!

Photo: Bookstore Selexyz Dominicanen, in Maastrich, Netherlands. Originally built in 1294, this unused church was turned into a bookstore in 2007.
With thanks to the Reader's Nook

How would you feel about going to church to borrow a library book?

The idea came to me when I saw this wonderful photo of a disused church in the Netherlands, built in 1294 and converted into a library in 2007.   I'm not suggesting we convert our churches, of course,  just make use of them on the days they are empty.

All over Great Britain we have beautiful old churches of all denominations with dwindling congregations and dwindling revenue to match. Meanwhile, local authorities are struggling to keep open our local libraries, many of which are often the central point of the community. Churches need funding and libraries need a place to go - so why couldn't the two work together to their mutual benefit? Before anyone suggests I'm being sacrilegious, I assure you I am not. Quite the opposite in fact.  Isn't it time more people got to see the inside of some of our country's historic buildings before they are closed forever?  Isn't there a correlation between great architecture and great literature?

The idea would work particularly well in rural areas where community services are constantly being pruned or stopped altogether.  An area of the church could be dedicated to books at certain times of the week with the provision, maybe, of coffee and a warm place to chat.  Methodist churches regularly invite the congregation to coffee and cakes after  the morning service - so perhaps it's a short step to include books too?

The once-popular Borders book chain  went into administration in 2009, partly due to competition from the internet. Today the sales of e-books are, in some cases, overtaking their paper counterparts. I am all for progress and regularly use my kindle, but the truth is that we will always have a place for 'real' books, even if only as a  reminder of our glorious heritage.