The Catchetts Farm ring

Last Sunday I lost a very precious ring in our back garden. It isn’t worth a lot in monetary value but was utterly irreplaceable for its sentimental history as it was given to me by my Grandmother when I was 10 years old, not long before she died. She’d found the ring behind the kitchen range when she lived at Catchetts Farm during WW2, which if you’ve read “A Home From Home” will know is the name I use for the farm where Phylly and Grace work. 

So how did I come to lose it? I always wear it next to my wedding ring, both of which are loser on my ring finger than they used to be. I was wearing gardening gloves and helping DH cut the grass, putting the cuttings in the chicken’s run as they love scrapping through them. I suddenly realised my rings were missing from my finger and frantically checked inside my glove and luckily found my wedding ring in one glove finger but my Catchetts Farm ring was gone. I was extremely upset.

The search began, it could have been anywhere I’d been in the back garden or thrown into the chicken’s run along with 4 large wheelbarrow loads of grass cuttings. DH has an old metal detector and we had a search around with that but with the volume of grass it could easily be missed and to be honest I didn’t fully trust it. So I removed all of the grass cuttings from the chicken’s run and piled it on a plastic sheet on the grass then started to check through it handful by handful using a sieve to help. It took me 4 days on and off working through it bit by bit, like some Zen task testing my patience. So was the ring in there? No!

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It had to be somewhere else in the garden and so next I began scouring every inch with the metal detector, regularly checking it was working by testing it with my wedding ring. I’m so happy to say that I found my Catchetts Farm ring this afternoon, but not with the detector, I luckily spotted it in the grass near where I was detecting. I’d walked right past it so many times this past week on my way to sieve grass cuttings – but never saw it. I’m relieved to have it again, I was so worried that I’d lost it for good.

I’ll be taking all my rings off when I’m gardening from now on.

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Blog Guest: Kate Thompson

Kate Thompson writes books set during WW2 in the East End of London. I’ve read all of her books and enjoyed each one, and her latest ‘The Allotment Girls’ is my absolute favourite so far. Beautifully written, it rapidly draws you into the lives of the Allotment girls, Annie, Rose, Pearl and Millie who work at the iconic Bryant & May factory. Kate’s a very talented storyteller who paints a vivid picture of war time East End which makes you feel as if you were there.

I’m delighted to welcome her to the blog today.

Hi Rosie. Lovely to be here.

When it comes to research, probably what I can only describe as a scattergun, everything and everywhere approach. I draw up a huge list of places to go and people to speak with, which includes libraries, archives, community groups, local papers, Facebook groups and calling round the wartime East Enders I know.

There really is no substitute for speaking with people who were actually there though. I met a lovely 82-year-old lady called Anne, at a group called the Bow Bells, who told me all about how she worked at Bryant & May match factory, where The Allotment Girls is set. When she told me this: “‘Oh it was a plum job. My Nan hated me working there mind, “You’ll get phossy jaw,” she used to say. But by the time I worked there it was smashing; everyone wanted to work there! There was such camaraderie and friendliness amongst the girls. It taught me to be strong, work hard and to appreciate the value of friendship. I enjoyed the best years of my life at Bryant & May.” I knew these values had to be instilled in my characters. Research is my favourite part of the process and a great catalyst for stories.

What is your writing process – do you plan your story before you write or discover it as you go along?

I’m a plotter and something of a control freak. I admire people who can discover it as they go along, but that would freak me out. I tend to start with a setting. When I stumbled upon a gem, like the iconic Bryant & May match factory in Bow, I knew firstly I had to set a book there. Next I accessed the archives held at Hackney Library and started to read about the factory, its long history, its role during the war and its many social opportunities, like The Match Girls Club, and these vivid characters started to drop into my mind. Shortly after I discovered the Bethnal Green Producers’ Association, which during the war saw 200 men, women and children from the borough transform the darkest of bomb sites into thriving allotments, using elbow grease, imagination and pierced dustbin lids to sift out shrapnel. I had the beginnings of my story and the Allotment Girls was born.

Where and when do you write? Do you stick to a strict timetable of so many words a day?

As soon as I’ve dropped my two boys off at school I make an enormous cup of coffee then park my bum down and go for it. I don’t stick to a strict timetable of so many words a day, rather I set myself deadlines for chapter completion. I know a lot of writers use apps to help them stick to word counts which is great if it works for you. I use the internal terror of missing the deadline to keep me focussed.

What inspired you to write about life in war time in the East End? Would you write about other historical periods or other regions

I write about the East End in wartime for the simple fact that I love the streets and their vibrant inhabitants. Over the past four years I have interviewed countless men and women from the East End as research, many of whom I feel privileged to now call a friend. They draw from many different backgrounds and religions, but all share common traits; a bristling pride of their cockney roots, a ferocious honesty and work ethic and a cracking sense of humour. I think East Enders values are probably reflective of the wartime men and women from all working class areas of Britain. The memories and rich tales of Britain’s wartime men and women are the lifeblood of our country. So why don’t we listen more? Why are they ignored, their stories lying forgotten like suitcases in a dusty attic? Once the feather light tread of youth has gone, what remains? Wisdom!

Lets not ignore the actual topography of the area either. The East End with its labyrinth of streets and bustling markets feels like a character in its own right.

Quick questions

Tea or coffee?

Tea before 10am, a steady flow of coffee after that while I’m writing and I’m partial to a nice glass of red in the evening.

The last film you saw.

The Darkest Hour with Gary Oldman as Churchill. Electrifying.

A travel ticket to anywhere in the world – where would you go and why?

A ticket to Seattle to visit my little sister and her kids!

Thanks for being part of my blog tour, Rosie

It’s been a pleasure to have you visit. Thank you, Kate.

To find out more about Kate’s books visit her website or get in touch on Facebook of Twitter.

www.katethompsonmedia.co.uk

www.facebook.com/KateThompsonAuthor/

@katethompson380

 

The Allotment Girls, published by Pan Macmillan is out March 22nd. Available to order now on e-book via Amazon.

Blog Guest: Wendy Clarke

One of the great pleasures of writing is meeting other writers and I’m always curious about how they work. Today I’m welcoming Wendy Clarke to find how she goes about creating her fabulous stories.

Wendy Clarke

I’m always fascinated by how other writers work because everyone has their own way of working. Are you a plotter or do you just start off and see where the story takes you?

When it comes to short stories, I am definitely not a plotter. I start with just the seed of an idea – a snippet of conversation, a line of a poem, a memory maybe. Once I have that starting point, I sit down and start to write. I write from all perspectives – male, female, young and old and I find that a character will just pop into my head and say, ‘This is my story’. Once I’ve got a decent amount of the story written, I usually take my dog for a walk and that’s where my missing story pieces are found and where all the strands come together. Writing the end is then simple. During the process, there’s not a single note or plan in sight.

Do you ever write yourself into a corner and have to scrap work and find another way?

No, I don’t think this has ever happened to me. Every one of the two hundred or so stories I’ve started have been completed. On the odd occasion when things don’t seem to be working, I usually just try the out in a different tense and that seems to do the trick.

How many drafts of a story do you do?

One only. I edit as I go along then, when my husband comes home, I get him to proof read it for me. I rarely change anything plot or structure wise once the story is written.

Which do you prefer first draft or editing and why?

Oh, the writing of the story, definitely. Especially if it’s a story that just flows and I can lose myself in it. Editing is just a chore!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?

Personally, the best piece of writing advice I was given was by my tutor, Anne Hamilton, from the online course Writing Classes. It was she who advised me to send some of my stories to the women’s magazines. If I hadn’t, I’d never (five years on) be doing what I am now and my three story collections (all stories previously published in national magazines) would never have been written. Without that advice, it’s possible I might not have carried on writing after the course had ended.

Do you think you’d be the writer you are now if you’d started writing earlier? How has your life experience contributed to your success?

Like a lot of writers, I really wish I’d started writing earlier. That way I could have taken advantage of the many magazines that still accepted fiction – now there are so few to submit to. The problem was, I didn’t even think about writing until after the school I was teaching in closed down and I was made redundant. The writing course was suggested to me by my brother. If he hadn’t mentioned it, I don’t know what I would be doing now. Probably not writing and I certainly wouldn’t have written two novels.

Short sharp answers

Favourite film?

The Italian film, Life is Beautiful. It’s both funny and desperately sad.
Tea or coffee?

Am I allowed to say both?
You are given a travel ticket to anywhere, where will it be?

That’s easy. It would have to be a Greek island. Each year, my husband and I find a new one to visit. We just love the slow pace of life, the food and the scenery.

Advice to your teenage self.

Don’t be afraid to push yourself forward. No one else will do it for you.

Thank you, Wendy, for explaining how you write your stories, and as a planner I am in awe of your ability to work without planning them first!

To find out more about Wendy and her work you can visit her excellent blog wendyswritingnow.blogspot.co.uk or find her stories in national women’s magazines such as The People’s Friend, Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman’s Weekly

Wendy has published three collections of short stories, Room in Your Heart, The Last Rose and most recently Silent Night and has just finished writing her second novel.

Silent Night - kindle cover

Follow Wendy on Facebook here  or on Twitter here. Her books are available on Amazon here

Summer holiday

It’s a grey, rainy October day and I have neglected my blog for too long over a busy summer.

August started with a trip to the spectacular Isle of Mull, first going down to London then catching the Caledonian Sleeper train for an overnight journey to Glasgow.

Then another train to Oban and finally the ferry across to Mull.

I’ve wanted to visit Mull for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. It is stunningly beautiful and has wonderful wildlife. I was extremely lucky to spend an hour watching three otters fishing, grooming and playing and saw magnificent sea eagles many times.

I also visited Iona which is a ten minute ferry ride off the south west tip of Mull, and which is breathtakingly beautiful with white sand and clear waters more like a Caribbean island. Even its rocks are lovely.

 

A week wasn’t long enough to spend on Mull and I hope I’ll return one day.

Then it was home again and back to work doing the edits of ‘Secrets of the East End Angels’ and starting book three of the series.

RNA Conference

I’m back from a weekend of lots of talking, laughing and learning at the annual RNA conference at Harper Adams university in Shropshire. It was great to catch up with friends and make new ones.

The talks and workshops were excellent and I’ve come home with my brain fizzing with information from learning how to build characters by digging deep down into their make up at Fiona Harper’s brilliant talk, to how to better revise and edit my work.

The Harper Adams campus was lovely with sheep grazing, swallows and house-martins flitting overhead, their mud nests full of chicks under the eaves and cawing flocks of jackdaws going to roost in the trees in the evening. 

Thank you to the magnificent Jan Jones for her supreme organisation and to all those who helped and gave talks and workshops to make it such a fantastic conference.

 

Thanks to John Jackson for the photo of Wendy Clarke and me at the Gala Dinner.

I’m used to being by the sea and missed it while I was away, so it was wonderful to catch sight of it again near the end of the long train journey home.

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The East End Angels have arrived!

There was much excitement and dancing around with delight when the postman delivered my first copy of the hardback edition of ‘East End Angels’.

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It is utterly gorgeous and I love how they’ve designed it with the characters named on the back cover.

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My publishers have been brilliant involving me with the cover from choosing the right models to represent the characters to feeding back on different designs.