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.
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.