Tuesday, 18 January 2022

Creating Helga

 Scotland, Sheep, Clouds, Weather, Heaven

So, I’m going to be starting the sixth book in the cycle in the next few days. Helga appears in Girl in a Smart Uniform. Part of the story is already there. This is why this is a cycle not a series. It is possible to read the books in any order.

I’ve decided to set part of the novel in the early 2000s and tell the story partly from the point of view of her granddaughter who lives with her. Helga and her granddaughter are experiencing in Wales in 2002 similar attitudes to those that Helga experienced in Germany in the 1940s.

She is resilient, though, because of what happened before and reaches a point of stasis. Helga and her granddaughter are allowed to resume living peacefully in the Welsh hills.   

I have a profile for Helga: German Jewess, but blond-haired. Refuses to leave Germany but goes into hiding there. She has a child; Bear, a main character in book three is the father. She becomes strong. She meets an American at the end of the war. He buys a sheep farm in Wales. She loses her son and daughter-in-law and has to bring up her granddaughter.

The granddaughter I have yet to create. I actually quite like doing that sort of work when I sit in cafés.

There’s a lot to do yet about firming up the plot but it’s something I’m looking forward to doing over the next few weeks.

This will probably be another book with lots of dates in it. Some people have criticised this practice – not just in my work but as a general principle. I’ve read quite a few books where this happens.  I tend to not take in the dates as I read them, but can get into a chapter and wonder what is going on, then have to look back at the date.

The granddaughter will be a young adult. I don’t think this will make the book a YA text but it will certainly be read by young adults.   

I’m toying with writing each strand separately and then weaving them together afterwards. Even if I don’t write that way, I shall certainly plan that way.


Sunday, 2 January 2022

Create a ghetto – or share a few gems?

 Venice, Sightseeing, Italy, Water

It happens so easily.  We can slip into this at any time.

I’ve known about this since I was about eight years old. By then I’d got used to Celestine and John, black siblings who attended my junior school. Celestine was in my year and John was a little younger. They were always very smartly dressed and I envied the smart pleated skirts and machine-knitted jumpers that Celestine’s mum got her from Marks and Spencer’s. Celestine was born in Jamaica but John was born in England. They were Windrush generation. My but I hate these labels. I don’t even like describing them as black. I don’t remember ever being in awe of them. They were just other kids at our school. Okay, so Celestine was so much more sensible and practical than me and she was taller but that was nothing to do with her colour. We accepted them totally and they fitted in as a family. Yes, they brought along a few novelties but those  just enriched our lives actually.  

Unfortunately though that was not what happened to all of the families like theirs in my home town. If one such family moved into a house on a street, the white families started to move out. That left a group of people not knowing how to integrate into an English way of life as they didn’t have examples on their doorstep. So, they continued with the habits and routines from their homeland – even though our weather challenged these.  Now, there is nothing wrong with those routines and habits but they seem odd to the people who watch them from outside the ghetto and so misunderstandings arise. What ought to happen is an exchange of ideas. A gem-sharing.

Yes, at just eight years old I could see clearly exactly what was happening.

My grandmother and aunt lived in another small town nearby. The same issues existed there. I started going to my grandmother’s church and so did some more young people who looked like Celestine and John. They became very close friends. They weren’t “Windrush” or even “black”. They were just Celestine, John, Ingrid, Theo, Elaine, Monica, Mavis and Renee.  It’s useful being colourblind.

My aunt’s home was in private rented accommodation. She lived alone after my uncle died suddenly. Gradually Asian families moved in either side of her. It was difficult for her to move. Thank goodness. Because that stopped a ghetto forming. At first she complained about the cooking smells. “I had to tell them to stop cooking in the garden,” she said. “I couldn’t stand it.” Well arrangements were made for them to keep the kitchen window shut when they were coking. And it was her two sets of neighbours that looked after my aunt when she became very ill. She learned to like and even cook curry. She taught them the secrets of Yorkshire pudding and Victoria sponges. Gem-sharing again.

Can we live in hope? There is a building near where I live that is used as a church, a mosque, a synagogue or a temple. In our local Tesco’s a Jewish man helps a small Muslim woman reach the Halhal food from a high shelf.

We don’t have to give up what we believe in or what we value. But we can take a look at what others find important and show them what we take pride in. Gem-sharing. And we certainly shouldn’t run away scared when people who seem different from us come to live nearby.     

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Clara let down again


 Don’t you love Amazon and don’t you despair of them sometimes?

It was becoming apparent that people were getting through the first book in the cycle and not moving on.  People like The House on Schellberg Street but don’t always realise that there are more books in the series. If they happen to read one of the others first, they’ll find the earlier ones. As the books are in a cycle rather than a series this is fine. They can be read in any order.

We decided then, at least for the Kindle editions, to advertise all of the books in the end papers of each book. And we accidentally uploaded Girl in a Smart Uniform instead of Clara’s Story.

As you might expect, Amazon rejected this straight away. The content was too similar to another book. Of course it was; it was identical, in fact.

We used their contact form to tell them about our mistake.

We kept getting the same form reply. According to their terms and conditions they could not publish this book. After some persistence and pointing out to them they were using a script rather than their brains, at last someone said we could take down the incorrect version and upload the correct one. Except that we couldn’t because the title was still blocked.

Eventually we found a brave soul who was willing to unblock the title as long as we promised we would put up different material.

We did, and it was accepted.

But it would be Clara’s Story that was affected. She was being rejected all over again.

We persisted and eventually someone saw sense. A little like how someone gave Clara back her real name. Somewhere in all of the chaos there are caring humans.     

Thursday, 25 November 2021

More about Helga’s Story

Mountain, Scenic, Panoramic, Cumbria

a clue to the 1980s' setting of Helga's Story 

I shall be starting work on this very soon. I’ve decided to link Helga’s time in the 1940s to her later life in the 1980s where persecution threatens to happen again.  Except that she is now wise to the way it works and gets round it this time.

I shall make good use of the episodes of her life that appear in Girl in a Smart Uniform. The very first scene, however, will be in the 1980s.

I’ve read a few novels recently that do this sort of exchange between the 1940s and a later time and I find they work very well. So, I’m looking forward to playing with this a bit myself.

I’m at that stage with this story where I sit and make notes, often when I’m in cafés. Next week it will be when I’m on the train to London. I’ll be thinking about the characters, the settings and the shape of the story. Also there is a lot of planning about background material that the reader never sees but it must be there so that I can write my characters with authority.

I’m looking forward to getting to know Helga a lot better.         

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

More stories coming soon


I have two books waiting to go through the editorial process.

Face to Face with the Führer looks at Renate’s mother / Clara’s daughter and a strange encounter she had with Hitler. So strange in fact that a mainstream publisher probably wouldn’t look at it.   

The Class Letter  revisits the round robin letter but looks in more detail at some of the characters we’ve met before: a girl who trains to be an actor, one of the twins who has to help run her father’s business after he dies suddenly, a girl who becomes a farmer and the class teacher.  

In addition there are two further stories being planned. They haven’t got firm titles yet but working titles are:

Helga’s Story This is the story of an “Untertaucher” who survives being hidden right under the noses of the Nazis. However, she meets persecution again in the 1980s. This story takes place partly in the 1940s and partly in the 1980s.

Gabriela Gabriela is the aunt of the girl on The Class Letter who becomes an actor. She is working secretly for the German resistance.

Comments and beta readers are very welcome.  The first two books mentioned are ready to go. The second two aren’t written yet.