Today I’m really pleased to welcome Polly Heron, aka Susanna Bavin to the blog. We’ve been friends on Twitter for quite a few years – I always enjoy her photos of lovely Llandudno! Having read some of Susanna’s work, I was fascinated to hear about The Surplus Girls, due to be published on January 2nd next year. Here she is to answer my questions about the book and her life as a writer.
Tell us a little about where – and when – your book is set.
The Surplus Girls, which is written under the name Polly Heron, is set in Manchester in 1922. It is the first in a trilogy and each story covers four months of that year, so the first one takes place between January and April and the last one ends at Christmas. The year is important. The Great War has been over for some time, but everybody is still living with the consequences. In my heroine’s home, three generations of women are still in mourning for Ben – the son, grandson and fiancé they all loved – but whereas his mother and grandmother look set to remain in mourning for ever, young Belinda has laid her memories to rest and wants to look to the future, assuming she can build up the courage to tell her honorary mother- and grandmother-in-law, that is.
What kind of research did this book need?
I have always been interested in social and domestic history, so I already had a certain amount of knowledge. Specifically, I had to look into the lives of some real surplus girls, and women in general, to find out about their work prospects and the kind of living standards that their wages were likely to give them. This was crucial to the plight of the surplus girl. Having lost her chance of marriage, she faced a future of providing for herself.
How do you write – do you edit as you go, or have a specific routine, or…?
I am quite disciplined. I set targets. I set a word count target for the month and divide it into weeks. I edit as I go, but I don’t let the editing take over. It’s important to feel the book is moving along – and, of course, those weekly targets keep me focused. For me, the most important working day is Monday. It is important to get plenty done on Monday so that my week gets off to a good start. When I have finished writing the book, I send it to my agent, who makes editing suggestions for improving it. After I have worked on those, I return it to her for her to send to the publisher.
How do you relax?
I live at the seaside and I love getting out and about in the fresh air. Living beside the sea, and specifically living in Llandudno in North Wales, was a childhood dream of mine and we have been here for six years now. Best of all, I like to take my writing pad with me and settle down by the sea to work.
What’s next for The Surplus Girls in publishing terms is book 2, which is already written, and in writing terms, is book 3. As well as being part of a trilogy, each book is a stand-alone novel with its own heroine – Belinda, Molly and Nancy. Each book explores different a different theme. Loyalty and loss in Belinda’s story; independence and sexism in Molly’s; and courage and self-belief in Nancy’s.
Thank you, Polly!
And here’s some more about The Surplus Girls:
The Surplus Girls is a family saga set in 1922, four years after the end of the Great War. The heroine is Belinda, who got engaged at 15 to Ben, who died near the end of the war. Now Belinda is approaching 21 and, although she will always hold Ben in a special place in her heart, she knows it is time for her to move on. But how can she, when Ben’s mother and grandmother, whom she lives with, are still deep in mourning? As for Belinda’s own family – well, her father has lost more jobs than you can shake a stick at, and her mother, worn down with shame, is clingy and demanding.
When Belinda joins a secretarial class to try to better herself, little does she imagine that it will open up a whole new world to her. For not only does she learn to type, but she meets the beguiling bookshop owner Richard Carson… and falls head over heels in love. But who is this man to whom she has entrusted with her heart, and what does he really want?
Polly Heron has worked as a librarian, an infant teacher, a carer and a cook. She lives in beautiful North Wales with her husband and two rescue cats, but her writing is inspired by her Mancunian roots.
Polly’s saga series, The Surplus Girls, is set in Manchester and explores what happened to girls who, after the terrible death toll of the Great war, faced life alone. Each book is also a stand-alone novel.
Polly also writes as Susanna Bavin.