This evening in the Library we have Marcia Clayton who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.
Good evening, and thank you for inviting me for a chat, Pam. I live in North Devon in the South West of England, and I am a farmer’s daughter. I left school just before my sixteenth birthday, and worked for seven years in a bank before leaving to start a family. I held a variety of jobs for several years, working around looking after our three sons but then in 1990, I became an admin manager at our local college. It was at this time I decided to further my education by taking A levels in English and History, and went on to achieve a degree-equivalent qualification in management. In 2006, I moved to a job with the local authority as the Education Transport Manager, and I remained in that post until I retired in 2016. I am now enjoying retirement with my husband, Bryan.
This could not be more appropriate when describing what became known as ‘Blitzmas’. In December 1940, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was doing its best to wipe British cities off the map. But the British public were having none of it and were determined to have the best possible holiday they could. Time magazine reported that Christmas parties were being held in the larger air-raid shelters, which provided safety for over one million people. Even the London theatres put on the usual Christmas Pantomimes. However, everyone suffered. It was not a normal Christmas by any means.
Gifts were difficult to come by. However, the Evening Standard reported that the Oxford Street pavements were congested and had a pre-war atmosphere. Luxuries such as silk stockings or French perfume were not to be found, but there was still liqueur chocolates available, and if you were lucky, you might find some figs or Turkish delight. Wine and spirits were plentiful but brandy was rare. The most popular present that Christmas was soap!
It was a ‘recycle’ Christmas. At home, decorations for the most part, were handmade, often by the children. Due to a paper shortage, scraps of paper, old Christmas cards, old newspapers, and brown paper were used to make ornaments and decorations. Presents were often homemade gifts wrapped in brown paper or even small pieces of cloth. Hand knitted items, such as hats and scarves were made by unravelling old jumpers and war bonds were bought and given as gifts, which helped the war effort. Homemade food items, such as chutneys and jams were popular and practical presents, along with items associated with gardening, like wooden dibbers for planting.
There was little reprieve from the misery of Blitzkrieg. Greater Manchester bore the brunt of the Luftwaffe’s attacks that Christmas. On the night of 22/23 December 272 tons of high explosive were dropped, and another 195 tons the following night. Almost 2,000 incendiaries were also dropped on the city over the two nights. It became known as the Christmas Blitz. In total, 684 people died and a further 2,300 were wounded with districts to the north and east of the city badly affected. At least 8,000 homes were made uninhabitable.
The royal family had to spend the holiday at a secret location in case the Nazi airmen attacked while George VI was giving his Christmas broadcast. But as a mark of solidarity with the British public, the royal Christmas card was a picture of the king and queen in the grounds of the bombed Buckingham Palace. Traditional carol singing was cancelled due to the bombing and black-out, festive lights were not to be found on the streets, and many people had to work on the 26th of December, Boxing Day, which was a public holiday.
Due to rationing and high prices, most could not afford the traditional turkey or goose. Housewives had to use all their ingenuity to find substitutes. Luckily, the Ministry of Food provided lots of information (see recipe below) and even films on the subject. (The Imperial War Museum has many examples of these.) The only concession came in the week before Christmas in 1940; the tea ration was doubled and the sugar allowance increased to 12 ounces.
It can’t have been easy to celebrate a normal Christmas with many families separated by war and loved ones fighting overseas. Even though there was a small respite from the bombing in London on Christmas and Boxing Day, by 29th December, many families were rushing for the safety of air raid shelters once more. The King’s speech on Christmas Day must have been the highlight for many families but in December 1940. the outlook still looked bleak.
“The future will be hard, but our feet are planted on the path of victory, and with the help of God we shall make our way to justice and to peace.” King George VI (Christmas 1940)
In Her Last Betrayal, the sequel to Her Secret War, Sarah Gillespie spends Christmas with her family in Hampshire and is delighted to be involved in the Hursley Amateur Dramatic Society’s production of Hayfever, which they put on for the locals just before Christmas. However, it is to be a tragic Christmas that Sarah will never forget …
Her Last Betrayal will be released on 14th April. Cover reveal in the new year but pre-order now available:
It has been a hectic year, working on many different projects, including Her Secret War and Her Last Betrayal for Avon Books UK. However, as you probably know, my Lucy Lawrence Mystery Series is very close to my heart. Therefore, I am delighted to announce that the third book in the series, The Art of Deception, is now live for pre-order on Amazon worldwide. This title will be released on Friday 10th December.
There is such a wealth of great historical fiction books available right now, books that make super Christmas pressies too. Here is my round-up of 2021’s best, and there is something to suit all tastes, from romance to the ancient world.
I am absolutely thrilled to bring you news of Suzie’s debut novel. I’m so very proud of her achievement for she is an inspiration, proving without a doubt, that hard work and perseverance really do pay off. I will be tucking into this book over the weekend.
A little bit about Suzie …
Suzie Hull lives in Northern Ireland with her family and numerous rescue cats. She originally dreamt of being a ballet dancer, but instead trained as a Montessori Nursery teacher and has spent the last thirty years working with children. She has always had an enduring passion for history and books, and since she came from a long line of creative women it was only a matter of time before she turned to writing . A member of the RNA, In this Foreign Land is her debut novel.
Bill Ryan was my eldest brother. He was a popular lad with a ready smile, always up for mischief. At twelve years of age, I looked up to him and adored him, as did my younger brother David and little George who was only three. Our universe was a tiny part of County Meath; our world a small farmstead handed down for generations. Mother worked hard and although she was strict, she was a loving and kind-hearted woman. My father, however, was a hard man. Often aloof, his stern gaze was enough to put the fear of God into you.
When Bill finally plucked up the courage to broach the subject of signing-up, he met with strong resistance. But he persevered. We must defeat the Hun, he said to them, his voice resonating with conviction. As David and I listened from behind the door, my heart sang. How brave he was! But father refused to listen – Bill was needed on the farm and that was the end of the nonsense. Mother pleaded with Bill as only a mother can. But in the end, he presented them with a fait accompli, arriving home one day in uniform.
I am so thrilled to share the news that my new release is out in the world today. Her Secret War is the first of two books based around a young Irish girl, Sarah Gillespie. Sarah is the only one of her family to survive the North Strand bombing in May 1941 which kills 28 people and leaves hundreds homeless. Her plight resonates with the thousands who survived similar incidences throughout the war, all over the world. From the ruins of her life, Sarah must make some difficult decisions. Like many Irish, she has family in Britain and when they hold out the offer of a new life and a job, Sarah decides to leave Ireland. Unfortunately, her new life slowly falls apart as her family history catches up with her, and she is drawn into the dark world of WW2 espionage.
Today in the Library we have Dominic Fielder who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into his life as an author.
You are very welcome, Dominic, please introduce yourself:
I’ve held a variety of working posts, some I’ve been good at, and others appalling. Before the world of Marvel and DC became popular, I ran a comic book store and worked for my parents’ family book business (which ran for 61 years and only recently closed). Either side of that, I worked in the Banking and Insurance sector, when such jobs seemed glamourous, but really weren’t, and as a telephone sales and alarm services clerk, which never seemed glamourous but allowed me to meet some interesting characters.
I undertook a History degree and after achieving First class honours had a change of direction in life.
A father’s legacy can be a blessing or a curse… AD658: The sons of Penda of Mercia have come of age. Ethelred, the youngest, recalls little of past wars while Wulf is determined to emulate their father, whose quest to avenge his betrayed kinswomen drew him to battle three successive Northumbrian kings. Ecgfrith of Northumbria is more hostile towards the Mercians than his father was. His sister Ositha, thwarted in her marriage plans, seeks to make her mark in other ways, but can she, when called upon, do her brother’s murderous bidding? Ethelred finds love with a woman who is not involved in the feud, but fate intervenes. Wulf’s actions against Northumbria mean Ethelred must choose duty over love, until he, like his father before him, has cause to avenge the women closest to him. Battle must once more be joined, but the price of victory will be high. Can Ethelred stay true to his father’s values, end the feud, keep Mercia free, and find the path back to love? This is the second of the two-book series, Tale of the Iclingas, which began with Cometh the Hour, but can be read as a standalone.