The Tobacco Girls Inspiration: Bristol Blitz Gallery – Lizzie Lane

Lizzie Lane was born and bred in Bristol where many of her family worked in the cigarette and cigar factories. This has inspired her new saga series for Boldwood The Tobacco Girls.

The Blitz was an event that defined this country, and the UK’s major cities, including Bristol, got some of the worst of it. Between November 24 1940 and April 11 1941, 919 tonnes of bombs were dropped on Bristol, causing the deaths of around 1,300 people and destroying much of the historic city centre.

These photographs from Bristol Archives give an idea of the devastating result of the Blitz on the city and the landscape and setting that inspires Lizzie’s upcoming novel.

A damaged corner building with on Victoria Street as it crosses Bristol Bridge, 1951  39864/2/403

Ruins of the Fairfax Street bomb site, pictured in 1951. It took until 1957 for businesses, including H Salanson & Co. opticians, to return to the street after the bombings 39864/2/268 

Blitzed buildings behind Castle Street in 1951. During the first air raid almost a quarter of the Castle Park area was destroyed, including historic buildings and four churches 39864/2/475

Castle Green after the blitz, 1940s 40826/STR/127

Blitzed High Street looking towards St Peter’s Church, 1940s. The ruined church still stands and in 2008 a memorial was erected, inscribed with the names of the civilians killed in Bristol during the bombings 40826/STR/134

Blitzed St Peter’s Street, now known as Castle Green, during the 1940s 40826/STR/149

Much of Bedminster was bombed and damaged during the Blitz, including the tram depot 41969/1/6

Man walking across bombed Dolphin Street, which now lies underneath modern Castle Park 41969/1/18

Two nurses sitting in the bombed ruins of the Bristol Homeopathic Hospital, which was quickly restored ahead of the launch of the NHS in 1948 41969/1/22

Adults and children helping amongst the ruins of Newfoundland Road following the raid on March 16 1941 41969/1/30

People congregated around the ruins of Palmyra Road in Bedminster, to inspect damage caused by bombings on April 11 1941 41969/1/31

Children and adults amongst the wreckage at St Clement’s church, on the corner of Houlton Street and Newfoundland Road in St Jude’s. Civilians including the vicar can be seen digging through the rubble on April 9 1941 41969/1/43

People amongst the rubble on bombed Stafford Street in Bedminster, January 3 1941 41969/1/54

Men dig out the remains of a bombed tram on West Street in Bedminster, after it was blown off the road and into a shop on January 4 1941 41969/1/63

An unidentified building brought down in the Blitz 43207/13/10

The city centre left ruined after 1941 PicBox/3/Blitz/11

Temple Church, pictured in the 1940s, was bombed during the Blitz. The tower still survives, despite having a substantial lean since its construction PicBox/3A/Temp/30

 

*Many thanks and credit to the Bristol Archives and the Bristol24/7 article: https://www.bristol247.com/news-and-features/features/17-historic-photos-from-the-bristol-blitz/.*

The House Mate: Publication Day Blog – Nina Manning

 

A stark white living room, a perfectly made bed, a picture perfect family – these are some of the images you might find on the account of a Cleanstagrammer, Instagram’s latest trending influencers. These marigold-cladded heroes have recently hit the social media site which boasts the lives of others through tiny little squares. And the fans are following in their millions.

They must be doing something right because whenever I stumble across a Cleanstagrammer’s page, a sense of calm washes over me. The cleanliness and the spotless homes are so aesthetically pleasing. Cleanstagrammers accounts are different to those of general influencers; we still become enraptured by the seamlessness of their lives, but we also get to see some of the muck and mess first.

Most Cleanstagrammers will give hints and the tips in their Instagram stories: they may show you how to make a shower shiner with just a lemon and a spoonful of bicarbonate of soda, or they’ve made a video of themselves jet washing their bin, sexed up by an overlay of audio and a shimmery filter. There are countless followers drooling over this cleaning porn, which has had another surge of popularity due to the relentless bad news, further restrictions and the pandemic itself. Many of the Cleanstagrammers are fighting their own anxiety demons and so have inadvertently created a place where those who struggle with chaos and uncertainty can come and feel serenity, chat with like-minded followers and also pick up a few handy tips along the way.

It was these very ‘Cleanstagrammers’ or ‘Cleanfluencers’ who inspired me to write a book where the central character becomes a little too obsessed with an Instagram account as well as the person who trolls that account.

Obsession is a perfect theme for a psychological thrillers and domestic noir style novels. I like to write my protagonists with flaws, and so they always have some sort of hurdle to overcome. In The House Mate, Regi has suffered a trauma and as a result has developed OCD. She uses cleaning as a way to expel some of the unwelcome thoughts. But she becomes a little too distracted by Mrs Clean and one particular troll and before long, Regi has immersed herself in the lives of these two women and discovered that those pretty little squares don’t always paint the real picture.

The House Mate focuses on the current trend of Instagrammers and Cleanstagrammers, and will remind readers to think twice and maybe even look a little closer when they next start scrolling through their favourite influencer’s account.

THE OTHER WOMAN

 

‘The Other Woman’ was one of those novels that “wrote itself”; which isn’t to say I could plonk my feet on my desk and swig a large G & T while typing with one finger.  If only!  No, what I mean is that I started out with the aim of telling one story, only to find another, much more powerful one pushing through.  This is quite scary when it happens – you have a plan and need to abandon it, following your instincts and your characters instead.

I had begun with Fran, rushing from the clutches of an abusive husband into the arms of her married lover Jack, who is an artist, desperate to leave his own marriage to the difficult and volatile Helena.  Fran longs for her own happiness, but is equally eager for her beloved Jack to be free from the shackles of a woman who – from everything he has told her – treats him appallingly.  That ‘real’ love is about wanting the best for another person is one of the things that has given Fran the courage to at last break free from Pete, her embittered, controlling bully of a husband, despite the very real risks of how he might retaliate.

As in life however, nothing goes according to plan… And as I set about sorting out the mess (the novelist’s job!) I became more and more aware that the missing jigsaw piece of the story was Helena, Jack’s wife.  We – like Fran – only know about her from what Jack has said, and as the story unfolded this felt increasingly unfair.  So, the next thing I know, I’m diving into Helena’s head too, jumping back in time to the run-up to Jack’s first encounter with Fran.  Exactly WHY we fall in love with someone – even when we are not supposed to – fascinates me.  Because yes, it is about chemistry and personality traits, but there is also the crucial question of context and timing.

The core of ‘The Other Woman’ shifted accordingly, becoming the story of two women – Fran and Helena – the lover and the wife.  Jack is what links them, but of course each character is so much more than the man whom they both happen to love.  Gradually, across the chasm of their invisible, necessary divide, Helena and Fran start to intuit this for themselves, creating an unexpected and extraordinary bond that empowers both in their separate, and very different quests to attain happiness.

The Other Woman is my seventeenth novel and, even months on from writing its final full-stop, thinking about the storyline gives me goose-bumps.  My two leading ladies could not be more different in terms of their natures and the battles they have to fight.  A series of blows has brought them both to their knees, and yet they are each equally determined to prevail.  They are amazing! And I couldn’t be happier at how they hijacked my story.

– Amanda Brookfield, October 2020.

The Old Girls’ Network: Casting my novel as a film

 

Perhaps every writer dreams of seeing her or his work produced on film.  After all, great stories make good theatre and good television, or good movies. I love to imagine who’d play the major roles in my novels if they were made into films. I’ve always been fascinated by the psychology of casting and, whenever I’ve directed plays in the past, I was told I was quite good at selecting the right person for the role, both physically and in terms of the ‘energy’ they communicate to an audience.

There are two ways of getting the casting ‘right’: one is to select the obvious choice that ticks all the boxes for most people – think Tom Hardy as James Bond – or, alternatively, we can go with instinct and pick an actor who may not be everyone’s obvious first choice for that role but there is something essentially quirky about them that will make it work – think Heath Ledger as The Joker, Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan or Robert Downey Junior as Chaplin. Instinct and essence are right up there and can often work better than predictability.

When I cast my novels as films, I’m dreaming beyond my wildest dreams, of course – should a TV director come knocking, it would be incredible to have access to a range of the most talented and famous actors, although I’ll gladly concede that there are thousands of brilliant actors out there who, although yet unheard of, are yet to make their name and if they are going to steal a scene, I’d love it to be a scene in one of my books.

Before I reveal my dream choice of cast for The Old Girls’ Network, I have to say that when I’m writing a book, I don’t start with famous actors’ faces or voices in my head. I don’t design a character in a story so that it can be played by a particular personality. Nor do I expect my chosen actors to match the character descriptions, age or background of the ones in my book: it’s the essence of the character I’m looking for, not the exact fit. You’ll see exactly what I mean.

The setting of the book is a Somerset village, and I’d need to create a community dynamic between all the villagers, both in terms of tensions and compatibility. So, let’s start with Barbara – she’s in her late seventies, starchy and difficult at first, but also vulnerable; she’s been hurt in the past and she steels herself against further complications in life by being austere. So, to play Barbara I’d go for the staccato voice, the vulnerable facial expressions and the strong character of Emma Thompson who, although she’s much younger than Barbara, is such a talented actor that she’d interpret perfectly the nuances between crotchety and kind; she’d have the subtext of each moment perfectly played out.

Pauline is a softer character but she’s no pushover; she is strong, independent and yet capable of loyalty and warmth. I’d choose Celia Imrie, whose comic background, poise and CV are impressive. Again, despite being ten years younger than Pauline, Celia would be the perfect actor to interpret her strength of character and her resilience while also showing her softer side.

Bisto is easy to cast and I have to say, I had several contenders for this role and changed my mind a few times. Small of frame, mischievous, intelligent but deeply wounded by his past, Bisto would be played by Colm Meaney who would demonstrate vulnerability, warmth and an ability to appeal to an audience through comedy and pathos. He’d be a heartbreaker.

To play Len Chatfield, the love-struck Romeo farmer who is often rendered speechless and awkward, I would select Bill Nighy. He’s a great comic actor and, although he often plays more verbose characters, I think he has exactly the right measure of pathos and warmth to make Len the audience’s darling. A Gabriel Oak character, Len is strong on the outside and gentle inside: Bill would be a perfect magnet for the audience’s sympathy.

Dizzy, the hairdresser whom Barbara says is named after a potato, would be played brilliantly by Amanda Lawrence, who is an ex-theatre student of mine and was in the film Suffragette several years ago. Check her out. Sparky, funny and adorable, she’d be ideal as Dizzy. Hugo, the man from the manor, would be Rhys Ifans, yes, really – he’d do a great job in a smart suit. Kostas the Greek hunk who cleans windows would be Baris Arduç, a Turkish TV presenter who fits the bill in terms of the physical ability to embody the role.

Jamie Bell would play Len’s son Gary: again, he doesn’t exactly match the physical type from the novel but he can blend a broodiness with a sadness that will make Gary not entirely unlikeable. Chrissie the vicar would be played by Helena Bonham Carter, who would bring a briskness and a bit of glamour to the character. Imagine her wanging that welly!

There are several other characters I would cast and, in my dream world, I’d want to use relatively unknown but up-and-coming actors to take all the other roles. The following are ex-students of mine who work in the industry. James Elston would play Andy; Pierre Roxon would play Fabian; Demelza Randall would take the role of Tilly Hardy, the author of raunchy romance novels. I’d like to stay loyal to actors I’ve worked with whom I know are super-talented and industrious.

Then again, just imagine if Hollywood called me with a huge budget and asked for a completely new setting: what if the whole book had to change location and Winsley Green became somewhere in downtown New York? Then I suppose I’d be auditioning De Niro for Bisto, Samuel L for Len, Streep for Pauline and Streisand for Barbara. Now that’s a whole new and very different fantasy!

Libraries and Me – Alex Coombs

Growing up as a kid in a small town in Bucks was as dull as it sounds. My local library was the principal (and easiest way) of getting out of Bourne End. I chose the interplanetary route by reading my way through their Sci Fi section. I still remember the Gollancz books with their distinctive yellow spines, Heinlein, Asimov, Arthur C.Clarke. Philip K Dick was a little too avant-garde for Bourne End. There were lots of others.

There was a library at my school that had the complete Oxford English Dictionary in god knows how many volumes. The only ones that were ever opened were the C volume and the F volume. No prizes for guessing at which pages these fell open at as I marvelled at seeing the F and C words. In print, in a book ! I doubt today’s generation of schoolchildren would be as impressed.

Then I did escape, both Bourne End and school. At Edinburgh Uni in their library, I haunted the mysteriously (to me) named ‘stacks’ and read twentieth century Eng Lit, although I was supposed to be studying Arabic. Much more pleasurable to read Martin Amis or John Updike than Taha Hussein’s Al Ayyaam, a damn sight easier too.

Post Uni I worked in Sudan in a large town, Wad Madani, that had, courtesy of the British Council, a kind of sub-library that nobody ever went to, apart from me. I read lots of Ford Madox Ford (!) while living in a mud hut by the banks of the Blue Nile. Ian McEwan got me through malaria. That’s a surreal juxtaposition.

Then I moved to Egypt, on to Cairo British Council and their library, re-reading Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time and Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet on the balcony of my cramped flat in Zamalek to the tune of endless car horns drifting up from the street below.

Back in Britain, living in North London, my library became Highgate Library which was a red-brick building near the tube station. I quite liked small libraries, you end up reading things you wouldn’t normally, because you’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit and end up taking out books on antiques, or getting hooked on Anita Brookner.

Then we decided to move back to Bucks. We had kids and I would go to Amersham Library and Beaconsfield to get picture books to read them stories from. Babette Cole, especially Doctor Dog was a particular favourite.

I would get through so many of them. I would take my full allowance, twelve I believe, at a time. At bath-times, unable to use a book, I would make up my own adventure stories for the kids using their bath toys as characters. There was the Reverend Seal ( a green, cloth seal) who was a reformed armed-robber turned Vicar, very Ray Winstone. He lived on a rock in the Atlantic and would preach to shoals of fish. He was married to Rosie (a Barbie doll) and she was pursued by Lord Dolphin, caddish, criminally inclined, ( a blue plastic dolphin), who was in love with her and spoke like Lesley Phillips (‘Ding-dong…caramba !’).

The kids grew up. I started writing and I still get a huge kick if I see one of my books in a library. I still pine for the old days when books were still stamped and you could open the jacket and see how many times it had been taken out and when it was last read.

I still use libraries, mainly for research. I am currently writing a crime story set in the nineteenth century.

I also started re-using the kid’s reading book section again, not for the children though.

My mother has dementia and is completely unable to follow a plot, or let’s be honest, recognise who I am. But she did enjoy (pre-Covid – current restrictions don’t allow this) looking at the brightly coloured pictures in story books, or, if it’s an alphabet book, working out the letters.

The wheel has come full circle.

Dear Renfrew Library,

There are many “firsts” from my youth that I remember as clearly as if they were yesterday. My first kiss – behind the youth club shed and I burned with embarrassment for a fortnight afterwards. My first crush – David Cassidy and no, Donny Osmond didn’t even come close.

Up there with the most memorable events is the day I got my very own library card. It was a little cardboard square, later to be laminated, and I treasured it like it was a ten pound note.

I was a child of the seventies. We only had three television channels and a record player that jumped every time someone walked past it. For years I thought all singers had hiccups.

There were no video games, no internet, no climbing walls and an indoor ski slope would have been considered a wild figment of our overactive imaginations.

Instead, we had Renfrew library. At five years old, I was in awe of the surroundings. The quiet. The calm. The rows and rows of books filled with wonderful pictures and words I couldn’t yet read.

But now I had my library card and I wasn’t afraid to use it.

Over the next few years, I would visit twice a week, taking out more and more advanced books, proudly handing over my card and watching as the lady behind the desk stamped the front page with a return date that bore no significance because I’d be back a few days later, books read, anxious to swap them for another pile of escapism.

I’d carry my heavy tower of fiction the couple of miles home and back, developing my mind and the super-toned biceps of Popeye at the same time.

Entire summers were spent hanging out with the adventurous characters in my books, kids who today might spend their time sitting inside playing an Xbox rather than searching for a kidnappers, thieves and smugglers.

I was enraptured by their exploits, even if they made me feel woefully inadequate because I’d never had the inclination or opportunity to track down a dastardly robber.

 

Books began to have a real influence in my life. Thankfully, my parents resisted my demands to be sent to boarding school after my first jaunt to Malory Towers.

And similarly, my insistence that I was going to become a private detective after my fleeting obsession with the Nancy Drew mysteries was treated with underwhelming indifference.

 

I’d love to say I then progressed to the classics, but that would only be true if that term was expanded to include the complete works of Crackerjack, anything by Judy Blume and the Charlie’s Angels Annual of 1978.

 

In the late seventies and early eighties, we may have been rich in shoulder pads, but we were sadly lacking in young adult fiction compared to today’s choices.

My teenage years took a turn for the serious, with George Orwell 1984 and Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird being two stand-outs on my book shelf.

However around my mid teens, there was a massive leap on my reading roadmap that landed smack bang in the middle of Jackie Collins Boulevard, with regular diversions to Sydney Sheldon Street via the Judith Krantz highway and the Shirley Conran flyover. I like to protest that reading these books at such an impressionable age left no permanent mark on my psyche, however, I remain convinced that I’ll be swept off my feet at any moment by a billionaire playboy mogul called Lance.

It was around this time that the library became so much more than just the place I went to fuel the imagination.

I’d spend endless hours there, in the solitude, peace and quiet, studying for exams. When I was trying to decide what to do with my life, I would sit in the reference section, poring over huge career directories, never finding anything that would appeal more than the entry under ‘W’ that detailed the tantalising aspects of being a writer.

The seeds of that dream would never have been planted if it hadn’t been for the library. That building in Renfrew mapped out my future and today, decades later, I’m still regularly to be found in the corner of a library building, tapping out my next novel on my laptop, or talking to reading groups and aspiring writers. When my own teenagers were small, I took them to the library regularly and instilled in them a love of reading that I hope will stay with them throughout their lives.

Libraries are no longer just temples to the written word. Now, they have IT facilities, mother’s groups, children’s reading sessions and author events. They are the hub of the community.

Their importance cannot be underestimated – because even in a society where everything is available at the click of a mouse, a library is more than just a building – it’s the entry point to tens of thousands of other worlds just waiting to be explored.

My affection for David Cassidy and fictional blokes called Lance eventually subsided, but my love for the library that shaped my future will last a lifetime.

Love,

Shari xx