I’m delighted to be on the Arrow tour today hosting Annie Clarke who is chatting to us about Wedding Bells on the Home Front.
Find out how Annie’s protagonist surprised her, the authors who have influenced her writing and more. Enjoy.
Wedding Bells on the Home Front by Annie Clarke is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.
March 1942: As the war continues, wedding bells are ringing for the factory girls . . .
Sarah is happily settling into married life with new husband Stan, whilst Fran is busy planning her upcoming wedding to sweetheart Davey, who’s still conscripted to Bletchley Park. With limited resources, the girls must make do to create the perfect day.
Meanwhile, Beth has other things on her mind. She hasn’t heard from her husband Bob since he returned to the navy, and she’s starting to fear the worst. And new friend Viola is still recovering from a nasty accident.
Life on the home front can be challenging, but with the support of one another, the factory girls can get through anything.
Hi Annie, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Wedding Bells on the Home Front in 20 words or less.
Three feisty munitions girls from a pit village who eventually find happiness.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
My mum was born and brought up in a pit village, which is factored into my own DNA after spending my school holidays with my Uncle Stan in that same pit village. While there, I met a one handed older woman, for whom the words fun and gumption were invented. She had lost her hand in a munitions factory. The community had done what all pit communities did – closed around her. I wanted to write about my mum’s pit village: such young women, such pitmen, such a community. So, here we are. My homage, if you like.
Please tell us about the characters in your book.
Fran, Beth and Sarah are the three main characters, and then there are their mams, who formed the Proggy rug Co-op, and arethe backbone of the pit village. Added to the mix are the pitmen – part of the gang the girls grew up with. All become honed by the dangers they face, the hardship they uncomplainingly endure, the betrayals they face, the difficulties they all survive, the laughter and love that underpins it all.
If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book Annie, what would it be …
Trust in yourself and those you know. This trust will see you through.
If you could choose to be one of your characters who would you be?
I would be Fran, the leader of the girls, just as her brother Stan, is the leader of the lads. Why? Because even in the first book of the series, when the girls are new to such work, such danger she somehow keeps ‘it’ together, and leads her friends when danger threatens. It is she, who like her mam and brother have that extra gumption that is a comfort to others. I’d like that gumption.
Was there anything about your protagonist that surprised you Annie?
Oh, yes, about them all I think. As an author you envisage your characters, needing them to fulfil parts of the plot, but you can’t plan everything, and it’s the human frailties that make them empathetic.
Fran becomes tormented by a recent arrival at the factory, and upset by an accident to someone she used to hate, but no longer does. It causes her to break down to her fiancé. He is appalled because Fran is never weak. Somehow I didn’t expect it of her, either, but of course, she was right. We can all only take so much, but after that moment of leaning on someone, she shook herself, and carried on. It’s war, after all.
Then a similar shock happened to Beth… But again gumption kicked in. It has to.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most?
When Ralph, the former Fascist and bad boy, son of the owner of the pit, sacrifices his safety to save others. The munitions workers are the ones he saves, and they in their turn, do everything they can to save him. It is a pivotal moment in the book, because he is redeemed, and the community accepts that he is.
… and the hardest?
The scene where the girls are waiting in the vestry while Fran’s wedding guests continue to arrive, and Beth, one of the three girls, has to bear her happiness, when her own happiness is jeopardised, though she wants this to remain a secret on this happy day. She touches one of the prayer books, and it summons up the generations who have used it, who have suffered and survived all that life through at them, and she knows she must go on, as they did, with a smile. This ‘going on’ is so common, this need to protect someone for the moment, from our own distress…
If your book is part of a series, what is in the future?
Wedding Bells on the Home Front is the third in the series and I have just finished the fourth, Christmas on the Home Front. It’s probably my 30th novel (I forget how many) My first was about the north east based on mam’s life, and to write again about the north east is such a privilege. It is, I suppose an homage to that life that is now gone, but let me tell you, the sense of community remains, thank heavens, all over Britain. For it is community which sustains us, just as it has during this pandemic. Our small shops have turned round on a sixpence to deliver their products, the local volunteers have organised a community hub to support the vulnerable, the supermarkets have done the same. But most of all it is the neighbours who have kept one another safe. How I applaud them, and us all.
Which authors have influenced your writing?
Reginald Hill for his humour and sheer erudition, Philip Kerr and Ian Rankin for their plotting. Alan Paton (Cry the Beloved Country) for his passion, and M.C. Beaton for her often politically incorrect fun. God Bless the woman, and may she be sitting on her cloud being naughty. .
Have you joined any writing groups?
Yep, and taught groups too. Writing is isolating. Just beware the smart alec who might destructively demolish your novel or exercises. Critique should always be constructive. Your meetings should be fun.
Are there any tips you could share with new writers Annie?
Stay in the moment when you are writing, create scenes, feel the emotion. What I mean by that is to BE the character, feel, see, hear, smell what she/he is experiencing. If she sits. It is a hard chair? What can she see? Does she have to turn to hear? Have a clear idea of what the scene is to achieve, what point are you making in it, what event is to happen to move the plot on. Don’t forget the theme. What is the novel really about? Home Front series is about strength and compassion.
Finally, what has been the best part of your writing journey so far?
The research travel, the friends I have made, the 2nd families I have all over the world. They have taught me much, and not just facts, but their aspirational personalities.
Thank you for being my guest today. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Annie Clarke’s roots are dug deep into the North East. She draws inspiration from her mother, who was born in a County Durham pit village during the First World War, and went on to became a military nurse during World War Two. Annie and her husband now live a stone’s throw from the pit village where her mother was born. She has written frequently about the North East in novels which she hopes reflect her love and respect for the region’s lost mining communities.
Annie has four adult children and four granddaughters, who fill her and her husband’s days with laughter, endlessly leading these two elders astray.