Given the way life has been of late there couldn’t be a more fittingly aspirational title for a book than Brighter Days Ahead and I’m thrilled to be interviewing Mary Wood all about her latest novel as part of its launch celebrations.
Published by Pan Macmillan on 30th November 2017, Brighter Days Ahead is available for purchase through the publisher links here.
Brighter Days Ahead
War pulled them apart, but can it bring them back together?
Molly lives with her repugnant father, who has betrayed her many times. From a young age, living on the streets of London’s East End, she has seen the harsh realities of life . . . When she’s kidnapped by a gang and forced into their underworld, her future seems bleak.
Flo spent her early years in an orphanage, and is about to turn her hand to teacher training. When a kindly teacher at her school approaches her about a job at Bletchley Park, it could be everything she never knew she wanted.
Will the girls’ friendship be enough to weather the hard times ahead?
An Interview with Mary Wood
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Mary. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Brighter Days Ahead in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?
Thank you for having me as your guest today.
To begin at the beginning, I was born the thirteenth child of fifteen. We had a wonderful mother, who encouraged us all to follow our dreams.
We were very poor at times as my father’s work – farm labourer, wasn’t paid well. But always we were happy and loved.
My circumstances led me to have an empathy and interest in social history, which was later to influence my writing.
I met and married my husband, Roy when very young, and began a family of my own when just eighteen.
This led to me having a chequered career, from cleaning, to party plan, and working at home – stitching knickers! Anything and everything that brought in extra and fitted in with being a mum to our four wonderful children. Till eventually, I joined the Probation Service and became a Probation Service Officer, which was also to influence my writing – giving it the gritty element.
An avid reader, I always dreamt of becoming an author.
I began to write in 1989, but always my work was rejected. I never gave up, but it wasn’t until 2011, having survived breast cancer twice, and a year in a wheel chair struck down by M.E. that I took my fate into my own hands and self-published on kindle.
Each of my self-pub books went to number one in genre and then, the most wonderful thing happened. I was spotted by an editor for Pan Macmillan and at the age of 68 offered a seven-book deal!
I am now a grandmother and great grandmother many times over, and about to sign my fourth contract with Pan Macmillan and love working with the wonderful team that look after me and my books.
(My goodness! What a roller coaster of a life. And what an uplifting biography for the rest of us too.)
Why do you write?
Writing is a compulsion. It is a completion of me, and yet an escapism too. A short answer this time, but that’s it in a nutshell. It is something I did as a child, and what I will do until I die.
When did you realise you were going to be a writer?
The spark was lit by a teacher. There were two who taught me English. One used to set us a title for a composition, and then say – ‘And, Mary Olley, (my nee name) I want one side, and one page only – not a novel!’
His successor, an altogether, different person, said, – ‘Well done. You know, one day you will be an author, you have a special talent.’
This, and my mother’s tales about her grandmother, who was an author, my great grandmother, Dora Langlois, gave me a burning desire to follow in her footsteps.
(As an ex-English teacher I love hearing how teachers have inspired authors.)
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
Easiest – writing the first draft.
Most difficult – tackling the edit. I have a wonderful team of editors at Pan Macmillan, but when I am faced with page after page that has turned red, well, I fall out with them in my head, then love them again as I see what their suggestions have done to my novel – they contribute so much, with just a tweak of a sentence. An amazing skill to possess. I always say that an author is nothing without her/his editor.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I rise early – sometimes as early as 4.30 am. When in Britain, I go to my little-bedroom office, to begin work. During my time in Spain, I still rise early, but I become a duvet writer and take my laptop to my bed – that is, until the sun comes up, and then I am on my rooftop solarium, or even on the beach!
I like to write between 3 and 5000 words a day, but my record is 8000! I have written three books this year, and am hoping to make that four. Usually, I will finish work at around two and then, Roy and I spend quality time together. Roy has all the chores done by then as he has taken over the running of the home. He is a gem, and I couldn’t do what I do without him. We are the A-team.
(Oh! I have one like that too and he’s worth his weight in gold!)
Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Brighter Days Ahead?
Set in wartime, the story’s main characters are Molly and Flo. Their stories are very different. Molly is an East Ender, and her story unfolds to a background of the blitz. She is wronged by her father who has become mixed up with a black-market gang. His greed leads to Molly’s downfall and she finds herself torn away from David, the love of her life, and forced to work in a brothel. David is called up and becomes a pilot. Neither know where the other is.
Flo has been brought up by foster parents in the North of England. A kindly employer sees her potential and pays for extra schooling for her. Through her tutor she becomes a candidate for the code breaking operations in Bletchley. Fitting into this world of upper-class girls isn’t easy for working-class Flo.
Molly and Flo are worlds apart and yet, through a chance meeting become friends.
Theirs is a story that touches many threads of life – The heartbreak for Flo of falling in love with a man who is homosexual, and the fear she has for him and his partner as they face the threat of a prison sentence, if they are discovered. The terrible consequences of the blitz and the poverty it inflicts. The love between Simon’s sister who is a journalist, and a German student she met at university before the war, and how that goes horribly wrong. And a deep friendship between Flo and Molly that is all that Molly has to cling to as she lives her daily life in fear, and not knowing if she will ever see David again.
Throughout, Flo remains strong and is the rock that the others depend on. For her, true love comes along in a surprising way, and helps her to see where her heart really lies.
And so, we have a mix of characters playing out an emotional, and thrilling drama – Prostitutes. A girl from the wrong background, but with a brilliant mind. Two gay men, who live in fear of discovery, and a young woman who has fallen for a fellow student, whom war turns into the enemy.
How did you go about researching detail and ensuring Brighter Days Ahead was realistic?
When I had the initial idea, the main place for the setting was going to be Bletchley. And so, I went on a daytrip there to find out all that I could. I found it a wonderful place, atmospheric, informative, and an ignite of my imagination.
I was then privileged to speak with a lady who worked there during the war and still does. And she shattered this notion that I had, that Bletchley was an exciting place to work. She told me that mostly, it was boring. Long hours sitting at a desk processing words that meant nothing to her. It wasn’t until afterwards that it all seemed worthwhile when she discovered what a vital part she had played in winning the war.
And so, the setting changed, to include many scenes at Bletchley, but spread out to London and the blitz, and of course, a northern city, which in this book, is Blackburn.
I know Blackburn well, as I worked there for two years, and London, the war and the blitz, is something I have researched many times now, but always there is a gap in my knowledge. This is when I turn to books and the internet.
Brighter Days Ahead has a cover that suggests true friendship to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?
My editor at Pan Macmillan works with a cover designer, and they engage models to depict their ideas. I am asked for my final approval. I love what they come up with, and, because my editor thoroughly knows my book from the work she has done on it, I trust her. She hasn’t let me down. To me, the girls on the cover are my Molly and my Flo, and I love how their friendship comes across.
If you could choose to be a character from Brighter Days Ahead, who would you be and why?
Flo. For one, I would not like to go through what Molly does, bless her, and two: Flo is how I would like others to see me. She is kind, and does what she can for others. She is dependable. She has empathy, and is capable of deep love and loyalty. She hasn’t a criteria for giving of herself, all are encompassed, from prostitutes, to a high-born girl, to a destitute East Ender, and, in a time when it was criminal – those with the same sex persuasion, all are people to her, who need love, understanding, and occasionally help.
If Brighter Days Ahead became a film, who would you like to play Molly and Flo and why would you choose them?
Oh, I wish! For Flo, I would choose, Clair Foy. She would be perfect and has the look of my Flo. She has a way with her, that gives the viewer the sense of her being able to cope in all situations and yet with compassion, as my Flo does. I can’t wait to see her in Breathe.
And for Molly, Jessica Raine, from The Last Post and Call the Midwife. Jessica, can convey emotion without all the tears and tantrums. She can get into people’s heart. Molly would need these qualities to put over how she is wronged – not the wrongdoer.
Many of your books are set in the fairly recent past. What draws you to the eras you write about?
I have books that are set in the mid nineteenth century, which is where The Breckton Series begins, and in May 2018, I have a book out that begins in the early nineteenth century, but yes, quite a few are set during the twentieth century and the two world conflicts of that era.
I have a fascination for the struggles and challenges that war presented to the women of the day. They were called upon to step up and keep the home fires burning, which entailed taking on traditionally male roles, and yet, still had few rights that were afforded to men.
I’m fascinated too, by the active roles that women took on during both wars, which took them to the heart of the fighting. My book, Proud of You is about a girl in the second world war, who became a special agent behind enemy lines. A theme that runs through my novels, Time Passes Time and In Their Mother’s Footsteps. Whilst, All I Have to Give is about a female surgeon in the First World war, and is a prequel to In Their Mother’s Footsteps.
I love how this era takes you to many countries too, so my settings are varied throughout. You may find yourself in Poland, France, Ypres, or dodging bombs in London.
In all my books you will find that I take you right into the action in a gritty way that tells it as it is. I don’t relate events – the reader lives them. Quite hard to take at times, but then it was harder for my heroines, who did what they did so that following generations could live in peace.
It took a while for you to become conventionally published. What message would you give to other authors struggling to be recognised?
Love your art. Dedicate yourself to it. Work at becoming the best that you can be. Make your stories live on the page. There are rules to our craft – learn them and live by them, then, never give up. If you do this, then it will happen for you. But you must work towards making it happen.
Your writing has evolved over time. Could you tell us a bit about that please?
I think this is a natural process in any craft – you move with the times and the demand – readers want more war settings, and so I responded to that. This moved me away from my natural northern setting, but not entirely, as I always sneak a northern lass in there somewhere, and often as one of the heroines, as Flo, in Brighter Days Ahead.
You enjoy interaction with your readers. What advice would you give to new authors on developing a readership?
First and foremost – remember that nothing can bring you more readers, or more success, or that contract you so desire, than knowing your craft and putting your utmost into your books.
But, of course, in these days of social media, you can help yourself become known in other ways.
Create a page on Facebook. Make this space an interesting and welcoming place for your followers to be and make it visible, by including a link to it wherever you can – as a signature to your emails, in your books and especially on your webpage.
Don’t use your followers just to promote your work, or hard sell to them. Grow your community by being a true friend. I genuinely love every one of my followers of my Facebook page and I am always there for them, as they are for me. I love to share everyday life with them. I love too, to be able to make a difference if they are hurting, or to have their comfort if I am.
I think that a webpage, is essential, as this is how readers can find you. I love interacting through the email accessed through my webpage. I receive some lovely messages this way. And I send a monthly newsletter to subscribers.
Then there is: Twitter, and Goodreads, Google and any number of social media help, but be careful with your time management, as all social media can take up so much of your time that you can find that you have little to give to your writing.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
I don’t read much at all these days – an awful admission for a writer, when the advice to us is to read all we can, but I don’t have the time. Also, I find it difficult. I find myself critiquing, instead of enjoying. My relaxation is in games, such as scrabble and word find, and I love crosswords and clue word, as well as solo card games. Oh, and I watch the tele. I like dramas. And I am thinking of joining audible, as I know I would enjoy listening to books, much more than reading them as I love listening to a narration on the radio.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Brighter Days Ahead should be their next read, what would you say?
A gritty, emotional story set in WW2 driven by the power of love and friendship.
Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions, Mary.
Thank you, for having me. I have so enjoyed this interview. Much love to you and to all who follow your blog. Mary x
About Mary Wood
Born in Maidstone, Kent, in 1945, the thirteenth child of fifteen children, Mary’s family settled in Leicestershire after the war ended.
Mary married young and now, after 54 years of happy marriage, four children, 12 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren, Mary and her husband live in Blackpool during the summer and Spain during the winter – a place that Mary calls, ‘her writing retreat’.
After many jobs from cleaning to catering, all chosen to fit in with bringing up her family, and boost the family money-pot, Mary ended her 9 – 5 working days as a Probation Service Officer, a job that showed her another side to life, and which influences her writing, bringing a realism and grittiness to her novels
Mary first put pen to paper, in 1989, but it wasn’t until 2010 that she finally found some success by self-publishing on kindle.
Being spotted by an editor at Pan Macmillan in 2013, finally saw Mary reach her publishing dream.
When not writing, Mary enjoys family time, reading, eating out, and gardening. One of her favourite pastimes is interacting with her readers on her Facebook page.
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