Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nikki Moore: I wish I had time to write a book...!

 Welcome to Nikki who has found time in her very busy schedule to write for us. Whatever you do don’t tell her you have no time to write…

Over the years I’ve heard that many times. Should I admit that it both sets my teeth on edge and fills me with amusement? Probably not! But here’s the thing – writers have the same twenty-four hours in a day as everyone else. We don’t have a magic wand that makes time stand still at midnight (oh, how I wish I did). Many writers have day jobs, bills to pay, friends to see, children to raise, family to care for, housework to do, gardens to tend and everyday stresses to deal with.
The demands of being a published author are numerous. It’s not just the bum on seat, fingers on keyboard time hammering out a first draft. There is also research and (sometimes substantial) rewrites before the manuscript gets anywhere near your agent/editor/beta reader. Then there are the edits and the promotion that’s required of an author nowadays. You can spend hours on the radio, TV or social media trying to drive sales and get your name, brand and title of your newest release in front of readers, bloggers and reviewers. There might also be social events to attend for networking purposes, sometimes at your publisher’s request, and their needs have to be taken into account so that you meet their deadlines to hit the right market at the right time. There is all this and more, so when people say to me, ‘I wish I had time to write a book,’ what I tell them is this I can’t imagine not writing, it’s something I have to do. I’m lucky to be an author and I love it. I’m grateful for every review and all the support I’ve had in my writing career so far. But I don’t have time to write books. I make time. I make writing a priority, sometimes lower down the list than I’d like, but a priority nonetheless. Time that I could otherwise spend watching TV, reading, scrubbing behind the toilet or ironing (I buy crease-free clothes and let them hang!) is spent on writing instead.

I work full days in Human Resources over a nine day fortnight, meaning I get two Fridays off a month as dedicated writing time. I’m a single mum with two kids, one of them a teenager. They see their dad regularly but are with me day to day. Sometimes I write between 6.00 – 7.00 a.m. before the school run, but usually it’s after my youngest has gone to bed from 9.00 p.m. until I fall asleep over the laptop. I do this at least three times a week but it can be closer to five or six evenings and weekends too if I’m up against a deadline. Sometimes I fling food at the kids and tell them I’m neglecting them for a few hours, before closeting myself away. Mostly they accept this with good grace, as does my lovely boyfriend, who is more patient than I deserve. My friends and family also accept falling by the wayside if I have a deadline. Equally, housework drops from my usual gold standard to bronze level. It’s a delicate act to keep all the plates spinning but if I keep moving, I’m usually okay!
I asked other RNA members how they find time to write and to share tips.

Jules Wake, whose last release is From Italy with Love (HarperImpulse) works four days a week, volunteers at a local theatre, has an active social life and two teenagers. She suggests setting realistic goals and sticking to them. ‘Usually when writing a first draft, I aim to write 1,000 a day for five days out of seven. That's realistic because it gives me two days not to get any writing done.’ She’s written a book a year for the last five years and wrote an 87,000 word novel in seven weeks this year!
Bestselling author Katherine Garbera’s latest release is Carrying A King’s Child (Harlequin Desire/Mills&Boon Desire). She usually writes Monday through Friday from 9.00 a.m. – 3.00 p.m. around the school run, managing a chapter of around 3000 words every day by being disciplined about her writing time and not spending too long on social media. ‘I also use the timer to jumpstart my writing on the days when it feels more like a job than fun. I set it for ten minutes and tell myself I have to write for those ten minutes.’ With this routine she writes an amazing 4-6 books a year.

Jenni Keer, who attends the Chelmsford RNA Chapter and was shortlisted for the Choc Lit 'Search for a Star' competition, has four sons and cares for her elderly mother. Her husband works irregular shifts and she writes around the school day. ‘For me, family will always come first, but writing is now a definite second. Housework, socialising, helping out at the school and even my lovely garden are all things that have dropped down the list. I don't need to live in an immaculate house but I do need to get this current novel finished!’

Elaine Roberts has had over a dozen short stories published since joining the RNA New Writer’s Scheme and Elaine Everest’s writing classes. She is currently working on her novel The Legacy. She works 35 hours per week for a Local Authority and is an active grandparent. ‘My time is very precious. Every second counts. I am thankful for having an understanding and supportive husband who has basically taken over the household chores, freeing up my evenings and weekends to spend on writing.’

Elaine Moxon’s (writing as E S Moxon) debut novel WULFSUNA is out now with SilverWood Books. She is a mum, writer and community volunteer and doesn’t set weekly word count goals or set specific writing times. ‘I simply have a personal agreement to each week set aside some time for writing. I limit events to no more than once a month and use evenings and weekends for promotion at key times.’

Susie Medwell’s latest release writing as Zara Stoneley is Country Affairs (HarperImpulse). With wedding plans, supporting her son through A' levels, flying out to see her fiancĂ© in Barcelona and working two days a week, her writing schedule has been disrupted recently but she always aim for an impressive 10-12k words a week. She knows how to make the best use of her time. ‘My ‘planning brain’ works best in the mornings so I try to schedule things so that I do this on my non-office days. When I’m writing the words tend to flow faster in the evening so I often work until quite late, I also find it easy to write at the airport/on the plane.’

So what are you waiting for? You can write a book too if you want to badly enough… Good luck!

About Nikki:
 A Dorset girl and RNA member, Nikki Moore has a HR day job, two kids and a lovely boyfriend to keep her busy alongside the writing. Published mainly by HarperImpulse, she’s the author of the #LoveLondon series and has a story in the bestselling RNA/Mills & Boon anthology Truly, Madly, Deeply. Nikki’s debut novel Crazy, Undercover, Love was shortlisted for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2015 and she is a strong supporter of aspiring authors. The last in the #LoveLondon series Picnics in Hyde Park is due out later this summer.

Please pop over and make contact via Twitter @NikkiMoore_Auth or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NikkiMooreWrites

Thank you, Nikki. This shows the dedication to writing from our members.

The RNA Blog is brought to you by:

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman  (who are also busy writing!)

If you would like to write for the blog please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

Friday, June 26, 2015

June Davies: ‘The last time we’ll ever see each other…'

Welcome to June Davies who tells us of her fascination with her family’s past and the source of what could be many novel to come.

Is it the way of time, do you think, that when we are young and the old folk begin telling their tales of how they used to live and stories about our family’s roots – we’re not really interested and scarcely pay any heed?
By the time we are interested, become curious about the past and keen to discover the stories, memories and history of our family or home, those old folk who could answer our questions and tell us what we want to know are gone. And there’s nobody left to ask.
This brings me to an Edwardian letter passed on to me by a cousin some thirty-odd years ago, and a beribboned chocolate-box containing an old photograph with an intriguing note written on the reverse.
“The last time we’ll ever see each other.”
I unearthed the chocolate-box from a heap of long-forgotten stuff that had once belonged to my grandparents’ house. The photograph was a wedding party and looked to be from the 1920s. Everyone decked out in their finery, and gathered on the steps of an attractive church I didn’t recognise. I didn’t recognise the people, either. But I knew I was related to some of them because faces, like eye-colour and characteristics, can be passed down through the generations. These men and women smiling out at me from 90-odd years ago, looked like people I’ve known in my own time. But who they were, where they lived, what their lives were like -- I’ve no idea! Perhaps one day, I’ll give them all names, create their characters, and let their stories unfold and be told . . .
Back to the Edwardian letter!
Years ago, long before the internet changed researching forever and all sorts of new online resources for tracing your family’s past became available, one of my cousins retired and set about tracing one branch of our family tree.
As children, we both had fond memories of an elderly aunt who could neither speak nor hear, but with her love and kindness and neat handwriting, she managed to communicate with us just fine, and we with her.
Aunt had written the Edwardian letter from an institution when she was about nine or ten years old. It was addressed to Dear Mam and Dad, the handwriting was beautiful copper-plate without a single blot or mistake, and the spelling and grammar perfect. She told them she was well, and about her progress at the institution. It was clear she hadn’t seen her parents for some years, and sending letters home was something allowed only rarely.
My cousin gradually pieced together Aunt’s story. When she was about four years old she caught Scarlet Fever. She survived, but could no longer speak or hear. Her family was poor, and she was taken away from them and placed in a Catholic institution where she was taught reading, writing and skills so she could find work in service.
From the age of thirteen, she did indeed find work - but not in domestic service. In a laundry.
Until she was nearly seventy years old, my aunt worked in that laundry where most of the employees were deaf and dumb. At a meeting of local businessmen, the laundry’s owner was recorded as saying he always employed dummies, because they couldn’t waste time gossiping and he got more work out of them.
So, Aunt’s story we know about, but what about the people in the old photograph from the chocolate-box?
Who are they? What are their names? And why was that wedding-day the last time they were ever going to see each other?
Ah, well, time to make up some characters and write a story . . .

     The Apothecary’s Daughter
The arrival of a mysterious stranger from South Carolina, the disappearance of a precious family keepsake, and an old tale about a hidden hoard of medieval silver and jewels . . .

Keziah Sephton is kept busy caring for three generations of her family, as well as helping run her father’s apothecary. She has neither thought nor time for romance.
Hard-working George Cunliffe has loved Keziah since they were youngsters, and when Benedict Clay arrives at the apothecary claiming to be blood-kin, George is immediately suspicious of the soft-spoken Southern gentleman’s motives.
After her grandmother’s precious Book of Hours disappears, Keziah is tormented by treacherous doubts.
Confronted by the dreadful consequences of greed and bitter resentment, Keziah is swiftly enmeshed in a shocking spiral of deception, betrayal, ruthless ambition – and cold-blooded murder.
About June:
June Davies was born in an old house overlooking the Lancashire coastline, and the seashore finds its way into many of her stories. Sometimes, as in The Dog Star, the sea is a powerful force driving the inhabitants of 19th Century Monks Quay, while in other tales like The Family by the Shore, it has a gentler presence, yet still influences the characters and their lives.
History has intrigued her since schooldays, and when as a mature student she read history at University of Liverpool, she says it was like being given a passport to travel through time!
June Davies writes historical romantic suspense and family sagas, short stories and serials, and short stories for children – She still lives within walking distance of the seashore.
    Amazon Page

Thank you so much, June for the insight into your family history. We long to know
 more about the wedding guests in your photograph. Please keep us posted!

The RNA Blog is brought to you by
Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the blog please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

FOCUS ON: Bath & Wiltshire Chapter

This month we welcome Rachel Brimble who answers our questions about Bath & Wiltshire Chapter

How long has your chapter been running?

Fellow RNA member, Alison Knight, and I started the Chapter about five years ago. At the first meeting there were just five of us. Since then, I now have twenty-eight members on the list and we always have between ten and twelve at each meeting.

Members of the Bath & Wiltshire Chapter
at the 2014 RNA Conference
How often do you meet – and where?

Every six weeks or so. We are lucky enough to meet in the beautiful village of Lacock in Wiltshire. It is a National Trust area and has been used in Pride & Prejudice, Harry Potter and Cranford to name a few film/series. Well worth a visit!

Do your meetings include a meal?

Always! I arrange the meetings alternate lunch and evenings so everyone has a chance to attend as many as possible.

Is your chapter open to non-members of the RNA?

We are more than happy to welcome guests who are actively writing with a view to joining the RNA in the future. We are all so enthusiastic about the Association and stress to so many newcomers the advantage of the New Writers Scheme. It hasn’t taken guests long to sign up!

How long do your meeting last and do they involve having guest speakers?

Usually around 2-2 ½ hours – we meet at 1pm or 7pm. I must confess we haven’t had many speakers but would love to welcome them if anyone is interested. Please email me at rachelbrimble@googlemail.com. Just recently, we had two agents visit us from Keane Kataria based in Bath and since then I know at least one member was signed, which is great news!

What do you have planned for the rest of 2015?

Myself, Alison Knight, Liz Fielding, Nicola Cornick and Louise Douglas will be hosting a Romance Writing Panel at the Chippenham Arts Festival. We are all very excited and would love to welcome as many RNA members as possible. Here is the Facebook event page for anyone wanting to come along - https://www.facebook.com/events/1431860797122479/

What would you say makes your chapter of the RNA so special?

On the roof of Ashdown House
The friendliness and support. I think we have a great supportive and fun atmosphere and one where everyone is made to feel valued and validated. We write a vast range of romantic novels from erotic to paranormal to sweet to historical. All sub-genres are discussed and enjoyed!

Does your chapter have a website, Facebook page or Twitter account?

Not at the moment but this is on my ‘to do’ list to get done this year! I will announce as soon as we are up and running.

Who is the contact for new members?

Me! I would love to hear from anybody wishing to join.

Email:              rachelbrimble@googlemail.com
FB:                  https://www.facebook.com/rachelbrimbleauthor?fref=ts
Twitter:           https://twitter.com/RachelBrimble

What a wonderful venue you have for your meetings, Rachel. I’m sure you must all find it inspirational. Thank you for sharing with us today.

The RNA blog is brought to you by 

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the RNA blog please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Alison May: Midsummer Magic!

We welcome Alison May to the blog. Alison tells us why A Midsummer Night’s Dream really really has to happen at Midsummer

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play about a night where anything is possible, where fairies and humans come together, and fall in love, and sleep and dream, and occasionally turn one another into donkeys. It’s a play all about a sort of fleeting magic that’s so real when it’s happening, but in the morning leaves you dazed and confused about how you got from where you were last night to where you are right now.

My first instinct when trying to write an adaptation of the play was to shift the action entirely from midsummer to Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en has that quality of being a night when worlds collide and the rules that stop magic from happening don’t necessarily apply, but when I tried to write the story in that setting, something didn’t quite work, because in a medium sized provincial city in Britain in 2015 – which is where my novel, Midsummer Dreams, is set – Hallowe’en isn’t about magic and mystery; it’s about trick or treating, and barmaids wearing pound shop witches hats, and gingerbread pumpkins with orange icing. And none of those things shriek romance and magical possibility.

And so I went back to Midsummer, which is a different sort of beast altogether. The longest day of the year, with the shortest night, and right across Europe there are traditions around that shortest night. Mostly they involve fire. Because, really all the best ancient traditions involve setting fire to stuff. Want to make on offering to the Gods? Set fire to it. Want to greet the rising sun? Start a fire. Want to keep away the fearsome spirits of the night? Light a fire.

And, as with so many ancient traditions, as Christianity spread across Europe, the new religion adopted some of the rituals and feastdays of the old, so John the Baptist now has his saint’s day at Midsummer, and back in the middle ages the celebrations for the solstice were able to continue under the new name of St John’s Eve. In Gloucestershire, for example, there was a tradition of setting fires which would scare away the dragons which were, undoubtedly loitering somewhere just out of sight, and that continued after Christianity had taken hold, only now they were St John’s nice Christian fires which, presumably, would specifically ward off nasty heathen dragons.

In many European countries, particularly in Scandinavia, Midsummer continues to be a big deal, but in Britain, outside of pagan circles, those universally understood rituals have largely ebbed away. From a writer’s point of view that’s fantastic. It means that Midsummer is left with a vague sense of magic and ritual and something long forgotten about it, but beyond that the creative imagination can run wild. There might be fairies. There might be potions. There might be magic. There might be love. There might even be a donkey, but, then again, there might not. Midsummer is a gift to a writer because it remains a time when, for one short night and one long day, anything seems possible.

About Midsummer Dreams

Four people. Four messy lives. One night that changes everything …
Emily is obsessed with ending her father’s new relationship – but is blind to the fact that her own is far from perfect. 
Dominic has spent so long making other people happy that he’s hardly noticed he’s not happy himself. 
Helen has loved the same man, unrequitedly, for ten years. Now she may have to face up to the fact that he will never be hers. 
Alex has always played the field. But when he finally meets a girl he wants to commit to, she is just out of his reach. 
At a midsummer wedding party, the bonds that tie the four friends together begin to unravel and show them that, sometimes, the sensible choice is not always the right one.

Midsummer Dreams is out now on Kindle.

About Alison May

Alison May is a novelist and short story writer who lives in Worcester. Her contemporary romantic comedies, including Sweet Nothing and Midsummer Dreams and the Christmas Kisses series are published by Choc Lit.
Alison is a qualified teacher with a degree in Creative Writing. She has taught creative writing for HOW College and the University of Worcester, and now runs her independent novel writing workshops.
You can find out more about Alison at www.alison-may.co.uk or on Twitter @MsAlisonMay

Thank you for weaving your magic, Alison.

The RNA blog is brought to you by 
Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman
If you would like to write for the RNA blog please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

Monday, June 22, 2015

NEW! Join the RNA's Facebook Group!

With so many members of The Romantic Novelists’ Association frequenting Facebook the committee agreed it was time to have our own group where members could pop in for a chat, ask questions and hear the latest writing news.

Elaine Everest set up the group a week ago for Full, Associate and NWS members. With the assistance of fellow admin, Tracy Hartshorn (aka Sally Quilford) and Alison May we have got off to a flying start.


Elaine Everest
Elaine is a full time writer of non-fiction, short stories, articles and novels. She owns The Write Place creative writing school at The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, Kent. And manages social media for the RNA. Elaine is currently acting as Pitch Session Manager for the upcoming conference industry appointments. Her next novel, The Woolworths’ Girls is to be published by Pan Macmillan in early 2016. Elaine is represented by Caroline Sheldon of the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.
Twitter: @elaineeverest

Tracy Hartshorn

Tracy (aka Sally Quilford) is the author of over twenty novellas published by DC Thomson and Ulverscroft Large Print, and has had short stories published in women’s magazines in Britain and abroad. Tracy also arranges the RNA Summer and Winter Parties, and sells tickets for the RNA Awards.
Twitter: @quillers

Alison May

Alison is a novelist and short story writer as well as the RNA Membership Secretary. Her contemporary romantic comedies, including Shakespeare adaptations, Sweet Nothing and Midsummer Dreams, and the Christmas Kisses series, are published by Choc Lit. Alison is a qualified teacher with a degree in Creative Writing. She has taught creative writing for HOW College and the University of Worcester, and now runs her independent novel writing workshops.

Twitter: @MsAlisonMay


There are no rules! However, we do have a few group guidelines:

1. The group is open to anyone who is a member of the RNA: Full, NWS and Associate members.
2. It's not primarily a promo group, but it's fine to share big news. If you are not interested in a thread, just scroll on.
3. Please do not add friends to the group unless you have their permission and know they are RNA members. It creates more work for admin otherwise.
4. Before starting a new thread check the subject is not already being discussed. This can be done by scrolling down the page or using the search facility at the top right hand side of the page.
5. Admin for this group are Elaine Everest, Sally Quilford and Alison May. They reserve the right to remove posts that fall outside these guidelines.
6. And finally, most importantly, please be courteous to one another.

Why not pop along and join our new group? Please remember the group is for members of the Romantic Novelists' Association  but if you aren't yet an RNA member why not join us? Details here:

For members wishing to joing our Facebook group follow this link:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chatting with Katherine Garbera

Katherine Garbera Revealed

What do you love most about being a writer?
It’s hard to pick just one thing that I love about writing.  From the beginning I’ve always enjoyed making up story worlds and the people who inhabit them.  I love delving into the depths of the characters and exploring their fears and deepest hurts and then using love to fix them.

What is a typical day in your life?
My typical day is not very exciting!  I get up at six and do some social media stuff while drinking a cup of coffee in bed.  Then I do email and updates for an hour, do the morning school run and come back to settle in and write.  I aim for a chapter a day and write in three sessions—one scene each. I take a break for lunch.  Godiva (my sweet miniature dachshund) and I go for a walk and then I come back to clean up my pages.  It’s time for business calls with editors, agents and other authors and then the afternoon school run.

Where do you get your inspiration from for your writing?
I get my ideas from everything.  I love reading newspapers and online news blogs.  I’m a news junkie!  When I see a story that sparks an idea I print it out and add it to my idea file.  I also love to read magazines and often find inspiration for characters in them.

Who is the most interesting person you have ever met and why?
It has to be Lauren (Betty) Bacall.  I was lucky enough to meet her at a cocktail party and could have listened to her smoky voice for hours.  She had a lot of fascinating stories and I felt lucky to get to hear them.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Cry Love by Eve Gaddy.  It’s a gritty romantic suspense.  I love it!

What genre do you like to read?
Every one!  Seriously my only criteria for reading a book is that I has sound interesting and be written in an engaging way. 

What is your favorite book?
My favorite book of all time is THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL by Baroness Orczy.  It’s a romantic adventure and I just adore it.

What do you love to do to unwind and relax?
Spending time with my family relaxes me.  I’m also known to head to the kitchen and start baking when I get stressed.  There is something so therapeutic in making chocolate chip cookies and then eating them! 

USA Today bestselling author Katherine Garbera is a two-time Maggie winner who has written more than 60 books. A Florida native who grew up to travel the globe, Katherine now makes her home in the Midlands of the UK with her husband, two children and a very spoiled miniature dachshund.  Her latest release is Carrying a King’s Child

Twitter: @katheringarbera

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

In Praise of the North

Jane Lovering joins us today to tell us about the planned RNA Northern Tea Party. 

I sometimes get asked why a good southern girl like me writes books based in Yorkshire. And I have to answer that it’s because I live here and can do research without having to do anything more strenuous than look out of the windows. I’m practically naturalised now, although I still say ‘scone’ to rhyme with ‘stone’ and pronounce bath as ‘barth’. I’m also used to the patchy mobile reception up in the moors, half-day closings, and shops that sell everything from five barred gates to washing powder under the same roof. My books are marketed as the ‘Yorkshire Romances’ series, despite having nothing linking them but the fact that they’re set in Yorkshire. My latest book How I Wonder What You Are is actually set on the North York Moors, where I based the heroine’s exploits riding her horse across the moorland on my own experiences. Apart from the ‘finding a naked man’ part. I haven’t done that yet, but live in hope.

So, when it was mooted that there should be an RNA Northern party, to give those of us who can’t make the London-based parties a chance to wear posh frocks and nice shoes, and Lynda Stacey offered to organise it and asked me to help, I jumped at the chance. After all, even we adopted Northerners sometimes like to get out of our wellington boots and into something slinky. We decided to go for something a little different to the London parties, and, once I’d been sat on to prevent me from suggesting completely impossible things (I was going to suggest either an RNA Rodeo or Burlesque lessons) we agreed on an Afternoon Tea.  So we’ve duly booked the 15th century York Guildhall for the day on Saturday, 5th September in the centre of the beautiful city of York. We’ve ordered good weather to enhance the view over the river, and enough sandwiches and cake to provide refreshment for an entire host of romantic novelists. 

Even better, we have Milly Johnson coming to give a talk, entitled ‘the RSPB Guide to Northern Birds’. As a prime example of Northern Birdhood herself, her talk will be educational and hysterical and accompanied by cream scones and tea, so it’s a winner all round, I think you’ll agree.  We’re hoping for a good turnout of both frocks and shoes, there will be sandwiches, cakes, quiches and scones and unlimited tea and coffee, and both Lynda and I are looking forward to seeing an influx of Romantic Novelists converging on York.

I still think a rodeo would have been a good idea, though…

For tickets contact Jane at janelovering@gmail.com

Thank you, Jane. Our tickets are booked and we can’t wait to join you.

The RNA blog is brought to you by 

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the RNA blog please contact us on elaineeverest@aol.com

Friday, June 12, 2015

Kate Thompson: Secrets of the Singer Girls

Today we welcome Kate Thompson to the blog. Kate’s debut novel, Secrets of the Singer Girls, a nostalgic wartime saga set in an East End garment factory was published in March by Pan Macmillan. The journalist-turned-novelist tells us about the inspiration behind her first book.

The chilling moment I discovered I was a victim of a wartime tragedy!
Staring down the stairway that leads into London’s Bethnal Green Tube Station, I found myself about to be taken on a journey back in time.  On a spring day with streams of commuters descending the stairs, nothing could look more ordinary, but seventy-two years ago, tragedy unfolded on those steps.

Little is known of the biggest civilian disaster of the Second World War, but in less than 30 seconds, 173 people, were crushed to death on the stairway that led down to what was then an underground shelter. Not a single German bomb was dropped, but in the time it took for the air raid siren to sound, the narrow corridor was converted into a charnel house as a horrifying crush of people piled helplessly one on top of another.
After the searchlights went on, an anti-aircraft battery in nearby Victoria Park launched a salvo of new rockets and, fearing a bomb, the crowd surged forward. A mother carrying a baby tripped on the stairs and, like a pack of cards, the shelterers fell, one by one. The scenes were unimaginable on that bleak March night in 1943.
My reason for wanting to visit the sight where so many people died wasn’t born out of morbid curiosity, however. I was there to research it as I had already decided to feature the Tube disaster in the novel I was writing. Set in the East End of London, Secrets of the Singer Girls attempts to unravel the mysteries that bind four machinists who work sewing Navy and Army uniforms for the troops.

The research I had already conducted revealed a world of poverty, grim survival, immense bravery and human tragedy in wartime Bethnal Green. But it was discovering that I shared a name with a victim who died in the disaster, which leant a deep poignancy to my research. Just who was the other Kate Thompson, and what led her to flee to the so-called sanctuary of the underground that fateful day? Cursory research did not bode well. Kate was at the Black Horse pub in her favourite fur-collared coat when the sirens went off. She was a 63-year-old mother of nine, living in one of Bethnal Green’s roughest areas, when she perished. It would be easy to dismiss Kate as a victim battling for survival but to do so would be foolish. A closer examination into her life revealed some surprising results.

Kate Hammersley was born in September 1880 in Poplar, East London. At the age of 18, she married William Thompson, and moved to Bethnal Green, where she bore him seven sons and two daughters. They resided at Quinn Square in Russia Lane.

Pre-war, Bethnal Green housed some of the worst slums in London and, of them, one of the most notorious was Quinn Square, a place where locals say you never went after dark and policemen only dared visit in pairs. Some of the flats contained illegal gambling dens and when the police were about, quick-witted residents would whistle off the balconies. None of the flats had their own water taps or toilets, and tenants shared facilities on the landing between four families. Washhouse facilities were housed on the roof, and the women of the Square had to drag their laundry up six flights.
According to one local resident, the stench from the toilets was unholy. Perhaps that’s why Russia Lane had its own bathing centre, known as a Personal Cleansing Station to deal with infestations of vermin and scabies, otherwise known at The Itch. So far, so depressing.

By August 1938, Kate Thompson and many others lived in a squalid, dilapidated hellhole. Residents reported broken steps, lavatory doors with no locks and broken facilities in the washhouse. Not only that, but the landlords were having a merry time at their expense, charging exorbitant rents for such miserly facilities. How did the feisty women of Quinn Square put up with this? The answer is, they didn’t.

According to the electoral register, Kate was registered to vote from as early as 1923. Perhaps it was this interest in politics that lead Kate to insist on her right to a decent standard of living. Far from being a dormant victim, Kate and the other residents promptly formed a Tenants Association and flatly refused to pay their rents until the rapacious landlords reduced the rents to more reasonable levels. One landlord responded by attempting to evict a tenant. When the agent arrived on eviction day, the tenants, wielding placards and chanting, ‘Less Rent, More Repairs’, barred their way and the landlord was forced to beat a hasty retreat. The biggest rent strike ever seen in the East End sent the press wild.

Buoyed by their success, the tenants of Quinn Square paraded around Bethnal Green with their placards and picketed the estate office. Apparently, every time the landlord went into the Square – on one occasion even accompanied by a group of Sir Oswald Mosley’s fascists, who attempted to break up the tenants meeting by organised hooliganism – a huge crowd of women followed them and booed them out of Russia Lane, pelting them with hot potatoes. And so it was that Kate and her neighbours scored a resounding victory for the working-class underdogs of Quinn Square.  It would take more than an unscrupulous landlord and some bullyboy fascists to scare them into submission. The landlords acceded to their demands to lower the rent and carry out repairs, and the test case for arrears of rent made history, paving the way for success for other Tenants Associations.

A year later, war broke out, and Kate began the second great fight of her life. Quinn Square was demolished in the 1960s, but I believe Kate’s legacy remains today. It proves that you should never underestimate the fighting power of a woman when her home and her family are under threat – 1938 or 2015, it matters not, a mother will fight tooth and nail to protect the roof over her children’s heads.

The other Kate wasn’t afraid to stand up to corrupt landlords and fascists marching on her street. My 1940s namesake was a far stronger, finer lady than I. Indeed, it would appear that a love of a fur collar is about all we have in common. I wish I had one ounce of her courage and pluck.

Kate Thompson doesn’t actually appear in Secrets of the Singer Girls, but I hope I’ve instilled her fighting spirit into my characters.

About Kate:
For fifteen years, I worked as a journalist for national newspapers and magazines like the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and IPC’s true-life weekly magazine Pick Me Up as a Deputy Editor.

The birth of my second son prompted me to launch myself into the world of freelance journalism four years ago. A friend told me about ghost writing and it seemed the perfect thing to combine with the demands of young children so I found an agent, Diane Banks, and with her guidance ghosted five memoirs for publishers like Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Ghost writing gave me the feel of writing long-form narrative and allowed me to build my confidence. When my agent suggested I try my hand at writing my own book I leapt at the chance. Writing fiction was a long held dream and no way was I going to squander that opportunity. I won’t lie reader, writing in this genre was a slow burn, but for two years I chipped away it and finally, Secrets of the Singer Girls was born.

Stepping out from the shadow of ghost writing and learning to promote myself has been a steep, but immensely rewarding, learning curve. Meeting other authors, like Elaine Everest at Pan Macmillan events really helps too. Writing is solitary, so networking and research trips to the East End are a joy.

I'm curently working on a prequel to Secrets of the Singer Girls, provisionally entitled, Secrets of the Sewing Bee, for Pan Macmillan. When I'm not locked in my office trying to write, I am chasing after my two energetic young sons and an escape-artist miniature Jack Russell called Twinkle. Life is anything but dull. Please do get in touch of you want to say hello!

Email: katethompson380@hotmail.com
Twitter: @katethompson380 or @SingerSecrets
Thank you, Kate for a fascinating insight into the life of the other Kate Thompson!

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