Ten Things About My New Novel: ‘The Highland Girls at War’

1. It’s set in Scotland (yeah, I know, that’s pretty obvious from the title!) in 1942 – 3 and it’s about the ‘Lumberjills’, the Women’s Timber Corps. The Lumberjills worked in forests all over Britain, by the way but I’ve set my story in the Highlands of Scotland.

The novel also features the CFC – the Canadian Forestry Corps. Thousands of these ‘lumberjack-infantrymen’ also worked in the Scottish forests during the war.

2. It was, I’ll admit, tough to write. Not because of all the research or because I lacked ideas or enthusiasm but because I had no time! I have it on good authority (my agent) that everyone struggles with novel #2. It’s the first time you’ve written under contract and to such tight deadlines. I spent over two years tinkering with writing my first novel and I had 9 months to deliver the second. And lots of things happened that I wasn’t expecting (‘elderly parent care’, for example, which is still on-going), so I had even less time than I’d anticipated.

3. It started out as a short story, published in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special back in 2015 as ‘Blood Sisters’. I actually sent it to The People’s Friend first but they turned it down. It was, at the time, the longest piece of fiction I’d had published (at 4,000 words). The novel it ‘became’ is a little bit longer: it’s 97,000 words.

4. I liked the cover when I first saw it but I asked for a) a beret to be added to one of the girls (she was originally bare-headed). The Lumberjills did wear headscarves but they also wore berets, which was part of their uniform and I also asked for the ‘bothy’ (little building in the background) to be made smaller. In the original picture, it looked like a ranch!

5. It might be the first in a series. But that’s still to be confirmed. Watch this space!

6. As my main character, Seffy, is something of a ‘princess’, I wanted her name to start with ‘P’ (that’s how you all choose names for your characters, right?!). I went through various possibilities and ended up with Persephone (‘Seffy’ for short). And although the name means ‘spring goddess’ it also means ‘bringer of chaos and destruction’.

7. And on the subject of names, by complete coincidence (I’ve never read the books or seen the TV series), my two main characters – Seffy and Callum – have the same names as the young couple in Malorie Blackman’s award-winning series ‘Noughts And Crosses’: Sephy (also short for Persephone) and Callum.

8. My copyeditor spotted that I’d used the words ‘wuss’ and ‘wussy’ (meaning wimpy, cowardly) – which weren’t actually in common usage until the ‘60s or ‘70s, depending on which dictionary you consult. (Whoops!). Obviously, those have now been removed. She left ‘teenager’ in the text but I took it out because although it was first used in the US in about 1944 but wasn’t used in Britain until later.

9. Luckily, I have a resident Scot – my OH – who checked the Scottish dialogue in the book and told me when I’d overdone the ‘ochs’ and ‘ayes’ and I have a Canadian friend who checked the ‘Canuck-speak’. Even if you’re still using English and not another language, I think it’s always worth getting a ‘native speaker’ to read it through, if it’s not a dialect that you use.

10. And finally, if that’s whetted your appetite, the e-book is out on 4th November and the paperback will be out on 22nd December and it’s available to pre-order now, should you be so inclined. And it’s also available to request from Netgalley.

If you do eventually read it, I’d love it if you would leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads or Netgalley (other reviewing sites are available). Thank you!

The Post Office recently issued a set of stamps commemorating women’s contribution in WW2. This should really say ‘Women’s Timber Corps’. They were a branch of the Land Army but they had their own uniform and title, after all!

This entry was posted in Books, novel writing, Novels and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ten Things About My New Novel: ‘The Highland Girls at War’

  1. Eirin Thompson says:

    Love the post, Helen – lots both to inform and intrigue! I will be pre-ordering my copy for my/my mum’s ‘time-share’ e-reader. Looking forward to it. Will certainly leave a review.

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