It all began when I saw a TV report about the Black Country Living Museum and the women chainmaker’s strike of 1910, when they fought the chain masters for a living wage and paved the way for a National Minimum Wage – the phrase The White Slaves of England piqued my interest. That children from the age of about four worked in backyard chain workshops alongside their mothers, sometimes for twelve hours a day for a pittance, appalled me. That a family all worked these hours and still couldn’t afford to put food on the table was scandalous. Men grew fat and built huge mansions on the backs of white slaves as well as black ones. That troops shot railway strikers in South Wales was startling.
Social history fascinates me, even down to the everyday words and phrases we use without thinking about. They have their origins in our history and can tell us so much about the past of ordinary working people, and often, especially women.
‘The pot calling the kettle black’, for example comes from a time when cooking was done over an open fire, and cooking utensils got covered in carbon.
Teasels get their name from being used to tease wool from a fleece, so the fibres lay flat ready for spinning on a spindle. Even the word spindle, comes from that spinning process. I could go on forever.
I didn’t intend to write another book after The Chainmakers’ Daughter, but I had left an open thread in that one of my protagonists took an interest in women’s suffrage – votes for women. Having researched the social history of the mid-1800s for the For Their Country’s Good trilogy, I knew how important votes for women were. There was no equality between the sexes, no women’s rights, and many women lived a pretty dire existence in marriages they couldn’t escape. Even their earnings and their children belonged to their husbands. So I didn’t need that much encouragement when a reader asked for another book.
So my chainmakers’ daughter became The Chainmaker’s Wife, grew up into a determined young woman, ran a factory, had children, helped fight the cause of suffrage, and filled Mills bombs during WW1. It was an eye-opener to research! Emmeline Pankhurst was not quite the woman she is portrayed as today, and she did far more than chain herself to railings. Again, there were threads left hanging at the end of the book – how would Emma feel if she discovered how her father died? How would she react to inheriting a chain factory and much of Hawley Heath when she was twenty-one?
However, in my mind, these were things for the reader to ponder, as any book is but a snapshot in time, and even fictional lives go on after the book is closed, so two books, and I was definitely finished, except my reader wanted book three. ‘The great depression;’ I asked? I felt depressed at the thought. ‘It’s a very interesting period,’ he said.
Wow, was he right. I had no idea about the causes of the depression and the Wall Street crash, the mass unemployment, and the hunger marches. That my protagonist had a Jewish name was an accident I must have subconsciously planted in book one. I began researching the rise of Hitler – something I’d never understood – and learned how he rose through the political ranks by stealth and cunning and used propaganda to turn German minds against the Jewish population. I learned about the Kindertransports that brought unaccompanied Jewish children out of Nazi Europe, and Kristallnacht – the night of broken glass – when Jewish homes and synagogues were burned down, results of Hitler’s brutal repression of the Jews. So I gave my young woman a cousin in Frankfurt, and The Chain Mistress was born.
I have loved writing Rosie, Jack, Marion, Emma, and Hanne’s stories. Even though I am NOT planning book four… they live on in my mind and my heart as kind, caring, determined, loyal men and women, even if one of them did have a bit of a black-hearted moment or three.
I hope you enjoy living alongside them for a while, too.
Gosh, am I glad they fought for what they believed in.
Coming soon The Chain Mistress. The link will be
Thank you for reading.