Fact and Fiction

This blog has been inspired by the publicity girl at Agora. Thank you Peyton! She sent me an e-mail recently to ask me if I could write a blog for their website about how the Easter Trilogy came into being. She knew from a blog I’d written ages ago that it was inspired by the woman who founded W.H.Smiths but she also wanted to know how much of my story was fact and how much was fiction.

So to begin at the beginning. The trilogy was kicked off by my agent, who at that time was the great Darley Anderson. He phoned me one afternoon to ask if I knew that Smith’s had been founded by a woman. The company had just published a new book telling the history of it. Would I like to read it? I would and did and was hooked.

Apparently the original W.H.Smith infuriated his wealthy family by falling in love with a servant and marrying her instead of just living with her. Shock horror! Naturally they cut him off without a penny because the marriage was ‘beneath him’. Unfortunately the poor man died when he was relatively young, leaving his wife and their three young children without any means of support. But Anne Smith was a resourceful woman. She took to the streets, not to sell her body, which is what destitute young women usually did, but to sell the newly published daily paper which was called The Times and cost tuppence. She charged an extra farthing on every copy she sold and, as the WHS history put it, ‘out of those farthings, the Smith Empire was built.’

It was an irresistible story although, very sadly, the real story didn’t last long because Anne’s hard work meant that she too died young. So at that point I decided to turn the original tale in a different direction and keep her alive. She was too good a character to kill. I changed the names of my central characters from WH and Anne Smith to W.H.Easter and his wife Nan and set fire to the blue touch paper. Three years later I had a trilogy.

There were several knock-on effects to extending my heroine’s life. One was that it gave her and her children – and us – time to explore their world. The story begins in 1786 so naturally I sent her and her husband to Paris in time to see the French king have his head chopped off.

In the second book I contrived to have my heroine, Harriet who is Nan’s daughter-in-law, go to Manchester at the time of the Peterloo massacre. It is a powerful turning point in her life, besides being a very grizzly business.

And in the third book on a rather more gentle note, I rounded the saga off by sending Nan to Windsor Castle to receive a medal from Queen Victoria.

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