The Black Market in Wartime Britain

The black market became very much a part of wartime life. With rationing, and rising prices, it held a certain appeal. This was even the case by the end of the war when people were sick of austerity and shortages. ‘Wide boys’, ‘Spivs’, or ‘Wheelers and Dealers’, as they were known, were very clever at flaunting authority and ignored the fact what they were involved in was illegal. They were making money, so why would they not be prepared to take the risk? These fellows had a certain style about them, often quite flashily dressed in a wide-lapelled suit and brightly coloured tie, sporting a trilby hat tilted rakishly over his forehead.

Surplus goods would fall into their hands out of clever conniving and trickery, which they’d sell on at a price. One of the characters in this book: Home is Where the Heart Is gets involved. On one occasion he arranges for a driver to leave his cab door open so that he can help himself to some goods left on the passenger seat. Did he get away with it? You’ll have to read the book to find out more.

Shopkeepers would hide stuff under the counter for registered customers who were special to them. Salmon and peaches were often supplied in that way. Where they got these products from was never asked about. This was considered to be a good way of holding on to their best customers.

Black market goods were often more expensive, although their quality not always reliable. As well as food these might include petrol, spare parts for a car, cigarettes and alcohol. Cosmetics, perfume and nylons were also hard to come by during the war, even though women were encouraged to look their best for purposes of morale. This created sales of the kind of cosmetics that were not necessarily safe.

The Ministry of Food would investigate any complaints brought by the public of those suspected of being black marketers. They could be fined, or even imprisoned. But more often than not they got away with it because people would avoid informing the authorities. The believed it was not their concern and they’d lose out if the black market disappeared. The government fought something of a losing battle with those involved in the black market, despite employing hundreds of inspectors to enforce the law.

But how would you feel if the man you loved got himself involved in this crime?

Christmas is approaching and Cathie Morgan is awaiting the return of her beloved fiancé, Alexander Ramsay. But she has a secret that she’s anxious to share with him. One that could change everything between them. Her sister has died and she wants to adopt her son. When the truth is finally revealed, Alex immediately calls off the wedding, claiming that the baby is actually Cathie’s, causing all of Cathie’s fears to be realised. As Cathie battles to reassure Alex of her fidelity, she must also juggle the care of the baby and their home. 

But then Alex crosses the line with a deceit that is unforgivable, leaving Cathie to muster the courage to forge a life for her and her nephew alone. Will Cathie ever be able to trust another man again and as peace begins to settle will she ever be able to call a house a home…

Published by Mira Books 17 November.

Buy from your local bookshop, Smiths, or Amazon.


Home Is Where The Heart Is by Freda Lightfoot

Home Is Where The Heart Is

by Freda Lightfoot

Giveaway ends November 29, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
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Women suffered many Post-War Issues

When World War II ended there was a feeling of anti-climax, as if the bright blue, sun-filled sky had clouded over, leaving a feeling of uncertainty about the future. A grey chill seemed to hang over everything. But then the country was in a mess, near bankrupt. There were bombed areas and rubble everywhere, homes lost or wrecked, many empty shops and huge bomb craters everywhere.

Women had become much more hardened and independent, having worked hard jobs usually occupied by men, spending endless sleepless nights in shelters fearing they could be killed. And had suffered years of anguish worrying over the fate of their loved ones in the war.

When the fighting men returned, these problems were not always taken into account, the husband too beset by his own problems. Women lost their jobs, expected to concentrate on being a wife and mother again by creating a family and home. Housework did take much more time in those days, of course. Even so, many of them resented this change in their lives. They were also urged to no longer wear plain looking suits, trousers or overalls, but to be bright and pretty females again.

She might also have to cope with a shell-shocked or injured husband, outbursts of violence, depression or infidelity. A soldier, having been trained to kill, was not always the same civilised a person he’d once been. He could be far too accustomed to giving orders and inflicting punishment in order to achieve his aim, for him to show much patience for her. Or he might feel in desperate need for peace and quiet and hardly move or speak.

Many men suffered from sleepwalking, nightmares, or shouting in their sleep. Settling back into Civvy street was not easy, nor was finding a home and employment. He might be missing his pals, decide she’s grown old and become bored with her. Lives had changed and relationships were often badly affected, not least because couples had seen little of each other as leave generally were quite short, and many men had gone overseas. Even letters were often late and much of them blacked out. Whatever his reaction to the traumas he’d suffered, she would largely be the one left to cope. There was little in the way of counselling or assistance.

Cathie is remarkably patient with her fiancé, perhaps a little too kind and vulnerable. She does her best to help by listening to the advice given out over the radio and from the WVS. But then finds there is a price to pay.

Christmas is approaching and Cathie Morgan is awaiting the return of her beloved fiancé, Alexander Ramsay. But she has a secret that she’s anxious to share with him. One that could change everything between them. Her sister has died and she wants to adopt her son. 

When the truth is finally revealed, Alex immediately calls off the wedding, claiming that the baby is actually Cathie’s, causing all of Cathie’s fears to be realised. As Cathie battles to reassure Alex of her fidelity, she must also juggle the care of the baby and their home. 

But then Alex crosses the line with a deceit that is unforgivable, leaving Cathie to muster the courage to forge a life for her and her nephew alone. Will Cathie ever be able to trust another man again and as peace begins to settle will she ever be able to call a house a home… 

Published by Mira books.

Read an extract:

Buy from your local bookshop or at:



The Glamour of Being a Writer

It always defeats me how anyone can imagine writing to be a glamorous profession. I spend six to eight hours a day at the computer, sometimes longer when a deadline looms, five or even six days a week. I take far too little exercise and miss out on sunny days, even when in Spain. And generally wear my scruffiest, most comfortable clothes while working, so don’t look in the least bit glamoroous.

When called upon to do a talk I get to put on a business suit. Could that be considered glamorous? The event is often somewhere difficult to park and I struggle with my box of books, and I end up looking slightly harassed by the time I arrive. Or else it’s out on some distant hillside miles from the village it’s supposed to serve and my shoes are muddied by the time I get there. However, it’s always pleasing if the audience enjoy the talk and laugh at my anecdotes. Can that lady on the back row hear? Oh, she’s asleep, so that’s all right.

Is there glamour perhaps in playing at being a media star? In this, one is either interviewed live on the telephone, which is daunting but at least the interviewer doesn’t realise you’re wearing your slippers. Or else you get to go into a studio which is generally over-stuffy and rather shabby and you’ve got ten minutes at most in which to tell your life story, say what the book is about, why you wrote it and one or two funny anecdotes to fix it in the listener’s mind between the weather and the travel news.

Television is worse. The crew, usually one interviewer and a cameraman, spend hours in your house, filming you turning the pages of your book, or have you walking into your study again and again so they can film you from every possible angle, or up and down the street outside, or standing in a gale of wind to answer their questions. This endless toil results in a thirty second slot, mainly comprising a close up of your hands on the keyboard and a voice-over which might be yours, saying something inane about how important it is for you to write. At least they panned in on the row of books on the shelf, or added a bit of film connected to the period of the story.

In-depth interviews with newspaper journalists allows more time, but they often probe into the darker corners of your private life which you’d much rather keep closed. On occasions they start telling me about the novel they’re working on. I’ve even been asked if I mind being classed as a writer of romance, as if that were in some way demeaning. Next comes the photographer to take scintillating pics of you - and where does he choose? In your garden beside the pretty roses? Curled up in your cosy chair reading a book? Nope, at your computer, of course, where else? Not glam at all.

Real celebrities are generally leggy, blonde and beautiful, and sit in smart restaurants in dark glasses ordering lemon tea. So maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong, since I’m none of those things, can’t stand lemon tea and never even reached five foot. 

But who needs glamour anyway, or fame and fortune? I love to write, so nothing else really matters. I’m cosy in my bunker, eyes glued to the screen, engrossed in my make believe world. And no one has come to take me away in a little yellow van yet. I chat with friends and readers on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m always humbled and thrilled when people email or message me to say how much they enjoy what I write, or tell me how a story has cheered or deeply moved them while they’ve been coping with difficult times. What more can I ask for than that? 


Girl Bands in World War II

Girl Bands are not a new phenomena. Long before Girls Aloud, The Spice Girls, or even The Supremes there were girl bands of quite a different sort. During World War II Girl Bands took over and became increasingly popular once the boys joined up. But it was a time when prejudice against women performing was still strong. Female singers such as Vera Lynn was quite acceptable, but many people thought it wasn’t quite proper for women to blow into a trumpet or make a sax sing. 

Ivy Benson was a highly skilled clarinetist and saxophonist who formed her All Girls Band in 1939 playing throughout the war. It is said that she was inspired by listening to the recordings of Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman. They became one of the top bands of the era, although not without some resentment from male band leaders, and the worry that some of her prized musicians would sometimes leave to marry.

There was a wonderful movie called The Last of the Blond Bombshells, featuring Judy Dench. It’s the story of a widow who was obliged to confine her sax playing to the attic while her husband was alive, but on his death decides to follow her passion and start her own band. I loved this film, and the idea inspired me to write my own story about a girl band, set in Manchester during the war.
Dancing on Deansgate is about Jess Delaney, a young girl who loves music and discovers she has a talent, thanks to a Salvation Army sergeant who teaches her to play the trumpet. Despite an abusive uncle and a feckless mother, and with her beloved father away fighting in the war, she decides to make something of her life. But Jess doesn’t find it easy to get the band underway. Band leaders and ballroom managers frequently accuse them of not being able to withstand the physical hardships of long hours of playing.

‘Women don’t have the stamina that men have,’ said one.
‘Limited scope,’ said another.
‘Women are long on looks but short on talent.’
‘We aren’t in the business of employing young ladies who think it might be fun to show off on stage, however charming and genteel they might be.’
This attitude incensed Jess and she would tell them in no uncertain terms that her girls could play In the Mood every bit as well as they could play Greensleeves.
One manager had the gall to say that women had no real sense of rhythm in a jam session, as they were hopeless at improvising.
Another, trying to be conciliatory, remarked, ‘I see why you ladies are offering to step in, with all the men having been conscripted for service and bands desperate for decent musicians. But we’re looking for professionals, not amateurs. We need the best.’
Outraged, Jess’s response was sharp. ‘We are the best, and how can we ever get to be professional if we’re never given the chance.’
A shake of the head. ‘Women aren’t made to sit on a stage and blow their brains out.’
‘We could blow the men right off it.’

As well as proving they were skilled musicians, they were also expected to look feminine, but finding the right clothes to wear wasn’t easy either, as fabric for dresses was in short supply. Faulty parachute silk was often used instead, and a glamorous look brought its own problems. Slinky gowns, together with sexy swing music, could bring about unwelcome invitations, as if fraternising with the men rather than a passion for music, was their main purpose in life.


Poverty During the War and Depression years

Little remains of the original Ancoats save for a handful of decaying factories and the dark red brick edifice of the old hospital. But this was once an area of row upon row of back to back houses, where Irish and Italian immigrants jostled side by side with fiercely proud Lancastrians; a tight knit community where folk had a loyalty to their particular street and a dread of being accused of ‘getting above themselves,’ or ‘mekkin’ out they were summat.’ For a man to lose his job in the late 1920s was bad, though sadly quite common, but to lose his dignity and pride as well was unthinkable.

In a world with little or no interest in women’s rights over their own children, no free medical assistance or welfare benefits, workers’ long hours and low pay, life was tough during the depression and war years. The laws of renting property, wills and insolvency, the means test, the dole, rationing, being bombed out or evacuated, would all create problems. Even a middle class family could fall into difficulties. If the father lost his job, as frequently happened, or he died leaving a young family, who would support his wife and children? The family might be split up and farmed out to reluctant relatives, put in an orphanage, or find themselves facing the workhouse.

And what if someone in the household was sick, or giving birth? How could they afford a doctor when only the man as the wage earner of the family could be insured? Unmarried mothers suffered the asylum, institutions and reformatories of various kinds, or simply had their children taken away.

Social issues are a vital ingredient of the saga. Readers love to discover how women coped. Even domestic life was hard, doing the washing with a mangle and dolly tub, no central heating, vacuum cleaner, fridge or similar household gadget, and a privy down the yard. Perhaps some look back on hard times with a rose-tinted view, remembering when a community pulled together, didn’t need to lock their doors as they’d nothing worth stealing.

I try to lighten the tragic nature of the tale with a little humour, because that’s what helped people to cope. The Lancashire sense of humour was rarely lost, women stood ‘camping’ on their donkey-stoned doorsteps, arms folded over their apron-fronted bosoms, and there were many such as Old Flo with her own set of morals, as if she’d personally been handed the tablet of stone by Moses himself. Yet despite the hardships, or perhaps because of it, neighbours stood by you, giving you a pinch of sugar or cup of milk because it might be them needing it next week, and when poverty yawned and hungry stomachs ached, even children must learn to live by their wits as Polly’s son Benny learns to his cost.

My family were weavers for generations on both sides of the Pennines. I have vivid memories of my grandmother black-leading her range and donkey-stoning her doorstep. You could have eaten your dinner off her stone flag floors for although she was poor, she was scrupulously clean. Therein lay her dignity. She would tell of how my grandfather, confined to a wheelchair, couldn’t work so in addition to caring for her children, one of whom was scalded to death while in the care of a child minder, she minded her six looms throughout a long working week, sang "I Shall not Want" three times every Sunday in chapel while worrying about what to find to eat for their tea.

The gritty northern saga usually concerns a strong woman fighting against the poverty of her surroundings, as well as the trials and tribulations of the times in which she lives. Disasters abound, but the heroine must win through against all odds, stronger in spirit than before. I seek out stories of the social under-classes in towns and rural backwaters. I’ve interviewed so many old folk with fascinating and deeply disturbing stories. That, to my mind, is what history is all about. People.

Living in the deprived area of Ancoats, Manchester, Polly Pride feels luckier than most … until her husband, Matthew, loses his job and her life is thrown into turmoil. In a desperate act to save her family from starvation, Polly sells all the family goods and buys a handcart from which she sells second-hand rugs and carpets. But struggling to deal with poverty and her husband’s hurt pride are only the start of her problems. For when tragedy strikes, Polly must summon all her courage to keep herself and her family from falling apart.


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RNA Conference-2015

Just enjoyed the latest RNA Conference held at Queen Mary University, London. Inspiring, as always. I even found time to do a little research of my own for my latest WIP. It began with an industry panel about agents on Friday, then an excellent talk by Matt Bates from W H Smith travel. He’s a really sharp and very helpful guy, full of interesting information on how to choose a good cover for your book, and sell it. The next talk I went to was by Sarah Broadhurst who took us through the changes in the book trade. As an ex-bookseller myself in the 70s and 80s, I could relate to much of what she said, and remember reading her articles and reviews in The Bookseller at the time.

This was followed by an editor’s panel, of which I couldn’t hear much of what they said as the lecture theatre was huge and I was near the back. Or maybe I’m going a bit deaf. Later in the day was an excellent Skype talk from Jim Azevedo from Smashwords who took us through the process of setting up pre-orders. Brilliant and most useful as that seems to be an excellent way of raising your ranking. All about discoverability.

On Saturday I enjoyed an excellent talk by the Harlequin team. It was good to meet them since I’m currently writing for Mira Books, and enjoying working with them. They told us how they were looking out for page turners rather than brilliant prose, and how they channel them into the retail market either by ebooks, Indie stores or supermarkets, if you’re lucky.

Hazel Gaynor, author of A Memory of Violets, gave an excellent talk on promotion. I've read this book and loved it. A great read I can highly recommend. She writes about 30 articles for each book, in addition to loads of signing sessions and interviews, on top of a huge amount of social networking. There seemed to be so much involved that I almost considered retiring. I needed to remind myself that your best promotion is writing your next book. She gave us loads of useful advice but made it clear you do what suits you and what you have time for.

Took a siesta in the afternoon before listening to a fascinating talk by Jenny Barden and Joanna Hickson on historical research. Brilliant. Then spent a wonderful evening at the Gala Dinner. Great to meet up with old friends and chat, chat, chat about writing and books.

Sunday morning I gained some useful tips from Rhoda Baxter on Blog Tours, and then thoroughly enjoyed Jean Fullerton’s talk on the perils and pitfalls of writing 20th century fiction, which was great fun and so true. Finding the right details, dates and attitudes is not easy, but always fascinating. I’ve interviewed some amazing people in my time. I left to catch my train after that but the conference continued for the rest of that day. Anyone, who missed it look out for the next one at Lancaster University on 8 – 10 July 2016.


Inspiration for Luckpenny Land

Inspired by my own efforts at living the ‘good life’ on the Lakeland Fells, Luckpenny Land was the first saga I ever wrote. We were living on a small-holding, out on Shap Fell in Cumbria. And as I trekked up the fellside in the dark of a freezing night to check if our sheep were about to lamb, or to feed a pet lamb, I’d be thinking: ‘There must be a book in this. But who would want to read about a middle-aged mum, with arthritis, being so stupid as to choose to live in a place where the pantry was colder than her wonderful Zanussi fridge? Where the winter snows freeze the mains water supply in the field below the house every winter, as well as the battery in her car as it stands buried in snow in the yard.

So I used those wonderful two words that writers love: What if? What if I wrote about a girl who wanted to be a sheep farmer. It was World War II and her very Victorian father thought that it wasn’t women’s work. I could then use many of the amusing incidents and anecdotes my family had experienced living this life, but write it as fiction.

Running a smallholding with a few sheep and a couple of dozen hens didn’t qualify me to write knowledgeably about running a proper sheep farm, let alone during WWII. I would need to do considerable research. When writing about a time within living memory it’s essential to get it right, and that includes the weather and state of the harvest.

I began by interviewing Cumbrian farmers, who are stoic, strong, taciturn, and a tad distrustful of
strangers, particularly of people who have not lived in the Lake District for three generations. It’s not that they are unfriendly, only that they’re more used to the company of themselves and their animals rather than a nosy, would-be author. At this point in my career having published only short stories, articles, and 5 Mills & Boon historical romances, the prospect of a full-length saga was daunting. And I’d never done an interview in my life.

When I rang the first name on my list, a farmer out in the Langdales, I spoke first to his wife to ask if he would see me. ‘Happen’, she said, which I took as a yes. To be on the safe side I took my husband with me. As a local solicitor he was used to dealing with Lakeland farmers, and it worked like a charm. I asked the farmer a question, and he told David the answer. I was so nervous I didn’t even dare to switch on the brand new recording device I’d taken with me. I scribbled notes like mad, and even more later.

But he was marvellous. He took me through his farming year, explaining everything most carefully, and showed me pictures of his dogs. Not his family, his dogs. All the farmers I interviewed did that. It’s a nonsense to say that farmers don’t care about their working dogs. Mr G’s dog appeared in the book, much to his delight, although the accident the fictional dog suffered was far more dramatic to that of the real dog, even if it had the same outcome. And no, I can’t say anymore without spoiling it.

Some of the farmers I spoke to were women. Although farming was a reserved occupation during the war, many men opted to join up and leave their wives to run the family farm. I learned from them how to kill and scald a pig, how to wring a chicken’s neck and pluck it. (my hens all lived to a ripe old age) Plus all the various wangles they got up to during the war, such as dressing up a pig as a person in the car so they wouldn’t be caught out selling one. This was at a time when such things were strictly rationed and controlled. Talking to these women inspired many plot incidents and ideas, some based on real life, including the most dramatic and painful which takes place in Luckpenny Land. And I won’t spoil it by telling you that either. Armed with the research, I started to weave a love story and plan the lives of my characters.

I also spent ages reading the newspapers of the period, finding out what was on people’s mind and how they coped. But then I love research, and talking to the people who actually remember what it was like back then is what inspires me the most.

I was fortunate enough to meet an agent at a weekend conference and told him all about my idea. He asked to see the book when it was finished, which took nine months, just like a baby. Just a few weeks after I’d delivered it, I was so excited to get The Call. There were offers from three publishers and I went with Hodder & Stoughton, now part of the Hatchette group.


Luckpenny Land turned into a mini-series and it has been an absolute delight to be able to revisit these stories. When I gave them a new life as ebooks I split the book into two as the print edition was far too long for an ebook, the second part becoming Storm Clouds over Broombank. Followed by Wishing Water and Larkrigg Fell.