Thank you for inviting me to talk about the fifth novel in the Dudley Sisters Saga, Jo. You kindly featured the first book in the saga, Foxden Acres, four years ago. Foxden Acres began on New Year’s Eve, 1938. Foxden Hotel begins ten years later on New Year’s Eve, 1948.
The war is over. It is time for new beginnings.
Celebrating the opening of Foxden Hotel, New Year’s Eve 1948, an enemy from the war years turns up. He threatens to expose a secret that will ruin Bess’s happiness and the new life she has worked so hard to create. Bess’s husband throws the man out. Is that the last they see of him? Or will he show up again when they least expect? Bess had hoped fascism was a thing of the past, buried with the victims of WW2. Little does she know the trouble that lies ahead, not only for herself, but also for her husband and sisters.
I have been an actress for more than thirty years working in Repertory theatre, the West End, film and television. I present a radio show and have written articles for newspapers and magazines.
At twenty-four I gave up a successful hairdressing salon and wig-hire business for a place at East 15 Drama College, and a career as an actress. In 2000, with fewer parts available for older actresses, I taught myself to touch type, completed a two-year correspondence course with The Writer’s Bureau, and began writing. After living in London for thirty-six years, I returned to my home town of Lutterworth, swapping two window boxes and a mortgage, for a garden and the freedom to write.
I began writing about WW2 after my mother told me about her life in the war. I was fascinated.
Since then I have successfully published four novels – Foxden Acres, Applause, China Blue, and The 9:45 To Bletchley. Set in WW2, the novels tell the wartime stories of the Dudley sisters. Bess Dudley is in the Land Army, Margot in a West End theatre, Claire in the WAAF, recruited by the SOE works with the French Resistance, and Ena is a factory girl making components that lead her to Bletchley Park.
Foxden Hotel, set in post-war Leicestershire, brings the Dudley sisters together. It was going to be the last in the saga, but having written three endings – none of which gave the sisters satisfactory closure – there will definitely be more novels to come.
A taster from Foxden Hotel…
‘Happy New Year, Bess!’
A voice, as hard as granite and terrifyingly similar to one from Bess’s past, sent panic searing through her body. She spun round. A camera bulb flashed, temporarily blinding her. She stumbled backwards. Someone grabbed her hand, the lights dimmed, Big Ben began to chime, and the party goers started the countdown to 1949. “Ten! Nine! Eight!–”
‘Happy New Year!’ Bess’s sisters shouted above the chanting, kissing her and then each other.
‘What is it, Bess?’ Margot was the last of her sisters to greet her. ‘You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.’
‘I have. Or rather, I’ve just heard one.’ Bess put on a smile and waved across the room to her husband, Frank, who had been in charge of tuning the wireless for the run-up to midnight. Happy New Year, darling, she mouthed. Frank raised his arm to wave, but Bess’s two youngest sisters, Claire and Ena, had arrived at his side and were smothering him in kisses.
‘Come with me. I want you to look at someone and tell me if you’ve seen him before.’ Taking Margot by the hand, Bess led her around the ballroom searching for the face that she felt sure would match the menacing voice that rasped the New Year message in her ear. ‘He isn’t here. He must be in the public bar,’ she said, dragging Margot across the crowded dance floor.
The public bar, which was open to non-residents as well as guests of the Foxden Hotel, was opposite the ballroom. Bess and Margot made their way across the hotel’s elegant marble hall and past the traditional Christmas tree. The hall was bustling with people. Those staying in the hotel were making their way up the sweeping staircase to their rooms, others were putting on coats and hats and preparing to leave, and some were still celebrating – shaking hands and kissing each other.
‘Happy New Year, Bess!’ someone shouted. And ‘A great party, Bess!’ called someone else, raising their glass. Unable to find her voice to return the greeting, or even to say thank you, Bess forced herself to smile as she edged her way through the jubilant throng.
‘Bess? Margot?’ Ena and Claire called, catching up with their older sisters. ‘The chap from the Lowarth Advertiser wants to take a photograph of the four of us,’ Ena said.
Bess stopped dead. Was she mistaken? Could it have been the photographer who wished her a happy New Year? He had taken a photograph of her immediately afterwards, so he was near enough. But the voice? A cold shiver ran down Bess’s back. The voice she had heard was not the friendly voice of the young man from the Advertiser.
‘Bess?’ When she didn’t reply, Ena turned to Margot. ‘What’s going on?’
Margot shrugged her shoulders. ‘I don’t know.’
The door to the public bar stood open. From the doorway, Bess’s attention was drawn to two men leaning against the bar, arguing. One of the men, in his mid-thirties with a broad face, cold grey eyes, and blonde greased-back hair, was holding the hand of a pretty girl with long fair hair. Observing him nervously with big blue eyes, the girl looked as if she was in her late teens, early twenties. The other man – middle-aged with a square jaw, sharp features and receding grey hair – had a protective arm around the young girl’s shoulders.
Bess began to tremble; her legs felt weak. Without taking her eyes off the younger of the two men, she gripped the doorframe with one hand, seizing Margot’s hand with the other.
Margot followed Bess’s gaze and their sisters followed hers. ‘Dave Sutherland!’ she gasped. ‘His hair is longer and the stupid Hitler-style moustache has gone, but that monster is Dave Sutherland.’
Foxden Hotel. E-Book and paperback, available from Amazon on June 10, 2017.
Foxden Hotel: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Foxden-Hotel/dp/B071LDYD2D/
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