A handful of evacuee children arrive in a small Welsh village, with a young woman who shouldn’t be there… but never wants to leave
One of the things I like best about writing is how one piece of work informs and leads one into another realm of fiction or worthwhile feature. That wonderful moment when one’s interest becomes piqued by something not previously considered and the mind starts asking, ‘What if…?’
This happened when I was writing my first novel, ‘The Mountains Between’. Part of the book spans World War 2, and, as I researched the era, I became fascinated by first-hand accounts of people who, as children, had been evacuated. Many had treasured memories of being taken into the homes of complete strangers and treated with the utmost loving care, but for some their lives became a nightmare; almost as bad as if they had stayed to face the bombs.
These stories stayed in the back of my mind while I completed my second, contemporary novel, ‘Just One More Summer’, but they were resurrected when I wrote a series of features about ‘helicopter’ parenting and how parents cope when their children leave home to go to university. Here I was, writing about the hand-wringing that goes on when a strapping 18-year-old leaves the family nest to go to a well-researched, nurturing environment, whilst in my mind’s eye were the images of little 5-and 6-year-olds gamely clutching their teddies, their gas masks and their cardboard suitcases, to go off to goodness knew where.
And so my current novel, ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ was born. It tells the story of two young East End evacuees who find themselves in a small Welsh village not far from Swansea. I set the book in my native Wales because the combination of Welsh accent and odd bits of Welsh language, a tight-knit chapel-led community and a mix of mining and rural landscape would all add to the children’s sense of bewilderment.
Young Arfur is outwardly tough and a bit of a young tearaway, but inwardly he wants nothing more than to return to his feckless mother in London, and rejects the overtures from the kindly family with whom he is billeted. His young timid friend Amy is more unlucky – she is placed with the God-fearing Mrs Preece and her son Edwin, who is initially friendly towards Amy, until his interest takes a more unhealthy turn….
And then there’s Lydia, a young woman with a baby, who shouldn’t have been on the evacuee train and leaves the billeting officer with the headache of not knowing where to place her. She is foisted onto the local doctor, as his housekeeper, but it is clear he doesn’t want her there. However, Lydia is determined to stay; she has run away from a violent husband, and, in her efforts to make sure that he won’t find her, tells everyone that she is widowed.
As the situation of each of the evacuees becomes more desperate, their lives and those of the villagers are inextricably intertwined until they each realise that in order to help themselves they first have to help each other.