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I have a degree in Humanities with Literature and have always enjoyed reading, especially the great writers of the 19th Century, such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. A great deal of my working life has been spent teaching English and maths to young people in the workplace.

I have done many different jobs in my working life, from nursing to shelf filling and everything in-between! Having lived long enough now, I realise that life very rarely goes to plan. My novels are based on the true stories of my ancestors and involve a lot of careful research. I feel the lives of ordinary people can be just as sad, funny, dramatic and interesting as anyone famous. We are all just struggling to survive.

My writing takes place anywhere and everywhere, even whilst sitting in the car. I find driving is a great way to free the mind and inspire the imagination, and I've often had to pull over in order to get stuff down on paper. I always write the first draft by hand, as I think better that way, then redraft and amend it as I type it up.

In my spare time, when I’m not writing, I enjoy spending time with my husband and our pets, listening to folk and world music, going to the cinema and trying to grow vegetables, with limited success!

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Love, dreams and destitution.

Three members of one family are linked by their struggle to survive poverty and war at the turn of the century.

Kate, a homesick, lonely Irish immigrant, dreams of being a writer. After difficult times in Liverpool, she comes to London looking for a better life. Hoping to escape from a life of domestic service into marriage and motherhood, she meets charming rogue, William Duffield. Despite her worries about his uncertain temperament, she becomes involved with him. Will it be an escape or a prison?

Fred is a restless elder son, devoted to his mother yet locked in a tempestuous relationship with his father. War intervenes and he secretly signs up to serve abroad. Is his bad reputation deserved? What will become of him?

Joe, too young to sign up for WW1, is left to endure the hardships of war on the home front and deal with his own guilt at not being able to serve. He starts an innocent friendship with his sister-in-law which sustains him through hard times. Will he survive the bombs, the riots, the rationing and find true love in the end?

These are their intertwined and interlocking stories told through the medium of diaries, letters and personal recollections, based on the author’s family history covering the period of 1879–1920. The truth is never plain and rarely simple.

A Ha'penny Will Do


Book Excerpt or Article

I remember my mother as if it were yesterday, her dark curly hair piled up on top and a gentle Irish lilt to her voice. But I
realise now that these are only my childhood memories of her, as she certainly wasn’t like that towards the end. It’s strange
how time dims the things we don’t want to remember. However, since you’ve asked, I’ll try and tell it like it was, but
my memory’s failing a bit now, so bear with me.

Her name was Catherine (McCarthy by birth), but I only ever heard her called Kate, even by her mother, who would
occasionally visit us. I know they both came over from Ireland, although I don’t know exactly when. The family had
lived in one of the most notorious slums in Cork – Barrack Street. It had a dreadful reputation for poverty, disease and
filth, and yet my mother always spoke of it with the greatest affection.

“Joey,” she would say, “I had a grand childhood, I’m sorry yours has had to be so hard.”

She always called me by my middle name, Joe, (even though my first name is Andrew) and I still prefer to be called
that. It reminds me of the good times with her and the feeling of being loved and wanted.

I hear the slum dwellings of Barrack Street have been cleared away now and new buildings put up, ones with
running water, sanitation and electric lighting. My mother would have hated them and would have said they had no soul,
not like the overcrowded, cramped hovels of the ‘lanes’. She didn’t live long enough to see her beloved street swept away;
maybe that was a good thing. I don’t know.

As to the rest of her family, I have very little information. I believe she had a brother somewhere, and some Irish cousins
and aunts, but the details have vanished in the mists of time, just like the leprechauns and faery folk that she used to tell us
about at bedtime.

It was my mother’s very ‘Irishness’ that first attracted my father, William Duffield, to her, but it was also what most
annoyed him when he was in one of his moods. On one occasion, I heard him shout at her, “There ain’t no shamrocks
here, woman! So, stop your Irish blarney.”

My father was a dark, brooding kind of man, who usually only laughed at someone else’s expense. He had a certain
charisma, I guess, and a way of being able to talk himself out of a bad situation. Trouble was something that followed him
around, especially when he’d been out drinking, which was often. Nevertheless, he was popular with the local crowd and
recognised as something of a ‘character’.

I’ve never been to Ireland, which is odd, I suppose, as my brother Ern lives over there now. After he married his second
wife, Agnes, they moved out to be nearer to her family. Maybe the Irish connection was stronger for him as he was
older than me and had more time with our mother. We still exchange Christmas cards and the like, but we’ve drifted apart
a bit recently. I’m not sure why. Ern is quite a few years older than me, but we were close once. He even introduced me to
my own dear wife, who was his sister-in-law. We had some great times then, the four of us together. I miss that. Maybe
it’s because Bet has passed on that it’s all changed.

I’m closer to my youngest brother Bill than anyone else in the family. As for the others, I never see Albert these days
and Fred has been gone a long time now.

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Vera Bell
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