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Exclusive Q&A with author Annie Clarke on her new book ‘Christmas on the Home Front’

To celebrate the fourth novel from the hugely popular series ‘The Factory Girls’, we talk to author Annie Clarke all about her new book ‘Christmas on the Home Front’ and everything Christmas!

Annie Clarke - Christmas on the Home Front
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Tough one, can you summarise Christmas on the Home Front in 25 words or less?

Christmas beckons in Massingham pit village – why not a panto say the evacuees? What better way for the girls to bring friends and family together.

What was the inspiration behind the next instalment of The Factory Girls series?

I love Christmas, and I adore pantomimes, so what better way to enjoy myself than to weave the Massingham community into the fabric of a panto: writing it, acting, sewing costumes, all of which holds them together in the face of life’s ongoing ups and downs.

Do you see any traits in Viola, Fran or Beth in yourself?

Perhaps a little of Fran who seems to take the senior role. As a mother of four, I tend to be bossy, but I fear I am actually far more like Mrs Oborne who has no filter on her mouth, who tends to call a spade a shovel, is not necessarily a respecter of persons, and oh how she enjoys a good laugh.

This is your fourth novel in the heart-warming factory girls series, what have you enjoyed most about writing them?

My roots are in a northern pit village. My mum was born in a little shop on the edge of the train track which led to the pit. She only left when she trained to become a nurse at the Newcastle Royal Infirmary. She was posted abroad as a military nurse in the Second World War and came back to the south-east where her husband (my dad) an RAF pilot found a job. Though we lived ‘down south’ my sisters and I used to spend my summer holidays with my Uncle Stan in that same shop, so grew to love all that had made my mum the amazing woman she was. We would run about the pit village, chatting to the people who spoke fondly of ‘Little Annie’ and told us stories of back in the day. I loved to see and smell the smouldering slag heap, hear the winding gear, and picture mum and her brother… and watch the pitmen stomping to and from the pithead. So I always love to write about that time, those people. That world is intensely personal, and part of me. I hope I evoke the admiration, respect and love I feel for just such a community and their way of life because that sense of what they were has guided my life: to do what we can, to ask for little in return, to laugh, always to laugh no matter what is thrown at us, and to work for a community to keep it strong.

I inserted the evacuees into the series, as I have met many who are now adult, and listened to all that they experienced. I found I simply loved writing about these Massingham evacuees, it is such a joy and they are so alive to me, and I laugh at their antics, and their courage, and admire the kindness of the strangers who took them in, usually for years, and made them part of the family and community. Several I know have said to me that it is the memory of their time as evacuees in small villages, of various sorts, which govern their lives. It is certainly what I found in Mum’s village and which has always guided my life.

So to write about this community, these Massingham people is a homage I suppose and a wish that this sense of community survives throughout Britain, and thrives, and perhaps – with the advent of the virus – it has.

We’d love to know what’s next for you, Annie?

Well, I have ideas, what writer doesn’t, and as I have been writing for over thirty years, my mind’s default position is to be relentlessly forming plots from germs of ideas. I am at the stage of sorting out the wheat from the chaff, then on I go. If I’m not writing I get up to mischief, and as my mother would have said: ‘It’s not funny or nice, so behave yourself.’

And finally, we like to ask everyone we interview – What’s Christmas like in the Clarke household?

I LOVE Christmas, the street decorations, the carols around the Christmas Tree in the market square, the cards which contain the year’s news from distant friends, who remain, friends, whether one sees them or not. Then, with four kids, who are now parents themselves, it’s chaos on the day. Wonderful chaos: the diets go out of the window, the turkey is basted, some will have gone to midnight mass, others not. Crackers on the table, hats worn, a glass or two, absent friends remembered, cracker mottos read, bad jokes told, incidents recapped, and laughter, long loud laughter for hours on end. Wonderful, the sense that it is the birthday of Jesus, that the stars seem brighter, and perhaps, perhaps it will snow. Even if it doesn’t we will watch White Christmas – as always – together, a family, within a community.

It was wonderful to char to Annie about her new book and all things Christmas, we’re off to start the series from the very beginning…again!

Christmas on the Home Front is out October 29th for £6.99 at Amazon UK.