Authors reveal the images that inspired 100,000 words
I’ve got a confession to make. I probably owe my writing career to the Queen. Yes, her majesty herself inspired my debut novel, because it’s this photo of her leaning against an Army vehicle that propelled me to write the historical saga, The Spark Girl.
It tells the story of Kitty who loses the love of her life at the start of World War Two and joins the Auxiliary Territorial Services (ATS), the women’s branch of the British Army. However, her new life is far from easy, and when bombs fall on her home town and supposed allies turn against her, Kitty must find the strength to save her family, fix her broken heart and help her country to victory.
Although I've always been a bit of a history nerd, I’ll admit I never expected to write a novel set in World War Two. But in 2014, whilst researching an article I was writing for a newspaper, I stumbled across this photo of the queen and discovered she had been a driver for the ATS. Peering at the picture, I found myself wondering about all the other recruits she worked with and what their lives were like. Was the job of driver a bit soft, meaning were the girls allowed to go home at six o’clock for their dinner like our Queen?
In fact I discovered the opposite was true. Most recruits slept twenty to a dorm and worked all hours in all conditions. They drove anything from three-ton trucks to Humber staff cars and dispatch bikes. As for their dinner of toast or Potato Jane if they were lucky, it was a world away from a royal banquet. They could be driving in convoy one minute, or delivering German secrets to Bletchley the next. But as well as driving, something that was frowned upon as it was seen as a man’s domain, they had to know how to look after their vehicles, earning themselves the nickname of spark girls! I became intrigued about the kind of work they did and the situations they found themselves in and before I knew it the kernel of The Spark Girl was born.
Of course it was all very well having an idea but what about plot? Characters? This had to be a page turner, something my mum wouldn’t dismiss as dull and put it down with a huff of, boring! In short, this was a tall order. So I did what most writers do, I wrote about what I knew. Although none of my family served as drivers in the ATS I had plenty of relatives in World War 2 and had always been particularly struck by this photo of my Great Uncle Arthur ( second row from the bottom, second from the left) who was just nineteen when he joined the Army and served in Iraq. Sadly Arthur died before I was born, but because I had heard so many stories about him, I felt in a funny way that I knew him and making him the romantic hero in my first novel was the perfect way to honour him.
But of course what is love without a backdrop? Again I turned to what I knew and with my family all hailing from the Midlands, I remember one photo that was always pointed out to me - that of Winston Churchill standing in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. If I was going to write about anywhere it had to be Coventry. It suffered more than any other city during the blitz. In fact the damage was so bad the Germans created a new word following the attack; coventrate meaning to destroy.
Now I’m putting the finishing touches to book two, Promises of a Spark Girl and hope that my love of history and passion for those that gave their lives in the war shines through. It really is such a fascinating subject area with stories of hope, intrigue, danger and anguish in the most unexpected of places. Like these photos, I very much hope The Spark Girl gives just a tiny insight into the amazing courage of those that lived during that time.