Author Interview | Discussing #HistoricalFiction and “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat” with Alrene Hughes

Posted Wednesday, 24 April, 2019 by jorielov , , 0 Comments

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Hallo, Hallo dear hearts!

As you might remember, I shared my ruminations on a lovely new war drama during #HistoricalMondays this week – which involved the life of Sarah and her daughter Gracie within the pages of “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat”. The story is set on the jump-start of WWII – in 1939 where the whole world is on bated breath and worried about what will come next as memories of the Great War were still fervently in their minds and memories. This is a story of trial, tribulation and adversity of facing fear and of giving yourself a chance to find unconditional love – you truly feel rooted in the setting, as Hughes has such a compelling way of bringing Manchester to life during this particular decade of interest.

Although I have read quite a lot of war dramas throughout my reading life and as a book blogger – this was the first I remember being set outside of the coastal regions of England, the inland townes or cities of England or Wales and outside the scope of the blitzing London endured. It gave a hearty new understanding of what another large city of England was facing and how brave the residents were to endure what was happening to them with little warning – the sense of hopelessness and the fears which arise when your being separated from your children and without the certainty of knowing if there would be a tomorrow in a peaceful world now that your life was being torn apart by war.

I appreciated the ways in which Hughes gave us a chance to get to know her characters before all the changes started to incur in their lives – she tempers the war itself by the interpersonal experiences of her characters’ lives – giving you a proper sense of community and the setting of being in Manchester at the turning of a new decade (the 40s). You truly felt captured by the factories in which Gracie finds employment  – how those interactions with her work mates and the discourse of stress that others in her work cause her – leads you to seeing a fuller sense of what life was for young woman when England joined the second world war.

I wanted to converse with Ms Hughes about how she approached writing this war drama and was wicked happy finding out there was time to add this as a secondary focus on my blog during the blog tour. This was a new author for me to read and as a lover of Historical Fiction, it was a delight of joy to disappear back into the 1930s and see life through the lens of an encapsulated viewing of the early 20th Century.

Brew yourself a cuppa and enjoy this conversation – you’ll have a lovely glimpse of what went on behind-the-book and a few insights into what I loved most about reading the novel, too!

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When we first alight into Gracie’s life, she’s one of the line workers for raincoats turning out quantity for an order which puts everyone on a bit of an edge. Her boss’s nephew catches her eye, as he would due to his personality and charming features – however, it is her approach to lifting the workday by her presence which hugged me into the story. The comforting encouraging voice of her mother trying to forestall the panic of the pending war gave you a proper sense of where we were in History; as she assuaged their fears but also, relied the truths of their situation in a way which felt more uplifting than horrifying. This was when England was on the fringes of war – before the blitzing and before they would all become afeared of the skies for what they would bring into their lives. You could readily see where Gracie found her font of strength and how she had the courage to do what she was doing – as she came from strong stock, as evidenced by her Mum.

My heart took a clutching moment of realisation when it was revealled Jacob was Jewish – I knew there was going to be a probable cause towards what might separate Gracie and Jacob, as this is in effect a romance caught in the tides of war; however, is anyone ever really prepared for what happened during that particular era? I liked how Hughes dampened the pending circumstances by allowing us to see the young couple together ahead of everything which would soon begin. We could tuck into their lives before the start of war – seeing how the innocence of their attraction and the joyfulness of a relaxing weekend could bring a bit of happiness into their lives. It was quite foretelling on Jacob’s behalf what he remarks to Gracie in that particular moment – about how this could be the last day of spending their hours in idle reprieve? There were little nuanced observations like this which took you backwards in time – to a point where no one was fully aware of how much their lives would become altered as it was all too new to where they were not yet afflicted.

I had to smile and chuckle when Gracie criticised her Mum for using too much vinegar on her hair! I hadn’t heard of this trick to keep the shine in your locks – I love rooting out this kind of trivia from the past – of how women sorted out ways to do things with ingredients we might not think of using today. Some of which, of course, still has merit as not every new way of doing ordinary things is the better option even today. It was keen to see where Jacob took Gracie on her first date as well – I liked how she was off-put at first by his choice and then, how she fell at ease with realising ‘where’ he was taking her wasn’t quite what it appeared on the surface. It spoke to how they both had different impressions and reactions to the same situations but also, how he hadn’t taken the time to disarm her concerns before he surprised her with a nice night out.

There is a lovely ebb and flow to this story – I felt so caught inside the goings-on of Gracie’s life – from the antics of her co-workers to how smitten she was with Jacob. Jacob was a bit of a Renaissance man – preferring the cultural offerings of theatre and music than most men their age. It was a special treat for Gracie to be treated to these kinds of luxuries and it was whilst she was listening to Jacob talk passionately about his love of the theatre where she realised how uniquely different he was from the other blokes she was previously interested in knowing. I felt for her it marked a turning point – about the kind of person she wanted to date and also, the kind of man who could introduce her to the joys in life she hadn’t been exposed too previously.

One of my favourite supporting characters is Gracie’s Mum – whom has her own story-line which I felt was of equal importance to Gracie’s. Her Mum had immigrated from Ireland to begin anew in England – not coming from the best of families and of having her own heart broken in young love. It is interesting too, how the mother had had experience with star-crossed love inasmuch as her daughter – almost as if history was repeating itself for both women. Wherein Hughes talks about the hardships between falling in love with men of a different religion, she also points out how sometimes you have to find the inner strength to stand against the distrust of a society. In this instance, the harder part of the story is the year it is set – 1939 as being at war changed everyone’s perception about everything.

Hughes represents the era well. Including how she eludes to what is going to be happening before you can blink past the horrors of what came next – she gives measure of place and setting for how lives were starting to become affected by the war and how the war was going to change the lives of those who lived in England and the surrounding countries. In small ways, she gave you a chance to navigate those changes – as she lent observations of what was happening in regards to what Gracie saw or how intuitive those round her were becoming of events yet known. Quite a smart way to approach writing a war drama as those of us who read a heap of these can appreciate this approach. It is the calm before the pending storm but it is also instinctive of human nature.

This is a very evolving story-line – at the heart of it is a young girl who is caught in the throes of first love on the fringes of the second world war. You find yourself following in her footsteps as she moves from one factory to another, trying to carve out a living wage at a time where jobs are scarce and there is a boiling effect of fear running through the undertone of society. No one understands what is going to happen next and with everything on the brink, it paints a solid portrait of how ‘life at home’ during the war years was just as trying as those who were fighting it. The women in the factories were oft-times placed in danger due to the kind of co-workers they found in those factories, which I felt Hughes highlighted well. However, rather than keeping this a darker tale of intrigue wrapped inside a war drama – she also etches out a lot of light, random joys and a sense of community amongst the friendships Gracie is able to maintain throughout the ordeal she finds the strength to survive.

-quoted from my review of The Girl in the Pink Raincoat

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Author Interview | Discussing #HistoricalFiction and “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat” with Alrene HughesThe Girl in the Pink Raincoat
by Alrene Hughes
Source: Direct from Publisher

In wartime it takes courage to follow your heart.

Manchester, 1939.

Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory.

Gracie is a girl on the factory floor. Jacob is the boss's charismatic nephew. When they fall in love, it seems as if the whole world is against them – especially Charlie Nuttall, who also works at the factory and has always wanted Gracie for himself.

But worse is to come when Jacob disappears and Gracie is devastated, vowing to find him. Can she solve the mystery of his whereabouts? Gracie will need all her strength and courage to find a happy ending.

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

ISBN: 9781788543972

Also by this author: The Girl in the Pink Raincoat

Genres: Historical Fiction, Historical Women's Fiction, Women's Fiction


Published by Head of Zeus

on 1st March, 2019

Format: UK Edition Paperback

 Published By:  Published By: Head of Zeus (@HoZ_Books)
{imprint of} Simon & Schuster (

Converse via: #GirlInThePinkRaincoat, #HistNov and #HistFic
Available Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Audiobook & Ebook

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What first inspired the story “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat” and of setting the story against the backdrop of the world war era in 1939?

Hughes responds: I had previously written a trilogy of WWII novels set in Belfast where I grew up. I then decided to write about Manchester, where I have lived for most of my adult life. Both were industrial cities, crucial to the war effort, and heavily bombed. The main character, Gracie, came to me straightaway and fully formed. A lively, confident young woman who would have the strength to endure the worst of what war could throw at her.

I hadn’t quite realised how badly Manchester had been attacked during the war – most of the war dramas I’ve read have been set either on the coastal regions of England or France whilst the majority of stories of course are anchoured in and round the blitzing of London. I have had a soft spot for Manchester since the recent tragedy wherein I was one of the viewers who was streaming the benefit concert when Ariana Grande returnt with the tribute and dedication. Previously, I had known little snippets of information about the city from British mates of mine who visit the city however, this was the first up close and personal glimpse into Manchester I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I truly liked how you set the story round the city and gave us the illusion of ‘life in Manchester’ during this block of time.

I could honestly tell this about Gracie – she was so fleshed out and fully her own person, it felt like a character you personally had known prior to writing down her story. It came through so well how authentically connected you felt to her own plight and journey – you did her justice!

What did you find the most challenging in developing the story? Anchouring the story-line to the historical events at the time your story took place or finding a new segue of interest during this era readers love to read?

Hughes responds: I like to have my readers see historical events through the eyes of the characters, rather than giving them information. But I also love to find interesting or slightly odd stories. When I was planning the novel, I came across a WWII website focusing on the area where I live and I found that there had been a camp for enemy aliens – German and Austrian nationals – just ten minutes from my house. I began to think of their families, friends…or sweethearts and decided I would use this in the love affair between Gracie and Jacob.

I hadn’t realised this either – about how close the POWs were during the war – it was a very keenly interesting perspective – to showcase how they lived so close to townes and yet, were so dearly ‘far off’ at the same time. I also appreciated how you showed the different angles of perspective – from wives and sweethearts to families – you covered all the potential bases and humanised a very difficult component of the war itself. Especially when you went into disclosing the differences in ‘residency’ and whom the British felt might cause harm during war when in reality a lot of those could honestly have been everyday citizens who were no threat at all. It reminded me of the Japanese who were interned in the States…. a lot of injustice and trauma to everyone involved.

As your story involves a love story between an innocent girl and the love she is developing for a young Jewish boy – how did you approach showing their cultural and religious differences whilst owning to the current social views of the era?

Hughes responds: Jacob, who is Jewish, is well aware that his family would not approve of Gracie for religious reasons, but also because she works in their factory and is, therefore, lower class. Nevertheless, he falls in love with her, but tries to keep it a secret from his family. Gracie’s Irish mother knows they are in love, and is frightened she will get hurt. Unknown to Gracie, her mother also experienced religious prejudice as a young woman when she, a protestant, fell in love with a Catholic boy.

I definitely loved how you showcased the differences in class and religious heritage – in some ways, Jacob surprised me in some of his reactions and views – how he criticised Gracie quite severely in some regards and then, was forgiving on the other side of it, too. It was a confusing view of him as he felt like a man with a conflicting conscience and an oppositional sense of principle and perspective. Of course, this fit well within the niche of the era their story was being explored but there were moments where I really was irked by his callus nature and then, at other times, I really felt uplifted by his sense of hope he instilled inside Gracie.

I highlighted this on my review – I didn’t get to see your replies til after my review posted – however, this was a pivotal moment for me in the story-line as I was reading it – how you did a brilliant juxtaposition between Gracie’s Mum and Gracie’s paths becoming intersected by religious persecution. They were afflicted by this at different intervals of generation and time but it was how both women were walking a similar fate and path which struck me as a wonderful scope of continuity and depth of purpose for the underlying message of the novel. I truly loved how you showed the different perceptions – between traditional opposition from Ireland (Catholics and Protestants) and how you interspersed Jewish heritage and identity through the war era during Gracie’s timeline. Both Mum and daughter had so much in common and yet, they were in many instances worlds apart.

Is there a secondary or minor character you felt was your favourite to include in this story?

Hughes responds: I loved writing about Gracie’s mother, Sarah. She’s so down-to-earth, loves her daughter dearly, but can be tough on her too. Gracie goes through so much heartache and to see Sarah struggle to support her, is heart-wrenching. Worse still she has secrets herself and, once uncovered, she fears she will never see her Gracie ever again.

I admit, I loved discussing how much I loved Sarah — she definitely left a strong impression me! It was almost as if your story had two equally engaging lead characters with two equally important story-lines to follow! I felt Gracie and Sarah fought for the lead position and in many ways I was satisfied with both their time-lines of interest. I was definitely leaning close to Sarah during those intervening moments as you said where Sarah was uncertain of Gracie’s reactions – it was one of the hardest transitional periods of the story!

I love how Gracie is still coming-of age – of sorting out who she is and what she wants to do in her life. What were your favourite attributes of Gracie’s character? And what made you smile when you were writing her story?

Hughes responds: I like the way Gracie gets the bit between her teeth. She’s brave, determined and doesn’t give up. I like her sense of fun too.

As the war rages in the background – what do you most want your readers to focus on within Gracie’s journey?

Hughes responds: I hope readers will enjoy the twists and turns of the love affair between Jacob and Gracie. Then there’s the gripping relationship with her friend Alan, but is he everything he seems to be? Finally, Gracie’s journey takes an unexpected turn to bring her happiness and fulfillment.

Hmm,… wells, the only ‘twist’ I didn’t personally appreciate was the whole thread of interest involving Alan. It quite set me off on the story but once you hugged us away from that horrid twist of interest, I felt my joy of the story resume. The other twists I felt were more appropriate to how the story began and how it ended… those were one continuous thread of joy whereas with his segue I felt it was just unnecessary fodder.

When your not writing and researching your stories what uplifts your spirit the most?

Hughes responds: I spend time in Greece: different culture; different climate; a slower way of life. I like nothing more than a good TV drama, except being with family and friends.

I had a good chuckle of a smile and laugh – I definitely can relate to wanting a different climate and a slower pace of life! It would be an ideal discovery as too much of life is dealing with an unbalanced environment and climate to where the harsh brushes of seasons can sometimes become too brutal to find a way to thrive. Ooh yes, definitely! A wicked good drama is excellent – I found one recently I wish would go on dvd which is the new legal drama “For the People”. And, nothing beats our families and circle of friends,…

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About Alrene Hughes

Alrene Hughes

Alrene Hughes grew up in Belfast and has lived in Manchester for most of her adult life. She worked for British Telecom and the BBC before training as an English teacher. After teaching for twenty years, she retired and now writes full-time.

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This book review is courtesy of:

head of Zeus

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Be sure to visit the Twitter feeds for Head of Zeus

to find the rest of the bloggers taking part on this lovely blog tour!

OR happily find the route on these lovely blog tour banners below!

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The Girl in the Pink Raincoat blog tour banner provided by Head of Zeus (publisher).

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The Girl in the Pink Raincoat blog tour banner provided by Head of Zeus (publisher).

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I welcome your comments & reactions to this conversation – especially if your one of the book bloggers on the tour and/or are a Historical Fiction appreciator like I am – finding this to be a new author to read who has written such an emotionally compelling chapter of the war era which roots you inside its grasp the entire time your suspended through the time-line of Gracie’s life. Equally I look forward to seeing what others are saying about the story!
I am thankful for Ms Hughes for taking the time to answer my questions and for giving me such a lovely conversation which compliments my review showcase for the blog tour! I hadn’t announced this interview on Monday as I wasn’t sure if it was going to be ready to share – I am overjoyed I can share it now and hope others enjoy her disclosures as much as I had!

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{SOURCES: Book covers for “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat”, book synopsis, author photograph of Alrene Hughes, author biography and the blog tour banners were all provided by Head of Zeus and used with permission. Post dividers badge by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets were embedded due to codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Conversations with the Bookish banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2019.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Wednesday, 24 April, 2019 by jorielov in #HistoricalMondays, 20th Century, Bits & Bobbles of Jorie, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Content Note, Domestic Violence, England, Fly in the Ointment, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Publishers & Presses (Direct Reviews), Realistic Fiction, the Thirties, The World Wars, War Drama, Women's Fiction




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