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!
Find out why I enjoyed reading “The Girl in the Pink Raincoat”:
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
In wartime it takes courage to follow your heart.
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:
Also by this author: The Girl in the Pink Raincoat
Published by Head of Zeus
on 1st March, 2019
Format: UK Edition Paperback
Converse via: #GirlInThePinkRaincoat, #HistNov and #HistFic
Available Formats: Hardcover, Trade Paperback, Audiobook & Ebook
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. Read More