Author Q&A

AUTHOR Q&A with Lynn Johnson, author of The Girl from the Workhouse!!

The Girl from the Workhouse CoverEven in the darkest of times, she never gave up hope

Staffordshire, 1911. Ginnie Jones’s childhood is spent in the shadow of the famous Potteries, living with her mother, father and older sister Mabel. But with Father’s eyesight failing, money is in short supply, and too often the family find their bellies aching with hunger. With no hope in sight, Ginnie is sent to Haddon Workhouse.

Separated from everything she has known, Ginnie has to grow up fast, earning her keep by looking after the other children with no families of their own. When she meets Clara and Sam, she hopes that she has made friends for life… until tragedy strikes, snatching away her newfound happiness.

Leaving Haddon three years later, Ginnie finds work as a mouldrunner at the Potteries, but never stops thinking about her friends in the workhouse – especially Sam, now a caring, handsome young man. When Sam and Ginnie are reunited, their bond is as strong as ever – until Sam is sent to fight in WW1. Faced with uncertainty, can Ginnie find the joy that she’s never had? Or will her heart be broken once again?

Lynn Author PhotoI am delighted to welcome Lynn Johnson to The Shelf of Unread Books today to talk about her debut novel, The Girl from the Workhouse. Lynn is a good friend of mine (and all-round lovely person) so I am absolutely delighted to see her hard work researching and writing The Girl from the Workhouse paying off! The novel, described as ‘heart-breaking, emotional family saga’, has been getting rave reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, as well as on the recent blog tour. So, without further ado, over to Lynn to tell us more about The Girl from the Workhouse!

Hi Lynn! Thank you for taking the time to chat to The Shelf of Unread Books and answer some questions for me! First things first, could you please tell us a little bit about The Girl From The Workhouse and what it’s about?

Thank you for inviting me to join you, Amy. The Girl from the Workhouse tells the story of Ginnie, an illiterate young girl who is parted from her family when they have to go into the local workhouse after her father loses his job. She has to grow up fast and learns that good things are often followed by bad. Even her new friends, Clara and Sam, are snatched from her. She gets a job that nobody wants in a pottery and is reunited with Sam who becomes more important in her life than anyone else. In Ginnie’s world, poverty and loneliness are never far away, but there is love too. So, when the Great War intervenes, will her heart broken once again?

The novel begins in 1911. Did you always want to write a historical novel set in that period, or did Ginnie’s story just demand to be told then? The Girl From The Workhouse is set in your (and my) native county of Staffordshire. Was it important to you to set the novel in the Potteries, or did Ginnie emerge as a Staffordshire lass? How did you capture the sense of the place when writing the novel?

I have always enjoyed historical fiction, so it was natural for me to head in that direction. However, the novel came about after I researched my family tree. Ginnie, my protagonist was inspired by my grandma and some of what happens to Ginnie happened to my grandma during that second decade of the twentieth century. I was born and bred in Stoke-on-Trent and it is very important to me. To me, the place is a character in itself and I couldn’t think of setting it anywhere else. I have lived in Orkney for nearly fifteen years but it is The Potteries that I have the urge to write about.

The early portion of the novel sees Ginnie sent to the Haddon Workhouse. What research did you have to do to capture this experience? Did you find out anything that you weren’t expecting in the course of your research into workhouse life?

I think that research is one of the most important aspects to writing about a world you haven’t experienced for yourself. It’s the little snippets of information you discover that really brings your writing to life. Burslem and Wolstanton Workhouse was not open to visitors when I started to write the novel. I visited Southwell Workhouse, near Nottingham which was built along similar lines. It’s a National Trust property and the staff were extremely helpful. I also visited Gladstone Pottery Museum to immerse myself in the workings of an early twentieth century pottery. A great experience too. In fact, when it comes to research, I have found most people to be extremely helpful.

Ginnie is, of course, the main protagonist of the book however her friends Clara and Sam, as well as her family, also feature prominently. Do you have a favourite character from amongst your cast and, if so, why? And was anyone particularly easy or difficult to write?

That’s a difficult question. When you build characters, you start to fall in love with them. I loved Ginnie because she was so close to me for so long. Her friend Sam is very caring and loves Ginnie to bits. He’s kind and gentle and someone you can’t help rooting for. I think they have to come as a package!

The Girl From The Workhouse is your first novel. Can you tell us a little bit about how the novel came into being and your journey to publication? Do you have any tips for would-be historical novelists?

It started as a short story umpteen years ago. Someone told me it was like a Catherine Cookson novel and I was gob-smacked. I enrolled on Arvon writing courses, read various writing magazines and basically learned the craft of writing fiction. I wrote, and re-wrote, tried different tenses, first/third person, dual time and all sorts until I was satisfied with it. Then I made a resolution to try to get it published. I set myself milestones, with deadlines – and kept to them. I joined the Romantic Novelists Association and took advantage of their New Writer’s Scheme which provides its members with an opportunity for a whole manuscript to be critiqued by an experienced romantic novelist. At the RNA Conference last year I had a 1-2-1 with Hera Books and bagged myself a publisher! If you are writing a novel with a romantic element I would certainly recommend joining. The Scheme opens at the beginning of January each year and is filled within a day or so – you have to be quick off the mark!

Moving away from writing for a moment, I know you are a keen reader. Can you tell us about any books that have inspired you to write The Girl From The Workhouse? Or that helped you with the research for it?

It is well known that to be a good writer, you have to be a good reader and I when I’m not writing, I am usually reading. I read quite widely and have to feel in the right mood to enjoy a book. The books that inspired me to write The Girl from the Workhouse couldn’t have been more different. A cross between Anne of Green Gables by L M Montgomery, All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque and a variety of family sagas.

Now that Ginnie’s story is out in the world, what’s next for you? Are you writing a second novel? And, if so, can you tell us anything about it?

Constance Copeland entered the novel as a minor character near the beginning of The Girl from the Workhouse but she insisted she had a lot more to say. She became more and more important to me during the course of writing the novel so I asked her to write a monologue to tell me her story – and she was right! So, she will play a large part in the next book, which comes out in 2021.

Many thanks Lynn for taking the time to talk to me! The Girl from the Workhouse by Lynn Johnson is published by Hera and is available as an ebook from Amazon

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