Authors: Margaret Dickinson
Zoë, Scott, Zachary and Zara
With My Love Always
1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I started writing at the age of fourteen always with the hope of one day being published. My first novel was published in 1968 when I was twenty-five.
2. How long did it take you to write
The Buffer Girls
I write a novel a year, but that doesn’t mean I’m writing all that time. I undertake about six weeks’ promotion
when a new book is published and I give talks
throughout the year.
3. Do you have a routine as a writer?
When I am writing, I like to be at my desk by 9 a.m. and work for the morning. Often I work in the afternoon for a couple of hours, but it’s more a target of words per
week (10,000) rather than the number of hours spent writing.
4. Which books have inspired you?
As a child,
Enid Blyton’s books – also
The Wind in the Willows
. As an adult, the novels of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart. The one book that has influenced
me the most is
Pride and Prejudice
5. How did you come up with the title of the book?
It seemed to be the most appropriate title as the story is about the buffer girls of Sheffield.
6. How much of the book is fact and how much is fiction?
All the characters and events are entirely fictitious, but the background details have been thoroughly researched.
7. What would you like readers to take away from
The Buffer Girls
A sense of how hard-working the women of that time were.
8. Are you writing a new novel at the moment?
I have begun work on a sequel to
The Buffer Girls
9. Do you have any tips for people
researching historical events?
A great deal of information is now available on the internet, but it is wise to double-check it if possible. Visit the place being written about; its libraries, museums and
archives, and talk to people who have been involved with the subject.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Learn as much as possible about the craft of writing, study
similar books that have been published and NEVER give up!
Derbyshire, August 1920
‘You’re not serious, Mam.’
Emily Ryan stood with her hands on her hips, her curly blond hair flying free, wild and untamed, and her blue eyes icy with temper. She was tall and slim, with a figure that had all the young
men eyeing her longingly as she strode through her young life. Her lovely face, with its perfectly shaped nose
and strong chin, was the epitome of determination. Nothing and no one would stop Emily
Ryan doing exactly what she wanted with her life, except maybe one person: her mother, Martha.
‘I’m deadly serious,’ Martha said firmly, folding her arms across her ample bosom. She knew she had a battle royal on her hands as she faced her daughter. Emily resembled her
mother, but the older woman’s hair
was now grey and drawn back into a bun and her once lithe figure had thickened with age and child bearing. Her face was lined with the anxieties life had
brought her; her eyes were still bright but they turned cold when she was angry. And she was ready now. Battle lines were being drawn but Martha knew she would win in the end. She always did.
‘But this is our home. You can’t take us away
from all this.’ Emily swept her arm in a wide arc to encompass the small, friendly Derbyshire village where they lived, and the
surrounding fields and hills. ‘It’s Dad’s life. He was born here in this cottage. His parents and grandparents are buried in the churchyard. You can’t drag him to live in a
.’ She spat out the word. ‘He’d hate it. ’Specially now.’ Her voice dropped as she thought
about her beloved father, sitting huddled by the kitchen range
where he now sat every day, so cruelly maimed by the Great War that he could no longer work. He’d been the village candle maker, working in the front room of their cottage and supplying the
local village shop and several others in the district. And he’d always served those who came knocking on the front door. It had earned him
a modest income and the family had been content,
until the war had come and taken away the tall, strong man with a ready smile and a gentle manner. Now he was unbearably thin, his shoulders hunched. His hands shook uncontrollably and any exertion
left him gasping for breath. His two children – Emily and Josh – had taken on the work and were trying to keep his small cottage industry going, but
it wasn’t the same without
their talented father at the helm.
‘He’d no need to volunteer,’ Martha said quietly, her thoughts still on the carnage that had robbed her of the man Walter had been. ‘He could at least have waited until
he was called up.’ Her mouth curled. ‘He’d no need to be a hero.’
‘Oh really,’ Emily said, her tone laced with sarcasm, ‘and have everyone around here brand
him a coward? Handing him a white feather every time he set foot in Bakewell
‘He could have found work in a reserved occupation and appealed against his call-up whenever it came,’ Martha snapped. ‘But he didn’t even wait to find out if he was to
be conscripted. Off he went to answer the country’s call as if Kitchener had been pointing his finger directly at him.’
who stayed were lads too young to go or old men,’ Emily argued. ‘The ones like Dad – fit and strong and healthy –’ tears smarted at the back of her
eyes as she thought about the proud, upright man her father had been before he’d marched away to fight for his country. But she kept her voice steady, silently vowing not to cry in front of
her mother. Later, alone, perhaps she would allow the tears
to fall. But not now. This was one battle she had to win, for her father, for her younger brother and for herself too – ‘they
all went and such a lot of them never came home. At least, Dad came back.’
For a long moment, Martha stared at her. Then she glanced away and murmured flatly, ‘Aye, he did.’ The unspoken words lay heavily between them. Perhaps it would have been better for
them – including Walter himself – if he had not survived to be the broken wreck he now was.
Walter Ryan had been injured on 1 July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme, when thousands of his comrades had been mown down by enemy gunfire and blown to smithereens by their
shells. It was a miracle he had not been killed and even more amazing that he had survived his terrible injuries
to make it home to Blighty. The shrapnel in his leg had been removed and the wound
had healed, but an earlier exposure to a gas attack and the constant pounding of the guns had left him gasping for breath, shell shocked and unable to speak.
Martha and Emily were standing in their small back garden, which Josh and Emily had planted with rows of vegetables. They were well out of Walter’s hearing
and Josh was at work in the
front room. There was no one to overhear the quarrel.
‘What I don’t understand, Mam, is why? We’re happy here, aren’t we? Josh and I are doing our best with the candle making. I make the wicks –’ the braiding of
the fine cotton threads required nimble fingers – ‘and Josh makes the candles. He’s got some exciting ideas. He wants to try making coloured candles
and scented ones too.
He’s already carving some of the bigger ones and he showed them to Mrs Trippet at the big house. She said they were wonderful and she placed an order there and then. Oh, I know we’re
not as good at it as Dad, but we’re getting better. And everyone around here helps us with Dad, if we need it. Mr Clark and Mrs Partridge have been wonderful. They come and sit with him and
talk to him, even though he never answers them. Who’s going to be on hand in the city?’
Martha bit her lip; this was where it would get really difficult. ‘It’s for Josh’s sake. I’ve got to think of his future. There’s nothing for him here.’
‘What do you mean? Not many lads of seventeen have their own little business ready made for them.’
‘Josh will be eighteen next month,’ Martha
said, ‘and besides, he won’t have much of a business soon. The demand for candles is decreasing with every day. You know
yourself it is.’
‘Ah,’ Emily said slowly. ‘Now I understand. It’s always about Josh, isn’t it? You want to uproot the whole family and take us to Sheffield – all for
‘Of course it’s all for Josh,’ Martha snapped, not even attempting to be apologetic. ‘He’s
a man and he’s got to make his way in the world.’
‘And what about me?’ Emily asked softly. ‘Do I really count so little with you, Mam?’
‘Don’t be silly, Emily. Of course you
. But you’ll get married. You don’t need a career. Not like a man does. Not like Josh does. And you tell me
–’ Martha prodded her finger towards her daughter – ‘what else there is around here for him that would
make him a good living – that would make him someone –
because if you know of something, then I’d like to hear it.’
Emily couldn’t answer her. There was nothing locally that could offer Josh the opportunities he would find in the city. But she was not about to be beaten yet.
‘What about Amy?’ she said, trying a different tack. ‘She and Josh are walking out together now.’
eyes narrowed. ‘Are they indeed? And when did that start?’
Emily shrugged, wishing she hadn’t said anything. It was not her secret to tell, but it was done now. ‘They’ve always been friends, but just lately – well, they’ve
got closer. Or are you thinking that she’ll come with us?’
Martha shook her head. ‘No, she wouldn’t leave her dad.’
The village blacksmith, Robert Clark, who lived
next door, had been a widower since his wife had died shortly after giving birth to Amy. In the early years, Robert had paid a kindly woman, Mrs
Grace Partridge, who lived in one of the cottages further up the lane, to care for the infant whilst he worked. But at all other times, father and daughter had been – and still were –
inseparable and so it had brought Robert peace of mind when Josh
Ryan had begun courting Amy. Whatever happened, he would still have his daughter close by. Perhaps they could even live with him, he
had daydreamed, and, in time, maybe another little one would bring joy to his life.
Emily stared at Martha. ‘So, you don’t care about tearing them apart? I thought you liked Amy.’
‘I do. She’s a sweet girl, but Josh can do better for himself. If he marries,
he needs someone who’ll help him achieve his ambitions.’
ambitions, Mam. Let’s be honest about this. Josh is quite content to stay here, make candles, marry Amy and raise a family. But that’s not good enough for you,
is it? What do you want him to be? The owner of a steel works and live in a mansion?’
Martha shrugged. ‘Maybe one day. If he would only apply himself, work hard and—’
‘Mam, have you taken leave of your senses?’
‘Don’t you talk to me like that, Emily Ryan, else you’ll feel the back of my hand.’ Martha raised her arm as if to carry out her threat.
Emily faced her unflinchingly and smiled grimly. ‘I’ve felt it often enough. One more time won’t make any difference.’ But Martha dropped her hand and turned away, saying
over her shoulder, ‘And don’t you
go telling Josh. I’ll be the one to tell him tonight.’