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January Book Club Choice

Sunshine and Showers by June Francis

Cover of Sunshine and Showers

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Liverpool 1926. Patsy Doyle is settling into her role as a live-in maid in the Tanner household, but caught between the warring spouses, Patsy becomes an unwilling confidante and a keeper of more secrets than she’d care to acknowledge. Meanwhile, Joy Kirk is busy planning her wedding, but begins to question whether she letting herself in for more than she bargained for...
Friendship, love, class warfare, family loyalty and family secrets all come into play in this novel.

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Author Q&A

Q. What inspired you to set the novel in a post-war environment?
Carly Addison, Liverpool

A. First, it was because this book was a sequel in which I wanted to put Joy Kirk centre stage and to give her a happy ending. I’d introduced Joy as a character in 'Step By Step' and she had appeared in the next two Chester books but not as a main character and she was also in 'Tilly’s Story' along with Patsy Doyle. I also wanted to know what happened to Patsy and her sisters and brothers. Secondly, and this is the real answer to your question. I really enjoy writing about the changes that war brings about in civilian life and how people cope with its aftermath.

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Q. What made you passionate about the changing nature of women’s lives in the 1920s?
M. Wisson, Poole., Poole

A. Thinking about this question deeply, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s because of the freedom I have as a woman today. I look back to the 1920s and the lives that working class women in particular had- and my mother was one of them- and I so feel for them. During the Great War women had proved they could do some jobs as good as men. This gave them confidence and the will to fight for improved conditions but so many of them were still poor but they had hope in the future. Others knew that they were unlikely ever to get married and have the love of a man and children. Some, of course, didn’t want those things. But my heart ached for Joy Kirk in particular because she had lost the man she loved due to war and deep down I knew she wanted love and a child but she was her own woman and had found herself a place in the world without them. Still, when the opportunity came for her to have a husband and a respected position in the world she took it, even so she could so easily end up losing all that she gained but just like Patsy she cared about others and she didn’t compromise her beliefs.

Q. In drawing significant class distinctions in the novel were you drawing on your own experiences?
C Jennings, Wirral

A. My roots are very much working class - what I’d probably call respectable working class. My family were poor but not destitute. The lavatory was down the yard and I remember my mother cooking on the fire, no hot running water. My father was a plasterer and my mother a housewife and there were no books in the house but my father told me stories from memory and taught me my alphabet. I suppose it was in Sunday School that I probably noticed class distinctions between us and the teachers and when I went to the doctor’s and to the cinema I saw it there in the films and also in the books I read. My mother didn’t go out to work until I went to Grammar School. It was there I really became aware of how class distinctions could make me feel inferior. Occasionally having to wear second-hand clothes and I remember one of the girls inviting me back to her house and she had a wardrobe in her bedroom and a carpet on the floor. Her house had a bathroom and a back garden. I’d have no sooner invited her back to our house as fly to the moon. By then I had a few books that were Dad’s Christmas and birthday presents to me which were kept in a painted orange box I’d turned into a bookshelf. We had linoleum on the floor and my clothes were kept in the sideboard downstairs. But despite this I didn’t believe she was any better than me deep down because my father had always told us we were as good as anyone else. My mother had also been in service and as I grew up she spoke of some of her experiences. I suppose also that when I became a writer I noticed class distinctions because I began to mix even more with the middle classes and I also came across this at church. Something that really helped me deal with any inferiority complex that lingered in my adult life was a verse I came across whilst doing research for an historical romance book set during the Peasants’ Revolt. “When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman? I think that says a lot. Of course, succeeding as a writer as definitely helped, although I consider we could be said to be in a class of our own.

Q. What excited you most about the novel during its conception?
B.W., Hampshire

A. Two things: One is that I could actually still come up with the ideas and pull all the threads so that the plot came together and worked. This is my twenty-seventh book. Secondly, it is that moment when your characters suddenly come alive and I can see and hear them talking in my head.

Q. How do you go about writing? Is there a particular method that you use to bring your ideas to life?
A Cooper, Cumbria

A. Generally I start thinking about time and place and a heroine, family background, problems for her to overcome, a hero. How they meet and a problem for him. I never work out a whole plot but I generally have an idea of a few events that will take place and a vague idea how it will end. Research plays an important part because it gives me ideas and a lot of the research my eldest son does for me these days because my eyes get tired. But my characters don’t come alive until I start writing and I rewrite and rewrite the first few chapters and suddenly they come alive once I have them settled in their world and getting on with their lives.

Q. Do you feel the book could have been as successful if the setting had been in a different city?
Sarah Florence, Liverpool

A. I feel not but some who live in Glasgow, London or any big port might think otherwise but for me Liverpool is the only place it would work as well as it did. Could that be because I know the place and its people with living there all my life and consider its history alive and fascinating? My mother used to say that we have salt water in our veins and can’t be happy away from the sea. In one of my books I have a character speaking of the Liverpudlian’s love of singing being a result of that predominant mixture of Welsh, Irish, Scottish and even Lancastrian blood - think of George Formby for the latter. There is always poverty as well as riches in a port and that creates not only class differences but also plenty of conflict and a wry humour.

Q. What is the most interesting feedback you’ve ever received from a reader? .
P. Peterson, Wrexham

A. I’d say the reader’s email that has stuck in my mind amongst others is one from New Zealand. Her father had emigrated during the early fifties and was wont to talk about his early life in Liverpool. He spoke about the poverty and the area he lived in and the school and church he attending. She didn’t believe most of what he told her until a neighbour passed one of my books onto her. She read it and there were places her father had spoken about and people he could have known. She said that my book changed her life.


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