To mark the re-publication of Halfpenny Dreams (originally called Sisters of Fortune), my brilliant publisher will be giving away ten copies on Goodreads, UK and Ireland.
Halfpenny Dreams began with a wish to set a story in that area of Leeds called the Bank, where the poor Irish lived from the Nineteenth into the Twentieth Century. I’m not sure how that notion popped into my head. Perhaps I’d seen a photograph that caught my imagination, or some ghostly ancestor whispered to me in a dream.
Annoyingly, I didn’t know how to begin. There’s a feeling I must have before I can start a book. I waited patiently for that unknown extra little something that would spark the fuse.
The spark came from a stranger, an elderly, sprightly and well-travelled woman called Barbara Garden. I was to speak at a lunch, and was seated next to her. These were her first words: I am the daughter of Becketts Bank.
It was a light bulb moment. My story would be shared by two young narrators: the daughter of the banker and the daughter of the commissionaire who lives on the Bank. They are about the same age, around twelve when the story begins.
I soon realized I must make an adjustment. Barbara, the real banker’s daughter, grew up in a world of privilege that wasn’t right for my story, or for me. I’m better at creating people on the margins, outsiders. So Lydia is the banker’s step-daughter. Her mother is an actress who becomes the banker’s second wife.
The story begins on the day of the wedding. The banker gives his new step-daughter a gold brooch, a diamond-studded cat with sapphire eyes and a ruby mouth. Lydia is wearing this brooch when she meets Sophie for the first time. Sophie takes a dislike to Lydia, thinking her a show-off. Eventually, the girls strike up an unlikely friendship.
I loved writing this book – passing the story back and forth between Sophie and Lydia, from a world of hardship to a world of uneasy privilege. Poverty and riches cheek by jowl. Actors, liars and truth-tellers. Dreamers and schemers.
I look back on the writing of this book with pleasure, which I hope you’ll share.