Who were the Surplus Girls? 
 

The Great War wiped out a generation of young men and left behind a generation of young women who faced a life without the probability of marriage, at a time when any girl left on the shelf rapidly became an old maid and no working woman could hope to earn what could be earned by a man, even by a man doing the same job. These were the ‘surplus girls’ – young women who had grown up assuming they would get married, but whose dreams and assumptions were dashed by the War; young women who, unexpectedly and without preparation, faced a lifetime of work and spinsterhood.

 

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How the Hesketh Sisters Arrived in the 1920s... Via the 1800s, 1930s, 1910s and 1940s

Prudence and Patience Hesketh had been imaginary companions of mine for a long time. They first popped into my head in 1990 or ’91. In those days, they were the middle-aged spinster daughters of an impoverished country rector in Victorian times. I ended up not writing that particular book, but the Hesketh sisters hung around in my mind and a couple of years later I wrote the first version of what20 years later – became The Poor Relation.

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In its first incarnation, The Poor Relation was set in the 1930s and Prudence and Patience were middle-aged spinster sisters with a very much younger half-sister, who was the heroine. Incidentally, if you have read The Poor Relation, the hero was Eleanor’s grown-up son. The trouble with that 1930s book was that I knew so much about the characters’ lives before the story started and it was all relevant to the plot… so I wrote another book, telling the tale of the previous generation – though I set it in Edwardian times rather than going back into the 19th century. At this point, the story began to look a bit more like the eventual The Poor Relation.

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In this version, Prudence and Patience, for once, weren’t middle-aged but were youngsters. Although the book was fine in many ways, it wasn’t right, so I wrote another version, still in Edwardian times, but with Prudence now aged 23, but it wasn’t until 23-year-old Prudence Hesketh morphed into 23-year-old Mary Maitland that everything finally fell into place and The Poor Relation was written.

 

What next for the Hesketh sisters? Well, they went back to being middle-aged spinster sisters, only this time in the 1940s…. and there they stayed until The Surplus Girls came along and took them into the 1920s, and finally I had found the right book for them.

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