When Your Characters Take Over by guest author Sue Barnard

I am delighted that my friend and fellow author has made time to visit my blog today and discuss the characters in her novels. I often hear my characters talking to me, and I’m glad I’m not alone in that. Thank you for this interesting article, Sue.

Nina’s story really began back in 2012, although at the time I had no idea about that. It stemmed from a conversation in my second novel, Nice Girls Don’t, in which mention was made of a baby girl, born in secret during World War Two, and given up for adoption. This baby girl was not referred to again in Nice Girls Don’t, but I realised afterwards that her existence left open the possibility of another story. What could have happened to her?

The baby was Nina, born in mid-November 1943, when World War Two was still at its height. Her mother Alice was seventeen and unmarried, and although the war had changed many things, the prevailing post-Victorian attitude to illegitimacy was not one of them. So one month later, just before Christmas 1943, Nina was handed over to a childless couple who formally adopted her and changed her name to Stella.

There have been occasions when I’ve stared at the words on my computer screen without any recollection of having written them, and I’ve been forced to the conclusion that the characters themselves have been telling me what to write. One such occasion was in Nice Girls Don’t, when one of the characters said something which went on to change the whole course of the story. And it happened again in Finding Nina. The final words of the scene which follows (just after Alice has given her baby away) must have come directly from Alice’s heart. On reading them I found myself in floods of tears, and for a long time afterwards I couldn’t bear to write any more.

14th December 1943

After forcing down a cup of dishwatery NAAFI tea, Alice boarded the bus for the grim journey back to the mother-and-baby home. Her mind was numb, and her heart felt colder than the chilly December afternoon. She neither knew nor cared if any of the other passengers were staring at her. Normally, she would have gone to any lengths to disguise the fact that she’d been crying – her mother had always drummed into her that crying in public was a sign of not coping. But today, such draconian diktats felt both pathetic and cruel.

The home’s minimalist Christmas decorations, hand-made by the residents from whatever scraps and oddments they could salvage, seemed trite and inappropriate. Avoiding the pitying glances of anyone she passed in the hallway, Alice trudged up the stairs to her room, picked up the small utility blanket from the cot beside her bed and held it next to her face. It still smelled of Nina.

Clutching the precious cloth, she slumped on to her hard bed. She had no idea how long she sat there, staring into space with no coherent thoughts, when eventually she was aroused from her stupor by a knock on her bedroom door. Looking up, she noticed for the first time that she was sitting in the dark.

“Alice? Are you all right? Can I come in?”

“Yes,” she answered, in a dull monotone.

The door creaked open to reveal the matron. Betty was a kindly person of indeterminate age, who seemed to mother all the girls and women in her charge, regardless of age or circumstance. She was carrying a tray bearing a teapot covered with a shabby tea-cosy, together with a milk jug, a sugar basin, and two cups and saucers. She kicked the door closed behind her, crossed the room in three strides and set the tray down on the small plain bedside table, before closing the curtains and switching on the light.

“What time is it?”

“Ten to five. I’ve brought you some tea. Put plenty of sugar in it if you want.”

Alice blinked. “But what about the rationing?”

Betty sat down on the bed and patted Alice’s hand, which was still clutching Nina’s blanket.

“Don’t worry about that. You need it today. It’s been brewing for about five minutes, so it should be good and strong by now.” She picked up the teapot and began to pour.

Alice was suddenly reminded of the phrase Shall I be Mother? This morning, she herself had been a mother. What was she now?


FINDING NINAis already available for pre-order. The book is officially released on 3 June 2019, when there will be an online launch party on Facebook, with guests, competitions and giveaways. To add yourself to the guest list, click here then select “Going”. See you there!


1943: A broken-hearted teenager gives birth in secret. Her soldier sweetheart has disappeared, and she reluctantly gives up her daughter for adoption.

1960: A girl discovers a dark family secret, but it is swiftly brushed back under the carpet. Conventions must be adhered to.

1982: A young woman learns of the existence of a secret cousin. She yearns to find her long-lost relative, but is held back by legal constraints. Life goes on.

2004: Everything changes…


Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet who was born in North Wales some time during the last millennium. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad. She now lives in Cheshire, UK, with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue’s own family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Finding Nina, which is her sixth novel, is not that book.

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The Ghostly FatherNice Girls Don’tThe Unkindest Cut of AllNever on Saturday  Heathcliff 



  1. Heartbreaking.


  2. Val Penny

    But fascinating, don’t you think, Miriam?

    Liked by 1 person

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