A bestselling Harrogate author’s heartwarming new novel has been inspired by her late mum and dad’s lives in Beckwithshaw at the height of the Second World War.
Published by Corgi, The Land Girls at Christmas by Jenny Holmes is a delightful tale of love, life and land told from the point of view of members of the Women’s Land Army in 1941.
Though set in the village of Burnside, this festive tale of friendship, romance and triumph over adversity is really about Beckwithshaw where her Land Girl mum Barbara first met her father Jim, who was in the Royal Navy.
Author Jenny said: “My mum, who helped run the Smiths Arms in Beckwithshaw while working in the fields as a Land Girl, died eight years ago but so many of her anecdotes still filter into my work.
“She would have been so thrilled that I’ve dedicated the book to her.
“As part of my research I talked to friends of my mum’s in their late 80s.
“There’s not a lot of people left who can talk about what rural life was like in the Second World War.
“Talking to them means it doesn’t feel like dead history to me. These are raw experiences.”
A former teacher who went to Harrogate Grammar School as a girl, Jenny juggled being a single mother and a teacher and a writer for much of the 1980s.
Having studied at the University of Birmingham and gained a PHD in Victorian children’s books, she eventually took the plunge into being a full time writer.
Jenny said: “I didn’t feel like I belonged in the academic world but I needed to make a living for my two daughters.
"I reached a critical point in the early 1990s when I realised if I could just make more money from writing, I could leave teaching altogether."
The Land Girls at Christmas is Jenny’s fifth novel to be published and, such is the success of Jenny’s previous books, Corgi, an imprint of Penguin Random House, have commissioned three more from her.
One of three children brought up in Harrogate, Jenny’s links with the area stretch back through many generations.
Her grandfather was a blacksmith in Beckwithshaw while her great aunts worked as seamstresses, milliners and upholsterers in Edwardian times.
It was the latter that inspired much of her breakthrough novel in 2015, The Mill Girls of Albion Lane which was hailed as “Yorkshire’s Call the Midwives.”
Jenny said: “Although I live in Ilkley now, I still have family in Harrogate. I’m keen to make sure my books are historically accurate, as well as entertaining."
Although born Oldfield, Jenny has taken her mum's maiden name Holmes as her pen name.
Jenny said: "My mum never boasted about her contribution to the war effort, that wasn’t her style.
"She told me once that she’d lost her engagement ring while working in the hen huts during the war and her and her Land Girl pals had to get down on their knees to look for it in the beds of straw!”
So confident are her publishers of her Christmas book’s success, the next one is also to be about the Land Girls.
Jenny said: “My last novel, The Telephone Girls did really well. It’s great seeing my books in supermarkets, too, like ASDA.
“My agent thinks the Land Girls has legs.”