The heartbreaking true stories behind The Girl in the Letter

The heartbreaking true stories behind The Girl in the Letter

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.

Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

Though not based on one particular story, The Girl in the Letter takes inspiration from true events that occurred in numerous Mother and Baby homes across the UK in the 1950s and 60s. The below extract was written by Rose Bell, and was taken from www.motherandbabyhomes.com. On her website, Rose details the tragic truth of Mother and Baby homes in the UK. She has given Bookends the below extract. To read more, please visit her site.

Discovering Pregnancy

” The women of this study were raised in an era when unmarried motherhood was truly reviled, had parents who refused to discuss such intimate matters as sex and pregnancy, had no access to abortion (though whether they would have chosen this option I could not say), and were forced without having too much choice in the matter to hide their pregnancies, carry and bear a child they were then made to give up for adoption.


“Many young women prayed it would go away if they just ignored it.”

That is the climate to understand when reading about the moment they discovered they were pregnant. There were no home pregnancy tests in the 1960s; these did not appear until 1978. A few experienced horrendous morning sickness, which they had to go to great lengths to hide as they shared bedrooms and bathrooms with family, waking extra early to be sick before the rest of the family woke. Or being sick in their bedrooms and having to hide it so no one would find out. For the majority it was the absence of their period that clued them in to the pregnancy. Some understood what this meant almost immediately, while others existed in a detached state of denial which kept them from truly believing the meaning of that absence. The women’s mothers were commonly the ones who purchased the sanitary napkins each month, and when the girls failed to show the mothers became aware of what was happening. Many young women prayed it would go away if they just ignored it.

Eventually they each were made to face the difficult reality of their situation, this often occurred in the doctor’s office. Either on their own or with their mothers the women were taken to the family doctor who confirmed their pregnancy. The news, even if they had already known it, was devastating. One recalled falling into a surreal state, like being underwater. The world moving past her while she was trapped in a dream. The doctors generally didn’t want to know anything, perhaps living in a small community they wished to avoid being involved in anyway. One said to the young woman, ‘Don’t tell me anything. I don’t want to know. I’ll give you the name of a social worker and she’ll sort you out.’ Another told the terrified mother-to-be, ‘Have some gin and a hot bath. Try falling down the stairs a few times.’ While a third said, ‘All I can do is give you a douche can and hope that works.’ The women did not explicitly ask for abortifacients, but their shock and the cultural understanding that unmarried pregnancy was unthinkable prompted their doctors to provide such advice.

The women were devastated with the discovery. For there were many young men and women having sex before marriage, but it was only the unlucky that found themselves pregnant. Their pregnancy marked them for their supposed moral transgressions, and set them on a path of heartache and loss. A moment, which for married women was one of joy and celebration, became instead a time of shame and guilt. They understood intrinsically the social climate in which they lived, they knew the mark this transgression placed upon them, and they feared what was to come. For some this weight of shame and guilt was too much and they attempted to induce a miscarriage, or at the more extreme end even attempted suicide. Fear of their parents finding out was tantamount to their desperate measures, and underscores the social conditions these women existed in.”

To read more about mother and baby homes in the UK, visit www.motherandbabyhomes.com.

The Girl in the Letter

The Girl in the Letter is out now. You can buy it here.

Unwrap a new debut author this Easter! | Emily Gunnis exclusive Q&A

Unwrap a new debut author this Easter! | Emily Gunnis exclusive Q&A

Emily Gunnis previously worked in TV drama and lives in Brighton with her young family. She is one of the four daughters of Sunday Times bestselling author Penny Vincenzi. The Girl in the Letter is her debut novel.

When you’re on the hunt for a new read, how do you go about discovering one?

I usually ask friends or family if anyone has read anything good lately.  I always find the best seller charts a bit of a mixed bag.  And friends usually have the same tastes.  My sister recently recommended The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson which was incredible – I was so bereft when I finished it. 

Tell us a little bit about how ‘new beginnings’ are celebrated in your book

So the story’s protagonist is Sam Harper, who is the journalist on the hunt for the truth about The Girl in the Letter.  Her career, and personal life, is stalling at the start of the book, and by the end of the book she has overcome some tough hurdles and discovered some bitter sweet truths about herself and her family, which give her the strength to leave some baggage from the past behind, and start the new life which she has always dreamed of. 

If you were to set up a bookish Easter egg hunt, which five books would you choose to hide?

Hmmmm, I’ve been reading a lot about psychosis and the NHS for book two, so I’d say This is going to Hurt by Adam Kay, An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, Asylum by Patrick McGrath, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell and I’ve just read Steven King On Writing again which is totally brilliant for any budding writers.

If you were an Easter egg, what kind would you be?

A Lindt Bunny, once you start you can’t stop – hopefully how my readers feel about TGITL!! 😉 

The Girl in the Letter is out now. Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2VxmQkj

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis | Friends of Bookends Reviews

The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis | Friends of Bookends Reviews

A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.

Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

Here is what our Friends of Bookends panel thought of The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis…

Angie

Who Is ‘The Girl In The Letter’?

This book took me completely by surprise. This is not my usual type of reading, I am drawn to chick-lit, romance, happy-ever-after type books which this is most definitely not. However, from the moment I picked it up and started, I found it hard to put down again.

The story begins in the past, a young girl Ivy, in a mother and baby home run by nuns commits suicide but not before getting an escape route to another one of the girls, a young eight year old by the name of Elvira.

Years later, a young journalist called Sam, a single mother living with her grandmother, finds a letter in her grandfather’s old papers and is drawn to ‘the girl in the letter’, the mystery of who she was, who she was trying to contact and why no-one would talk about the home where the girl once lived.

There are many characters involved in this book but all are interlinked, although I felt Sam’s ex was surplus to requirements, their squabbles didn’t really add anything to the story-line so could have been eliminated.The story-line was carefully drawn out in a way that made you want to keep going, it was never laboured nor rushed, just the right amount of suspense to ensure the pages kept turning.

However, the twist at the end took me by surprise and I was so reluctant to put this down, I stayed up late just to finish it.

“A stunning debut novel from this author and I will eagerly await her next book.”

Francine

The Girl in the Letter deals with a harrowing and shocking  account of unmarried girls in the 50s. Based in true life events the novel switches between past and present, whilst also switching narratives. For me, this caused a great deal of confusion. I couldn’t recall who knew who and who was related to whom. This was a debut novel from the daughter of the well known late Penny Vincenzi, and I think, unfortunately, it showed.

The pace of the chapters and the subject matter had me returning to the book whenever I had chance and Emily Gunnis obviously had done her research.  The cruelty of the nuns and doctors, of the hold they had over the girls, beggars belief. However, I thought it had a number of issues that jarred and tested the credibility of the read.

Without giving any spoilers, I thought the mistaking of identities was a stretch, the so called natural/accidental deaths when recounted, were questionable.

There were interesting strands to this story but for me to have fully engaged it needed me to like the characters. Whilst naturally having sympathy for Ivy, Sam provoked annoyance, even dislike. She wanted to find  the truth, but she seemed ruthless in the pursuit. Using the worker at the derelict site, Nana (who was portrayed as an ancient  woman in her sixties which I took exception to, being in that category myself), and especially Fred who she knew had a soft spot for her.

I didn’t see the point of Kitty having the footballer as a boyfriend and Fred’s climbing experience coming in handy did seem too convenient and far fetched as a rescue. In the end Fred saved the day though Sam took the  credit. The events of story were worthy to be told, but the mystery elements were a let done. A worthwhile read, buy not without it’s faults.

Angela

International Women’s Day had just passed when I began to read The Girl in the Letter... It was a crashing reminder of the inequality of life just two or three generations ago. The Girl in the Letter tells a fictional story based on the very real and very cruel experience of unmarried mothers in the 1950s. These ‘fallen’ and ‘shamed’ women are abandoned by their families to the horror’s of Saint Margaret’s, while the men – equal partners in this ‘shame’ carry on with their lives unscathed.

The reader is pulled behind the locked gates and doors of St Margaret’s via letters found by journalist Sam, who becomes intrigued by the story of Ivy and Elvira: The Girl in the Letter. There are many layers to this story, both modern-day and from years past.

“I found myself truly absorbed by this story of cruelty, made more poignant by the knowledge that places like St Margaret’s truly existed.”

I found that the book had a relatively slow start and I was eager to know more about Ivy and Elvira, to the point where I became irritated by Sam’s modern-day story. Author Emily Gunnis cleverly drops clues and scraps of information throughout the novel, implying that the past and present may be linked. Personally, I didn’t enjoy this aspect as I prefer not to speculate as I read. However, I am aware that I am probably in a minority and therefore I think most readers will really enjoy the speculation as the story races to a heart-stopping conclusion. It’s hard to say that you ‘enjoy’ a book with this kind of content, but I was thoroughly immersed in the story and invested in the characters. Harrowing, thought-provoking, and highly recommended.

Linda

I was fortunate to read The Girl in the Letter in one sitting on a long haul flight because it’s such an interesting and compelling narrative and deserves concentrated and complete attention.

The Girl in the Letter is a magnificent story, filled with pain, genuine cruelty and a scarily plausible setting of St Margaret’s home for unmarried mothers. So well researched, many of the events are terrifyingly shocking.

The Girl in the Letter was not quite what I was expecting. I had anticipated an emotional and touching story, but I hadn’t reckoned on quite such a roller coaster read of exciting plot, enmeshed narrative strands and fast paced story telling. I was completely captivated from start to finish.

I loved the skilful characterisation. Emily Gunnis understands the complexity of personality and identity and how humans crave live and recognition.

The setting of St Margaret’s, and indeed, the competitive and pressured newsroom in which Sam works, both have a wonderful level of authenticity so that it easy easy to picture the scenes in my mind.

What I found so fascinating about the characterisation in The Girl in the Letter was that although Sam is the conduit through whom all the action is brought together, I didn’t find her as fascinating as the other characters. I think this is because even the most secondary people in the story are plausible and scarily familiar from scandals in recent history. I can imagine The Girl in the Letter might make uncomfortable reading for some!

I loved The Girl in the Letter. Emily Gunnis transported me to another time and place so utterly brilliantly that I won’t forget this book for a very long time.

Tim

I really enjoyed this debut novel, although I thought at times it rambled too much, I felt Ivy’s letters were too long. Sam and Kitty are the leading characters although the staff and associates of St Margaret’s home were a constant brooding and menacing presence that you could never get away from. 

The horrors of the mother and baby home were painful to read, but so well written and regrettably believable and are at the very centre of the story as we relive the lives and deaths of the twins and Ivy learning at the same time about a host of other bit part players, I particularly liked Fred, Sam’s love struck colleague. There’s scope for a follow-up featuring these two.

The real sadness of the book are the countless mothers and babies abused or worse in the name of the Catholic church in places like St Margaret’s.

The Sisterhood by Daisy Buchanan

The Sisterhood by Daisy Buchanan

For fans of Bryony Gordon and Dolly Alderton, The Sisterhood is an honest and hilarious book which celebrates the ways in which women connect with each other.

‘My five sisters are the only women I would ever kill for. And they are the only women I have ever wanted to kill.’

Imagine living between the pages of Pride And Prejudice, in the Bennett household. Now, imagine how the Bennett girls as they’d be in the 21st century – looking like the Kardashian sisters, but behaving like the Simpsons. This is the house Daisy Buchanan grew up in,

Daisy’s memoir The Sisterhood explores what it’s like to live as a modern woman by examining some examples close to home – her adored and infuriating sisters. There’s Beth, the rebellious contrarian; Grace, the overachiever with a dark sense of humour; Livvy, the tough girl who secretly cries during adverts; Maddy, essentially Descartes with a beehive; and Dotty, the joker obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race and bears.

In this tender, funny and unflinchingly honest account Daisy examines her relationship with her sisters and what it’s made up of – friendship, insecurity jokes, jealousy and above all, love – while celebrating the ways in which women connect with each other and finding the ways in which we’re all sisters under the skin.

The Hideaway by Sheila O’Flanagan

The Hideaway by Sheila O’Flanagan

The breathtaking novel from Sunday Times bestselling Sheila O’Flanagan

What would you do if you discovered you were living a lie?

When a shocking news report shatters Juno Ryan’s world, she suddenly finds herself without the man she loves – and with no way of getting the answers she needs.

Juno flees to the enchanting Villa Naranja in Spain. The blue skies and orange groves – along with Pep, the local winemaker’s handsome son – begin to soothe her broken heart. But just when she begins to feel whole again, another bombshell drops.

Juno might have run away from her secrets, but the past isn’t finished with her…

The Hideaway is out in paperback now. Buy here.

Read an exclusive extract from The Gift of Friends by Emma Hannigan

Read an exclusive extract from The Gift of Friends by Emma Hannigan

From the Number One bestselling author Emma Hannigan comes her new novel, The Gift of Friends, a magical story of love, friendship and hope.

Kingfisher Road – a leafy, peaceful street in the town of Vayhill. But there are whispers behind closed doors. Who is moving into Number 10?

Engaged to handsome, wealthy Justin Johnston, Danielle appears to her new neighbours to have the perfect, glossy life. But not everything is as it seems…

In fact, each of the other four women who live close by has a secret, and each is nursing their own private heartache.

But could a gift be waiting on their doorsteps? And, by opening their front doors, and their hearts, to each other, could the women of Kingfisher Road discover all the help they need?

Read the extract here: The Gift of Friends Extract

Buy The Gift of Friends here.

International Women’s Day 2019 special: Q&A with Sheila O’Flanagan

International Women’s Day 2019 special: Q&A with Sheila O’Flanagan

International Women’s Day 2019 is on Friday 8th March and to mark this very special day, we interviewed Sheila O’Flanagan, author of The Hideaway.

Who is your favourite female character to have written and why?

Asking me to pick a favourite female character from all the ones I’ve written is a little like asking a parent to pick a favourite child. I love them all equally in different ways. Of the last few books I’ve written, one of the most satisfying stories to tell was that of Imogen in The Missing Wife. I’m really pleased that women are now speaking far more openly about coercive control and emotional abuse in relationships. It’s good that a wider conversation about this has begun too, and that we are more and more able to recognise gaslighting when it takes place. There’s still a belief in some places that only weaker people are gaslighted or emotionally abused, and with Imogen I was able to explore how this happens to women who are fundamentally strong too.

My most recent heroine, Juno (The Hideaway) is also a woman with inner strength but she has to separate herself from family and friends to rediscover it. It’s essential that women don’t feel like failures when something goes wrong in their lives; but we have a tendency to blame ourselves and ask ourselves what we did wrong, rather than accept that some things are not our fault. Juno’s story of recovery is another that was important to me to write.

Which female writers inspire you?

Today I am most inspired by women who write to give enjoyment and pleasure to the reader and who portray the female characters in their books as rounded people with their own aspirations and opinions. I’m a fan of Jodi Picoult, who tackles moral dilemmas in her work and gets to the heart of the problem with skill and humour; I love Joanne Harris’s mesmerising writing and complex characters; and I’m in awe of Cecilia Ahern, who allows fantasy and reality to collide in so many different ways in her writing.

What advice would you give to your 16-year-old self?

Believe in your own ability and don’t listen to people who insist there’s only one way to do anything. Realise that someone may be in a position of authority not because of their talent but because they were more confident and more assertive than others around them. Don’t settle for second best. (Also, buy Apple shares – Steve Jobs was a genius and you will use and love most of their products in your personal and professional life. If you buy a slice of the company now you won’t have to worry about the pension fund later on!)

Who is your favourite literary heroine and why?

The first character in literature that I totally identified with was Joey Bettany in the Chalet School series. I had bad asthma when I was young and I immediately bonded with Joey, whose ‘weak chest’, and constant colds and coughs, mirrored my own situation. When she was well, though, Joey was a tomboy, fearless, brave and occasionally recklessly silly (just like me). Even more than that, she wanted to be a writer, and by the end of the series of books she had achieved her dream. Never underestimate the importance of strong female characters in children’s books, and how they can help shape our lives.

Which writers are doing a great job of representing the female experience in their work?

I hope I do because it’s always been very important to me that women are represented as characters with multi-stranded lives. Family and relationships matter to us, but so do many other aspects of our lives. I think writers like Marian Keyes show this with the additional advantage of bringing humour to the mix. Holly Bourne’s YA and adult books brilliantly show the pressures that young women in particular are under today. And of course, the fantastic Margaret Atwood has always written believable, strong female characters – the fact that her most famous work, The Handmaid’s Tale, shows a dystopian future for women but is based on things that have happened and are still happening in real life should be a warning to us never to be complacent about the achievements we’ve made.

Sheila’s book, The Hideaway, is out in paperback now. You can buy it here.

The Hideaway
Read the first chapter of The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis

Read the first chapter of The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis

Perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Kathryn Hughes, this gripping novel of long-buried secrets will stay with you for ever.

A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.

1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.

Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late. 
Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…

Read her letter. Remember her story…

Read the prologue and first chapter here: The Girl in the Letter extract

The Girl in the Letter

Buy The Girl in the Letter here

Jelly Tot Cakes: Half-term fun!

Jelly Tot Cakes: Half-term fun!

In need of some half-term activity inspiration? Then look no further, as we have this exclusive recipe for Jelly Tot cakes, straight from the queen of baking herself, Mary Berry. This recipe is kid-friendly, and not to mention fun! You can find recipes like this and more in Fast Cakes by Mary Berry.

Jelly Tot Cakes

These tiny cakes are made in petits fours paper cases. They are so small that children can eat several at a time and seem to enjoy the novelty of them more than a large fairy cake or bun. My grandchildren enjoy helping to make these, particularly putting the sweets on top.

Download the recipe here: Jelly Tot Cakes


Recipe taken from Fast Cakes by Mary Berry.

Mary Berry Fast Cakes