‘A great book, truly hard to put down. Fast paced, brilliantly plotted and desperately sad at times – all hallmarks of a bestseller’ Lesley Pearse on The Girl in the Letter
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…
Click here to buy The Girl In The Letter
Is like to thank Anne Cater and Emily Gunnis for inviting me on to this blog tour.
I’m excited to welcome Emily in to blog today with her fantastic guest post …
My inspiration for The Girl in the Letter
Although I didn’t start writing it until much more recently, inspiration for The Girl in the Letter was born along with my daughter Grace eight years ago. I remember seeing a film in my twenties called the Magdalene Sisters and it having a profound effect on me. The idea that nuns, people who are supposed to be caring and loving, could be so cruel as to physically rip a baby from it’s mother – and have it adopted against her will – really stayed with me. But it wasn’t until having my own child, that I realised it would be something you would never get over.
So many women who have been forced to give up a baby, never recovered. So much so that they physically couldn’t have any more children, such was the effect of their deeply profound grief on their bodies. A great many women, hundreds of thousands in the UK, who did go on to have families afterwards, never spoke a word of their ordeal to anyone. As Ivy says to Elvira in her opening letter, ‘A mother cannot forget her baby any more than a baby can forget her mother.’ Indeed the bond between mother and child begins a long time before a child is born, in fact babies in the womb actively listen to their mother’s voice during the last ten weeks of pregnancy.
I remember vividly, after a three day labour, the doctors taking Grace away from me because she was having trouble breathing. I was looking over at her, surrounded by a wonderful team of doctors and midwives trying to get her to breathe. I felt very weak but all I cared about was her. I just remember I kept calling out, ‘Is she okay, is she okay?’ My husband said, everyone was around Grace and ignoring you and then you fainted and everyone was suddenly around you.
Can you imagine how I would have felt, how any mother would feel, if they’d taken her away and I’d never seen her again? Her being on the other side of the room was bad enough! To carry a baby for nine months, go through the physical and mental ordeal that is child birth and then; gone. Never know if she’s okay, happy, sad, cold, fed? There is a saying that a mother is only as happy as its unhappiest child, where does that leave you if you have no idea? You’d be lost.
Twins was the second, huge influence. The whole nature/nurture debate has always fascinated me. As a mother, the endless worry begins from day one; whether your decisions are the right ones, if you raised them differently, would they turn out to be happier, more successful, more fulfilled? When I was pregnant with my second daughter Ellie, who was eleven pounds when she was born – (naturally I might add, it did smart a bit) – people kept asking me, rather helpfully, if I had another one in there? What it would be like to have twins began to interest me. Maybe the scan was wrong, maybe I was carrying two babies. I found myself reading a lot about twins, and came across an article about sisters who had been separated at birth and never knew that the other one existed. When they were reunited, they had so much in common, similar mannerisms, similar husbands. But what I found the most fascinating was that they had led very different lives. One had been adopted by a rich family, went to private school, had tennis lessons, lived in a big house, the other twin had been kept by her very hard up birth mother, who was an alcoholic and had a dreadful time. How do you cope with being handed such a dreadful lot in life while your twin has been given everything on a silver platter? Just because of one moment in time, a split second when someone reached out and picked them from the cot instead of you. The hand of fate.
Around this time a film called Philomena came out, and with it a number of articles in the papers about mother and baby homes including an interview with Steven O’Riordan who has campaigned for many years for justice for the hundreds of thousands of women incarcerated in Ireland’s Magdalene laundries. This subject matter seemed to be speaking to me, and I started digging. I was fascinated to discover that mother and baby homes were not exclusive to Ireland, far from it. By 1968, there were a total of 172 known homes for unmarried mothers in England, the majority run by religious bodies. With an all time peak in 1968 of 16,186 adoptions granted to women, many of whom were pressured into giving up their babies against their will. 1968, that’s only fifty years ago! Stories of women who never got over their ordeal seemed to be everywhere.
So the idea for The Girl in the Letter began to form in my head; twins born in a mother and baby home in Sussex and then separated, never knowing of the other’s existence. The girls, Kitty and Elvira, live very different lives, one filled with love, the other with neglect. Then one fateful night, aged eight, their paths cross setting of a chain of events which would lead to the unravelling of a sixty year mystery and expose a baby laundering industry many would rather we forgot.
All About Emily
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.
Where To Find Emily