The Halfpenny Girls at War by Maggie Mason – three young women face their greatest tests from 1939 onwards

The Halfpenny Girls at War by Maggie Mason 

The Halfpenny girls are back – and this time it’s war. Three young women, Alice, Edith and Marg have grown up in the same street in Blackpool, but now it’s October 1939 and War has broken out. This entertaining and involving series of books has now reached its third novel, and for the three women who have witnessed and experienced so much in the past few years they are now beginning to be separated by circumstance and indeed love. This book could well work as a standalone picture of the sort of problems faced by women on the Home Front, not all of which are obvious. The author, Maggie Mason, also writes as Mary Wood, and has amassed a vast amount of knowledge of the background of women such as her main characters, and this certainly adds to the authentic feel of this book. Not that it is in any sense a dry narrative of what happened; Maggie has a real talent for creating and maintaining vivid characters who inhabit the pages of her books even when facing seemingly daunting and impossible problems. Their concerns, their clothes, the settings in the street and now wider areas contribute to a sense of fascinating reality. Not that the story is confined to the three women – a younger sister Jackie is also shown as having found love and appalling circumstances. This is a vibrant and entertaining book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

As the book begins Marg, Alice and Edith are sitting on the doorstep drinking hot chocolate which has been their habit growing up. Marg is about to marry Clive, and while things have slotted into place in terms of a suitable house big enough for Clive, his two sons, Gran and Jackie to fit into, it involves moving away from the only home she has ever known in Whittaker Avenue. Edith is struggling as her husband Philip is already away on war work. She has taken in three young evacuees from the East End, and while she is deeply attached to them they have come from difficult backgrounds and she has had to use all her developing teaching skills to get them settled into a new environment. Alice meanwhile is resolved to train in more than just basic first aid, especially as her doctor husband is so busy locally but may have to go elsewhere. Although Edith is also on the move, it is a rush job as so much was in wartime, but there is a band of friends to help. As each woman, including Jackie, goes on to face problems of various kinds, each is supported by the others and their families, real and acquired. 

The book does venture beyond Blackpool, but the love and help travels with people. Indeed, that is the central point of this book, that although the three women began with little, with few resources and difficult backgrounds, they have each made the best of their situations so far, and continue to do so throughout this final novel. Although an individual situation may seem bleak, each one can call on the other for emotional and practical support. The demands of war on the women and all the characters can be painful, involving separations and more, but this is a novel of community and the sort of family that can come together over a long and difficult time. This is a highly successful and very readable novel that I really enjoyed, and I recommend it to all readers who enjoy strong female led fiction set in the past. 

The Halfpenny Girls at Christmas by Maggie Mason – a book of friendship, love and loyalty

The Halfpenny Girls at Christmas: A heart-warming and nostalgic festive family saga - the perfect winter read! by [Maggie Mason]

The Halfpenny Girls at Christmas by Maggie Mason 

The three young women at the centre of this book have already been introduced in a previous novel, but such is the skill of the author in this case that it works as an excellent standalone read of friendship and loyalty. Alice, Edith and Marg have faced stiff challenges as they have grown up on a back street of Blackpool, but their strong friendship and loyalty have kept each young woman going throughout each trauma. Beginning in December 1938, this is a time of struggle for many families, as people have fought to come through a “Great War” and a depression which has made the lot of the poor even worse. Even though their friendship has always been strong despite their very real poverty in the past, this novel tells of trials that mean each of the three young women are torn by their own circumstances into new paths through life, especially as the shadow of a second war comes closer, and everyone knows that sacrifices will be needed. This is a skillfully written novel which certainly draws the reader in and maintains their interest throughout, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The three girls are together walking towards the prom in Blackpool in the cold winter weather. Alice, now married and pregnant with her first child, wears a warm coat, one of several she has to choose from in her secure home away from the street where the three young women grew up. Edith has had to move from her childhood home after a terrible incident which left her alone, but she is financially assisted by her caring fiance to help support her as she has moved into the house next to her friend Marg. Edith’s warm coat is in sharp contrast to the threadbare clothing worn by Marg, whose efforts to maintain her mother, grandmother and younger sister Jackie in their home have left her virtually penniless on this special outing. Happily Alice has more than enough money to pay for fish and chips for all three friends, and a warm drink has soon worked its magic as the girls enjoy themselves together in the community and place where they are so well known. Edith is also helping out at a sale which means that she and Alice can manage to arrange for Marg to buy warm coats for both herself and her sister Jackie from her tiny funds. Marg has continued to work part time in the local biscuit factory to pay a local woman to come in and care for her mother as a carer and help with Gran, who is losing her memories even of tragic losses. Her younger sister Jackie is a bright girl who is working with a local accountants’ firm in the office. There will be surprises for the family as Eric, who has played a part in their family for decades, is still around, and Clive, a wealthy young widower, is interested in the brave and responsible Marg. Edith has ambitions to achieve a career that will echo that of her beloved Philip’s, but feels that she must also meet the challenge of his family and a new way of speaking. Alice still has responsibilities for her brothers, and must draw on all her strength in the months to come. 

This book is so eloquent in describing how the young women’s friendship continues and develops as they are joined by partners. The novel does feature Christmas celebrations that do not always go to plan, for better and worse, and it is a book of love, loyalty and much more as families draw together to face the future. I recommend it as an immersive read.  

The Halfpenny Girls by Maggie Mason – three young women face their family problems in Blackpool together.

The Halfpenny Girls

The Halfpenny Girls by Maggie Mason

Three young women live on one of the poorest streets in Blackpool in 1937. They have become very close, even when they are down to their last few coins, partly through their work at the local biscuit factory, but also because of growing up together in tough circumstances. Alice has a violent father and three younger brothers to keep together. Marg’s Gran is losing her understanding of the present. Edith has a challenging brother and an alcoholic mother to contend with as well as a sick father. This book has its traumatic and difficult moments, but underlying everything is the friendship, even love, between the three women which extends to their families and friends as needed. A memorable night in the Tower Ballroom marks meetings that could give new hope, but how far can they trust the unknown?

Maggie Mason has created new characters in this first of a Blackpool based trilogy that linger in the mind, in a setting of a close community. As authentic aspects of life in the late 1930s are referred to, reading this book is an immersive experience of how those without many material resources struggled to cope, when the most basic healthcare cost money which could be ill afforded, when working conditions were tough and potentially dangerous, and food was relatively expensive. Despite all the challenges the women face, they maintain their closeness and mutual support, and it is this element which really runs throughout this novel. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.

The three young women meet on the way to work in Bradshaw’s biscuit factory, and it becomes immediately obvious that Alice has received a severe blow in the face from her father. This is not a mark of straightforward domestic violence, as Alice’s father was involved in rescuing a man during a significant incident in a factory, and his resulting head injury has transformed his personality. She has been trying to cope with him and her brothers ever since. Marg’s father has died, and her mother seems weakened by breathing problems. As her grandmother is likely to roam if unsupervised, she has to pay for care, as well as encouraging her younger sister to stay at school and have extra tuition which will transform her prospects. Her Uncle Eric is a frequent and unpredictable visitor, sometimes helping financially. It is his gift of a pound note that means that Marg can pay for an evening of treats for the trio, which involve visiting the heart of Blackpool and indulging in a visit to the Tower. When Alice is whirled off to dance by a handsome young man, Edith has severe reservations even though she is asked to dance as well. Only Marg is left on the side, but as they later begin to return home they discover that a “rumpus” has erupted on the street, this time involving Alice’s father who has attacked Harry, her oldest brother. Marg returns to find that her Uncle Eric’s visit has involved alcohol and cigarettes, which has left her mother in a poor state, so that Ada, a nurse and unofficial first line of care must be summoned. Edith’s streetwise brother makes observations of wealthy young men taking advantage of poor girls like Edith, but despite it all the young women have a glimmer of hope.

This is the sort of book that is so easy to become totally involved with in a good way. Edith, Marg and Alice come over as real people who are struggling to keep themselves and their families going. Mason is so well versed in this time that the story never becomes weighed down by research or explanation. As the book acknowledges the possibility of war to come, I look forward to discovering what happens next for this extended community.    

Blackpool’s Angel by Maggie Mason – a saga of a woman’s fight to survive in late nineteenth century Blackpool


This is the story of Tilly, a total transformation in her fortunes, and of those closest to her. Beginning in Blackpool in 1893, she lives in a small home with her beloved husband Arthur and her small twin girls, Babs and Beth. Arthur is working on the iconic Tower, and all seems to be well until a tragic accident robs Tilly of all support, financial and emotional. Her efforts to use her undoubted skill in basket weaving are met with all sorts of disappointments, and it seems that her best efforts to support herself and her daughters are doomed to failure. Worst still, within a short time her reputation is lost, and both old and new friends turn their backs on her. 


This is the story of a young woman in a close community whose physical attractions are her undoing for most of the novel, as people, especially men, are quick to jump to conclusions about what she truly wants. She is intelligent, loyal and loving, but her innocence and trusting nature can let her down. Later there are other traits which damage her, but this is a book of female strength and the loyalty of female friends. It has much to say on attitudes to both individuals and groups of people, and how wrong assumptions can damage and destroy. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book that I actually read it in one quite long sitting.


The dialogue in this novel from the beginning reflects a very distinctive accent and voice. It is the voice of Blackpool, as this is very much a book with a sense of place, not just in the character’s determination to stay in the north east, but in the whole picture of life outside London. It shows the strong voice of women in ordering their lives and that of their children, while also depicts their vulnerability especially when their reputation is in question. 


There are moments of real beauty here, as the author describes the traditional practices of gypsies and their celebrations, clan structures, and ways of earning a living when public opinion is against them. It shows the way that life in domestic service, though usually for the long term, can be precarious and have a devastating effect when lost. This is a book which talks about the small things of daily life at the very end of the nineteenth century in provincial Britain, such as what a family in reduced circumstances would eat, and how sanitary arrangements actually worked. This insight is either the result of good research, or simply excellent background knowledge, and gives this book a sound basis.


This book is actually the first of the Sandgronians Trilogy which will be largely set in Blackpool, which is a favourite location for this author. According to the author in her letter, other volumes will spread the focus to France and elsewhere in Britain, but still find its way back to Blackpool. This book would probably be best defined as a saga, and it is a fine example of a historical and fictional account of a significant portion of a woman’s life. It is a book which succeeds in bringing to life the story of a vulnerable, attractive and determined woman, who is forced by circumstances to reassess her priorities and how best to survive. It is a memorable and immensely readable book, which immerses the reader in a world different from the present day, but still containing elements familiar to women today. 

Blackpool’s Daughter by Maggie Mason – Wartime challenges and the strength of love

Blackpool’s Daughter by Maggie Mason


Evacuees in the Second World War often had a challenging time; Clara in this novel suffers more than most. Exiled from a pre invasion Guernsey, she at least escapes from the uncomfortable atmosphere on the island as her single mother, Julia, has fought valiantly to bring her up in the face of slights over her unmarried status. Neatly suggesting that Guernsey was a large village isolated from the mainland for the spread of gossip, the novel speedily carries the reader away from the island as Julia follows her daughter and it is only then that the action begins. This novel exposes the truth of losing people in the chaos of the homefront, when telephones were still relatively rare and the postal system affected by various factors ; that it was possible for people to lose touch with loved ones. While this book has several moments of terror and sudden loss, it also features great love and the sense of family that probably did overcome much in communities affected by war in so many ways. It shows how women had to endure separation from loved ones, new ways of life which were frequently hard, the reality of pregnancy without the presence of fathers and so many other dangers; this is not a book of bombing and blitz but of the harsh realities of life in supposedly safe areas. I really appreciated the truth of the characters in this novel, as they seek ways to live in challenging times. An effortlessly readable novel, it kept me reading into the small hours as I literally could not wait to discover what became of people I had been introduced to by this talented author. I was very glad to be given the opportunity to read and review this book as part of the tour.


Clara is only thirteen when she travels alone to England and safety from the imminent invasion. An overwhelmed system sees her sent to Blackpool and the cruelty over Miss Brandon who runs a shop. While she makes one or two friends who will help her to cope, she also learns quickly that it is difficult to know who to trust in a Blackpool where secret forces control daily life and rule by fear. Meanwhile thanks to the generosity of a older islander, Julia buys the last place on the final evacuation boat from the island, and rushes to London to reclaim her daughter. She is also reconciled with a friend, Rhoda, but the two women discover that their daughters have been sent from London to an unknown town. Julia and Rhoda enlist as land girls in order to travel north in the hope of tracking the girls, but country life brings its own temptations and terrors as a jealous wife seeks revenge. Meanwhile Clara becomes entrapped by a series of circumstances and must show enormous courage to survive and thrive.


This is a book with a complex plot in some ways, as human experience is rarely uncomplicated, and there are times when the drama edges towards the extreme. However, the undeniable strength of the characters always saves the narrative, and I relished the way that friends and minor characters helped save the day, even when all seemed lost. I liked the way that Daisy continued to help, and this book places great emphasis on the power of relationships forged in adversity. Read this book for the characters, the survival of love, and the hope of a better and fulfilled life which survives may challenges.   


We have just returned from seeing the film “Red Joan”, which was excellent. It featured some excellent shots of Cambridge, including a college tower that I once fell down when descending the stairs….Judi Dench was predictably very good, but we really enjoyed the flashbacks ( very substantial) to the 1940s which were beautifully acted and filmed. A really good film, and highly recommended. Now to find a copy of the book on which it is based, somewhere upstairs…