As a child, I made my own toys. Growing up in a very large family, money for toys was non-existent, but ingenuity was plentiful. A sturdy branch, dragged from the nearby wood and threaded through a wooden fence, became a seesaw. Empty cocoa tins, and cans became a shop, or containers for mud pies, or skittles for the boys. And coats became dolls. The arms were tied in the front, and pulled round to the back. A scarf tied under the upturned collar formed a neck and head, and the vent at the back formed legs! Never short of real babies in the family, we had plenty of cast-offs that we could dress our ‘dolls’ in. We loved them as if they were real. Having to make do and mend, fuels the imagination.

Mary Wood

Mary Wood

One of my ancestors was cheated out of the family fortune. My great, great, grandfather was the favourite of his very wealthy maternal grandfather and stood to inherit his vast fortune. However, in pursuit of his chosen career, he went to India in the service of The East Indian Company. There he married the daughter of the Governor of Chinsurah. He wrote to his grandfather telling of his marriage, but the letter didn’t arrive. His jealous cousin took the opportunity of discrediting him. He told the grandfather that the marriage was to a lowly woman. Something that mattered in the class divide days of our history. Poor great, great grandfather was cut out of the will and his cousin inherited everything. With some of his ill-gotten fortune, the cousin went on to build a castle in the Brecon Beacons called, Craig y Nos, which today is run as a hotel.   

There are over two hundred descendants of my mum and dad. Many happy moments, but also many sad as the law of averages will dictate. Until a recent bereavement, over a hundred of us have gathered at my eldest sister’s house each year – not always the same hundred. These occasions have been the highlight of our family, keeping us in touch and meeting new members. I am a great, great Aunt, many times over.

I have contributed many to my large family. Married, almost fifty four years ago at the age of seventeen. I am the mother of four, grandmother of eight, plus five add-ons, and great grandmother to twenty, plus three add-ons – add-ons are those who came with partners who had been in a relationship before joining our family. All are treated the same, as to us, they are all precious.

I never give up. A trait that helped me to recover from ME and sustained me through twice being hit by breast cancer. Through the long months of being in a wheelchair, when ME sucked my mind and body into an abyss of fog and jelly-like limbs, I strove to recover. Each day, I set myself, and achieved, a goal. I increased, the difficulty of these as I went, until I could once more cope with life. When cancer struck, overcoming the shock of my first encounter, was easier than my second, as I was left intact after a small operation to send it on its way. When it came back fourteen years later and claimed one of my breasts I was left feeling maimed and less of a woman. Fighting back wasn’t easy, but I did regain a sense of myself, thankful to have been saved.

I wrote my first full-length novel by hand, in 1989. After writing my second and having them both rejected, I began work on my third. I had so much faith in this one, that I spent fifteen years, writing and rewriting it – between working full time, that is. Character led, it went through changes of title, and style, and from being written in a very broad northern accent to a smattering of the dialect. And though rejected by agents, when I self-published it as an ebook, it went to number one in genre and stayed in the top ten for fifteen months. This book was my learning curve – now I write three books a year!

I’ve had a number of careers before becoming a writer. After a variety of jobs, from cleaning, to managing hotels, I took a course in office skills and became a Temp. This led to a ten year career in the Probation Service, starting in admin and working up to becoming a Probation Service Officer. My experiences in this job, gives my writing its gritty edge. I cannot paper over bad things that happen in life. Because, I know that life can be raw, emotions torn to shreds, and despair a reality. I write about life as it really was/is – though always end with happiness, or a hope of it.

I love to travel for my writing. My journeys for research have taken me to Germany, Poland, Zakopane, Auschwitz, The Somme, Normandy, Dunkirk, Bletchley Park, and London’s East End. And for my Northern Sagas, to The Trough of Bowland, Upper Mill, where I saw a working cotton mill. Leeds, and Blackburn. Now, I am planning trips to Dublin and Guernsey.  

My claim to fame. I once snogged Les Dawson – unintentionally. It happened after a dinner-show. Les stood in the bar after his performance, and my husband asked if he would have his photo taken with me. Les approached me, making ‘come here’ gestures with his hands and puckering his lips in that exaggerated way that he had. I was in fits, so when he suddenly grabbed me, I thought I was going to fall, and I grabbed his neck. To my embarrassment my lips smacked into his. Poor Les, didn’t have much choice but to kiss me. My hubby took it all in good part, snapping away with his camera!

I go to Spain every winter. I have a writing retreat in Spain. I love my time there, and can feel the stresses of everyday life melt from me the moment I enter, and am embraced by this lovely country. This is where I do most of my writing, having done my research and armed with that and the synopses for each book I plan to write, I feel part of the world, and not shut away in my bedroom office as I am at home. Here I am given endless sunny days when I can sit on the patio, or even on the beach, and type away on my laptop, while my husband sits with me reading his paper. Bliss. 

Brighter Days Ahead by Mary Wood is available now, published by Pan in paperback, priced £6.99