The Home Truths Behind 'Keeping My Sisters' Secrets'

It's brilliant to see Keeping My Sisters' Secrets in the best sellers' charts in Canada, prior to its release here next week (July 27th).

The memoir, which recounts the lives of three sisters born into poverty in London's slums, reveals how one family fought for its survival. It allowed me to dig deep into family relationships, which are the inspiration for all my writing.

The 1930s  was a time of huge social and political change, as the Second World War loomed on the horizon.

Peggy, Kathleen and Eva grew up in the crime-ridden slums of Waterloo, struggling not only against grinding poverty but the ever-present threat of violence from their father.

Their story centres on the unshakeable bond of sisterhood, as they support each other through thick and thin. Bringing the streets of Lambeth to life in the book sparked some fascinating research into how poor, working class women lived in the decades between the wars, surviving without many of the things we take for granted, such as the NHS and social care.

The community could rally round in times of dire need or ostracise people it felt had transgressed, with reputations created or destroyed by street gossip. The daily battle against the filth of the factories and the smogs of London, in homes without electricity or hot water meant that a woman's work really never was done - yet the front step had to be sparkling and the man's shirts neatly pressed or the neighbours would talk.

Eva, the feisty youngest sister, starts out stealing to help feed the family, after witnessing her mother suffering yet another beating when the housekeeping runs short, but finds herself drawn into the dangerous but glamorous world of the Forty Thieves shoplifting gang, which pillage many a West End department store.

Peggy, the studious eldest sister is so appalled by the conditions endured by women around her, in factories and in the home, that she becomes a Communist and is increasingly involved in the fight against Oswald Mosley and his fascist Blackshirts.

Kathleen, the middle child, is the most beautiful and dreams of being a star in the theatres across the River Thames but finds her spirit crushed first by the daily grind of life in the jam factory and then by the handsome boxer she wrongly believes will be a loving husband.

Seeing how Peggy, Kathleen and Eva coped during the war, facing up to the choices they made in the past and fearing for their futures, really brought home to me that love is the one constant in an ever-changing world.

Keeping My Sister's Secrets is due to be published in paperback by PanMacmillan on July 27th and is available for pre-order now.


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