Ahead of the publication of her twenty-fifth book, The Poppy Girls, Margaret Dickinson reflects on her career as a bestselling author and shares the story behind her new series.
2018 is a year for mixed feelings. The Poppy Girls is my twenty-fifth saga to be published by Pan Macmillan and so gives me a huge reason to celebrate. It is also the first novel in The Maitland Trilogy so I have no intention of retiring! It has been an incredible 25 years. With the constant support of my agent, Darley Anderson, and all the team at Pan Macmillan, we (and I mean all of us) have worked our way up the bestseller lists to appear in the Sunday Times Top Ten on five occasions with three different books.
But this year is also a time for reflection. I first visited Ypres, Belgium, in 2014 with the hope of finding inspiration for a novel set in The Great War. I returned home with the idea for a trilogy and at that point decided that the most appropriate date to publish the first book would be 2018 in commemoration of the end of the war. So, I returned to Ypres in 2016. Visiting the many cemeteries in that area and attending the evening services at the Menin Gate were moving, yet inspirational, experiences. Never have the words ‘Lest We Forget’ seemed more poignant. Several of the stories I heard on these two trips have found their way into the narrative, though altered to fit my fictional characters and also to avoid writing about real people.
The Maitland Trilogy follows two families in a small Lincolnshire village. The Maitlands live at the hall whilst the Dawsons run the local wheelwright, blacksmith and carpentry business. But their lives are intertwined as Alice Dawson is lady’s maid to Mrs Maitland and her daughter, Pips. In The Poppy Girls, Pips, her doctor brother, Robert, and Giles, his friend from medical school, join a flying ambulance corps close to the fighting. Alice accompanies her young mistress as does one of her four brothers, William, who will act as a stretcher bearer. After the horrors of the war, the second book, The Brooklands Girls, sees both families struggling to cope with the aftermath and also with the turbulent times of the 1920s and 1930s. The final novel, The Spitfire Girls, sees the next generation caught up in yet another world war.