Welcome to Mary Wood: “Writing Gritty Content in a Novel”

Guest post by historical fiction author Mary Wood

Lovers of gritty historical fiction, I’m happy to announce that my colleague and friend, Mary Wood, is my guest today. I’m part of her blog tour for the release of the stunning “Brighter Days Ahead“, a moving story set against the backdrop of the Second World War, from the author of “In Their Mother’s Footsteps”:

War pulled them apart, but can it bring them back together?

Molly lives with her repugnant father, who has betrayed her many times. From a young age, living on the streets of London’s East End, she has seen the harsh realities of life . . . When she’s kidnapped by a gang and forced into their underworld, her future seems bleak. Flo spent her early years in an orphanage, and is about to turn her hand to teacher training. When a kindly teacher at her school approaches her about a job at Bletchley Park, it could be everything she never knew she wanted. Will the girls’ friendship be enough to weather the hard times ahead?

She agreed to do a special topic for me, which is close to my heart and I find very interesting to explore:

What gives her novels a gritty edge?

This is something I can so relate to: histfic, or any fiction at all, needs some grit and realism to be convincing, it mustn’t avoid or tiptoe around difficult issues. This is totally what Mary’s novels deliver: gritty, enchanting, emotional stories that keep you hooked and draw you in. Like me, she doesn’t shy away from violence or sensuality, but always keeps it at a level that is tasteful and well written.
Please be so kind and welcome this awesome writer to my blog today!

Mary Wood

Mary Wood

Over to you , Mary, and we wish your novel the success it deserves! 

Mary Wood: “I have often been called a ‘gritty writer’ and so have adopted the title with pride, as to me, it means that I am staying true to life. Everything in life isn’t rosy. Terrible things happen, and even more so, in the era that I set my stories, which can be any time from the mid nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century.

And, as my main characters are women, this period is when they had no voice. When it was considered that there was no such thing as rape and domestic violence was a man’s right to keep his missus in check. A time during which two world wars were fought, valiantly so by the men, as they took up arms, but women too, stepped up and not only kept the home fires burning, but many took on dangerous missions as Special Operations Executives – a posh name for, spies. These women worked behind enemy lines with resistance workers, and many were captured and executed. Others went to the front and risked their lives, to nurse the wounded.

Writing about such women, I feel that I cannot paper over what they went through. Nor can I short change my readers – I have to tell it as it is.

Therefore, if one of my characters is being raped, or beaten, or there is a murder, or, as in my war-based sagas, a character who is a spy, has been captured and is being tortured, or, a nurse is working with blood and gore in terrible conditions, then I want my readers to feel every part of the agony and fear that these women felt, as if they were going through the trauma themselves.

My main influence in this stems from me working for the Probation Service for ten years. During that time, I came across some heinous crimes. I didn’t always have to deal directly with the perpetrators, but was involved in some way with them and knew every detail of the crime committed.

I also knew the impact these crimes had on the victims and their families. And so, it used to sicken me to read a small piece in the local paper, maybe, in the side column, saying: ‘Girl Raped, Man Charged.’ And then a small piece that many would skim over before turning to the sport pages. I wanted it to be headline news. I wanted the world to know how the girl was dragged into an alleyway, beaten, had her clothes torn off her, and vile acts committed against her. And how she was left in a pool of blood. How she hadn’t stopped shaking since it happened, and how her shame was eating her alive. Or, in the case of domestic violence, I saw the bruises. I saw the diminishing of the woman, until she thought of herself as nothing.

Nowhere in my books will you read a scene that papers over such happenings. Nor will you be told in retrospect, how a woman felt when she was with a party of resistance workers ready to blow up a train carrying German soldiers, or how it felt to be in a prison of war camp. You will be there, lying in the mud, cold, afraid, but ready to carry out the task, and, if in that camp, you will know what the pain of hunger is, and see and fear for the men and women that were your neighbours being taken into the gas chamber, or if a spy, hear the screams of your comrades as they undergo torture. You will face that gun pointed at your head.

Other content, that I am given the title of ‘gritty writer’ for, is scenes of a sexual nature. Again, I don’t baulk at writing these scenes, or shut the bedroom door on them, however, I am not explicit. Even I find that to be so, is cringe-making.
I am more sensual. I write about the sensations, and the desire, as well as the fulfilment. But shy at naming intimate parts, or describing them.

Whatever I write about, I want to stay true to how it really is/was. I feel I owe that to the reader, and more especially to the victims – to those who truly went through the horror of crime or war, and so, yes, I am proud to be called a gritty writer.

Thank you, Sarah, for inviting me to guest on your blog. Much love to you and to all your followers, Mary Wood”


“Brighter Days Ahead” is available now from all good bookshops. Anyone wanting to read more about Mary or see reviews for the book should take a look at the blog tour poster for all her appearances, or go Pan Macmillan.


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