Sheffield readers: win a signed copy of Margaret Dickinson’s latest novel
It has become one of the most famous sites of World War II, the once-secret base where staff from across all walks of life worked tirelessly to crack the German communications that would prove pivotal in ending the conflict
Now the fascinating history of Bletchley Park has been brought back to life as the setting for the latest war-time saga by best-selling writer Margaret Dickinson.
It was a place she had been keen to explore after writing a character in a previous novel, who set off to work there.
“My first inspiration for this came when I was writing the previous book, The Spitfire Sisters, and one of my subsidiary characters went to work at Bletchley,” she explained. “It intrigues me that men and women from all sorts of backgrounds across the country went there to do their bit for the war, and they were all focused on what they were going to be doing.
“There was also a strong secrecy element – they couldn’t tell their families where they were or what they were doing, they all had to sign Official Secrets Act, all of their communications were read and their families and loved ones had to write to the foreign office in London, as the locations had to be kept secret.
“A lot of the people who worked there never told anyone in their family about it, and it wasn’t until about 30 years after the war that information started to come out. When I did a little bit of research it intrigued me, the secrecy required. So that was an important part, and then you had people from all walks of life, and the background of the war, and it just felt right.”
You can win one of five signed copies if you click here and answer the simple question.
In the novel Secrets at Bletchley Park, two young women from very different backgrounds meet in the Second World War and are plunged into a life where security and discretion are paramount.
Mattie Price, born and raised in the back streets of Sheffield, and Victoria Hamilton, used to life in the opulence of London’s Kensington, are both set on a path that will bring them together at Bletchley Park in May 1940.
An unlikely friendship between the two young women is born and together they will face the rest of the war keeping the nation’s secrets and helping to win the fight. They can tell no one, not even their families, about their work or even where they are. But keeping secrets is second nature to both of them.
While Margaret is keen to stress her works are fiction, she was still eager to properly research Bletchley Park, to ensure she got the details of the real life location correct.
“Although the novel is fiction I like to get all the background as correct as I can, and that’s the same with all the books,” she says.
“I hope it’s a tribute to the people who worked there during the war and I’d be insulting them if I didn’t get everything right.”
That proved harder than anticipated, however, after lockdown left the writer unable to visit the site in person.
“I had started this after finishing my last book, and as always I started with the characters and the story, so I had that rough draft done,” she said.
“Then just as I was starting what I would call the ‘deep’ research lockdown happened, and so I wasn’t able to go and actually visit the site.
“So I found several books, and I managed to track down a lady at Bletchley Park and she was able to answer the questions that I couldn’t. She was wonderful, sent across photographs and dates; it was something I couldn’t find in any of the books.”
While her research was hampered by lockdown, the restricted freedom did help in other ways, with the writer admitting she had finished the book quicker than she normally would.
“I did get it written quicker than I thought I would so I suppose it maybe helped,” she said. “Some authors have found it harder to write in lockdown, but I found it didn’t really alter my work.
“Like everyone I miss family and social activities of course, and I’m really missing the normal promotion work that we do when a book comes out, travelling to bookshops for signing events and seeing readers who have come back year after year. I really miss that.”
Win a copy of the book
Fans will still be able to get their hands on signed copies of the book however - and for your chance to win one of five signed copies, click here and tell us what town Bletchley Park is located in.
Terms and conditions apply. The closing date for entries is 11.59pm on Thursday, 29 April, 2021.
And while she might not be able to visit her readers in person this year, Margaret is making the best possible use of her time.
“I am already halfway through the first draft of my next book,” she said. “Fingers crossed it’s somewhere I’ll be able to visit for research soon!”