Wirksworth woman's first novel recreates her parents' wartime romance

The story of a couple’s wartime romance has been recreated by their daughter, a 67-year-old Derbyshire woman publishing her first novel.

Thursday, 6th February 2020, 12:56 pm
Updated Friday, 7th February 2020, 1:35 pm
Eileen and David Johnson on their wedding day in 1948. Now their daughter has recreated their romance in her first novel.

‘Lily’s War’ is a book that has taken journalist Shirley Mann, of Wirksworth, several years to write.

But now, it has been published to coincide with Valentine’s Day and is already earning rave reviews.

The novel is loosely based on Shirley’s parents, Eileen and David Johnson, who came from Manchester.

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Her mother became a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) wireless operator in Bomber Command and her father was a tank transporter driver in the Eighth Army. Their relationship blossomed despite a 2,000-mile gap between them.

Shirley, who worked in newspapers and BBC radio and television before retiring, undertook research that involved interviews with other WAAFs after her mother died in 2014.

She said: “My father had died much earlier and then when my mum died, I decided I wanted to recreate that young couple who’d always had such a twinkle in their eyes. But the truth was I’d left it too late to ask enough questions.”

Desperate for first-hand accounts, Shirley travelled the country talking to WAAFs who were in their 80s and 90s, and she has fictionalised some of their stories into the novel.

“As a journalist, it was imperative to me that I got the research right,” she said. “I wanted people to know what the minutiae of everyday life was like for young people during the war.

“It was important to me to make the book a tribute to those who lived through it. But also, I wanted a younger generation to really feel what it must have been like to live in such extraordinary times.”

‘Lily’s War’ has been published by Zaffre Books, for whom Clare Johnson-Creek said: “When I first read it, I instantly felt in love with Lily as a character – her cheekiness, but also her strength and determination in the face of such challenges.

“These women doing such important war work were truly inspiring, and the research Shirley did while writing really brings them, and the time they were living through, to life.”

‘Lily’s War’ is available online, in Tesco and WH Smith, as well as other bookshops.