Dear reader, if you crave escape from the everyday then Dear Mrs. Bird will solve that problem. Meet Emmeline and her friend Bunty as they ‘keep calm and carry on’. Emmy’s blind ambition to become a Blitz war correspondent finds her reluctantly answering letters of a very different kind but she soon breaks the rules in a bid to make things right! A bittersweet snapshot of living through war and a portrait of the strength of female friendship and determination.
Recommended by Natalie Winterlich, Dubray Head Office
London, 1940. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance - but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman's Friend magazine.Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. Emmy finds herself dismissing problems from lovelorn, grief-stricken and morally conflicted readers in favour of those who fear their ankles are unsightly or have trouble untangling lengths of wool. But soon the thought of desperate women going unanswered becomes too much to bear and Emmy decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to female friendship, Blitz spirit, the kindness of strangers and the art of letter-writing itself.
Excerpt from Dear Mrs Bird:
London, December 1940.
When I first saw the advertisement in the newspaper I thought I might actually burst. I’d had rather a cheerful day so far despite the Luftwaffe annoying everyone by making us all late for work, and then I’d managed to get hold of an onion, which was very good news for a stew. But when I saw the announcement, I could not have been more cock-a-hoop.
It was a quarter past three, on one of those wretched December afternoons when the day seemed to start getting dark before it had quite made up its mind to be light, and even with two vests and a greatcoat on it was impossible to get warm. Sitting on the top deck of the number 24 bus, I could see my breath if I huffed.
I was on my way home from my job as a secretary at Strawman’s Solicitors and looking forward to a sit down before my overnight shift on the fire-station telephones. I had already read every word of The Evening Chronicle’s news pages and was now looking at the horoscopes, which I didn’t believe in but thought worth a go just in case. For my best friend Bunty it said, ‘You will be in the money soon enough. Lucky animal: polecat,’ which was promising, and for me, ‘Things may pick up eventually. Lucky fish: cod,’ which in comparison was rather a dud.
And then I saw it, under Situations Vacant, squeezed between a position for Jam Boilers (no experience necessary) and a Mature Supervisor at an overalls factory (references preferred).
JUNIOR WANTED: Part time Junior required at Launceston Press Ltd., publishers of The London Evening Chronicle. Must be capable, enthusiastic hard worker with 60 wpm typing/110 wpm shorthand. Letters soonest to Mrs. H. Bird, Launceston Press Ltd., Launceston House, London EC4.
It was the best job I had ever seen in my life.
If there was anything I wanted most in the world (other of course than for the war to end and Hitler to die a quite grisly death), it was to be a journalist. Or to be precise, what people in the know referred to as a Lady War Correspondent.
For the last ten years – ever since I’d won a trip to the local newspaper as my prize for writing a quite dreadful poem when I was twelve – I had dreamt of a journalistic career.
Now my heart beat like anything, thumping through the vests and the greatcoat and threatening to leap right out and onto the lady in the next seat. I was jolly grateful for the job at Strawman’s, but I was desperate to learn how to be a reporter. The sort of person who always had a notebook in hand, ready to sniff out Political Intrigue, launch Difficult Questions at Governmental Representatives, or best of all, leap onto the last plane to a far-off country in order to send back Vital Reports of resistance and war.
At school, my teachers had told me to simmer down and not have such excitable aspirations, even if English was my best subject. They stopped me writing to the Prime Minister about his Foreign Policy for the school magazine as well. It had been a dispiriting start.
Since then I had persevered, but finding a job when I had almost no experience had proved tricky, especially as I had set my heart on working for a newspaper in London’s Fleet Street. Although in general an optimist, even I didn’t think three summer holidays writing for the Little Whitfield Gazette was going to get me to Berlin.
But now here was my chance.
I examined the advert again, wondering if I might make the grade.
—That was me, even if I wasn’t sure what they wanted me to be capable of.
—I’d say. I was very nearly shouting like a mad person on the bus.
—I would sleep on the office floor if that’s what it took.
I couldn’t wait to apply.