My next book, Jobs for the Girls – and why I would love your help with it

This week we hear from author Ysenda Maxtone Graham, who is requesting reader-assistance with a fascinating new book project…

My previous two books have been about British childhoods. In Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls’ Boarding Schools, 1939-1979, I wrote about the extraordinary lost world of those female establishments in the days of lino corridors, freezing dormitories, Friday fish, strict spinster headmistresses, and not even much education. This was done with a light touch, through interviews with women who went to those schools and still have the chilblain fingers to show for it. I was touched by the friendships between women that endured from those schooldays, and impressed by the fortitude they had acquired at those spartan establishments.

In British Summer Time Begins: How we Spent the School Summer Holidays, 1930-1980, I wrote about those long, lost summers of our childhoods: the bliss of not going anywhere and having acres and acres of time to ourselves, even if it was just playing out on the street or in the back garden. Plus the thrilling week on an English or Welsh or Scottish beach, shivering in unsuitable woollen swimwear. That book was a Sunday Times top ten bestseller and was Book of the Week on Radio 4.

In my next book, Jobs for the Girls, I’m going to make my first foray into adulthood. And I would love to speak to women from the Leeds area to ask you about your experiences. What happened to you when you left school and started to make your way in the world of work? How old were you when you did this? Did you leave school with any qualifications? Did you have any careers advice from parents or teachers? What were the workplaces like? What were your hours and pay? What did you actually do? I would love to chat to women who were factory workers, shop assistants, secretaries, office workers, teachers, nurses, librarians, whether or not you worked your way up the career ladder. And what happened when or if marriage and motherhood intervened.

Image shows female staff who are employed at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Thorp Arch during the Second World War. They are pictured at the drapery department store of M. C. Hitchen & Sons Ltd., located at numbers 129 to 132 Briggate, at the corner with King Edward Street, where they are taking part in a recruitment campaign. (c) Leeds Libraries, www.leodis.net

What I’m hoping to capture is the texture of ordinary, daily working life, in all its hardness, but perhaps also (in those days) fun. Office outings? Christmas parties? Lunches? Cameraderie? What were the bosses like – both female and male?

I’m particularly interested in factory workers so please get in touch if you left school at 15 and went to work in one, or if your mother did and she could speak to me. The period of my book is 1945 to 1995. So if you were born any time between 1930 and 1960 you are definitely inside the period of my book.

3rd December 1970. View of the interior of the factory of David Little and Company Limited, wholesale clothiers, located at numbers 29 to 30 Park Place. (1966 Directory of Leeds). Rows of sewing machines are being operated by women workers. The company were later listed in Water Lane (1979 Yellow Pages). (c) West Yorkshire Archive Service, www.leodis.net

I’m also a journalist, reviewing books for The Times and the Daily Mail. My grandmother was Jan Struther, who created the character of Mrs Miniver. I wrote her biography, The Real Mrs Miniver.

My email address is ysenda@talk21.com. Please, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. We can arrange a time for a telephone chat, and I’ll ring you.

Many thanks in advance,

Ysenda Maxtone Graham

You can read more about the lives of Leeds women in the 20th-century through the Historypin website

To read this title, please contact the Local and Family History department on 0113 37 86982 (leave a voicemail) or localandfamilyhistory@leeds.gov.uk

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