Blackpool Tower Children's Ballet is inspiration for new children's mystery thriller

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Children's author Susan Brownrigg sought inspiration from the seaside when she penned her latest book.

But not just any seaside resort. She remembered Blackpool and its Tower from childhood holidays and the town's rich entertainment history was to provide her with ample inspiration.

She had already written one thriller for children entitled Gracie Fairshaw and The Mysterious Guest which was based in the resort, set against a backdrop of the 1935 Blackpool illuminations.

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Published last year the book featured lead character Gracie who had arrived in Blackpool when her family moved into The Majestic boarding house.

Susan pictured on Blackpool beach with her three booksSusan pictured on Blackpool beach with her three books
Susan pictured on Blackpool beach with her three books

Now the second book in the Gracie Fairshaw series, Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower, has been published by Preston basedUCLan Publishing and it features Blackpool Tower's professional Children's Ballet which delighted audiences for decades.

Susan,46, a former journalist and sub-editor who has also worked as a heritage guide and is now a part-time library assistant based at Widnes Library said she had waited more than 20 years to become a published author.

Writing stories had been a favourite task at junior school but getting published was a longer haul. She said: "I started taking it more seriously when I was at university that's when I started trying to write a book, an adult book that time."

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By the time she approached UCLan Publishing she had a clear direction and said: "I knew what stories I wanted to tell and I like history in particular."

Part of the cover of Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the TowerPart of the cover of Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower
Part of the cover of Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower

Leaving school Susan studied for a BTEC in media studies and gained work experiences at newspapers including the Lancashire Evening Post and Wigan Evening Post.She went on to study journalism, film and broadcasting at Cardiff University and then got a job on the Ormskirk Advertiser. She said: "It was really good training. In the current book Gracie becomes a reporter. It made me very nostalgic for my days working on the newsdesk and going out getting stories as a cub reporter, you forget how nervous you were."

She has also worked in heritage education at Quarry Bank Mill ,Rufford Old Hall, at Tatton Park, as a science presenter at the Catalyst museum in Widnes and most recently as learning and community manager at Norton Priory. She also once worked a summer season at Blackpool Zoo.

Susan chose to give her lead character Gracie a disability - a limb difference, She said: "Her left arm, finishes just past her left elbow. The reason I chose that disability is my great grandfather had some limb difference from a battle in World War I. He got shrapnel in his arm."

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Aware that her own mother copes with disability too, with scoliosis of the spine and ostearthritis, Susan was even more determined to include a character with a disability in her series.

Holiday snap of Susan visiting Blackpool's Pleasure Beach as a childHoliday snap of Susan visiting Blackpool's Pleasure Beach as a child
Holiday snap of Susan visiting Blackpool's Pleasure Beach as a child

Home for Susan is now Skelmersdale, but she was born and brought up in Platt Bridge, Wigan. She said: "I have memories of going to Blackpool as a kid on days out. If you were really lucky during the holidays mum and dad would take you to the Pleasure Beach. I was definitely a watcher rather than joining in. I particularly liked the Alice in Wonderland ride, the ghost train and the river cave. Then we would get a tram and see the illuminations. I remember going to see the aquarium in the Tower."

While carrying out research for her writing at the local history centre at Blackpool Library Susan kept seeing adverts for the Children's Ballet in past copies of the local paper.

In the 1930s the Tower's attractions included a circus, an aquarium, menagerie, roof gardens and the tower ascent. From 1902 to 1972 the famous Tower Ballroom was home to the professional Children's Ballet. Girls would queue around the block to audition for a place and hoped for fame and fortune.

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Susan attended a celebration for the 125th anniversary of the Tower in 2019. with her mother and a happy coincidence helped add more detail to her research. Her mother started chatting to the organisers telling them about Susan's first Blackpool based Gracie book and her plans for the second based around the ballet. They were advised two of those attending the celebration, Monica Norris and Mavis Mottershead, had actually been in the Children's Ballet.

Susan pictured in the Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill.Susan pictured in the Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill.
Susan pictured in the Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill.

Susan said: "I swopped details with the ladies. Monica has told me a bit more about the ballet and helped bring it to life for me. She's a Blackpool lady and the book is dedicated to Monica."

Her book, aimed at eight to12 year olds, is timely for the Christmas gift market as it is set around a Children's Ballet Christmas spectacular. When the curtain rises it becomes apparent someone is trying to spoil the show. There are accidents, pranks and a poison pen letter. Gracie and friends step in to try to stop the saboteur and save the show.

Susan, who was an SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) Undiscovered Voices winner in 2016, has also written a pirate adventure story entitled Kintana and Captain’s Curse which was published earlier this year and said: "After 20 years of trying (to get published) it seems to have gone very fast. I need to get writing again now. I'm working on a new Gracie book."

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Susan will be attending a booksigning at Storytellers Inc in Lytham Saint Annes.on November 13.

* Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower by Susan Brownrigg with illustrations by Jenny Czerwonka costs £6.99 and is published by UCLan Publishing.

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