SOME stories are so strange they stay with you for years after you hear them.

In author Shirley Dickson’s case, the story she’d stumbled across whilst flicking through a local newspaper became the concept for her debut novel The Orphan Sisters.

“I began reading an article about a mother who had abandoned her child at an orphanage during the Great Depression, without any explanation. As a mother myself, it sounded utterly unthinkable, and so I kept contemplating this woman’s possible reasons.”

“I knew when I couldn’t shake the thought out of my mind that it must be a good premise for a story, and so I began to write it.”

Although the 76-year-old author has called Hexham home for more than a decade, The Orphan Sisters is set in South Shields, the town she was born and grew up in during the fifties.

The novel follows the lives of sisters Etty and Dorothy, from the moment they are abandoned by their mother at Blakley Hall orphanage, to their life beyond the walls as adults who must navigate through love, lies and loss against the backdrop of the Second World War.

“It’s a coming of age story in many ways made interesting by the fact that the sisters choose very different paths to follow, although both have plenty of bumps, twists and turns in them,” said Shirley.

The novel is laced with Shirley’s knowledge and experience of what life was like growing up shortly after the war ended, particularly from the perspective of women.

“Whenever I compare what life was like for women in the era which I grew up in, to how it is for the future generations, it’s shocking. There was such double standards between the sexes, and that is reflected within the book.

“Having been born and raised in that traditional world however does make it easier for me to write about.”

Romance, and with it scandal and sometimes heartbreak, are never far away from the sisters in The Orphan Sisters.

Whilst Dorothy nurses a broken heart after bidding goodbye to her beloved husband Laurie as he goes to the colours, his fate unknown, the fiery Etty lands herself in hot water after striking up a relationship with ‘Jack the Lad’ and renowned womaniser Billy Buckley.

“The war didn’t stop people from getting up to no good,” Shirley said, “if anything it only spurred romantic relationships on, because people lost their inhibitions during the war, knowing that their life might be over at any moment.”

Shirley first put pen to paper at the tender age of 10, when she entered a writing competition in school.

Although she didn’t win, Shirley felt the pull of the pen, and she hasn’t put it down since.

Despite discovering her passion early, it wasn’t until the last five years however that Shirley began to work towards getting her work on to the bookshelves, an ambition which led her to attending writing schools and workshops across the country, and national conventions with the Romantic Novelists’ Association, of which she is a longstanding member.

Shirley might be a late bloomer to the literary scene, but finally the long wait has paid off, and since first realising The Orphan Sisters under publishing house Bookouture, she’s already been signed to write a sequel to her first novel.

“To finally be published is an incredible achievement,” she said. “It’s the icing on top of the cake to the wonderful life I’ve been lucky enough to live.

“There were plenty of days in the past however where I feared that I was wasting my time, living in these imaginary worlds with these characters I’d created in my own head, who no one would ever get the chance to know.

“But now I like to think I’m a poster child for never giving up on your dream, although I sincerely hope it doesn’t take others as long as it’s taken me.”

The Orphan Sisters can be purchased on Amazon.