Hastings - "a bit like Call The Midwife, but with chocolate instead of babies"
A former Helenswood schoolgirl has published The Quality Street Wedding, the third in a series of chocolate-themed historical novels.
Alex Hutchinson, better known by her pen name Penny Thorpe, secured a two-book deal in 2018 with publishing house HarperCollins.
Alex — who attended Silverdale, Elphinstone, and Helenswood school in Hastings — believes part of her success as a novelist is down to the Hastings Children’s Library.
“I loved the old children’s library in Robertson Street, and I got a job there as the Saturday girl when I was fifteen. It was such an inspiring place, and the staff really encouraged children to love books and to love learning. The summer reading challenges — entirely devised and illustrated by Pauline the librarian — were the highlight of my year. Pauline and the other library staff encouraged me to read widely and to believe that if I kept writing I could be published one day.”
Alex’s Quality Street series is set in the Halifax factory which makes the famous chocolate and toffee assortment of the same name.
Alex described her books as: “a bit like Call The Midwife, but with chocolate instead of babies. They follow the story of four girls who work in the factory in the 1930s and manage to get into all sorts of scrapes. Not to mention a horse called Ruffian who has become so popular with readers that he now gets his own fan mail. I have several unpublished manuscripts which I haven’t shown to anyone yet, and one of them is set in Hastings. However, at the moment I’m just thinking about the Quality Street Girls. The third book is done and dusted, and the publishers have asked if I want to continue the series. I’m busy plotting that next adventure.”
Alex is particularly well placed to write about chocolate factories having spent more than a decade working in the former Rowntree’s factory in York as their in-house historian and archivist.
Alex is an expert in the history of chocolate and she regularly appears on television and radio to talk about her subject.
Alex has most recently appeared on the Channel 5 series The Wonderful World of Chocolate, where she is a regular contributor. She also appeared alongside Richard Osman in the chocolate episode of the hit Radio 4 program You’re Dead To Me, hosted by Greg Jenner. Alex’s episode was the third most listened to of any BBC radio program on BBC Sounds throughout the whole of 2020.
The Quality Street Wedding is the third in a series of books which begins with The Quality Street Girls, and is followed by The Mothers of Quality Street. The Quality Street Girls is available through all bookshops in hardback, paperback, and large print. The ebook is available from most ebook retailers, and the audio book (read by Sherry Baines) is available to download through Audible.com, or the RNIB library.
Alex lives in Otley in West Yorkshire.