Author Glenda Young speaks to Adrienne Hunter about her newest saga novel, The Toffee Girls, inspired by Horner’s toffee factory during the First World War.

WHEN best-selling North East author Glenda Young started writing novels, she knew exactly who to turn to for inspiration – her childhood Coronation Street heroines Elsie Tanner and Hilda Ogden.

“Amazing women,” she says. “I used to watch Corrie all the time with my grandma and my mam as a girl – and I thought Elsie and Hilda were real people. When I found out they were characters written by someone, I thought: ‘That’s what I want to do’.”

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And that’s exactly what she did. Today, Glenda is published by Headline, and she’s written nine saga novels set in the North East and is working on the tenth.

Her side hustle is an award-nominated cosy crime series set in Scarborough, which was up for Best New Crime Series alongside Richard Osman and Val McDermid.

She finds time to run the Coronation Street fan site, too, and is one of the most popular authors of short stories for The People’s Friend magazine. Glenda even writes a soap opera of her own every week for the same magazine.

And if that isn’t enough, this time round she’s left her historical comfort zone of Ryhope, near Sunderland (her home village), to write her new novel – The Toffee Factory Girls – inspired by Horner’s toffee factory and Dainty Dinah toffee in Chester-le-Street during the First World War.

“My new book, which is the first of a trilogy each featuring a different heroine, is a story of love, friendship, secrets, war...and toffee!” she says.

The book follows the story of Anne, Elsie and Hetty, who start work in the factory in 1915 when the menfolk have gone to war, and forge a tight-knit bond that supports them through the toughest times.

It’s inspired by the real-life factory rather than aiming to be a historical record, but Glenda’s research has taken her deep into local people’s family memories, as well as to the Mackintosh toffee archive in York and the Calderdale Industrial Museum.

“I’ve had such fun researching the history of the factory and the people who worked there, with great help from local historians,” she says. “Special thanks go to Chester-le-Street heritage society, Birtley heritage society and Gavin Purdon, Chester-le-Street historian. It’s been fantastic to hear the real-life stories people tell about their relatives who worked there.”

Like all her other sagas, the book stands on the shoulders of strong women, something that’s true of the whole immensely successful genre. Glenda is sure it’s the main reason why readers snap up so many of them.

“I think there are strong women everywhere, particularly working class women who overcome incredible adversity in their lives, and sagas honour their perseverance and courage. That’s why saga stories are so popular, and not just among women – I get messages from men who love them too.”

Glenda’s other main heroine is a tower of strength, too. Scarborough hotel landlady Helen Dexter made her first appearance in Glenda’s debut cosy crime Murder at the Seaview Hotel.

After the death of Helen’s husband she becomes embroiled in a mystery surrounding her guests, a dozen Elvis impersonators who revel in the delicious stage name of Twelvis.

“I’ve got the lockdown to thank for my cosy crime books!” she says. “I was about to start the historical research for my next saga when we all suddenly had to stay at home, and to fill in the time I started to dream of Scarborough.”

The seaside town is a favourite of Glenda, who spent delightful childhood holidays there every year. Based in Sunderland, she now takes herself on a writing pilgrimage and holidays there every year.

“It’s such a beautiful, charming place, and I hope that comes over in my books. One reader wrote to tell me he’s planning to move to Scarborough from down south now!” she says.

Glenda’s lighthearted crime novels were an immediate hit, shortlisted in the prestigious Dead Good Readers’ Awards 2022 in the category New Kid on the Block for Best New Crime Series.

“As you can imagine, when I was shortlisted against Richard Osman and Val McDermid at Harrogate International Crime Festival in 2022 I was very happy to be in such prestigious company!” she says.

Glenda is now working on the latest in the series, Dirty Dancing at the Seaview Hotel, which will feature dastardly deeds among amateur ballroom contestants.

“It’s such fun to write two completely different kinds of novel,” she says. Glenda has never been afraid of hard work. She had written since she was a child, but always in secret. Then after taking a journalism degree at Sunderland University (where she now endows a creative writing bursary) she decided to go for it.

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“I bought all the magazines and researched exactly what they wanted from their stories – length, type, characters, everything,” she says. To her joy, the very first story she sent to The People’s Friend was accepted.

Meanwhile, her writing on the Corrie fan site was being noticed, and she was approached to update Coronation Street – The Novel and Coronation Street – The Saga.

Then, just as Glenda turned 50, she was invited by ITV to write the official tribute book to the character of much-loved Deirdre Barlow in the soap after actress Anne Kirkbride, who played Deirdre, passed away. “That was a real honour,” she says.

Now, in addition to all the novels, she crafts her own Riverside soap opera for The People’s Friend. “I’ve been writing my characters for so long, I feel they’re real people – I live with them,” she laughs.

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With all that soap experience, TV might surely be a logical next step for this prolific and popular author. Might the Seaview Hotel be the next Midsomer Murders?

“Well, that would be amazing – and you never know!” says Glenda. In the meantime, she’s got another two Toffee Factory novels to finish, some ballroom dancers to investigate and a couple of soaps to keep her occupied.

“It’s fair to say I’m never bored!” she says.

• The Toffee Factory Girls is published by Headline and is available from local bookshops and Amazon, where you can also find her Seaview Hotel Series and other sagas. Discover more about Glenda at