A RETIRED assistant headteacher is busy with her own “homework” as she puts the finishing touches to her second novel.

Alrene Hughes, who lives in Unsworth, is only weeks away from completing The Golden Sisters, the sequel to her first book Martha’s Girls.

Her debut novel, which was self-published, was later relaunched after the 61-year-old signed a contract with leading Irish publishers, Blackstaff Press.

It was set in Belfast during the Second World War and largely based on her mother and her sisters who were members of ENSA (Entertainment National Service Association). They entertained local people and troops stationed there to raise morale and money for the war effort.

A scrapbook containing newspaper cuttings, concert programmes and photographs played a significant part in inspiring the book and its characters.

Mrs Hughes, who was born in Enniskillen and grew up in Belfast, said: “The Golden Sisters, as they were known, were similar to the Andrews Sisters and their repertoire included the popular songs of the time. They sang on the radio and even appeared on the same bill as George Formby.”

Because of work and family commitments, Martha’s Girls took about 10 years to complete. But since retiring from Ramsbottom’s Woodhey High School in 2012 after teaching there for 20 years, the mother-of-two has been able to fully concentrate on her writing.

Mrs Hughes said: “The reason why my first novel took so long was that I would only write during the six weeks in the summer when I wasn’t at the school. But writing a book was always something that I wanted to do.

“After I’d self-published Martha’s Girls in 2012, it really did quite well. Then Blackstaff picked up on it and relaunched it last October as well as providing a new front cover. I then went over to Belfast for the relaunch, did some signings and went on BBC Radio Ulster.”

Blackstaff Press has the option to publish the soon-to-be-completed sequel, The Golden Sisters, but if they do not, then Mrs Hughes is quite content to self-publish again.

“That is really good in terms of being able to have that control, but having a publisher is always the goal. The first novel ended in 1941 with the huge bombing of Belfast and the next one picks things up from there.

“The main characters are my family. My mum and sisters were entertainers. In order to make the books more interesting, I’ve created a lot of other characters. But the main characters are at the centre of what is happening. Although some of what I’ve written is imagined, the basic facts are true.”

Retirement has allowed her much more time to devote to her literary skills, and she added: “That’s been good in one way, but I do really miss being at school every day.”

Mrs Hughes is a member of he Manchester Irish Writers and during the past 30 years her short stories and poetry have been published in anthologies and broadcast on radio.

For more details: visit alrenehughes.com