The value of sacrifice, feminism, lesbian love trysts and the role of working-class women in the suffrage movement. 

These are just some of the central themes in Things A Bright Girl Can Do that were discussed by the book’s author, Sally Nicholls, during a recent virtual talk with secondary students at Atlantic Academy Portland

The book centres around three young courageous women fighting for freedom.  

Through rallies and marches, in polite drawing rooms and freezing prison cells and the poverty-stricken slums of the East End, Evelyn, May & Nell join the fight for the vote.

Evelyn is 17 and joins the Suffragettes when she discovers that she will not be allowed to follow her older brother to university and instead is expected to marry her childhood sweetheart. 

May is only 15 and already sworn to the cause, though she and her fellow Suffragists refuse violence. When she meets Nell, a girl who’s grown up in hardship, she sees a kindred spirit. Together and in love, the two girls start to dream of a world where all kinds of women have their place.

Our students at Atlantic were brimming with questions for Sally during her recent talk. 

In addition to answering questions about the themes in Things A Bright Girl Can Do, Sally also discussed how she forms ideas and plots for her books.  

The vivid scenes in the book of police brutality, trenches and hunger strikes bring to life the fight for basic rights – a central theme of the book – and also reveal the importance of historical accuracy.

 Sally explained: ”I felt a responsibility to get it right and it’s important not to make things up. A lot of the book is set in the East End of London and the working class history is an important part of the movement.”

The children’s book is also about two love stories and three coming-of-age stories – and again historical accuracy plays a part.

Edwardian Britain was prim about sex and homosexuality and Nell does not divulge her relationship with May to her family.

Sally said: ”Lesbians and bisexual women existed at the time and they had bars and pubs where they went.” 

Discussing ideas and inspiration, Sally advised students interested in becoming authors to: ”Write about what you love, what you’re interested in. It’s the emotions that are important to get right and to understand that ideas are not the same as plots.”

Author Sally Nicholls

The talk is one of many taking place in schools across Aspirations Academies Trust through our collaboration with Penguin Random House.

Below are just some of the lovely thank you messages sent to Sally:

Thank you, Sally…

* Dear Sally, I like your stories about how people are all equal and should be treated the same. Don’t stop teaching little kids the right thing and don’t ever give up. It is good that you think girls and men are the same thank you.

yours sincerely Jamie

* Thank you for giving some of your time to speak to us. I really liked how you said how to get better at writing and how enthusiasm will translate into the book. Lily

* I love Things a Bright Girl Can Do. Erin

* Afternoon, thank you for hosting the meeting. It was brilliant. I loved the answers you gave to our questions, I love the books I’ve read that you have written and I hope to find some more . Mya

* The meeting inspired me to write a book or at least a small piece of a story and I never thought I’d have the patience to do that! Isla

* I liked the book Ways to Live Forever, especially the facts. Evan

* Dear Sally Nicholls

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. It really helped. Thank you for reading your book. It sounds very interesting. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to ask questions. Dayna

* Dear Mrs Nicholls, Thank you for hosting the Zoom meeting with us today at Atlantic Academy. I really found it insightful and interesting especially on how you evolve the books and the characters. I also loved you reading a passage from your book, it was great how you put so much feeling into it. 

My mum actually listened in to today’s lesson as she dabbles a little at writing and was hoping to pick up some tips from an award- winning author. She did. So again, Thank you for your time. Jensen

* Dear Sally Nicholls,

Thank you for the opportunity to meet with you and for answering questions today. I was really happy to gain more information about a writer’s/author’s perspective and your book. After this delightful experience I look forward to improving my writing skills and English.

I’m ever so happy from getting a better understanding. And I never got to ask any questions but did you learn anything whilst writing it? And if I were to become a writer how would I be able to get my inspiration? I hope this will improve my future. This was very valuable to me. And I learned a lot from you thank you.

Yours sincerely student at atlantic academy Amy

* Dear Ms Nicholls, 

Thank you for spending time with us students today and hosting the meeting. It was very interesting hearing it first hand. I enjoyed hearing some of the students’ questions because it looked as if you think hard about them. I found it interesting that some people complained about there being no diversity. I’ve never read one of your books, but now knowing what type of writer you are, I will start reading some of your books. Guney

* Thank you for joining us and answering our questions. Oliver

* Thank you very much you have inspired me. Jonathan