I thoroughly enjoyed Caroline’s post for the attic about the research behind her third historical novel, Finding Eadie. If you love reading or writing historical fiction and stories about WWII, you’ll enjoy this post, too.
Caroline is a novelist, writer and producer. She is the author of three books: Maggie’s Kitchen, Eleanor’s Secret, and Finding Eadie. Her début novel was shortlisted for Booktopia’s Best Historical Fiction in 2016 and she was nominated for Book of the Year and Best New Author by AusRom Today.
Caroline studied the craft of novel writing at the Faber Academy in Sydney, Curtis Brown Creative in London, and has MA’s in Film & Television and Creative Writing. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two teenage sons, and is working on a fourth novel and adapting Maggie’s Kitchen as a drama series.
The power of secrets and settings
My new novel, Finding Eadie, is about a young woman, Alice Cotton, who cleverly combines her search for her missing child with creating much-needed books in wartime. As with my first two novels, Maggie’s Kitchen and Eleanor’s Secret, real events and female pioneers from history caught my attention, ones I hadn’t heard about before.
Until I researched this novel, I had no idea of the significant role books played during the Second World War. They provided escapism and entertainment, not just for those on the Home Front but for the troops as they travelled and waited for battle. I can’t imagine a time when books would be needed more as a distraction and to understand the world—except perhaps now.
The heroes of my story, Alice and Theo, share a love of books and the drive to create them. The publishing industry came together during wartime to help each other face the challenges: bombed out offices, paper rations, and lots of new rules and regulations. They faced an increased and growing demand for books, but with limited supplies.
When researching, I’m particularly interested when there are parallels with the present day, and while people have been locked down during Covid-19, books have become more precious, too.
About four years ago I discovered a long-held family secret: that a relative’s illegitimate baby was sold to a childless couple in a nearby town during wartime. At first I was shocked, but then I wanted to understand how this could have happened and why.
Once I started digging, I found that it wasn’t uncommon, and that there was an increase in these illegal adoptions because more unmarried mothers were having babies.
Digging deeper, I discovered a law was supposed to have been passed to protect these mothers and their children, but was postponed because of the outbreak of war. Because wartime made the problem worse, I thought it was a story worth following. Inspiring women like Clara Andrew, who worked for the National Child Adoption Association that supported child welfare, and the journalist, Olive Melville Brown, who wrote about the 1940s baby farmers, kept the issue in the public eye at the time.
Then I learnt that London Zoo, or Regent’s Park Zoo as the locals called it, was open during the Second World War. It was free to servicemen and grew in popularity as a refuge to visitors. It becomes a sanctuary for Alice in my novel, as well as a place full of memories. I had to include some of the real stories about the animals and their antics, too!
While I was editing the novel earlier this year, another pattern of history repeating also struck me: in wartime London, congregations in public places of more than two hundred people were disallowed, and here we are again with similar restrictions. It’s another way historical fiction reminds us how previous generations endured and carried on.
Once these three story threads came together, my characters formed and the settings etched in my mind. I had already made life difficult for myself—three separate research threads to follow—and then I added in a New York setting, too! Books were just as important as a weapon during wartime in the US. They had a Council on Books in Wartime and a successful books scheme for their troops. An area of New York, called Book Row, had seven blocks of bookstores—how could a booklover ignore that? Although it’s only two blocks of bookshops now, I’m told it’s just as enticing and I hope to visit it one day.
I’ve used two quotes at the beginning of the book:
‘If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will. Read the first sentence that arrests the eye. Then turn to another. Make a voyage of discovery, taking soundings of uncharted seas. Set them back on their selves with your own hands. Arrange them on your own plan, so that if you do not know what is in them, you at least know where they are. If they cannot be your friends, let them at any rate be your acquaintances.’
WINSTON S. CHURCHILL
‘People die, but books never die . . . No man and no force can take from the world the books that embody man’s eternal fight against tyranny. In this war, we know, books are weapons.’
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
Since my life is immersed in books, discovering how important books and reading were for civilians and servicemen and women in wartime sparked something in me, and gave me an even deeper appreciation for books and stories, and their power to change lives.
Each book I’ve written has challenged me, not just wondering whether I can bring the story to life and create complex characters and a compelling story, but also wondering if I’m brave enough to push myself and try new things. Then there’s what to include and what to leave out.
I knew that Alice would be physically and mentally traumatised by having her newborn stolen from her, and I interviewed a doctor and a clinical midwife to ensure the physical and mental effects were believable. But what begins as a harrowing journey for Alice, as she carries on working while searching for Eadie, becomes a heart-warming mystery because she’s accompanied by true friends.
Finding Eadie is a story of friendships bound by hope, secrets, the power of reading and love.
The book giveaway is a little different this week, so pay close attention!
For a chance to win one of three signed copies of Finding Eadie:
1. Visit Caroline’s website and sign up for the newsletter.
2. Send her an email with which era of history interests you the most and why.
Open to Australian and New Zealand residents only.