One summer morning, I stepped into a long-distance train, and five (5!) people in the carriage were holding copies of a certain novel in their hands: “Letters from Skye” was the book they were reading. That very special novel about letters was a huge success here in Europe, so I am delighted to interview the US American novelist today: Jessica Brockmole.
“As a writer,” Jessica says, “I look for uncertain situations like this in which characters can find strength and hope can take root.”
A dialogue on how to backtrack an idea, about her most recent research trip and how Jessica avoids to get torn into the rabbit hole of research.
Barbara: What was your inspiration for your special contribution to the FALL OF POPPIES anthology?
Jessica Brockmole: I initially planned to explore an old idea I’d had about a soldier returning home at the end of the war to a wife he hardly knows, but I’d wanted to take the idea in a different direction than originally planned.
I had to backtrack from that moment: How would a man scarcely know his own wife? What would he have left and what would he hope to return to? How would he start fall in love with her despite war and distance?
Well, the latter was an easy question to answer, given my predilection for letters-in-fiction. And when I learned about the airplane production center at Romorantin, filled with working French women and often bored and undertrained American airmen, I knew I had the beginnings of a story full of spontaneous decisions and unexpected love.
The entire collection is centered around Armistice Day—what was one of your favorite aspects of writing about this time period?
Jessica Brockmole: Though the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month sounded nice and neat for newspaper headlines (and indeed was orchestrated to be so), it wasn’t as crisply realized as that across the various battle zones.
In some areas, the news didn’t get through, not knowing the guns were supposed to fall silent, the war went on.
In others, the fighting intensified in anticipation of the end, and many lost their lives so close to the ceasefire. With so much uncertainty on the battle front, I can imagine just as much if not more back on the home front. As a writer, I look for uncertain situations like this in which characters can find strength and hope can take root.
What era or location are you hoping to “visit” in your next work or even real life?
Jessica Brockmole: I have so many story ideas inspired by eras in U.S. history, I have some future “visits” planned on this side of the Atlantic. I’m excited about digging into some stories a little closer to home!
How do you organise and conduct research for your novel?
Jessica Brockmole: I tend to do broad strokes of research first, so that my story can develop amid real and accurate events and settings, but I reserve the bulk of my research for after I have a first draft.
I am not much of a plotter and, until I feel my way through a first draft, I don’t always know what needs to be researched.
My novella for Fall of Poppies was no exception. I knew I wanted to write something involving a somewhat reluctant American draftee and a French refugee in need of a friend. In trying to find a place for my refugee, I came across the community at Romorantin and the big pieces of the story fell into place.
After I had a draft sketched in, I knew the sorts of things I needed to look for (legal requirements for early 20th century French marriages, legal requirements for early 20th century French marriages with American soldiers, WWI airplanes and how not to fly them, etc.) and can shade in detail and color at that point.
Another reason I leave the bulk of the research for that point in my writing process? With those tempting research rabbit holes to leap down, I might never get a first draft finished …
Of course, related to our “Travel to Research for your Novel” month, I’m curious: What was your most recent research trip?
Jessica Brockmole: In May 2016 I have a novel coming out, At the Edge of Summer, the story of a Scottish artist and a French soldier meeting in Paris just after World War One and attempting to recapture an idyllic summer they once shared years ago.
Through my research, I got to virtually visit the French countryside, Scotland, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, and Algeria.
In person, I visited Paris and areas around the Aisne River where my soldier would have fought during the Great War, and the experience was invaluable in bringing the landscape to life.
Want to read more author interviews with the FALL OF POPPIES novelists? Read along during the FALL OF POPPIES virtual book tour.
A squadron commander searches for meaning in the tattered photo of a girl he’s never met.
A Belgian rebel hides from the world, only to find herself nursing the enemy.
A young airman marries a stranger to save her honour — and prays to survive long enough to love her.
The peace treaty signed on November 11, 1918, may herald the end of the Great War. But picking up the pieces of shattered lives will take courage, resilience and trust. When the fighting ceases, renewal begins … and hope takes root in a fall of poppies.
Or click here to enter in order to win one of 3 copies at the giveaway.
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