We are very lucky to have here today Frances Liardet, author of the absolutely terrific We Must Be Brave, which is published today. It’s the most affecting, atmospheric and brilliant book about the Home Front and I recommend it highly.
Here is a link to it on Waterstones, or buy it on Kindle. You won’t regret it. I think this is going to win all sorts of awards.
Frances answered a few questions for me.
1 Hi Frances. Can you tell us more about yourself? (Where do you live, roughly, with whom. Pets?)
I live in Somerset with my husband, daughter and dog!
2 Where did the idea for We Must Be Brave come from?
The extraordinary sensory experience of motherhood, The years of baby and toddler carrying –that steadily increasing weight; the smell of a child’s hair; their kissable cheeks. How terrible it would be, to have all that and then lose it! That was the first thing – the beloved child torn away. Motherhood also brought me closer to my parents and grandparents. I couldn’t stop thinking about their lives, and the enormity of what they went through in the middle of the last century. So it all came together with a small girl, abandoned on a bus in December 1940.
3 It took you a while to write this book, were there ever moments in its writing where you thought it might never be published? At what point did you decide to apply to the creative writing course at UEA? (sorry that’s two questions in one)
There were certainly moments when I thought it might never be finished! Publication was different – I was crossing my fingers. I was lucky enough to find my wonderful agent Jo Unwin quite soon after finishing the book, and then my hopes for publication began to rise.
I did the Creative Writing MA at UEA way back in 1997 – it was a fantastic experience, and I was lucky enough to be in the same year as the shortlisted Booker candidate Trezza Azzopardi and the poet, playwright and novelist Owen Sheers.
4 The attention to historical detail in WMBB is outstanding – where did you do most of your research?
The horse’s mouth. I tracked down wartime personal experience anywhere I could, both online and off. One of the best archives is WW2 People’s War www.bbc.people’swar a vast collection of stories from members of the public on every aspect of the Second World War. There’s also a wealth of material on the other parts of history: Britain in the 1930s, the First World War, not to mention the date that Cup-a-Soup first hit the shelves!
5 How did your other work of translating literature inform the writing of your own book?
I learned a lot through translating. Translating is a very good way to get to know a book! I can’t think how it happened consciously but I certainly did a lot of word-testing and sentence-balancing that perhaps stood me in good stead.
6 Your observation of the main child in WMBB is incredibly accurate – did you feel like you were observing and representing a child in a way that other fiction hasn’t managed to do?
I don’t think my approach is original particularly but I started writing the book when my daughter went to school, and finished it when she was nine. So although my daughter is not Pamela, there was plenty to work on!
7 What are you having for dinner tonight?
I think I might have black beans and rice. You can’t have too much coconut and chilli in January. Or any other month, in my view.
8 Tell us about a thing you have recently purchased (it can be travel tickets, a book, some shoe – anything!) that you are most excited about.
Okay, I was in Frome walking down Catherine Hill, home to all sorts of original and quirky clothes shops. It was a Monday which is generally downtime for Catherine Hill, but my eye was caught by a long blue high necked dress, and this particular shop was open. I thought, well, I’m having a book launch….