Lovely to have Eleanor here today. One of the great pleasures of this job is getting to meet so many nice people!
What grabbed you so much about the Pride of Poppies submissions call that you had to send in a story?
I’ve been reading books from Manifold Press (who organised the anthology) for some time now, and I leapt at the chance to get involved in any capacity. The First World War theme especially called to me, as a branch of my family tree comes from Germany, having moved to England just years before the war broke out. I learnt a lot in the process of writing the story, and I hope I gave a decent representation of some of the everyday realities people faced.
What were the particular challenges about writing a story set a hundred years ago?
For one thing, research material for ‘Inside’ was pretty thin on the ground – many of the records I was interested in were lost many years ago! Fortunately, I was able to find out enough to get a decent feel for what I was writing, but I’ll be the first to admit that ‘Inside’ might not be 100% historically accurate. I did my best with what was available! When it came to ‘The Man Left Behind’, I spent a lot of time puzzling over the way the attitudes of the time would have affected the main character’s own sense of self-image. Finally, for both stories, I’d have been lost without the hard work of the anthology’s proofreader, F.M. Parkinson, who managed to catch a lot of modern language slips that I would never have noticed. So that was quite an eye-opener, too!
Do you have a ‘hero’ (or heroes!) from WWI? Who and why?
My great-great-grandmother, Isabel Schwerdt. Her husband Henry, my great-great-grandfather, was born in London, but – like my protagonist in ‘Inside’ – his German father and surname made sure that he was seen as too dangerous to be allowed to wander around with the real Brits. He spent the war in a civilian internment camp, leaving Isabel to raise their three children on her own. She changed their names to her maiden name in order to protect them (though she kept her husband’s name herself), and kept them all afloat until the end of the war. Although I don’t know much about it, it must have been a terrifying time for her – especially as my great-grandfather’s eighteenth birthday approached, with the attendant uncertainty about what would happen to him. Fortunately, the war ended when he was still seventeen, and as far as I know he was never called up or imprisoned. Much as I admire Henry for surviving the camp, I also appreciate how hard it must have been for Isabel, so she’s a real hero in my eyes.
What are you working on at present?
What am I not working on? I’ve got a couple of stories and novels in the editing stages, I frequently write random little writing short stories to keep myself busy – those tend to end up on my blog – and I’ve recently joined the team of a collaborative fantasy world named Caladria. This means I spend my days wrestling with dragons and goblins, and I’ve just submitted the first draft of a story featuring a couple ‘A Pride of Poppies’ readers may enjoy meeting when it’s published later this year.
I’m grateful to Eleanor for sharing this wonderful photo is of the aforementioned Schwerdt family (Isabel, Henry, and their three children) c. 1914