I am delighted to hand over the blog today to debut novellist Fiona Ford who has written a wonderful piece about the research she undertook for her book The Spark Girl. Firstly lets find out about the book and then I will pass you over to Fiona.
A knock on the door early one morning wouldn’t normally be cause for concern but it is 1941, Britain is at war, and Kitty Williams’s fiancé Joe is far from home fighting Hitler with the Navy. As Kitty’s heart is shattered into pieces hearing the news she had been dreading, resolve kicks in and she becomes more determined than ever to do her bit for the war effort.
Signing up to the Women’s Army is just the sort of challenge Kitty needs and on meeting new recruits Mary, Di and Peggy, she is happy to learn that the challenge won’t be a lonely one. But it also won’t be easy and when bombs start to fall on her home town of Coventry, and supposed allies turn against her, Kitty must find the strength she never knew she had to save her family, fix her broken heart and help her country to victory.
Do You Come Here Often?
It’s a cheesy chat up line isn’t it? But one I have found myself answering much more frequently lately because for the past three years, as part of my research, I have found myself, living, breathing and occasionally sleeping in the Imperial War Museum’s Archives, devouring all things World War II.
My first historical novel The Spark Girl tells the story of Kitty, who joins the women’s army (ATS) with a desire to fight for freedom after learning of the death of her fiancé. But when bombs start to fall on her home town of Coventry, and supposed allies turn against her, Kitty must find the strength she never knew she had to save her family, fix her broken heart and help her country to victory.
This novel which has been three years in the making has been a labour of love for me, something I have poured my heart and soul into. But although I have always had a passion for the past, I knew I was going to need more than a love of history and a vivid imagination to write Kitty’s story. No, I was going to need cold hard facts.
Now, obviously The Spark Girl is a work of fiction, not a documentary so of course there are things I have taken poetic licence with, and I sincerely hope that in the interests of the story, the readers will forgive me.
But by and large I have tried to remain as close to the facts, as possible. Of course it would have been easy to make it up and use fiction as the excuse. But for me, its vital to try and get the detail right. Not just out of respect for those who served or lost their lives, but because it makes for a more authentic novel, something every writer strives for.
There’s no getting away from the fact that World War II is an emotive subject for most of us, as there’s usually someone we know who served in the war. For me, it was my beloved Grandfather, Joe who gave me the link. He served in the Royal Navy and as a child I would listen eagerly to his stories of wartime life on board his ship. It wasn’t just the tales of battle I wanted to hear about, but his travels around the globe, and most importantly the people he served with. What were there stories? How did they cope and survive during a war that claimed almost 500,000 lives in Britain alone.
Granddad was a wonderful story teller and brought the period alive for me with his tales of life in the forties. But sadly, when I had the idea for my novel three years ago, I couldn’t ask my grandfather to tell me his stories any longer as he had passed away in 2000.
However, Granddad had done such a marvellous job of bringing the war to life for me I decided to start my research with a place close to his heart – The Imperial War Museum (IWM). Based in south London, the IWM is a treasure trove of history where I happily lost hours, days and weeks in the archives, and I adored every second.
Within these beautifully sculptured walls contained everything I could possibly have wanted to know about the war. While facts and figures were useful for context, what I really needed were people’s stories. And so I requested diaries, letters and scrapbooks from civilians, children, pilots and soldiers all so I could learn as much as I could from as many different sources as possible.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional as well as intellectual journey this research would take me on. Immersing myself in this world of war, I became caught up in people’s personal dramas. Each day I would return to the archives and devour each diary and letter as if they were the latest bestseller, eager to know how events unfolded for the real-life characters living their lives on paper. I felt people’s joy as keenly as if it were my own, I celebrated their triumphs and cried when they shared their losses.
As I sat in the museum’s research room day after day, the strangest of things would bring out the oddest emotional response. A photograph of children sheltering in an Anderson shelter would have me chuckling at how they thought it an adventure. A recipe for Woolton Pie written out in a housewife’s best handwriting left me marvelling at such attention to detail, while the sight of a Cuban sweet wrapper, safely stuck to a scrapbook page and collected by a pilot that never made it home left me in tears.
My research at the IWM took me on a rollercoaster ride, one I never tired of and don’t think I ever will. I was lucky enough to find more than enough material for my second novel, The Spark Girl’s Promise but with each new discovery the one thing I held dear was my desire to do right by the people who fought for our freedom, and try to honour them with a fair representation of facts amongst my own version of fiction.
About Fiona Ford
Fiona Ford is a freelance journalist. She has spent the last 15 years writing gritty real-life stories, news and a smidgeon of celebrity tittle-tattle for national newspapers and magazines. Following a stint as a ghost writer, Fiona plucked up the courage to combine her love of writing and history to write a novel in her own name. The Spark Girl, is her first saga.
Originally from Bath, Fiona now lives in Berkshire and is married with two cats. Thankfully, both her husband and pets have all mastered the art of pretending to listen patiently as she begins yet another anecdote with the words, ‘during the war’. When she is not writing or researching World War 2, Fiona can be found running along the Thames Path, training for a half marathon of some kind and wishing she was sat on the sofa eating chocolate instead.
The Spark Girl is published by Orion on 1 June 2017 in hardback and ebook. Paperback available for pre-order and out 24th August.
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A huge thank you for the wonderful guest post Fiona. Wishing you a very happy publication day and success for The Spark Girl.