Hi Pamela, welcome to Café Cala,
I’m delighted to have you visit Café Cala. I’ve loved both The Soldier’s Wife and The War Bride. The latter kept me up late as I had to finish it. Loved the characters. I’ve been making savoury zuccini and feta muffins this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?
Tea, please! Weak black, no sugar.
1 Where did you get the idea for The War Bride?
When I was doing the research for The Soldier’s Wife, I read a book called Bride of an ANZAC, which is the autobiography of Queenie Sunderland (remember Margaret’s friend Queenie from Reading Station?). Queenie was such a great woman. She wrote the book when she was 95, and died at 103! She told the story of coming in to Sydney Harbour on a war bride ship in January 1919, and her friend Margaret finding out that her husband had lied to her and abandoned her. As soon as I read that story, I knew I had found the heart of my next book – a young English girl, excited about starting a new life with her husband, finds out that she’s been betrayed and abandoned.
But then I started thinking… and decided it would be a better story if that situation was a mix-up, rather than a straight deception. And I remembered that the last war brides had been swapped from one ship to another (from the Waimana to the Borda). And I thought… what if the husband hadn’t got the letter about the switch…
This isn’t spoilers, as you find all this out in the first two chapters! Margaret, my main character, has to make a new life for herself in Sydney, while Frank, her husband, believes that she has abandoned him.
What I was interested in this book is the aftermath of World War I, when people are coming home and trying to fit back into a world which has radically changed – and they have changed, as well, because of their war experiences. And I was also interested in the sense of hope and energy which was typical of the early 1920s; and the fun!
2 What have you found most rewarding about your writing?
Without a doubt, it’s hearing from readers! I love to hear from people who have read my books. Obviously, it’s nice if they have liked the work, but in any case it’s interesting. The books go out and you never really know what’s happened to them, so getting emails from readers is always lovely. I have a Contact Pamela page on my website, pamela-hart.com to encourage people to write.
And with these books, I came back to my second love, which is research. I think I’m a tiny bit addicted to research!
3 How did you start writing?
I was a children’s writer (as Pamela Freeman, my maiden name) before I wrote for adults, and I started writing children’s stories when I was a scriptwriter and researcher at ABC Kids. One of the shows I was working on needed some told-to-camera stories, and I ended up writing five of the ten we needed. I had not published any stories, but I sent these to the NSW School Magazine, and they rejected four of the five – but they took the very first story for children I wrote. Anna Fienberg (author of the Tashi books) was the editor at the Magazine then, and I blame her for my writing career – if she’d rejected five out of five, I’d probably still be a scriptwriter!
4 What would you say has helped you most?
My husband! I used to be a consultant in organisational communication, but when we had our son I stopped working outside the home and concentrated on writing – and that was only possible because my husband does the hard yards of going to work every day.
His support has meant that I have published far more than I would have done otherwise, and when I started writing historical novels, which was a real departure for me, he encouraged me and supported me through all my self-doubt.
5 What are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a novel set in 1917, about an Australian woman war correspondent who is in Italy to report on the Australian navy’s blockade of the Adriatic Sea. This operation was called the Otranto Barrage, and hardly anyone has heard of it, but it was a crucial part of the war in the Mediterranean.
Of course, there’s a young man that she meets there, an Italian American who wants to be a war photographer. They become a team and… well, you’ve probably figured out by now that I like a bit of romance in my stories!
Most people don’t know, but pretty much the first woman war correspondent was Australian, Louise Mack, who reported on the German invasion of Belgium early in World War I. She went behind enemy lines and everything! She was the inspiration for this story.
6 What advice would you offer aspiring writers?
I teach writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and on behalf of my students I’ve asked a lot of editors this question. And the answer I keep getting is: don’t submit your work too soon. Publishers talk about books being ‘half-baked’ – that is, submitted too early in the editing process. Very often, a book will be rejected because it’s got good ideas and some good writing, but if the author had done just a couple more drafts, it would have been terrific instead of just good.
So my advice is: draft and redraft! Mostly, the difference between a professional writer and an amateur is the number of drafts they’re prepared to do!
7 Which authors do you enjoy reading?
Oh, so many! It’s so hard to make a short list. I read very widely – and of course, once you’ve been a writer as long as I have, you make friends with other writers, so you have to like your friends’ books!
Australian women writers I like include Kimberly Freeman, Anita Heiss, Bronwyn Parry, Pamela Cook, and Kate Forsyth. Others: Hilary Mantel, Val McDiarmid, Mindy Klasky… this is a really hard question!
I also read very widely in genre fiction, including crime and science fiction and fantasy. If I started listing my favourite authors in these genres we’d be here all day!
Read an excerpt form The War Bride
PROLOGUE 13 January 1920
There didn’t seem to be a band playing. And only a few people on the wharf at Dawes Point. A handful of Army types, a man in a suit waiting with a taxi, and the normal number of stevedores lounging around, grabbing a smoko while they waited for their cargo to arrive. Frank was surprised. The last time a war-bride ship had docked – when his mate Smitty’s girl came out – there had been crowds, an Army brass band, streamers and shouting and crying – even a man with a placard saying, ‘Welcome to your new home, Mavis’. He’d thought about making one of those for Margaret, but now he was glad he hadn’t. He felt silly enough, clutching a bunch of roses in a sweaty hand. He hoped he’d still recognise her. Two years and four months was a long time, and women did things with their hairstyles. Clothes were different. But surely Margaret’s tall, slender form would stand out the way it had at Reading train station, when they’d said goodbye. Surely he couldn’t mistake that lovely, soft smile of hers for anyone else?
It was hot already, and humid, as Sydney summers always were, but he was ruefully aware that the sweat running down his back wasn’t only from the heat. Wound tighter than a watch spring, he was. Two years and four months and no giving in to temptation, no matter what. A married man, and he’d stuck to it, and God hadn’t it been hard! But today . . . the house he’d found for them was all ready, the bed made with brand-new sheets. A thorn pricked his thumb and he loosened his grip; not long now. The SS Waimana loomed closer; still painted in its camouflage colours, even now, fourteen months after the war had ended. Frank blinked, confused. There weren’t any passengers lining the rails – no, wait, there were a couple on the top deck, holding up some kiddies to see. Where were the women? This was supposed to be a war-bride ship. It should have been packed to the gunnels. The ship was tied up and the gangplank put across the gap. A trickle of passengers came down, but the only young woman who emerged was a redhead. She winked at him as she went past, her hand tucked into a corporal’s arm. That was all – the others were a family group and a couple of men in suits. Where was Margaret? He checked the letter from the Repatriation Committee again, for the tenth time; yes, the Waimana, arriving January 1920, check shipping news for arrival date. Which he had. Surely she hadn’t got off at Fremantle or Melbourne? Maybe most of the women had been going to Melbourne, and that was why the ship was nearly empty. That would be it. But where was Margaret? Who could he ask? An Army sergeant was checking off the corporal and his redhead from a list. With the enlisted man’s instinctive avoidance of authority, Frank went instead to a sailor who was securing the mooring ropes at the bow of the ship. ‘My wife was supposed to be on this ship,’ he began. The sailor hawked and spat into the greasy Harbour water. ‘Soddin’ women.’ Frank ignored his comment. ‘Margaret Dalton?’ he asked. The sailor looked at the sky and sucked his teeth, thinking. ‘Brown hair? Good looker? About so high?’ He measured against himself. Frank nodded. ‘Yerse, I remember her. There were only a couple without their blokes. She came on board, but she took herself off again. Women – always changing their bluidy minds.’ He’d felt cold like this when he’d been shot, at Passchendaele, in the streaming mud, trying to crawl under barbed wire. The shock had gone through him the same way, exactly. ‘Took herself off . . .’ he managed. The sailor shrugged and made fast, then circled him to get back on board. ‘Life’s a shit, eh?’ he said as he climbed the gangplank. • Frank threw the roses into the gutter as he walked away. Walked and walked, hot in his good suit (his only suit) and his shiny shoes. Part of him wasn’t surprised. He’d always known that Margaret was too good for him. Too beautiful, too kind, too loving. He wasn’t worth that kind of girl; a nameless orphan with nothing more than what his two hands could make. But she hadn’t seemed to realise that. Had seemed to think they were on a par, that she was making a good bargain. Had seemed to look forward to a life in Australia.
When she’d walked with him to the station to see him off to the front, she’d cried silently, surreptitiously rubbing the tears away from her face, not wanting to make him feel any worse. They’d only been married a month, then, and parting had been so hard. When they’d kissed goodbye, her soft mouth had been salty with tears. She’d loved him then, he was certain. Two years and four months was a long time. Long enough, it seemed, for her to change her mind, even if it was at the last moment. He’d had letters; but not for a while, now he thought about it. A few months. Maybe that should have made him realise. Made him prepare himself, instead of being side-swiped like this. She should have warned him. Told him she’d had doubts. He could have reassured her. Hell, he would have gone to England to fetch her if he’d had to. Unless someone else had changed her mind for her. The thought of Margaret with another man hit him low and hard, and left him gasping. He needed a drink. There was a pub on the corner. Not one he’d been in before, but it was open. He went in and hesitated, then ordered a whisky. Beer wouldn’t chase away this shaking feeling inside him; wouldn’t put him solidly on his feet again. One whisky didn’t, either. He had another, and another. A vague sense that he was spending too much money sent him out the door, jingling the coins in his pocket, along with the key to the house he’d prepared so carefully for Margaret. It made him sick to think of living there alone. Made him walk faster, as if to outdistance the thought. He stopped for breath and realised that he’d walked a long way; had taken a familiar path, to Stanmore, and Gladys.
Well, why not? Hell, he’d been faithful the whole time, and what did he have to show for it? Anger rose up in him, finally chasing away the cold, sick dread. If Margaret didn’t want him, there was one who did. Who always had. And there was no reason now that his daughter couldn’t have a proper father. That thought was the first good one he’d had. It would be wonderful to see more of Violet. He turned into Cavendish Street and walked up to number 64, Mrs Leydin’s boarding house, where Glad had a room for her and Violet. For a moment, before he knocked, he was afraid that she wouldn’t want him, either. That she’d throw him off because he hadn’t chosen her over Margaret, despite the fact that Margaret was his lawful wedded wife. He was frozen with that fear, for a moment; that he’d be back to being alone in the world, as he always had been until that miraculous day that Margaret had said she would marry him. Alone and forsaken. But he wasn’t alone. Violet would always be his. His knock would have woken the dead. It was still early; Glad was on second shift at the biscuit factory, and she hadn’t left for work yet. She answered the door and put her hand to her heart as she saw him; did he look that bad? ‘She didn’t come,’ he said. Her pale little face flushed and she took his hand almost shyly. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. That was Gladys. She was sorry, always, at anything that caused him pain. She really loved him. Tears came to his eyes but he didn’t want her to see, so he pulled her into his arms and hugged her. Violet came running out of their room and crowed with delight to see him. ‘Papa!’ she yelled. She barrelled into his legs and he swept her up with one arm, still holding Gladys tightly with the other.
He kissed Vi’s cheek and she threw her little arms around his neck. There was nothing like that feeling. Gladys leaned her head against his shoulder; her love and acceptance soothed the raw wound of Margaret’s rejection. ‘You and Vi should move in with me,’ he said. ‘We’ll be a proper family.’ ‘Yes,’ Glad said. She smoothed his hair back and smiled at him. There was a hint of sadness at the back of her eyes, but he concentrated on the smile, mirroring it until the sadness disappeared. ‘A proper family.’
The War Bride is available in Australia in all bookstores, Target, K-Mart, etc., as well as all online bookstores, both in hardcover and e-book. It will be coming out in September in the UK.
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