What a treat to welcome New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline Winspear back for Authors @ The Teague! The audience packed the Velma Teague Library to see her on her tour for her new Maisie Dobbs novel, The Mapping of Love and Death.
Jacqueline signed books before the program, and then slid the table out of the way, saying when she did her student teaching, she had been told to never use a table as a barrier between the kids and herself. If the supervisor came in and found the teacher behind a table, you'd be in trouble. To this day, she doesn't like a barrier between her and the audience.
Winspear introduced The Mapping of Love and Death so she could tell us about the inspiration for the book. The story begins with a young man, an American, Michael Clifton. He has just bought land in a valley above Santa Barbara, California. His father emigrated from England, married for love, and invested in land. He made good. So, Michael believes in buying land. He's a cartographer and surveyor He believes there is oil beneath the land he bought. He's getting ready to return home when he hears a newsboy outside his hotel shouting, "Britain goes to war! Kaiser to fight whole world!" (Even then the headlines were outrageous.) There's a march to war in Europe, and Michael makes the decision to go back to his father's homeland, and fight. He knew he'd have adventures to talk about because the war would be over by Christmas.
Of course, the war wasn't over by Christmas, and Michael went missing in France. His remains were found sixteen years later. And, that's where Maisie Dobbs, Winspear's investigator comes in. Michael Clifton's parents came to her, bringing a collection of love letters, with the hope she could find the woman who wrote them.
Now for some background. Winspear said she's been to the Somme and Ypres battlefields several times in northern France and Belgium. It just breaks her heart with the sheer numbers of missing involved in World War I. She knows what it meant to the countries involved. One memorial was to 54,000 missing from the Britain and the Commonwealth. There are a number of memorials to the missing, and that's all families ever knew, that a son, or husband, a loved one was missing. The graves at battlefields read, "A soldier of the Great War, known only to God." The British used a composite material for dog tags, and it would disintegrate with time, that's why there were so many bodies found with no dog tags, and no identification.
There was a great sadness in Britain, with so many known to be missing. A military chaplain had the idea to create a public memorial to the unknown soldier missing at the time of war. The king thought it was a ridiculous idea, but within three days of the war ending, people realized their loved ones were not coming back. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has a great significance in Britain. So, bodies of four unknown soldiers were taken into a room, and a general put his hand on one, and said this one, for the one to be in The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The day the gun carriage took the casket to Whitehall, 100,000 people turned out. Winspear brought tears to eyes as she asked, "Is that my boy?" "The love of my life?" "The boy I grew up with?"
Jacqueline Winspear said she always knew she wanted to address the missing in one of her books. And, then she was given an article ripped from the local rag, the Santa Barbara Independent. The Nov. 24, 2005 article was a letter to the newspaper, a letter so striking the newspaper featured it. It was written by David Bartlett, an ex-British policeman who runs battlefield tours for small groups, often groups doing research. He was helping to track down identities of the missing. There are bodies still be uncovered. Just a couple years ago, 200 bodies of mostly Australian, but some British soldiers were found near the French/Belgian border.
Bartlett's letter was about a body that had been found. The man had been buried with reverence, holding a Dutch Bible. There were no dog tags. There was service equipment, and a watch that wouldn't open. There were little details in the description. There was a cap, with the badge in the soldier's pocket. That wasn't unusual, because if they lost their badge, they had to pay for it, so they often took it off, and, if they survived, put it back on the cap. There was American money in the wallet, from the bank of Santa Barbara, which is why Bartlett wrote to the Santa Barbara newspaper. The body was taller than most British. And, there were expensive colored pens, like engineers would use.
Winspear said her character, Michael Clifton, was not based on that young man, but she was inspired by that young man. She breathed life into a young man, wondering why he was inspired to leave beautiful Santa Barbara and go to war.
Jacqueline mentioned that the last time she was at Velma Teague she quoted Stephen King from his book, On Writing. He said when two ideas come together, a story is born. That's what happened to her. She had a deep reverence for the missing. The catalyst for her idea for a story was that letter in the Santa Barbara newspaper.
In The Mapping of Love and Death, Dr. Charles Hayden referred Edward and Martha Clifton to Maisie Dobbs. Winspear read an excerpt from the book in which the Cliftons brought Michael's journal and some letters to Maisie. Martha wants the letter writing identified. Edward wants more, because he knows his son was murdered.
Once Winspear left us hanging, with the comment about murder, she took questions. When asked about her interest in World War I, she said she's been curious about it since childhood. Her grandfather survived the Great War, but he was wounded, shell shocked and gassed. To the day he died, he was picking shrapnel out of his leg.
She was asked about her process, and how she keeps it all strength. Jacqueline said she wished she knew. But, she said she can't be guided by her research. She doesn't have to put everything into a book that she learns. Research is like an iceberg. Only 7% is over the surface. She learns what her characters are doing in each chapter, and then weaves in the historical details to support the story. Winspear said she's a storyteller, not a writer of history. She's going with the flow of the story. She asks what happened to the characters today. What might inform the future as well?
When someone mentioned that Maisie Dobbs was very independent for the age, Winspear disagreed. She said many women were independent in that era, and Maisie is a woman of her time. The Great War broke down barriers. Women went to war, and went into every field of endeavor. Lloyd George and the suffragettes were in collusion. After the war, there was a surplus of two million women. In 1921, single adult women only had a 1 in 10 chance of marrying. Virginia Nicholson wrote a book, Singled Out: How Two Million British Women Survived Without Men After the First World War. Women moved into public life, travelled, became Justices of the Peace, wore trousers. They were independent, strong, opinionated women. The archetype of that type of British woman was born then. They were different from American women at the time, much more like the southern women after the Civil War. The effect of that era stayed in Britain for a long time. During World War II, American soldiers stationed in England were given a handbook as to how to behave. They were told to always salute a woman in uniform, no matter what her rank, because women had earned their place in Britain. She said Britain wouldn't be what it is without those women. They have health service there because of the women. The women got the vote, and there were more of them to vote.
Someone asked how she found the time to write, and Winspear said it's her job. A professional writes, just as a plumber goes to his job. Everything revolves around her job.
A reader familiar with Maisie Dobbs asked what was the inspiration for Maisie's meditation. Jacqueline said at the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, people of a certain class had a great interest in Eastern philosophy. There are books from then about yoga. People had a great interest in the psyche. The original meaning of Freud's psyche was soul, rather than ego. So, Maisie's meditation has historical underpinnings, and she would have been exposed to the people interested in it.
Asked about her education and teaching, she said her original degree was in Education and English, but, when she graduated, there was a surplus of teachers, and she couldn't get a job. She went to work for an airline, so she could travel.
The perfect concluding question was, do you have long term plans for Maisie. And, to laughter, Jacqueline Winspear said, yes, she did have a long term plan. But, she wasn't going to tell us.
Jacqueline Winspear's website is www.jacquelinewinspear.com
The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear. HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9780061727665 (hardcover), 352p.
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