The Scribbler is so HAPPY to have Heather back for this week’s Story Behind the Story for her latest novel. She has been our guest before and if you missed her interview where we discussed her debut novel – Somewhere in Flanders – Letters From the Front - please go HERE.
The novel we are discussing today is an exceptional story. I had the opportunity to read it and Wow! Read on and you will discover a story not to be missed.
Heather McBriarty is an author, lecturer and Medical Radiation Technologist based in Saint John, NB. Her love of reading and books began early in life, as did her love of writing, but it was the discovery of old family correspondence that led to her first non-fiction book, Somewhere in Flanders: Letters from the Front, and a passion for the First World War. She has delivered lectures on the war to the Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society, NB Genealogy Society, Western Front Association (Central Ontario Branch), and other community groups.
Working Title: Amid the Splintered Trees
Synopsis: August 1914—Emma has dreamed of becoming a
doctor all her life, not an easy task for a woman. Will wants Emma as his wife,
but she is worth waiting for. They both imagine a life together, a family and a
future of happiness—someday.
But suddenly the conflict in Europe erupts into war, and they are asked to sacrifice everything. Nothing could have prepared Will for the death and devastation he faces in the muddy trenches of the Western Front. As his losses mount, he struggles to remain the man Emma knows and loves. Emma is forced to tackle her own obstacles as a woman in a man’s world of medicine, without his support. From her patients to her classmates, it seems no one truly believes her capable. Just when she thinks things cannot get worse, a devastating explosion levels her city and Emma is called to her own front line.
From the blood-soaked ground of Ypres, the Somme and Vimy to the 1917 Halifax explosion, each of them is tested in ways they never could have imagined. Wounded in body and soul, can they find a way back to each other or will their future also be sacrificed to the Great War?
The Story Behind the Story: My grandmother lived through the First World War, seeing her young man go off to fight and losing him to this conflict. I discovered this sad story when I was given the collection of letters which he wrote to her from the trenches. I curated these letters into a non-fiction book, the story of one Canadian man’s war.
I often thought about this small human tragedy: lovers and families separated, going through life trying to survive and keep their spirits and hopes up; of men leaving it all behind and being thrust into a violent, deadly world beyond any of their experiences to that point. I wondered how they thought and felt on a deeply personal level. At the same time, I thought about my grandfather who was a medical student in Halifax, who had a female classmate at Dalhousie Medical School and who was placed in his own traumatic situation when recruited to treat the injured in the days following the 1917 Halifax explosion.
In researching for Somewhere in Flanders, I was struck by the stories of the real Canadians and the incredible job they accomplished at the Front in 1914-1918. I was fascinated by the work going on at home, and by how very much they were just like us while coping with the unimaginable. It was a face of the war far removed from the somewhat dry list of battles that we’re taught… if we’re taught anything about this war. And thus, bubbled up the idea to bring that world back to life through fictional characters.
This story came together quite quickly in my head: young lovers divided by a war; a young woman defying gender norms and enrolling in medical school, trying to reconcile having a career and a family; a young man who dreams of a wife and children and a happy life but is faced with the mental and physical traumas of war, the loss of friends - a gentle man forced to kill. But I wanted a happier ending than what happened in real life for my grandmother - her young man lies buried in Flanders, killed at age 22 – but it could not be too easy for either of my main characters. Sometimes I felt like I was torturing these two lovely young people but that only makes for a better ending, right? This isn’t really a “love story”, although it has plenty of love; nor is it strictly a war story, which is well represented too. It’s a story of two people in love, facing four horrific years and triumphing in the end.
A question before you go, Heather:
What’s the most enjoyable and the least enjoyable about your writing journey?
Most enjoyable: getting into the heads of these two characters, of seeing them come to life on the page and coming to care for them as deeply as if they truly existed. In some ways they really did, as they are the representation of many real Canadians. When one beta reader said they fell in love with one of my main characters, it was a pinnacle moment.
As well, I felt I challenged myself as a writer and learned so much about writing. I have always loved books and stories, so to craft my own contribution to this art form was a massive personal accomplishment.
Least enjoyable: The editing! Oh, the editing… it feels like 90% of writing a book and in many ways is the least satisfying part of it. At times, I got heartily sick of my own words. But the polishing that results from editing makes the diamond shine.
Thank you for being our guest this week, Heather, and thank you for the incredible stories. Wishing you continued success.
A special thank you to my dear readers and visitors. Don’t be shy. Feel free to leave a comment below