One of the wonderful things about writing novels is that serendipity often lends a helping hand.
When I was starting to write my first book, LAVENDER ROAD, my car had broken down and I bumped into a wonderful local lady, Laura Boorman, at a bus stop on Clapham Common. Inevitably the bus was late, and we fell into conversation. It turned out Laura had lived in London right through the war years. She was a mine of information, and many of her memories crop up in the Lavender Road books.
A couple of days later the garage owner introduced me to an actor who in turn put me in touch with the lovely Mary Moreland who had been a celebrated concert artiste in the 30’s and 40’s. Much of Jen Carter’s turbulent career in SOME SUNNY DAY and the other books is based on Mary’s experiences.
Just as I was beginning to think about the SOE angle for ON A WING AND A PRAYER I was invited to an uncle’s birthday party at the Special Forces Club in Knightsbridge. There, I not only discovered the tragic staircase of pictures of agents killed during the war, which was a salutary reminder of the incredible dangers those men and women put themselves in for the sake of their country, but I also found information about certain young female agents and was therefore able to base Helen de Burrell’s adventures much more on reality than invention.
While I was researching the early development of penicillin for LONDON CALLING, I discovered by chance that an old family friend, Antony Jefferson, had been a medical student at the time (1942) and actually visited the laboratory in Oxford where Professor Florey and his small team were attempting to create a therapeutic drug. Things were so short in those days that they had to resort to using bedpans to grow the cultures in as they simply couldn’t find any other suitable receptacles. Antony had also survived a torpedo attach in mid Atlantic. Some of my readers will recall Jen and Molly’s dramatic escape from their sinking troopship in the Mediterranean, all based on Antony’s experiences!
I had already begun writing my most recent Lavender Road book, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, and was trying to find useful details about the women’s services during the war years, when I asked Eirian Short (a famous local embroiderer) for some advice on a tapestry I had recently inherited, only to discover that Eirian had joined the ATS in 1942 and remembered every detail! Although I should add that Eirian’s military service history was exemplary, and my character Louise Rutherford’s various high jinks are entirely her own!
Now, as I draw to the end of writing Book 6 (as yet unnamed) I’m glad to report that the same kind of thing has happened again. I won’t tell you exactly what because I don’t want to give the story away yet, but suffice it to say that serendipity has once again played a part, and for that I am profoundly grateful!
Helen Carey’s latest novel, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, was published by Headline on 6 April 2017 and is now available at your local Amazon store.
Marvellous post – the way that life and fiction feed into each other. Can’t wait to find out what the final stroke of serendipity is!
My daughter introduced me to the Lavender Road series, and I’m totally hooked. My dad was ten when the war broke out, they lived in Northwood. He never said much about his life back then, but these books have given me a whole new insight into what he must have experienced
Serendipity often turns into synchronicity, when you’re positively following the right track. Well done!
that’s so interesting… one or maybe two incidents like that might be coincidence, but so many are inarguably serendipity, fate, destiny, synchronicity, whatever you like to call it. And great that it resulted in such fab, absorbing books!
How wonderful Helen, Someone is definitely looking down on you. You were meant to write this series.
Helen,how do you do it !! i am fascinated by your reminiscing on how Serendipity helped you and it helps me to understand how your characters are so very real.
I am reading The Other Side of the Street, i was given it on Mothering Sunday but eye surgery held me up for a few weeks which has been so frustrating,but I am now into yet another exciting read,its silly I know,i can’t wait to reach the end its just so good,yet I don’t want to get there because I don’t know how I will wait for No’6 its such a long time until 2018,ah well I will just have to read them all again.!!
Thank you for such quality writing.
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As always, an entertaining and insightful post, thank you – and it shows how able you are to use ideas, individuals and their stories to illuminate your magnificent novels.