Evie is 18 and eager to tell you her story. Astonishing to think she was born in both 1897 and 2011 (when I first began thinking about her story).
I guess it’s fair to say that her ‘birth’ is also 1 July 2015, when she officially makes her appearance in the world. I’m out of the country at the time, but I’ll be having a party for her later in the month. A new novel deserves a party. Years go into each one: years of thinking, researching, writing, rewriting, staying up too late, getting up too early, obsessing over, worrying about, mulling, editing, proofing, adjusting, blurbing, promoting and, finally, selling. And all you have to do is read!
I began 'Evie’s War' accidentally. I’d been talking with my aunt about my Grandfather’s experiences in WWI – I wanted to be sure I had all the family stories straight, but there were gaps in my knowledge so I started to read. I read histories, diaries, letters, official reports. And as I read, stories blossomed in my head. I took hold of a handful and set off on a journey. A physical journey – I travelled to Flanders and Picardy, Artois and the Somme, Cambridge, Saffron Walden, Lymm, London. I found the sites and sources I needed. I wrote. I was offered a writing residency in Belgium – wonderful, dedicated writing time, opportunities to research, to wander, to become lost in the past. Evie was with me throughout, even when I abandoned her to finish another book. Her story pushed me further into research even as it sped out across my keyboard. (Such a thing would have been unfathomable in her era.)
'Evie’s War' is about the First World War, but it’s also about much more. It’s about growing into an understanding of the ugliness of the world, and the ways that we yet find its beauty. It’s about the cultural nuances of the time – the Suffragette movement, the attitudes of Empire – and the resilience of humanity in the face of abject horror. It’s about finding yourself, finding love, and losing all that you are. It’s about courage and strength. And, as well, it’s about the men and women, our forebears, who were thrust into hell and died there, or were maimed, or who staggered hollow-eyed from the grime when the armistice was signed.
That makes it sound like a horror story. For many that’s what WWI was, and ended as horror stories do. But 'Evie’s War' is also a story of hope. I guess it’s obvious that Evie holds a piece of my heart. If I’ve told her story right, maybe there's a chance she’ll win yours.