THE GI BRIDE came about after I received hundreds of requests from people who had read my first book, FAR FROM THE EAST END, and who wanted to know what happened to the girl in that book after she met and married her young American soldier boy.
THE GI BRIDE tells of my experiences as a young immigrant, beginning with my arrival in the United States as the 16-year-old wife of an American soldier. America was every girls dream, it was a world we had come to see through the eyes of the movie-goer; we could never get enough of those marvellous Technicolor films that came out of Hollywood; we thought everyone lived the kind of life that Doris Day and Audrey Hepburn lived. The reality, however, was far different from the life I had envisioned; it was more like walking onto the set of a seedy, black and white, B rated film and for the most part, it was disappointing. My story tells of the contrasts between life in America and life in England; it describes the intense loneliness and the pain of feeling unwelcomed by my husband's family and their lack of understanding or compassion. They were convinced I had only married their precious son to get to the USA.
The story continues through the birth of my son and through the breakdown of my first marriage; it tells of a second marriage to an abusive alcoholic husband and the birth of my daughter. After that marriage ended with a frightening and contentious divorce, I was stalked and harassed endlessly by my ex-husband and lived in fear for my life for many years after the divorce.
In between the stories of two unfortunate and unhappy marriages, there are many interesting happenings, including meetings with famous and infamous people. There are both funny anecdotes and some extreme dark and frightening experiences shared.
Having had two failed marriages, I decided, as many women do in similar circumstances, that I would never marry again; I then fell in love with a married man, someone who treated me like a princess and I was sure the situation was the safest for me and for my children; at least for the foreseeable future.
This is the sequel to FAR FROM THE EAST END, so what can you tell us about this book?
FAR FROM THE EAST END, my first memoir, begins with my Cockney birth in the old East End of London. The story moves graphically through an existence of poverty and neglect followed by the experiences of World War II, of life in and out of air raid shelters, culminating in the trauma of evacuation out of London at the age of five years. Evacuated to the mining village of Maerdy in the Rhondda Valley of South Wales, I was lucky enough to live with a kind family until the end of the war. We evacuees were not made to feel welcome in the schools and local children were often told not to play with us.
Returning to my natural family after the end of the war, was another difficult transition; my older brother, Peter, had also been evacuated and when we both returned home, we felt that we never quite fit in again; it seemed that our place in the family had been taken by two new young brothers. We were the pre-war children, and they, the post-war children; it was a gap we never seemed able to bridge.
The story continues as our family is relocated to a new council housing estate. Living in houses built by prisoners of war in a place where again we felt unwanted. The new estate had no roads, shops or schools for the first few years and life for everyone was difficult. Children and adults alike felt discrimination; we were seen as dirty undesirable Londoners, and again we suffered, both physically and emotionally from the derision and lack of acceptance. As the infrastructure of this new council estate improved and we got our own schools, shops and churches, life did settle down and became more comfortable for us, but the stigma of council house living, was always there.
FAR FROM THE EAST END follows me through my own coming of age. I had finally found a semblance of acceptance in the world but I still felt alone and out of place in my family and home. When I met my American soldier I was just 15 years old, but we fell in love and now I had new battles to fight, - again with disapproval, discrimination and name calling. However, our love, the love I had sought all of my life, endured in spite of every kind of discouragement imaginable. The story concludes with me, at the tender age of sixteen, sailing away from family, home and country, filled with hope for a better life.
FAR FROM THE EAST END is a moving story and although sad and painful at times, it is punctuated throughout with amusing cockney humour and anecdotes. There may be tears but there is always laughter from often bawdy happenings. I tell my stories in the most honest way I can and sometimes the language is a little crude, but it is told exactly as it was. I loved writing this book!
You won the Saga Life Story Competition, so how did this make you feel?
To tell you the truth, I still cannot believe it! I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I almost didn't enter my story in the competition; I was sure there would be thousands of entrants, (and there were), and I felt that there were bound to be far more interesting stories than mine. Then the realisation that Penguin Books, wow, would publish my humble story I still cannot believe it has all happened and I am so grateful for having had this amazing opportunity to share my memories. I was told FAR FROM THE EAST END could be a best seller but I doubted it; it was yet another shock to see it on the bestseller lists for many weeks.
What made you want to tell your story?
I believe there are two reasons. One; during all the years I lived in America, people were always interested in hearing about my life in England, about the war years and experiences, etc. People were always telling me I should write a book, but then, I hadn't the foggiest idea how to go about that. It actually all began when I bought a book called FROMMOTHER TO DAUGHTER. It was one of those books where you fill in the blanks to give your children some sense of their family history, for example: names and birthplace of grandparents; where you went to school, what were your favourite games, and so on. After a while, I found that the spaces for writing were far too small and I began adding sheets of paper with more details until the actual book was bulging with information; I then decided I had to do this writing properly. The second reason was all the pain I had been carrying around all my life. I needed to get it all out, to examine it and make some sense of it all, the feeling of being unloved and unwanted, the neglect, the sexual molestation, the discrimination along the way. There was so much held inside, I sometimes thought I would explode if I didn't share it with someone, somehow. I needed to find answers and writing became my therapy; it has been cathartic and has made me understand the whys of it all, and it has helped me understand my parents and to find forgiveness for their weaknesses and ignorance.
What was the lowest moment for you when you moved away?
Immediately after the birth of my son, when I was just seventeen years old, I became very ill and could barely function. I thought my in-laws would come to help with the new baby. I had raging fevers from severe mastitis; also, where I had been stitched after an episiotomy, the incision became infected; my temperature was so high I was delirious and couldn't remember if I'd fed the baby or not. I truly thought I was going to die and honestly wished for just that. I had often felt lonely before, but I had never felt so alone and uncared for in my life. All I wanted was my mother, but of course, that was impossible. Far worse "lows" were to come in my second book, but I believe this was the lowest in FAR FROM THE EAST END, except perhaps for when I did return to England for a visit. My marriage was in a shambles, I was ill and terribly depressed and begged my parents to let me stay and not send me back to America, but they made me go, told me I couldn't stay, that I had made my bed and so on, - that tore me apart.
Can you pin point the moment when you decided to make a fresh start?
A If you mean making a fresh start by returning to live in England after living in the USA for fifty years, the answer is easy. The fact is; I ended up being married again, twice. My fourth marriage lasted for almost 35 years and I thought it was a forever marriage, however, when I discovered that my husband had been cheating on me with one my best friends for several years, I felt that my life had ended. It took me a long time to recover from that, and I'm not sure that I have. I had always been homesick for England; I never felt that I had fully "put my roots down" in America, so when my world came tumbling down again, I decided it was the right time for me to "go home", and that's exactly what I did. I feel safe here and for the first time in a very long time, I am content.
You travelled from London, to New York, Chicago and Las Vegas, so which has the most memories for you and why?
Chicago has the most memories for me. My 25 years there were the most intense, with extraordinary experiences, meetings with famous people including a former royal butler who turned out to be a spy, being adopted into a mafia related family. However, most of the intensity came out of the insanity of being married to an abusive alcoholic; those memories still haunt me. It was also in Chicago that I met many other GI Brides through two organisations; those girls were a life saver; their support and our shared memories came to mean everything to me.
Was the book written from memory or did you have to look back over old triggers to help write it?
Well, I have been both blessed and cursed with the proverbial memory of an elephant. Perhaps because of the intensity of the times and situations, I vividly remember so much. I did have to research dates and minor details for accuracy, but with a memory like mine, I had little actual research to do. The one thing I did do early on was to contact the residents of each house I had ever lived in to ask if I might visit and everyone was delighted to be part of my project. I needed to know if I remembered everything correctly, and I discovered that the pictures in my mind were indeed accurate; it was a wonderful experience walking through the rooms of the houses and walking the streets of my childhood. Everything was just as I remembered, especially the first house, which still had the same wallpaper on the walls. The house had never been modernised as all the other houses on that street had; I considered that visit a real gift.
Who are your favourite reads?
I read mostly non-fiction. I love reading about real life and of the courage of people who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds; I can relate to those stories, I find comfort in them; they give me courage and affirmation. I do also read fiction but have no particular favourite author, - I consider it a precious gift to have a good book recommended; that's why I belong to two book clubs, - their varied recommendations stretch the mind to explore many different genres. I recently decided it was time to get rid of some of my hundreds of books, but, after I had bagged many to take to the charity shop, I ended up putting them all right back, - I'm hopeless when it comes to my books.
What is next for you?
I always thought my story would be a trilogy; that's what comes from starting to write it at such an advanced age. Almost immediately, after the release of THE GI BRIDE, I began receiving requests for book three. I guess the wonderful people who have followed and enjoyed my colourful life story really do want to know 'what happened next'. I still have so much to tell and hope I am given the opportunity to publish "the rest of the story".