We caught up with Ellie Dean to talk about her new book for 2018, With A Kiss and a Prayer.
What can readers expect for your new book With a Kiss and a Prayer?
Having survived almost five years of war, the residents of Beach View are growing weary of the drudgery of rationing and making do and mending. Peggy, who has been stalwart throughout and kept the home-fires burning is sorely missing her children and grandchildren, and becoming increasingly worried about Jim who is fighting in Burma. Peggy’s father-in-law, Ron, is up to his usual shenanigans, letting his ferrets loose in Gloria Steven’s pub when he shouldn’t have even been in there, and thereby, upsetting his beloved Rosie with dire consequences. There’s a mixture of sadness and joy as we follow the lives and loves of Peggy, Rosie, Ron and the girls living in Beach View Boarding House, and although there is at last some hope the war might be coming closer to an end when Rome falls to the allies and the D-Day landings begin, a tragedy far closer to home turns everyone’s life upside down.
Why is this period in history so appealing to you as a writer?
The war years have everything that a writer needs to conjure up a good story. Men in battle; the hardships suffered by the women left behind; the separation of families, the return of husbands to wives who’ve become independent and children who don’t know them - and the terror of air-raids. The generation of men and women who went through this war were a breed apart, for they didn’t wring their hands and complain, but rolled up their sleeves and got on with life as best as they could. Women took on men’s jobs, in the factories and in the fields, they joined the armed services or did voluntary work, all the while never knowing if their loved ones would come home.
What did you learn while researching the book?
I did a great deal of research on the Burma campaigns, through letters sent at the time by a member of the Chindit Brigade, through the internet and biographies. I was stunned at the bravery – some might say gung-ho attitude - of the American pilots and the pilots of the gliders who made thousands of deliveries of arms, men and machinery onto airfields carved out of sand dunes, rice paddies and narrow jungle valleys. Their feats of heroism took my breath away. I was also amazed by the conditions the Chindits fought in, and the hundreds of miles they had to march, fighting along the way. It’s little wonder that when these men returned home they didn’t want to talk about their experiences.
How did you create the character of Peggy? Does she remind you of anyone you know?
Peggy is the mother we’d all like to have. She’s warm-hearted and caring, seeing her lodgers as her chicks and part of the family, always ready with advice and a shoulder to cry on. I knew I needed someone to be the heart of Beach View Boarding House, and Peggy Reilly slowly emerged with her energy and unfailing sense of duty – and her exasperation with Ron and his dog Harvey. Peggy is always worried about someone, especially her Jim, but waits until she’s alone to shed a tear and a prayer that her husband and children will come home safely.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Penny Vincenzie’s ‘Something Dangerous,’ having just finished Peter May’s wonderfully atmospheric books set on the Isle of Lewis.
Who is your favourite author or genre of books?
I love big, sweeping multi-generational family historical sagas as well as detective novels, and thrillers. Ken Follett, Edward Rutherford and Kate Mosse can keep me happily reading for hours.
For fans of this era- can you recommend any other books set during the second world war?
Rosamunde Pilcher’s ‘Coming Home’; Judy Nunn’s ‘Territory,’ and Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief.', and Leon Uris, Mila 18, and Exodus.’
What are your ideal writing conditions?
I prefer to write during the winter as I love being outside during the good weather – should we get any. My office overlooks the garden and my neighbour’s paddocks which lie beneath a hill topped with trees. I am surrounded by my reference books, souvenirs bought in places where I did my research, and a jolly good heater to keep me warm. There is always a cup of coffee going cold on my desk as I get so involved in my story I forget it’s there, and on the walls are reminders of my birth-place, Australia, in pictures and Aboriginal artifacts. It might look a mess, but I know where everything is, and woe-betide anyone who tries to tidy me up!
What was your new year’s resolution for 2018?
It’s always the same every year – and I usually break it at some point, so I didn’t make one this year and decided to just try my best to keep the weight off that I’ve lost, and not get too tempted by chocolate and Prosecco.
What is next for you?
I’m currently working on number 14 in the Cliffehaven series. As The Sun Breaks Through follows Peggy, Ron, Rosie, Cordelia and the girls as the Allies move further into Europe. With the fall of Paris, it seems that the war really is coming to an end. But the Japanese have yet to surrender and some of the residents of Beach View find there are impossible choices to be made, whilst others find unexpected happiness and contentment.
With a Kiss and a Prayer by Ellie Dean is published by Arrow, priced £6.99