Leaving Lucy Pear is fiction, and as far as I know no wealthy Jewish teenager abandoned her newborn baby to a poor Irish Catholic woman on Cape Ann, Massachusetts in the 1920s. But elements of the book do come from real life. Here are a few:
Lucy Pear is left (and found) in a pear orchard, where the Murphy family comes each year to steal pears. During my own childhood, there were pear trees near our house, and for a few summers we would wake up one morning in August and find that all the pears were gone––every single one. We never knew who took them but my father would make up stories about pterodactyls and giraffes, just like Uncle Ira does in my book.
Hidden booze everywhere imaginable
Like the characters in my book, people on Cape Ann really did stash alcohol in wonderful places during Prohibition: under vegetable gardens; in fireplaces; in caves blown into the walls of the granite quarries. If there was somewhere to hide something, someone was probably using it for moonshine.
Fishermen standing watch for rumrunners
The alcohol trade was more lucrative than almost anything during Prohibition, including fishing. And one thing I learned—and stole for my book—is that some night fishermen would strike deals with rumrunners: they’d play look-out for the Coast Guard in exchange for a cut of the profits. They may have caught fewer fish this way, but the money more than made up for it.
Woman with a “nervous disorder” complains to the Navy
This was fascinating to me: A summering Bostonian woman who was suffering from a “nervous disorder” complained to the Secretary of the U.S. Navy that a new whistle buoy (which shrieked and groaned at all hours) was making her ailment worse, and the Navy took the buoy out. I read about this in a history book, then I moved it in the 1920s and also created a consequence: What would happen, I wanted to know, if this rich summer person’s actions led to a disaster for the local community?
Harvard’s Secret Court
I was working on my character Albert, a gay man who’s married to my sexually repressed Bea. I did one of those embarrassingly simple Google searches, like “gay men Boston 1920s,” and the first thing that came up was this article about a Secret Court at Harvard that basically rounded up all the boys who were suspected of homosexual activities, interrogated them, and then expelled a number of them, without references. This resulted in suicides, among other tragedies. It was a tragedy in itself. It was also exactly the kind of thing that Albert would have done anything to avoid—i.e. another reason for him to lie about his sexuality, even at times to himself.
Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon is out now (Blackfriars, www.littlebrown.co.uk, £8.99)