Today's guest is my friend Rosemary J. Kind. She's the author of several novels including the excellent Flynn and Reilly series, and co-author of From Story Idea to Reader. I've asked her to visit the blog to share some insights into writing her latest historical novel, Violet's War.
You've written several historical novels, Ros. Which comes first, the story idea or the research?
Definitely the story idea. Once I’ve got a story then I know when and what I need to research. Usually, I’ll come across something and just feel compelled to tell the tale that’s behind it, in a way that can bring history to life.
Violet's War is set at the time of the first World War. What made you chose that period?
The period was chosen by the story idea. In 1921 the English Football Association banned women’s football from their members’ grounds. Women’s football had become very popular as a result of factory teams raising money for charity during WW1. I wanted to bring that story to a much wider audience.
Which publications / resources have been most useful for your research?
There was a Preston based team called Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team. They were one of the teams that made women’s football famous in their day and thankfully there are books dedicated to what they did. I read books specifically about the team and generally about women’s football. As the subject grew I also had to do a lot of research into WW1 and conditions and life in the trenches. I watched many YouTube videos of original footage and documentaries from the period. I’m also very fortunate to have a good friend who is an expert in the field and how was happy to answer my many questions.
Your characters' names seem just right for the period. How did you chose those?
That was really fun. For one thing, I asked my readers for the names of their ancestors from that time. I had so many wonderful responses that it gave me good variety to choose from. I also use census records where I need to, in order to make sure I do get names which are typical for both the period and the location.
Violet Dobson is a football player. Were you already interested in the history of women's football, or did you have to learn it all for the novel?
When I was young I wanted to play football. I spent all my childhood out on a football pitch up until I was about ten. Then I went to our teachers, on behalf of myself and some of the other girls and asked if we could have a girls’ football team, instead of playing netball. This was in 1975 and I was very firmly told ‘no’ we could only play netball. It was an unforgivable response, but typical of the time. Sadly I left football behind because I was so cross about the response. I wish I’d known about the history of the women’s game then and had fought for our right to play. I’m just glad I know now.
Attitudes to women playing have changed quite a lot. Is there an extract you can share, without giving away too much plot, which shows some of the off pitch issues the teams faced?
‘Violet was just wondering whether to carry on when an older man walking a dog paused alongside the pitch. “You girls should be ashamed of yourselves, parading around like that. You,” he pointed his stick at Florrie, “the one in the shorts. Put some clothes on, young lady, before I have you arrested.”
Violet gasped, but Florrie was unfazed.
“Do you want to join in?” Florrie called to the man, who was smartly dressed and standing very upright for a man of advanced years.
He waved his stick at her and marched away from the ground.
Violet shook her head sadly; that was exactly the sort of thing she was afraid of.’
Did you learn any facts which caused you to change parts of your story?
That happens all the time. The biggest change was realising I needed to include chapters from Billy’s point of view and tell the story of him going off to war, in parallel to Vi working in munitions back home.
Can you share an example of historical detail and how you used it in the novel?
I had to understand what the girls would wear both working in a munitions factory and playing football. I deliberately don’t give the reader reams of descriptive passages, that’s not my style. However, it is vital that the tiny details that are fed in throughout the story are accurate. It took me quite a time to find the details for Billy, where he would have trained, how many slept in a room even how much their kit weighed. It’s all vital to making the story feel authentic.
I know from my own writing that your research will have provided more information than
you could use in one book. How do you decide what to leave out?
I only include what is necessary to give the reader a picture. That can be tiny details such as telling you that Vi traced the rose pattern on the wallpaper with her eyes while she was thinking. There is a lot of fascinating information, but I’d rather give you a list of my sources in case you want to read more than overdo the description so that the story gets lost. For me, it’s all about the story feeling authentic. If my readers want non-fiction description they would look elsewhere.
Violet's War really is a good story. You can get it here. You might also like to read The Blight and the Blarney, which is the first in Ros's Flynn and Reilly series and currently free, and Are We Nearly Famous? which is another freebie by Ros, myself and two of our friends.
Ros is giving away an ebook copy of Violet's War, which can be sent anywhere. To be in with a chance of winning, leave a comment saying you'd like a copy by midnight UK time 19th July. I'll announce the winner a few days later.