and a very happy New Year to one & all!
It's time to tell you a little more about my new novel in the Maisie Dobbs series—In This Grave Hour—to be published on March 14th. Where did the year go? It seems it was only a few months ago that I was telling you about Journey to Munich!
A new book tour has been finalized and details will be up on the website very soon. As most of you know, the tour is planned by my publisher in conjunction with booksellers—there's always a limit to the tour, and I am sorry to say there are always places that appear on the slate one year and are not there the next. This year I'll be in Scottsdale AZ, Houston TX, Corte Madera CA, San Francisco, CA, Washington DC, Cambridge MA, New York NY, Pasadena CA, Seattle WA, Portland OR and later in April in Springfield MO. I'm very much looking forward to seeing so many of you along the way in March and April.
I'm often asked why it is that books in the series seem to reflect events in our world at the present time. My usual answer is along the lines of history repeating itself—sometimes a very scary thing indeed. It's doubly mystifying to me as I plan my novels a long way ahead of publication. For example, the "kindling" for The Mapping of Love and Death was laid down in 2004, when I began making notes I would later refer to when crafting the story—which was eventually published in 2010. In This Grave Hour opens on September 3, 1939, as Britain declares war on Germany following the invasion of Poland. Yet at the heart of the story is the plight of refugees, of the dispossessed who came to Britain following the march of the Kaiser's army across Belgium and France in 1914—at a time when Maisie Dobbs is tasked with finding the killer of several men who came to England as boys during those war years, so more refugees are now flooding into Britain from across Europe to escape Hitler's armies.
It's interesting that the plight of refugees escaping war torn countries in the Middle East have been in the news for some time now—I certainly didn't plan it that way when I first began making notes for In This Grave Hour.
By the time war is declared in 1939, Britain has been preparing for a possible German invasion and Luftwaffe air attack for months. Trenches have been dug in London's parks, barrage balloons shadow from the skies above, and railway, bus and Tube stations are sandbagged, along with government and other important buildings. Blackout curtains are mandatory in every household, and for the most part people remembered to take their gas masks with them whenever they left the house—though there were still shelves of them languishing in lost property offices at the bus and train stations. And the streets of cities are eerily bereft of the sound of children—most have been sent away to the country or overseas, some three million children on the move as part of "Operation Pied Piper." It was a plan in the making since the previous war, when it was clear that any future war would be a war of the air and that civilian casualties might overwhelm available medical services. In This Grave Hour sees evacuees billeted at Maisie's home in Kent—the country's own refugees fleeing war. Yet one of those children—a little girl—proves to be something of a mystery. It's a mystery that Maisie feels bound to solve.
My mother and five of her siblings were evacuated from London on September 1, 1939, and sent to the county of Kent. I grew up on stories of Mum's experiences during evacuation, and I was very well aware that it was an immeasurably painful time in her life. My aunts, in particular, have added to my understanding of what it was to be an evacuee, and then to return to London, one by one, when they reached the age of fourteen, which was the start of working life for the majority of youngsters. Indeed, a lifetime spent listening to family stories about the Second World War gave me insights into the experiences of civilians at that time—and for so many it was the second major global conflagration they would endure. I am sure when my aunts, in particular, read In This Grave Hour, they will be itching to let me know what they think!
I'll be sending out another newsletter soon, with more information on my book tour, and more background stories about In This Grave Hour.
With all good wishes,
In This Grave Hour will be published on March 29th.
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