Jacqueline Winspear Jacqueline Winspear
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On The Freedom To Write

A Dangerous Place
woman's face
I received my first copy of A Dangerous Place when I arrived home from England a couple of weeks ago. It was in a padded envelope with a message from my editor—she always sends me a copy with a personal note as soon as stock arrives in her office.

I ran my fingers over the cover, thinking back to 2003, when I received the first copy of my very first novel, Maisie Dobbs. I wept then, feeling the hot tears pricking my eyes as I held the book away from me so as not to splash the pages! It was a dream come true—and it still is. There is nothing about having a book published that I take for granted, and with each book I have felt even more lucky. And I am. Even though there are now many more ways to become a published author—the world of reading has not diminished, though it has changed dramatically in the past decade—it is still not easy.

Another reason why I feel fortunate—and I have written about this before, on the www.nakedauthors.com blog—is that the two countries I have called "home" in my life—Britain and the USA—are still countries in which, for the most part, we have the freedom to write what we want, when we want. We are free to express opinions, to share stories, to examine the truth of a situation, and no one is going to try to take our lives because what we said wasn't palatable. Of course, we may get a sharp prod from those who don't agree with us, or who don't like what we write, but no one is putting a bullet to our heads for having the temerity to tell the story we want to tell, whether fiction or non-fiction. And in these countries where we enjoy freedom of expression, voices are raised in demonstration when someone is silenced. It goes back to that old saying, attributed to Voltaire: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."

education quote

I think of all these things when publication day is on the horizon, because I am fortunate. Blessed to have had an agent who happened to read my inquiry letter years ago. Lucky that a publisher—Soho Press—took on my first novel, and even more fortunate that readers enjoyed that novel, so the one story I wanted to tell became a series. And in the intervening years, as one novel followed another, I discovered how much I really wanted to explore the characters through the tumultuous time from the outset of the Great War, through the shaky peace of the 1920's and 30's, and throw light on how life might change for each and every one of them when war clouds gather again on time's horizon. The mystery—that journey through chaos to resolution—offers the writer a compelling platform for delving into all manner of society's ills.

soldiers marching

People have sometimes asked me if Maisie's experiences of loss are "normal." Certainly she has lost people she loved—her mother, her first love, and her mentor, Maurice Blanche. And in A Dangerous Place, readers will learn that tragedy has visited her again. But if we look at the time period, it's clear that much could befall a family. Childhood illnesses such as diphtheria took the lives of an unusually high number of the under 5's, and Scarlet Fever, Rheumatic Fever and Tuberculosis were all life threatening. Infant mortality was high—during the Great War, many soldiers had known what it was to lose a sibling, and because extended families lived together or close by, death seemed to be a frequent visitor. But here's the story of a woman I knew when I was a child. In fact, all the children knew her and her companion, a dear man with whom she lived, because they were both alone in the world and were long-time friends. She took such joy in the company of children, and always had a pocketful of sweets to hand out. When I was about ten years of age, my mother told me the woman's story. She had lost her husband in the Great War, and then her two sons in World War Two. Her grief was so intense that she tried to take her own life by starving herself. It was her companion who came to her rescue, asking her to help with his aging mother and offering her a room in his home, so she would have company. When his mother died, they just remained living in the same house. I remember visiting them one day—on my own, just dropped by to say hello—and seeing the photographs of her husband and sons, fine young men in uniform. It must have been so hard for her husband to march away to war leaving a wife and two small boys—and devastating for her to lose first her husband, and then her sons.

memorial plaque

That's a memorial to those who died in the Great War. It's in the local church in the small town where I grew up. If you were close, you would see that some families lost two, three and four boys in the conflict.

A Dangerous Place will be published on March 17th. As you read the novel, you will discover that Maisie Dobbs prefers to remain in a place that many consider very dangerous indeed, given its close proximity to another war. Yet returning home to England presents a far more daunting prospect for Maisie.

I'll be kicking off my book tour at the Tucson Festival of Books next Sunday—a terrific event! You can check out my appearances schedule on my website. Sadly, I have had to reschedule a few events at the end of the tour due to family reasons (my 87 year-old mother is having a hip replacement following a bad fall over the holidays, so by her side is where I will be). Changes will be on the website soon.

With all good wishes,


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