People often ask me about the research I undertake for my novels featuring psychologist and investigator, Maisie Dobbs. Truthfully, I think I've been "researching" the era since I was a child, because I was so curious about the experiences of my grandparents and parents in the wars they had lived through. I remember asking my grandmother what life was like in the "olden days" and her very quick reply. "Olden days? Olden days? I'm not that old, young lady!" Oh dear—to me she seemed ancient! And I was always fascinated by the stories of the older men and women in our community—people for whom the Great War was not just a memory, but a painful scar on the soul. They would indulge the questioning of a child who just wanted to know how things were done when they were young.
When I embark upon writing a new novel, I make a list of my research needs—simply put, the things I need to know that I don't already know. And of course there are the questions that arise as I go along. I might have a character go from A to B on a train—so I have to check to make sure that trains ran from A to B at that time. That's when I contact one of the experts I have come to know over the years. For example—anything to do with train schedules I put to Mark Smith—or "The Man in Seat 61". Mark helped me with train schedules from Paris to Munich in 1938—without his assistance I might not have known the sleeper cars (wagons lit) were only available until Maisie reached Stuttgart, where she had to change to a regular first class seat. His advice on present day travel is exceptional—and for someone who loves trains as much as me, his website is a treasure trove! In return for his help, he asks for donations to the UNICEF Syrian Children's Appeal—he has raised over £15,000 so far.
Other sources include the archives at the Imperial War Museum in London, the London Transport Museum, the Costume Museum in Bath, the National Railway Museum in York, the Science Museum, and of course the archivists and historians I've met along the way. Many of you might have read my Facebook post about my visit to the Women's Voluntary Service archive, based in Devizes, Wiltshire—which gave me more invaluable insights into the social history of the Second World War. But here's where it gets really interesting—when the research becomes personal and I can dig down into the smaller nuggets of experience. I told my aunt that I was visiting the archive, which inspired her to recount how the WVS clothed the family when their house was bombed (again) and they lost everything. "I had to wear men's combinations," she said. "They had no proper underwear!" I recounted this story to the archivist, who threw light on the reason why my aunt—she was 16 at the time—was given men's "long johns" instead of women's underwear. He told me that much of the clothing stock came from across the Atlantic, donated by Americans for the thousands of British families who were losing everything they owned during the blitzes of WWII. "But they never sent underwear," he told me.
Next up—my book tour starts on March 13th, so not long to go now to publication of In This Grave Hour. My tour events are listed on the Appearances page of my website.
It's not long to go now until publication of In This Grave Hour—on March 14th. I'm looking forward to seeing so many of you along the way on my book tour.
Until then ...
"This is the thirteenth in the Dobbs series, and even as the time frame has moved through the first war and the years between the wars, Winspear has continued to explore the aftermath of the nightmare that was WWI—the effects the conflict had on people and society. She does so again here, just as the world takes its first steps into another devastating global conflict. It's a fine novel, written with Winspear's sure hand and ability to meld historical events into an engaging crime narrative. Fans will savor this one as they anticipate what Maisie will do in WWII."
PREORDER IN THIS GRAVE HOUR: