Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Rosie Meddon, Author of These Wartime Dreams (The Sisters' War Book 3)

5 July 2024

Special Guest Post by Rosie Meddon, Author of These Wartime Dreams (The Sisters' War Book 3)

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After Pearl’s home is destroyed in the Exeter Blitz, so too are her dreams of performing onstage. Finding work as a bus conductress instead, a chance encounter revives her hopes once more, and soon she is singing for the troops alongside new friend Ivy. When agent Gordon Gold approaches them, Ivy jumps to sign with him and sets off for the bright lights of London. But Pearl is wary of the charming man and decides to stay, watching her friend go with a heavy heart. A year later, while Pearl is struck mute by an illness, Ivy returns – and is quick to seize the chance to fill Pearl’s place, singing with the band. Once more, Pearl’s dreams are threatened. Will she ever become a star?

Rosie Meddon, mulling the nature of inspiration.

Inspiration (noun): a force or influence that makes someone want to do or create something.

When people discover that I write historical sagas, they often ask what inspires me. When I reply that most of my ideas arrive ‘out of the blue’, I am regarded with mistrust – as though I am party to a trade secret I have sworn never to divulge. But even after a dozen full-length novels, I can honestly say that, if I was commanded to sit down and come up with the outline for a new story, I would almost certainly fail. 

For me, the ‘secret’ to being inspired is to forget that the goal is to develop a plot for a new book and instead to lose myself in something unrelated – be that swimming, working on my allotment, visiting somewhere new or simply going out for a walk – and then to keep an open mind, to be receptive to fleeting images or, more often, to snatches of dialogue suddenly taking place in my head between characters about whom I know nothing whatsoever. In fact, while this isn’t something I would ordinarily admit to a stranger, my head is crammed with such nonsense for most of the time. From there, it’s ‘just’ a matter of capturing the nuggets that appear to show promise – and drowning out the rest.

The first three novels to which I seriously applied myself after signing with an agent were set on the North Devon coast, the inspiration for them arising when, walking a stretch of the cliff path, I came upon a derelict house. The dilapidated structure led me to imagining the tales the building could tell such that, before I knew it, in my head, a fully formed set of characters were conducting their daily lives in what I imagined would have been the building’s heyday. 

The images were so powerful that, back at home, I frantically captured the characters’ stories, going on to write three novels in what I envisaged as being a series of five. My agent loved them. Several publishers praised my writing but felt that the relatively young age of the protagonist didn’t make the books quite the right fit for them. Then things took an unexpected turn: I was asked by one of those editors who had declined the books whether I would consider re-writing them with a more mature main character. After considerable reworking of my original premise, the Woodicombe House trilogy was born. A second trilogy, On the Home Front, followed soon after, arriving in my head before I had even completed the first, the characters in question being the subsequent generation of Woodicombe women – those who would go on to live through World War II. 

After six novels, it was clear that the Woodicombe story had reached its natural conclusion, meaning that future books would need fresh characters and locations. At some stage during the writing of Ties That Bind – the final instalment in the On the Home Front series – a shopping trip to Exeter gave me pause to consider the city’s history. I knew that it had been bombed in World War II but had never appreciated the extent of the damage. As I learned more, I tried to imagine what it would have been like to emerge from an air raid shelter on the morning after the city’s worst attacks to discover one’s entire life had been wiped out – to stand there, wearing the clothes hastily pulled on when the air raid siren had sounded, and find oneself with no home, no job, and not a single possession. 

The question gripped me and refused to let go, the idea evolving into a series about three sisters finding themselves in that very situation. Would the bonds of family keep them together? Would they overcome adversity by trying to pick up where they had left off? Or would they put their former lives behind them and take the chance to start over somewhere new? In my head, possibilities took off in all directions. I knew, however, that the strongest premise would require the sisters to take different paths – although not to become so distant that their stories wouldn’t naturally intertwine. But that was a matter for another day because, at that point, I still had to finish editing Ties That Bind.

In the meantime, on one of my regular visits to the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Rosemoor, a wander through the orchard found me staring at the name of a variety of apple: Fair Maid of Devon. Immediately, my mind conjured a run-down farmhouse, where I glimpsed a young woman struggling to settle to a new life. From observing her, I discovered that her name was May, that she was the eldest of my Exeter sisters, and that, through having had a hard life thus far, she was nothing if not pragmatic. May shared with me her concern about having left behind in Exeter her younger sister, Clemmie – my characters always arrive with names – who, she went on to explain, was fearfully lacking in confidence. 

It turned out that May had fewer qualms about leaving her younger half-sister, Pearl, a girl with big dreams. Back at my desk, I drafted each sister’s plot with the same opening scene – the morning after the Blitz – and, using what May had revealed to me, fleshed out three interlinked synopses. My editor loved the idea, the trilogy becoming The Sisters’ War. 

In late 2022, May’s story, A Wartime Summer was published, followed, in 2023, by A Wartime Welcome, telling the story of Clemmie’s journey in search of fulfilment. The trilogy’s final instalment, These Wartime Dreams, to be released by Canelo on 20th June 2024, follows Pearl as she sets out to achieve her ambition of a life on the stage.

When it comes to locations for my stories, with the exception of places such as Plymouth, Exeter, London and so on, I develop fictional or fictionalised settings that can be shaped to the needs of the storyline. Now and again, I will reference a real place – in this latest series, I mention Exmouth, Crediton and Torquay – to help anchor the reader firmly in Devon. Other than that, I set fictitious places in areas of the countryside I love and that I know well enough to write about – the North Devon coast anywhere from Croyde to Clovelly, or the farmland and orchards north of Exeter.

Writing the final instalment of The Sisters’ War and reflecting upon my good fortune to have stumbled upon not only new characters, but three separate plots that could be bound together into one intertwining trilogy, I realised this wasn’t the first time inspiration had struck in that way – it was simply that I hadn’t noticed. It has happened again more recently, too, resulting in the development of a further trilogy to be set in North Devon. These next three novels will span the entire length of World War II when, with recent events having changed the course of their lives, a trio of forty-year-old schoolfriends find themselves unexpectedly reunited, fearing for their futures and striving to find purpose while battling the hardships of war and personal loss. The first instalment, Julia’s War, has just been submitted to my new editor, and is scheduled to be published by Penguin Michael Joseph in July 2025.

I don’t mind admitting that I came to writing late in life, my first novel being published when I was… ahem… fifty-seven years old. But, casting my mind all the way back to being a little girl who, as an avid reader, was forever being reprimanded for ‘having her nose in a book’ or, just as frequently, for daydreaming, I would never have thought that a head filled with imaginary people carrying on adventures and getting to grips with the trials of daily life would lead me to become an author. 

In fact, it occurred to me only the other day that, while the accepted definition of a daydreamer might be something along the lines of (1) a person whose mind is somewhere other than the here and now, perhaps it should also include (2) an author actively engaged in plotting their next novel…

Rosie Meddon

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About the Author

Rosie Meddon came to writing late in life after leaving a career in project management and is an author of historical family sagas set during World Wars I and II. She now has nine published novels written as three trilogies, a format she enjoys for the opportunity it affords her to develop plots and themes on a broader scale. She draws inspiration for her writing from her own family history, which she has spent some years researching. She grew up in Hampshire and now lives with her husband in Devon, the primary location for her novels. When not busy writing, she enjoys exploring the southwest and keeping busy on her allotment. Find out more at Rosie's website and find her on Twitter @RosieMeddon

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