By Leslie Lindsay
Hope, love, loss, and the power of reading, WHEN WE MEET AGAIN (Putnam/Penguin Random House, July 20 2021) is about one woman’s struggle with her career, as well as personal matters, set against the backdrop of WWII England and New York.
~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~
ALWAYS WITH A BOOK
Leslie Lindsay & Caroline Beecham in conversation
WHEN WE MEET AGAIN is Caroline Beecham’s American debut in historical fiction and will most certainly appeal to fans of Fiona Davis meets Christina Baker Kline with a touch of Kristin Hannah’s THE FOUR WINDS. This is an absorbing and emotional story about a mother’s love, but also secrets and redemption.
ABOUT WHEN WE MEET AGAIN:
London, 1943: The war has taken its toll on the book publishing industry. All the while, Alice Cotton, a young, sharp editor is on the rise. She sees books a way to cope, entertain, and distract–her hope is to get them into as many hands as possible. But she falls pregnant–a surprise–and certainly not in line with being a single, unwed woman of the day. She flees her job to give birth in a remote seaside town but her baby is whisked away to ‘baby farmers,’ who plan to put the child up for adoption.
Meanwhile, Alice’s story overlaps with that of Theo Bloom, an American colleague tasked with helping the British procure books for soldiers, the paper shortage, and more, all of which was a new ‘take’ on WWII books, which I found refreshing, if not devastating.
Caroline Beecham does a lovely job of describing the social status of the characters, whom are all fully formed, empathetic, and compassionate. I felt fully immersed in the culture and time period, and found the details of the publishing world wholly fascinating and enlightening. As for ‘baby farmers,’ this wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon for me, yet still horrific; WHEN WE MEET AGAIN certainly took a unique angle, marrying the concept with war, publishing, and the love of reading.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Caroline Beecham to the author interview series:
Caroline, welcome! I always want to know what answer authors were seeking when they set out to write. Were you hoping to uncover a truth, understand a period in history, or maybe learn something about yourself? What propelled you in WHEN WE MEET AGAIN—and did you find your answers?
There are probably two answers to this questions.
Firstly, a few years ago I discovered a long-held family secret; that a relative’s illegitimate baby was sold to a childless couple living in a nearby town. I found this quite shocking until I looked into the circumstances and then found out how common these “illegal adoptions” were in England for unmarried mothers during wartime who had to find a way of taking care of their children, often through illegal adoptions. This then led me to learn more about baby farmers, which sound so Victorian but they really existed in the 1940s, because social expectations were still so unsympathetic towards unwed mothers. It must have been so frustrating for women because an important act to protect illegitimate children was shelved in 1939 because of the outbreak of war, just when it was needed the most. So yes, I think there was definitely a sense of trying to understand how this could have happened and how a relative could have succumbed to the social pressures so much that they were driven to this. I was also challenged by the notion of how you would forgive a family member for doing this and how it would change your outlook and life, not to mention your relationship with them. there and while I didn’t find any answers, there is a greater understanding when you try to put yourself in their time and place.
The second reason I wanted to write this story was because of finding out the important role books played during wartime. When I was writing my second novel, Eleanor’s Secret, I learned about the challenges of creating and getting books to the civilians and troops who desperately needed them. It was so fascinating and I thought readers would find it interesting too. The publishing world provides a unique setting for the story and there were so many inherent dramas in getting the books published because of rations, tariffs and other wartime restrictions. As soon as I thought about the setting and Alice’s predicament, the story evolved very organically and it seemed very natural combining these two aspects. And what reader doesn’t love a book or library setting, and a behind-the-scenes look at the industry? There is darkness in the novel because of Alice’s stolen child and the world it takes her into but this is balanced by so much light and hope created through the friendships, the love and the power of books.
If you were to summarize WHEN WE MEET AGAIN not using full sentences, what would you say the story is about?
WHEN WE MEET AGAIN is a historical mystery about a determined young woman searching for her missing child
It’s a compelling story about a young woman who cleverly combines the search for her missing child with creating much needed books in wartime
It’s a heart-stopping tale of family betrayal, love and forgiveness
It’s an evocative and heart-warming story that reminds us of the importance of friendship
It’s an inspiring tale of a mother’s love and the importance of stories
It’s a love story bound by hope, secrets, and the power of reading
“A compelling story of a determined young woman and her quest for justice set against the fascinating world of publishing–and even a zoo–during World War II.”
—Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child
I loved Alice! She was bright, fearless, and had such a passion for books. Can you talk a little more about her character? Was she perhaps maybe an ‘exception to the day?’
Thank you Leslie, that’s so great to hear. I love finding untold stories of women who defied the expectations of their time, and breathing life into them. I’m sure Alice wasn’t an exception as women showed bravery in so many ways, particularly juggling multiple roles to contribute to the war effort, it’s just that perhaps we haven’t heard as many stories about them. I read lots of testimonials from women as part of my research, which showed how they looked after family, worked jobs and carried out Civil Defence roles and voluntary work, which all in all was a huge contribution to the Home Front and the war effort. Alice was also inspired by Diana Athill, a pioneering woman in the publishing world who wrote some great books including a memoir; Stet: An Editor’s Life. My grandmother worked in the land army in Britain during the Second World War and my great-grandmother was also a very strong character who ran her own business when she was widowed, so there are some real-life influences too! Alice’s passion sprang from loving her job, seeing how she could make a difference and recognizing how it could help her find her missing daughter too.
Of course, like Alice, we share a passion for books. WHEN WE MEET AGAIN certainly takes a fresh perspective on them. For example, I had no idea Pocket Books originated because they were easy for soldiers to keep in their pockets. It didn’t dawn on me that books were hard to come by due to the paper shortage and rations. Books truly do fill a void: they encourage, distract, add comfort, and more to our lives. Can you talk a bit about that, please, and also, share some of your recent favorites?
Okay, so this is where I reveal that I am a total book nerd! There are some great facts about these books that I could share from my research, such as how the Allied Services Editions were printed on magazine quality paper because it was cheap and lightweight, that they had to use staples because glue couldn’t withstand the heat in the tropics, and that two pages were printed on one so that another person could read over your shoulder at the same time! One of the reasons that I believe historical fiction is popular is because it allows us to walk in other people’s shoes, which is a good perspective because it means that we don’t take anything for granted when we understand what previous generations have been through. This concept echoed even more when I was working on this book during the pandemic because I thought of our grandparents’ generation with their lockdown and challenges, and then how so many of us turned to books just as they did during the war. In Britain, civilians read more in the blackouts, in underground shelters and for escapism as well as to understand what was going on in the world. In North America the Armed Services Editions were produced for the troops along with a number of specialist books as well as regular fiction. Many of us seem to have found comfort in reading fiction for escapism and entertainment, and non-fiction for interest and information. Surely it can only be a good thing to be reading more, searching for meaning and looking deeper into what’s presented to us in the news cycles?
Some recent historical fiction that I’ve enjoyed include: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, and Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams. Other fiction favorites are The Midnight Library by Matt Haig because I love the concept of exploring those “if only” moments and Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce for her great quirky characters.
Of course, I am so struck with this dark concept of ‘baby farming.’ What a devasting thing—but also very real. During the Great Depression, things were tough. My grandfather was purportedly ‘sold’ and then returned to his family when the new person discovered my grandfather had lice. He was young child, not a baby, but the practice of selling humans as a way to ‘lighten the load,’ isn’t exactly new, but oh so tragic. Can you shed a little light on this, please?
I’m really sorry to hear that Leslie. It has come as a real surprise how many people have stories about relatives who were illegally adopted; it really was so much more widespread than you would have thought. As I mentioned, I also thought of baby farming as a Victorian concept but it is essentially human trafficking and remained commonplace in Britain because unmarried mothers had few options because of societal expectations. If society had been more accepting of unwed mothers, then the options wouldn’t have been so limited or drastic. As it was there were an even greater number of unwanted pregnancies during the Second World War. I found it hard to read the newspaper archives about the convicted baby farmers and the conditions that some of the babies and children were kept in. In the novel, Alice is also sickened by the conditions and its partly what drives her to want to help, as well as her search for her own missing daughter. Unfortunately, legislation that was meant to be passed—the Adoption of Children Act—to help protect unwed mothers and their children, was shelved because of wartime and it took social activists like Clara Andrew, who fought to get the Act passed. Also the journalist Olive Melville Brown who followed the story and kept it in the public eye. These were also pioneering women who inspired characters in the novel.
Caroline, thank you so very much for all of this. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten….what you’re working on next? What it’s like to publish for the first time in the U.S., what you’re most looking forward to this fall?…or something you’d like to ask me?
I’m currently working on a novel with the working title, Esther’s Children, for mid-2022. The story is inspired by a woman who helped rescue thousands of Jewish academic refugees from mainland Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. I came across her life story a couple of years ago and now I’ve researched her and know about her incredible legacy, I think that she should be a household name!
It really is so exciting to publish in the US and to work with the great team at Putnam. There are challenges because it’s obviously a tough time with COVID but I am hopeful that people will find When We Meet Again and engage in the historical mystery, get swept along with Alice and Theo’s relationship, and get satisfaction from glimpses into a world they might not know about. Since I can’t travel to the North America I love to see reader’s photos of the book in different locations and I’m just waiting for someone to post a photo from Book Row in New York, an important location in the novel.
I also love to hear from readers either on Goodreads, or by email with thoughts or questions if there is anything they want to know about the characters or the research. As a historical fiction writer I’ve built up a memory bank on some aspects of the social history of the Second World War era and it’s always interesting to talk about. I’ve now written on food, art and publishing so I might be handy to have along on a trivia night if there are any 1940s questions!
The thing that I am most looking forward to in late 2021 is being able to travel back to England to see my family and my heart goes out to everyone else who is missing loved ones that they have been parted from. What are you most looking forward to Leslie?
We are in the midst of some home renovations–and while it’s invigorating and exciting (I really do love decorating and creating), I am looking forward to the opportunity to relish in the fruits of our labor. Truth be told, I want to curl up in a comfy chair with a book, and sit in awe at the fall colors. Like you, I’m also looking forward to a trip later this year for some much needed time to reconnect.
That sounds lovely. Thanks so much for having me, Leslie!
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I’ll be taking the month of September off from author interviews to focus on other writing while gearing up for some fabulous fall titles, including speculative memoir in October as well as highly-anticipated titles like Donald Antrim’s ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL: A Memoir of Suicide and Survival, A CONSTELLATION OF GHOSTS (Larriane Herring), a round-up of Maggie Smith’s poetry, Naomi Kupsky’s THE FAMILY, and others.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Caroline Beecham is a novelist, writer and producer. She is the author of four books: Maggie’s Kitchen, Eleanor’s Secret, Finding Eadie, and her US debut, When We Meet Again. Her first novel, Maggie’s Kitchen, was shortlisted for Booktopia’s Best Historical Fiction and it was also nominated as Book of the Year and Caroline as Best New Author by AusRom Today in Australia where she lives. She has worked in documentary, film and drama, and discovered that she loves to write fiction and to share lesser-known histories, particularly those of pioneering women. Caroline studied the craft of novel writing at the Faber Academy in Sydney, with Curtis Brown Creative in London, and has a MA in Film & Television and a MA in Creative Writing. She was born in England and currently lives in Sydney with her husband and two teenage sons, and is working on a fourth novel and adapting Maggie’s Kitchen as a drama series.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.
Cover and author image courtesy of Penguin Random House/Putnam and used with permission. Author photo credit: Graham Jepson.