Feature Spotlight with Pamela Hart
Describe yourself in one word:
The Soldier’s Wife is your twenty-eighth book, a fabulous achievement in and of itself, tell us how your writing process has changed over the years and what developments in the process have been the most significant?
I guess the most significant is that I’ve moved from children’s (as Pamela Freeman) to adult writing. I went backwards – most people start writing for adults and then write for kids when they have a baby; but I didn’t write my first adult novel until my son was a toddler. I married late (met my husband when I was 39) and I suspect I felt that until I did the whole ‘fall in love and get married’ thing, I wasn’t really grown up enough to write for adults. I used to believe I was a short-story writer at heart…perhaps I was a bit daunted by the idea of a very long story. But now I’m writing proper, long novels, and I quite like it!
As for process, I think what you gain by writing a lot is that you recognise earlier when something’s going wrong with the story. You still make the mistakes, but instead of realising the mistake after the fourth draft, I’m more likely to recognise it either while I’m still writing, or in second draft. That saves me time and effort – but it doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes!
The Soldier’s Wife is an intense story of love, heartache, and passion set against a WWI backdrop. What was the inspiration for Ruby and Jimmy’s story?
My grandfather fought and was wounded at Gallipoli. Two years ago, I was asked to come and speak to my son’s class for ANZAC Day, because he was the only one in the class with a direct link back to Gallipoli. So I took my grandfather’s medals and dogtags in and showed the class, but I also read them the copies of the telegrams his family received when he was wounded. He became very ill – ‘dangerously ill’ was what the telegrams said. As I read these terrible messages, I began to wonder what it would have been like to be the person receiving those telegrams –and that was the beginning of the book.
So I gave my grandfather’s war service record to Jimmy, including his service number and how he was wounded, etc. But Freemie (my grandfather) wasn’t married, so I had to invent Ruby from scratch!
Here is a picture of Freemie’s medals.
We see Ruby undergo some tempestuous changes throughout the story, all of which add great depth and tenacity to her as a character. If made to choose, what one character trait will most endear her to your readers?
I think she’s a very generous person – she takes care of other people without really thinking about whether or not she should, and that leads her into some difficult situations, but it also makes her grow up quite fast over the course of the book.
What was your biggest challenge in writing The Soldier’s Wife?
The biggest challenge was the character of Jimmy. I’m not giving away too much to say that he is absent on the battlefield for a great deal of the book, and trying to maintain the reader’s sense of the depth of their love and commitment when he wasn’t ‘on stage’ was very tricky. In the end, I used a combination of letters and notebook entries – letters he didn’t want to post because the censors would read them. They were the last thing I wrote in the book, because I realised we needed more contact with Jimmy and how he was feeling, but I didn’t want to set any actual scenes on the battlefield. This isn’t a book about war, it’s a book about love.
The depth of detail included in The Soldier’s Wife is inspiring; from the scenery descriptors through to the attitudes and mannerisms of characters, you transplant the reader right inside Sydney circa WWI. What kind of research was involved in the planning of the novel? Was there anything surprising that you learned during the research process?
Obviously there’s a huge amount of research – the most important part was reading the newspapers of the day (on trove.nla.gov.au) , day by day, so that I knew for each scene in the book what the characters would have known about the progress of the war and about the social attitudes of the time (and even the weather!). The ads were also fantastically useful – knowing how much something cost adds a lot of authenticity to a story. I guess there were two things which surprised me. The first was that all the newspapers had advertisements all over their front page, except for one ‘summary’ column which had news. We’re so used to thinking of newspapers as being for news first and ads second, but in 1915 it was almost the other way around!
The other surprising thing was finding out about the first ANZAC Day, in 1916. I guess I’d assumed that the celebration of that day hadn’t started until after the war, but in 1916 in Sydney there was a huge march. Some of the wounded had come back from Gallipoli by then, and they were taken through the city in motor cars, down to the Domain. Marching bands, speeches – everything we’ve come to expect of ANZAC Day was there on the very first anniversary. I went to the Dawn Service this year and it really struck me how similar the speeches this year were to the speeches in 1916, all of which were reported in the papers.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new historical novel, The War Bride. It takes one character from The Soldier’s Wife (Tom, for those who’ve read it!) and introduces a whole new cast of characters. It’s set in 1920, in Sydney, and it tells the story of Margaret, a young English woman who marries an ANZAC in England during the war, and then comes out to join him, only to find that he doesn’t meet her ship, and the Army records show that he’s already married. Of course, all is not as it seems…. it gets a lot more complicated than that! The story came out of the research that I did for The Soldier’s Wife, where I found a story about a woman this had happened to. it was so common for war brides to be abandoned that the Army had set up a hostel for them to live in until they could go back to Britain! But of course my Margaret chooses to stay in Australia and start a new life. The War Bride will be out for Mother’s Day next year.
About the Author:
Pamela Hart is my married name and The Soldier’s Wife is my first book under that name. As Pamela Freeman, I’ve written children’s fiction, epic fantasy, crime fiction and children’s poetry. You can find out more about my other books here.
I became seriously interested in historical fiction when I wrote The Black Dress, a fictional account of the childhood of Mary MacKillop in the Australia of the 1840s-1860s.
I have a Doctor of Creative Arts in Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney, and I teach writing (face-to-face and online) at the Australian Writers’ Centre.
My writing started when I was a children’s scriptwriter for ABC Kids, which was where I began to write children’s stories. But then I found that I wanted to tell stories for adults, too, and particularly stories about women’s lives, loves, tears and joys.
The Soldier’s Wife
Newlyweds Ruby and Jimmy Hawkins are sure their love will survive the trauma and tragedy of war. Amid the desperate battles raging in Gallipoli, Jimmy dreams of the future they planned together. In Sydney, Ruby reads his romantic letters full of love and longing.
But as weeks slip into months Ruby must forge her own new life. When she takes a job at a city timber merchant’s yard, she is thrown into a man’s world fraught with complications. And as the lives of those around her begin to shatter, Ruby must change if she is to truly find her way. Is she still the same woman Jimmy fell in love with?
Inspired by a true story from the author’s own family history, THE SOLDIER’S WIFE is a heart-soaring story of passion, love and loss and learning how to live when all you hold dear is threatened.
‘Evokes WWI Sydney to the point where the reader can almost feel the salty wind blowing off the harbour as the troops are shipped out through the Heads.’ BOOKS+PUBLISHING
‘Hart makes the details of daily life shimmer and pierces our heart with a love story that carries the weight of sacrifice and the joy of true partnership.’ iBooks Best Books of the Month
There are extra scenes from The Soldier’s Wife on the site and a free short story featuring one of the characters when you sign up for Pamela’s newsletter. Also videos, more information about Freemie, and more!