Tell Us Your Backstory with Lisa Bigelow
My nana was pretty philosophical. She was a member of a generation that saw a lot of change in the world but she had a pretty balanced perspective on life. One of the truisms that she often used was “be careful what you wish for”. That phrase were never far from mind as I wrote my first novel We That Are Left, which is being published this month by Allen and Unwin.
We That Are Left is a story about the people left behind by war. My book follows the lives of two young women, Grace Fowler who is desperate to be a news reporter live her film heroine Torchy Blane, and Mae Parker who is about to become a mother for the first time and determined to build a perfect home for her family. Both live in Melbourne during World War Two, and set about trying to get on with life while hoping their great loves; Phil Taylor, a war correspondent and Harry Parker, a naval officer, will make it home. In 1941, Harry is reported missing on HMAS Sydney II and in early 1942, Phil is captured during the Fall of Singapore.
Mae and Harry Parker’s story is inspired by my grandparents. Like the majority of her generation, Nana rarely talked about the war, nor about the loss of my grandfather on the Sydney. Much has been written by historians about the disappearance of the Sydney but I had few details of my grandparent’s lives together. Fiction seemed the best way for me to bring their story to life. Like so many others, she died before the Sydney was found off the West Australian coast by shipwreck hunter David Mearnes in 2008, ending the controversy about its loss. But I was able to bring that controversy and all of the associated rumours to life through Grace’s story of life on a daily newspaper.
Although I grew up with the Sydney story as part of my family history, I was prompted to try writing this novel when Australia prepared to commit troops into war in 2003. At the time it felt that there was too little discussion about the cost of war on our servicemen and women and the families and friends they left behind. It got me thinking about how hard it must be to maintain happy, positive relationships with partners being sent to serve overseas, and what would happen if their last leave visit had not been entirely happy. What if something happened to your partner after you’d argued and you never had the chance to put it right?
We That Are Left is a story of love and hope and wishing for things that might not turn out as you planned. Neither Grace, nor Mae knows what the future holds but both women are driven by their dreams of a wonderful life with the men that they adore. As the war continues, each woman is faced with difficult decisions about how to hang on and when to let go. Their stories also illustrate that sometimes the things we wish for are not what we wanted at all.
I am building my lisabigelowauthor page on Facebook so please drop by for a visit. Over the coming weeks and months I will share interesting new articles and historical documents that I’ve found during my research for this novel. We that are left is now available for order on Booktopia https://www.booktopia.com.au/we-that-are-left-lisa-bigelow/prod9781760297008.html and will be available in book stores from August 23.
We That Are Left
A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.
Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry’s ship is missing.
Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.
Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae’s neighbour and Grace’s boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae’s life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.
Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.