War related fiction has a special place in my reader’s heart so I am thrilled to welcome Caroline Beecham to stay in with me today to tell me about one of her historical novels.
I am also thrilled to be able to offer a paperback copy of the book we are discussing to a lucky winner in a giveaway at the bottom of this blog post.
Staying in with Caroline Beecham
I’m delighted to welcome you to Linda’s Book Bag, Caroline. Which of your books have you brought along to share with me and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought my second novel, Eleanor’s Secret, which was published in the UK in May by Ebury Press. It’s an engrossing wartime mystery of past deceptions, family secrets and long-lasting love, so it’s got broad appeal and isn’t just for lovers of historical and romantic fiction.
(Eleanor’s Secret sounds like the perfect read for me!)
Australian Cover for Eleanor’s Secret
It was published in Australia and New Zealand at the same time as the UK.
(How exciting to be out right round the world. I love that Australian cover Caroline.)
One Australian reviewer said, “Fans of Natasha Lester and Kate Morton will very much enjoy this new release and the dual time-zones mean the books will also appeal to a broader audience.” Debbish.com
That’s a great recommendation and I was also lucky that it was chosen as fiction ‘Pick of the Week’ by the Sydney Morning Herald. I really liked that a male reviewer chose it and commented, ‘Historical romance isn’t really my bag, but Beecham’s easy-flowing prose and astute structure make the pages fly.’
(Brilliant. It’s quite hard, I think, to appeal to both sexes so you must be thrilled with that response.)
The novel is inspired by the real work of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee War and a generation of courageous war artists during the Second World. It was a real privilege to research and write because like my first novel, Maggie’s Kitchen, it focuses on a lesser known part of the Second World War.
The idea came about when I discovered that of the thirty-seven artists given full time contracts, thirty-six were men and there was only one woman. This really sparked something for me because in wartime Britain women were taking on the majority of roles, yet that wasn’t reflected in the WAAC or the art world. I imagined there would have been female artists who had an issue with this, and Eleanor was one of them!
(Now I HAVE to read Eleanor’s Secret to find out more. I’ve never even considered women in the role of war artists before.)
What can we expect from an evening in with Eleanor’s Secret?
The book has dual timelines, the historical storyline focusing on Eleanor trying to achieve her ambition of becoming one of the few female war artists, and the contemporary storyline that sees Eleanor’s granddaughter, Kathryn, help to solve the wartime mystery:
When art school graduate, Eleanor Roy is recruited by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee, she comes one step closer to realising her dream of becoming one of the few female war artists. But breaking into the art establishment proves difficult until Eleanor meets painter, Jack Valante, only to be separated by his sudden posting overseas.
Although reluctant to leave her family at home, Kathryn can’t refuse her grandmother Eleanor’s request to travel to London to help her return a precious painting to its artist. But when the search uncovers a long-held family secret, Kathryn has to make a choice to return home or risk her family’s future, as Eleanor shows her that safeguarding the future is sometimes worth more than protecting the past.
(I am loving the sound of Eleanor’s Secret more and more – especially as Melbourne is my favourite Australian city!)
There is a lot to think about in the novel such as Kathryn’s interest in how war was depicted then and now; it couldn’t be more different recording conflict with drones now and the instant feeds compared to producing thumbnail sketches and then watercolours that took weeks to be sent home during the Second World War. Jack also has secrets that unfold as the storyline evolves that help explain his disappearances and gives a greater understanding of the cost to his family. I was interested in the sacrifices we make for the ones we love and this is a recurring theme in the book; how far our characters are prepared to go…
(That’s it! I don’t need to hear any more! Hang on a minute whilst I head off to grab my copy of Eleanor’s Secret. I’ll be back in a minute…)
Sorry about the delay! What else have you brought along and why?
I’ve brought along some of the research images as people seem to be very interested in these and the lives of the war artists, so I hope your readers will be too.
(I’m certain they will Caroline.)
These booklets were produced as part of a first series by British war artists in 1942 and a second series came out in 1944. The WAAC played an important role in recording the war, and for morale and propaganda in Britain and overseas, and these booklets were very popular. I really like this quote in Women, a booklet in the Second Series, in which artist Laura Knight wrote:
‘After what she has done in this titanic struggle, will she not guard what she has gained, and to Man’s effort add her own? If she can do what she has done in war, what may she not do in peace?’
The booklets were important for research but they also play a role in the story as one of the clues that helps Kathryn find out what happened to Jack. There are other clues that provide plenty of intrigue throughout the novel for those who want a mystery, but for those who want a night in with an engrossing love story, Eleanor’s Secret is also a romantic tale of long-lasting love.
(War Pictures by British Artists, Second Series, WOMEN, Oxford University Press)
Browsing through the catalogues of the Imperial War Museum enabled me to see works by war artists and there were some that were very evocative; I found the work of Edward Ardizzone really moving as he often captured civilians and troops in their day-to-day lives, which in some ways makes it harder to look at as you know what may be in store for them. I became so inspired by the artists and their works that I was thrilled to find this print by Edward Ardizzone in an online art sale. I would love to own a picture by a female war artist but since they are rarer, I might need to write a few more novels before I can do that!
Author, Caroline Beecham, with print by war artists and WAAC member, Edward Ardizzone
(I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know about Edward Ardizzone Caroline. You’ve not only introduced Eleanor’s Secret, but you’ve opened up a whole new area of interest. Thank you.)
As well as having these artworks for inspiration, I also interviewed a number of artists including Wendy Sharpe, who was official artist in East Timor, the first female war artist since the WWII. She was able to give a female perspective on working in difficult conditions and helped speculate on what life might have been like for Eleanor. She talked about the materials that would have been used and the processes but also of the feelings of volatility–of everyone on edge–and how this makes you aware of how things happen by chance. British military artist, David Rowlands, was extremely valuable in helping colour Jack’s character and understanding the emotions and feelings of being on the frontline. And as someone who grew up watching BBCs Kate Adie, reporting from battle-zones, I was really grateful for a deeper understanding of what these artists and journalists went through; different time period and artistic tools but still the same emotions, sense of fear and unpredictability.
(Your research must have been utterly fascinating Caroline. What amazing people to have come into contact with.)
And if anyone is interested in finding out more about the research or the book there is more detail on my website.
(I’m sure there will be Linda’s Book Bag readers heading there right now.)
It has been genuinely wonderful spending an evening with you Caroline, and finding out all about Eleanor’s Secret. I feel honoured to have heard how you conducted your research and have found your information fascinating. Thanks so much for staying in with me.
Thank you so much for having me as your guest Linda and enjoy the rest of your evening. Warmest wishes, Caroline.
Can Eleanor follow her heart in troubled times?
Eleanor Roy is determined to do her bit for the war effort after being recruited by the War Artist Advisory Committee. When she meets handsome artist Jack Valante, her dreams seem to be finally coming true when Jack promises to help her pursue her ambition of becoming an artist. But after a whirlwind romance, Eleanor is devastated when Jack is posted overseas.
When Eleanor receives some unexpected news she desperately tries to find Jack. But with the young couple torn apart by war, will they be reunited and find happiness at last?
Eleanor’s Secret is available for purchase through these links.
About Caroline Beecham
Caroline Beecham grew up at the English seaside and relocated to Australia to continue her career as a writer and producer in film and television. She has worked on a documentary about Princess Diana lookalikes, a series about journeys to the ends of the earth, as well as a feature film about finding the end of the rainbow. Caroline decided on a new way of storytelling and studied the craft of novel writing at the Faber Academy in 2012. She has an MA in Film & Television and a MA in Creative Writing and lives with her husband and two sons by Sydney harbour.
Giveaway: A Paperback Copy of Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham
For your chance to win a paperback copy of Eleanor’s Secret by Caroline Beecham click here.
Open internationally. Please note that once Rafflecopter has chosen the winner, I will not retain your personal details! Giveaway closes UK midnight on Thursday 16th August.