Oh my, what a year. It seems we've all been in the same boat and on rough seas we never imagined could be so volatile! While facing so many turns of fate that might have caused us to despair, many of us discovered that the best way forward was to look ahead while thinking, "We've just got to get on with it!" So many people experienced loss this year, yet at the same time others rediscovered community, spent more time with their families and learned a new skill. As publication day for my memoir approached (in November), many people wrote to me, usually via social media, to ask if I had some prior knowledge of this year's twists and turns, having entitled the memoir, This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing. It was a timely title for book published in 2020—and prescient, I hope—but I always knew that if I wrote a memoir, that would be the title. Those of you who have read the book will know why I chose those words.
Next up comes The Consequences of Fear, the 16th novel in the series featuring psychologist and investigator, Maisie Dobbs. Publication is just around the corner, in March 2021. Needless to say, it's already been commented that I have a funny way with titles, especially considering that publication of The Consequences of Fear will come just over a year after the lockdowns started—but I can assure you, I tend to arrive at my titles long before work on a book begins.
One of the elements I wanted to explore in this novel, if in a limited way, is the impact of war on children. I've focused on this phenomenon at points throughout the series, and particularly with Anna, the young evacuee who comes into Maisie's life at the outset of war in 1939 (they first meet in In This Grave Hour).
Over years of research, I have become aware of the many ways children are called upon to take a working role in conflict—for example, children are often recruited during a time of war, both officially and unofficially, as messengers. They can get from A to B while attracting little attention, and are often fleet of foot, spry in situations where adults might be slow and perhaps ungainly. In Belgium during the Great War, young girls became part of "La Dame Blanche"—the British-financed women's resistance movement (most of the men had gone to war). They ran messages while their mothers and grandmothers collected vital intelligence information, and committed acts of sabotage against the occupying German army. In that same war, as the British intelligence services grew, over 50,000 women were recruited to work at all levels. They did everything from code-breaking, to managing agents overseas and all manner of jobs in between. It's argued that the British Secret Service was built on the work of women. The youngest recruits were Girl Guides who ran messages between clandestine offices across London. Initially the work went to Boy Scouts, but the lads played around too much, whereas the girls took their work seriously!
Fast forward to the Second World War. In the weeks before Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939 (again, as depicted in In This Grave Hour), the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) men visited schools in London and other cities, looking to recruit boys who were fast runners. They needed the young sprinters to run messages between ARP stations and anti aircraft—"Ack-ack"—batteries. My father was a gifted athlete. His PT teacher was coaching him for competitions beyond the school and said he was fast enough to make the Olympics one day. But when the ARP men came calling, he was one of the first boys to be snapped up. He ran messages every day after school—even through bombings—until he started work at age 14 (his apprenticeship inspired a character in To Die But Once). After I began writing the Maisie Dobbs series, I had an idea that, one day, I would use his experience as a core plot point for a novel. Enter Freddie Hackett in The Consequences of Fear.
Freddie Hackett runs messages to help support his family. Freddie knows a moving target is hard to hit—so he runs faster and faster so fear can't claim him. But one evening as a "Bomber's Moon" illuminates London, Freddie sees far more than he ever wanted to see—and soon he's running for his life, because what he has witnessed amounts to murder.
One final image for you. This is what wearing a mask was like for children in WW2 Britain:
I'll be telling you more about The Consequences of Fear in the new year. In the meantime, here's wishing you a safe, peaceful, healthy and hearty Holiday Season.
My very best to you and yours,
PS: You can read more about This Time Next Year We'll Be Laughing, along with an excerpt here: www.thistimenextyearbook.com