The Second World War still holds a fascination for people. This is evident in the popularity of books generally covering this subject. Madalyn we, as novelists, have an opportunity to bring fact to life through fiction and you do this so well. We can tread in our parents’ footsteps and re-visit the scenes that are still etched into so many memories. Some of these are so painful they are never spoken about. Storytelling is a great healer and Madalyn’s insight into how four young women dealt with the challenges, dangers and heartache they faced during World War Two, each in their own unique way, lifts the lid on the personal life that went on behind closed doors. Madalyn Morgan’s latest novel: China Blue, tells Claire’s story…
The 3rd book in the wartime romance series after the very successful Foxden Acres and Applause is called: CHINA BLUE. The latest in the Dudley Sisters Saga is being launched Saturday 9th May 2016.
At the beginning of World War II Claire Dudley joins the WAAF. She excels in languages and is recruited by the Special Operations Executive to work in Occupied France. Against SOE rules, Claire falls in love. The affair has to be kept secret. Even after her lover falls into the hands of the Gestapo, Claire cannot tell anyone they are more than just comrades. As the war reaches its climax, Claire fears she will never again see the man she loves.
Hi Madalyn, welcome to my blog today. My first question is: Was China Blue harder to write than Applause?
It was, Theresa. Much of Applause is set in London, where I lived for more than thirty years. The West End theatre in the novel is a combination of several theatres I worked in, making the descriptions of the dressing rooms, the auditorium, and front of house authentic. I had to research dates of bombings in the West End, as well as the East End in the Blitz, underground stations, bomb shelters and of course the shows, artists, and music of the time.
With China Blue, I had to research the WAAF*, RAF*, Aerodromes, the SOE* and the extensive training the operatives were put through – mentally and physically. I read dozens of accounts written by men and women who were in the armed forces, as well as the SOE. Then there was France, the occupied and unoccupied zones. The planes that parachuted operatives into France and the lighter planes that picked them up. I had to know about travel in France, about the trains and stations to various towns and cities, including Paris and the Metro. I researched how to parachute, and how to blow up trains and communication pylons. And, I needed to know about the work of the brave men and women of the French Resistance.
China Blue was the hardest book to write because imagining an English agent surrounded by the Gestapo and parachuting into German occupied France, crossing the Loire river on a rope-bridge in a thunder storm and losing brave comrades and friends in the Resistance was very demanding. The book is also a love story, so a fine balance was needed.
How easy do you find it, slipping into the role of the next Dudley sister?
Because all four sisters appear in the first novel, it wasn’t difficult. The main characteristics of Margot, in Applause, Claire, in China Blue, and Ena, in The 9:45 To Bletchley, which I am currently writing, were established during Bess Dudley’s story, Foxden Acres.
I needed to be certain that the work I had done creating their personalities and characters was enough for me to build on when I came to write their stories. After plotting the first novel around Bess, I wrote biographies for the three other sisters – then there was no going back. Their likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams, became the foundations of their stories. To answer your question, Theresa, it is easy for me to slip into each of my characters and interact with them, because I know them so well. I wrote their original biographies in 2010 and have developed them a little in each subsequent novel. Also, as an actress, I am able to walk in their shoes. It may sound pretentious, but I approach the characters in my novels as I did the characters I played when I was an actress. I see and hear them, and I become them.
That’s great Madalyn, I can understand that. So would the relationship between the sisters have been different if there hadn’t been the war?
Oh, yes. If there had not been a war, Bess would have stayed in London teaching, only seeing her sisters in the summer holidays and at Christmas. Instead, she returned to Foxden when the schoolchildren were evacuated, and was there to help each of her younger siblings. Margaret, or Margot, would not have had the chance to follow her dream and become a dancer. She would have lived with her in-laws in Coventry and remained working in the office of the local factory until she had children. Goodness knows what Claire would have done. Claire isn’t particularly academic or artistic, other than she has an ear for languages. But, without the war, Polish pilots would not have crashed landed on Foxden Acres, her family would not have given one of them lodgings, and she would not have learned Polish and German. After several years in service as a nanny, Ena would have come home to Foxden. She would have worked in a local factory to be with people of her own age and probably found a young man and got married. She would certainly not have been involved in ‘sensitive’ work for the top-secret facility, Bletchley Park. The war helped the Dudley sisters to realise their dreams and reach their potential.
Bess and Margot were both strong independent women. Will Claire in China Blue also be strong?
Yes. Claire is stronger and more independent than her sisters. Because of the nature of her work as an undercover agent working with the French Resistance, she has to be physically and mentally strong. And, because she can’t tell anyone what she does, or where she works, she has to be emotionally strong too.
So do you think the Second World War generally made women stronger?
Yes I do. But women grew in strength during World War I. With so many men fighting overseas, women had to do their jobs. The years between the wars brought about great changes, too. Thanks to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, women over the age of thirty were given the vote, and working class women were allowed a higher education. Until then only the daughters of the aristocracy, or very wealthy men, were allowed to go to medical school, or university. What women fought for between the wars was cemented in World War II. In so many ways, the Second World War was the catalyst that gave women independence. Thanks to the strong women of the early and mid-Twentieth century, most women today have equality.
Has China Blue also got some autobiographical background or family history behind it?
You’re right, Theresa. I used many of my own experiences in Applause. I don’t think there is much of me, or my family, in China Blue. I lived in London for thirty-six years, so I’m familiar with the streets and squares that Claire walks down. And I had an aunt who was in the WAAF. She drove bomber crews out to their aeroplanes in a big field truck. I’m a romantic at heart, which Claire is. But, truthfully, Claire’s heroism and bravery is something I can only imagine – and write about.
The hardest part of writing four novels set in the same time, during a hugely documented era like the Second World War, is that each book has to be time-lined with real events in the war, and it also has to tie-in with each sister’s life-story. The novels can be read independently, or in any order.
And one last question! If you were bundled into a Time machine, Madalyn, and whisked away back into wartime Britain, how do you think you would cope?
I would be scared to death, as everyone was when the first bombs dropped. However, in time, I would like to think I’d be strong enough to get on with life. Like Margot Dudley, I would work as an actress. And, I’d stay in the theatre and entertain the audience with uplifting songs while the air raid sirens wailed and the bombs fell outside. I’d join ENSA* and entertain the troops. I would like to think I’d be brave enough to entertain our lads on the front line, overseas. And, I would sing in Trafalgar Square on VE DAY.
And I think you’d be wonderful Madalyn, just like our own Dame Vera Lynn! Thank you so much for answering my questions so honestly and revealing the detail and background to your writing – it’s been fascinating to come ‘backstage’ with you! Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog.
Thank you for interviewing me on your Blog, Theresa. I have really enjoyed our chat about China Blue and the Dudley Sisters.
Key to organizations mentioned:
*WAAF : Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
*SOE: Special Operations Executive.
*RAF: Royal Air Force
*ENSA: The Entertainments National Service Association
If you would like to know a little more about Madalyn’s background, and links to her website, please read on…
Madalyn Morgan, an actress in the West End, Film & TV, a radio presenter and journalist, is also an accomplished novelist. Born and raised in her family-run pub, Madalyn abandoned her successful hairdressing salon to attend Drama College in London and follow her dream. Years later, after sharing the stage with many celebrities, she has returned to her home town of Lutterworth to enjoy a slower pace of life, tend her garden and have the freedom to write.