Friday favorites: Letters from a British nurse in World War One

Up until a couple of years ago, I worked for the British Red Cross as a writer and editor. One of my favorite activities was talking to our archivist and finding interesting items that had been collected throughout the organization’s 145+ year history.

I thought you might like these letters, which our archivist pointed out to me just before I moved to the Netherlands. They’re letters from a Red Cross nurse who volunteered in Surrey during the First World War. Many wounded British soldiers were evacuated back to Britain to recover, and the author of these letters, Miss Dorothy M Robinson, nursed them back to health at Waverley Abbey Military Hospital.

You can read the original documents on Scribd, but I’ve also transcribed my favorite – the third in the series – below so it’s easier to read. I love it because she talks about so many things: how long she can make £2 last, what kinds of practical jokes the soldiers got up to, and what happens when a Zeppelin comes close. And, of course, the problem with servants. Her last line kills me every time I read it.

I originally wrote about these for the Red Cross because it was when season 2 of Downton Abbey was on TV in the UK, and Lady Sybil became a Red Cross nurse. So if you’re a Downton Abbey fan, here’s another upper-crust young woman doing her bit for the country.

And if you just like history, I hope you enjoy these letters.

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My favorite war poem

Poppies
http://www.sxc.hu/profile/michaelaw

When I was in college, I took an absolutely brilliant class on 20th century American war literature. Although my beliefs have always tended strongly toward pacifism, I grew up in a city with large military bases and a strong military history.

My grandfather told me stories of his experiences in the Philippines and Japan. Grandma said he never once spoke of the war after he came home until I was 12 and told him what I’d learned about it in school. He started telling me stories, and it was the first time she’d heard them, too.

I can’t think of any literature more heartbreaking than stories of armed conflict. For me, the most powerful stories aren’t those that focus on the political or ideological nature of war, but on the personal. The best war fiction shows the often absurd nature of conflict, and the contrast between those who are far removed from battlefields – families, politicians, media – and those who are far too close.

That’s why this poem – my sweet old etcetera by e.e. cummings – is my favorite war poem. In fact, it’s one of my favorite poems on any subject. I can’t read it without picturing my 22-year-old grandfather lying in mud and dreaming about the 19-year-old wife he left in California.

my sweet old etcetera

by e.e. cummings

my sweet old etcetera
aunt lucy during the recent

war could and what
is more did tell you just
what everybody was fighting

for,
my sister

isabel created hundreds
(and
hundreds) of socks not to
mention shirts fleaproof earwarmers

etcetera wristers etcetera, my

mother hoped that

i would die etcetera
bravely of course my father used
to become hoarse talking about how it was
a privilege and if only he
could meanwhile my

self etcetera lay quietly
in the deep mud et

cetera
(dreaming,
et
cetera, of
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera)

Do you have a favorite war poem or story? How are you marking Remembrance Day/Veterans Day?

Interview with Joanna Bourne – and giveaway!

After I graduated from college I stopped reading romance for seven years. Those first three years, I lived in Prague, where English books were extortionate and none of the handful of bookstores sold romance. Then I moved to London and did an MA, which required hours and hours of reading legal and academic articles.

I finally picked up a romance novel again in 2009, and was hooked all over again. But I had ideas of what the genre was like—as if it wouldn’t have evolved—until I read about an author who’d released a novel the year before to huge acclaim.

Joanna BourneJoanna Bourne’s second debut (because it came out 25 years after her actual debut), The Spymaster’s Lady, changed everything I thought I knew about romance. With its clever, resourceful heroine and lyrical language, the novel helped me realize that romance can be literary and smart as well as entertaining.

I’m so thrilled to have Jo as my guest today. She’s giving away the hotly anticipated  BLACK HAWK (which comes out tomorrow, people!) to one person who leaves a comment, but first: Welcome, Jo!

1. Your debut novel, Her Ladyship’s Companion, was published by Avon in 1983 (you write beautifully about your first sale on Dear Author) and then you embarked on a career globe-hopping with the federal government. What made you decide to start writing romance again after a 25-year hiatus writing for the government?

Spymaster's LadyFairly straightforward answer to that one.  I stopped working overseas and returned to the United States.  It was work I loved, but it was time to move on.  Letting go of an 80-hour-a-week job does leave you with a little more leisure time.

Now I can use all those exotic impressions from all those foreign places in my writing.

2. Readers have been antsy for years waiting for Adrian’s story. Your last novel, The Forbidden Rose, is set when Adrian is twelve, and on the All About Romance website you say, “Think of the worst twelve-year-old you’ve ever known, and then hand him a knife. That’s Adrian.” How would you describe Adrian as a romantic hero?

Forbidden RoseY’know, it’s really hard for writer to analyze her own characters.  At least, it seems hard for me.

Folks tell me Adrian is a ‘bad boy’ hero.  A sort of James Dean.  Adrian is the lad from the wrong side of the tracks.  Dangerous, because he doesn’t play by the rules.  Unpredictable.  A little ruthless.  Definitely not safe to love.

I try to take that aspect of the young Adrian and run with it.  What would a ‘bad boy’ — a very, very intelligent bad boy — make of himself?  Black Hawk, the book that’s going on the shelves November first, is partly a Pygmalion story telling what Adrian created out of the raw clay of a street rat and thief.

I hope folks enjoy reading about the teenaged Adrian as much as I enjoyed writing him.  I hope folks like seeing him change.

In maturity, Adrian is still dangerous, still ruthless, still unpredictable.  Just — he’s not at all a ‘boy’ of any kind.

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Ten tips on writing characters with accents, by Rose Lerner

Rose LernerAnyone who’s read one of Rose Lerner’s novels (In for a Penny and A Lily Among Thorns) will know that her characters come from a wide range of backgrounds. Rose is a master at writing accents so a reader can hear her characters’ distinctive voices.

She’s very generously written this post on how she writes characters with different accents. Let us know how you deal with characters’ accents in the comments!

Hi everyone! Kat already wrote a great post about how I used accents in In for a Penny and a really awesome post on writing accents generally…I’ll try not to repeat myself, or her!

British people pay a lot of attention to accents. People from different regions and different social classes have marked differences in speech, and everyone is very conscious of that fact. Of course this is true in the States as well, but I really don’t think the degree is comparable.

I can think of several British memoirs off the top of my head that extensively discuss accents, either by referencing others’ accents by specific type or talking about the memoirist’s own accent (poor Roger Moore practically had a complex about not sounding posh enough!), and anyone remember that Monty Python sketch where no one can understand the rural accents and slang at the airfield?

So if, like me, you tend to write romances that have major characters from a variety of places and social classes, paying attention to accents is important. Here are a few guidelines and tips for how I do it:

1. I never write an accent phonetically.

Writing a particular word phonetically because its pronunciation is so different or it’s unique to a particular accent, okay. Writing all a character’s dialogue that way, no. Apart from being sometimes confusing for the reader, I’m going to come right out and say that I think this is rude.

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Interview with Jeannie Lin – and giveaway!

Jeannie LinA couple of years ago, Jeannie Lin burst onto the romance scene with her Golden Heart contest entry, set in China during the Tang dynasty. Romance readers had to wait over a year to be able to read Butterfly Swords, but everyone agreed it was well worth the wait—and it certainly revitalized my interest in historicals set in unusual eras.

Welcome to my blog, Jeannie!

1. What drew you to Tang Dynasty China in the first place?

The Tang Dynasty was the Golden Age of imperial China. It was a time when China was truly the center of the world and traders and merchants all over Asia and Central Asia came to the capital of Changan. I felt it was both a time of wealth and elegance, but also a time of danger and intrigue. And on top of that, it was visually inspiring. Great cinematography for a story, you know?

The most important aspect for me was that it was a time when women had more independence. It was a historical period with ideals of meritocracy and empowerment that resonated in modern times.

2. What’s the strangest thing you’ve learned about Chinese history during your research?

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