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Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Lady in the Spitfire by Helena P Schrader

The Lady in the Spitfire
As a girl, I went to boarding school in London. I was very lonely, and ended up spending much of my free time in museums. One of my favorite museums became the Imperial War Museum, with its magnificent display of WWII aircraft. From the aircraft it was a small step to books about the Battle of Britain -- and "the Few." Soon I was also visiting the airfields; Tangmere, for example, was close enough to visit it more than once. Before long I was imagining a story and I started work on a manuscript while in college.

But soon other projects took precedence. While working on my Masters in International Relations, I discovered the German Resistance to Hitler. This soon became the topic of my doctoral dissertation. The dissertation was first published in Germany by an academic publisher, then re-written for the English-speaking market and published by Sutton Publishing in the UK. Based on hundreds of interviews and material irrelevant to the dissertation itself, I produced my first novel, An Obsolete Honor: A Story of the German Resistance to Hitler.

Yet all the while the idea of a novel about the Battle of Britain continued to nag at me. I returned to the topic, now with experience of a PhD in history and the ability to read and research in German as well. I decided to write a book that would follow the fate of men -- and the women they loved -- on both sides of the Channel. I sought out the memoirs of RAF and Luftwaffe pilots and obtained detailed histories that recorded the sorties, the claimed(and actual) "kills" each day, the damage to airfields etc. and got to work.

Chasing the Wind was the result of that research combined with my enduring passion for the people involved in this critical battle in history -- the ground crews and controllers as much as the pilots. It seeks to capture the tension and uncertainty of this critical phase of the war -- and highlight how many different people in different jobs were involved in the outcome.

chasing the windBut Chasing the Wind ends when the Battle of Britain did, in the fall of 1940, and -- as we all know -- the war was far from over. Chasing the Wind was a long book already and it had a conclusion that was right for it -- but readers kept writing me to say "But what happened to...." Just as important, the characters wouldn't leave me alone either. Chasing the Wind was finished, but the story was not. There was more to tell. So I sat down and wrote a sequel, The Lady in the Spitfire.

The Lady in the Spitfire practically wrote itself. The characters were by then so much a part of me, that I knew what they would do and say in a new set of circumstances. Furthermore, by this point -- after the PhD and the research for Chasing the Wind -- I knew the clothing, customs and even the jargon -- of the period. The amount of research necessary was minimal. I have rarely had so much fun writing a novel!

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Helena's website

"The telling of good deeds is like alms and charity;
it is never lost labour but always has its return."
Chandos' Herald ca. 1386

3 comments:

Sophie Schiller said...

It is amazing how your imagination was first sparked by visiting the museum. It shows you how education is not just classroom time, but where you spend your free time as well. Imagine how different your life might have turned out had you not had such unfettered access to the museum!

Debra Brown said...

I enjoyed your post, Helena! What a wonderful life, studying history and finding those gems that you cared so much about. It's nice to know you.

awriterofhistory.com said...

We have things in common, Helena, especially an interest in WWII. Having three novels to your credit is a wonderful accomplishment. Congratulations.