Monday, July 07, 2014

@ The Poisoned Pen with Jacqueline Winspear!

Two days after seeing Ingrid Thoft and Chevy Stevens, once again Denis was working at the airport and I was heading to The Poisoned Pen. This time I would be seeing Jacqueline Winspear, author of the Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series, who was going to be talking about her latest (non-Maisie) book, The Care and Management of Lies. I was really looking forward to this because for the past few years Winspear had been coming to my favorite bookstore during the weeks Denis and I were down in Bisbee.

It didn't take long for people to begin arriving, and the one thing I remember the most is the woman who'd never read Louise Penny's books. Four women surrounding her (and me from across the aisle) quickly had her digging in her purse for paper and pen while we looked up the titles of Penny's books and gave them to her-- in order, of course. We were all smiling, thinking of the reading pleasure she had in store.

"I've known Jacqueline since..."

L to R: Barbara Peters, Jacqueline Winspear

Bookstore owner and host Barbara Peters introduced the author by telling us, "I've known Jacqueline Winspear since she was a poor, struggling writer. She stayed in my home, met my dog, and worked on her first book, Maisie Dobbs." After sharing other experiences that they've shared, Peters held up some clear plastic envelopes containing cards with the cover art for The Care and Management of Lies. Winspear had been asked by the Bodleian Library in Oxford if they could do this, since her latest book was written to commemorate the centenary of World War I. These cards were going to be given away at the end of the event.

The Evolution of an Idea

Jacqueline Winspear
When Jacqueline was in her twenties, she was working in academic publishing and also helping out on weekends at a friend's market stall in London. One weekend she and her brother decided to check out the market at Camden Lock, and in one stall Jacqueline found a huge tattered book titled The Woman's Book. It weighed a ton, and she was fascinated at the range of topics the book covered: how to black a stove, where to seat the Prime Minister if the King were present, how to become involved in politics, how to be a freelance writer, how to run a farm... much, much more than just cooking and cleaning house. 

Then she saw the dedication written inside. It had been given to a bride one month before World War I began. Jacqueline Winspear had not yet had any aspirations whatsoever to become a writer, but she thought this book with its timely dedication was an excellent starting point for a story. 

"As you can see, this book of mine has been quite a few years in the making!" she said.

One fan, remembering that her brother had gone with her that day, asked what he thought of her find. "He didn't even notice," Winspear said. "He'd found a Steiff teddy bear in another stall that he only had to pay ten pence for. He was over the moon about that!"

"I think Downton Abbey has prepared the audience for your book," Barbara told Jacqueline, who agreed. 

In researching her book, Winspear read lots of letters written by soldiers and their families. Many of them showed the importance of food in the soldiers' lives. "One of the first things the government did once war had been declared was to build a huge postal station in France," Winspear said. Another vital source of information was the officers' battlefield diaries. She mentioned visiting cemeteries and seeing all the markers inscribed Known Only to God. "In those days dog tags were made of metal, and once in the ground, they fell apart very quickly," the author said. 

"She just walked onto the page."

Jacqueline Winspear
Kesia, one of the main characters in The Care and Management of Lies, is based on Winspear's great-grandmother. The scenes in England are set very close to where she grew up, and the farm Kesia is left to run is based on one that Winspear is very familiar with.

"Thea was supposed to be a very minor character," Jacqueline divulged. "But she's a very passionate person, and when I began to write about her, Thea just walked onto the page and demanded attention."

Right at this point, Barbara Peters told us that Winspear had become a naturalized American citizen at the end of May. Jacqueline's smile widened in remembrance. 

She then talked a bit about Kent, where most of the English scenes are set. "Kent is called the Garden of England," Winspear said, "although many people believe that phrase to be a corruption of 'Guard Room of England' since its coast is right on the English Channel

"Henry VIII is responsible for turning Kent into a garden because he insisted on having the best fresh fruits and vegetables served at his table. His insistence changed the entire course of farming in Kent."

"What's for dinner, Mom?"

Available Now!
The time had flown, and it was already time for questions from the audience. Naturally we wanted to know about the next Maisie Dobbs book!

"There will be a new series for Maisie that begins two years after Leaving Everything Most Loved," Winspear said. "It's set to publish in April 2015."

Barbara Peters was trying to remember how many times Winspear had appeared at The Poisoned Pen, which triggered Jacqueline's memory of her very first for Maisie Dobbs. "It was 2003, I think, and I was having kittens because I was late for my very first Poisoned Pen event and the door of the plane wouldn't open!" she said. It was easy to see that she could still feel the stress from so many years ago.

Another woman asked her if she'd tried to do any research on the bride who'd been given the copy of The Woman's Book that Winspear had found in the market stall. "No, unfortunately. A friend at the publishing company I worked for said that she knew someone who could have the book rebound for me, and I gave it to her. Shortly afterwards, I left the company, then she left the company, and we simply lost touch. By the time I knew I was going to write this book, too many years had passed, and I had to track down new copies."

"It makes you think of buying books and having your name inscribed inside," Barbara remarked. That made me think of the books I own now which were given to me as a child by my mother and my grandparents. All have short handwritten inscriptions inside as well as the dates they were given to me-- making them very precious indeed.

Talk then turned to food and how important it was to soldiers serving their countries far away from home. "I have friends whose son served in Afghanistan. They quickly got used to having the phone on the dinner table because they knew when their son would call and they could set it on speakerphone. He always called at dinner time, and the very first words out of his mouth always were, 'What's for dinner, Mom?'" Other people in the audience shared similar memories while I sat there thinking of the times my mother would make huge batches of Toll House cookies which were placed in large tins and equally huge batches of baked beans which were put in Mason jars. My cousin Stan served in Vietnam, and those two things were his favorite foods. I remembered helping Mom in the kitchen and then helping her carefully pack the boxes to send them to him. Stan's care packages from home quickly became very popular with all the other Marines, and I think my cousin was lucky if he could keep some for himself.

Jacqueline told us that she'd had a similar experience herself when she was working in Saudi Arabia. "I remember the day when I was suddenly overwhelmed with desire for a bacon sandwich-- and I was a vegetarian! Afterwards I realized that it really was a desire for home."

Will Maisie ever be on television or the movies? "There are no plans for that at the moment, but there might be this time next week," she said. "The interest comes and goes."

The evening ended with talk of television, and both Barbara Peters and Jacqueline Winspear think Call the Midwife is brilliant. Winspear often talks about the series with her mother. "My mother has told me, 'They've always got those really nice prams. We never had prams like that!'" [Prams = baby strollers]

Was it worth waiting a few years to see Jacqueline Winspear? You bet it was!


  1. Cathy - What a treat to hear what Jacqueline Winspear had to say! I have to say I'm very fond of her Maisie Dobbs novels. That's it. I'm going to find out of PP has spare rooms for paying guests.

    1. I think they tell everyone to book rooms at the Valley Ho, which is within walking distance of the store. From what I've seen, they barely have room for all the bookstore-type things they need to do! I really can't see you sleeping atop stacks of Diana Gabaldon's latest novel.... ;-)

  2. Thank you, Cathay. You don't know how much I miss the Poisoned Pen, my friends who show up there, and all the authors.

    1. It certainly is a wonderful group of people to associate with, isn't it?

  3. Oh, gosh, how I miss these event, but I thank you for such good and witty summaries.

    Oh, if I had a magic carpet, I'd be at the PP for author events. And if I were reincarnated it would be as Barbara Peters, an author she is squiring through writing and publishing -- or her cat -- in the bookstore, of course, so I could see and hear everything going on.

    I'm thinking my library will have this book. I hate reading about war, but the back stories sound good, and I like women protagonists who are strong and persevere, no matter what the circumstances.

    1. Barbara has a Wire-Haired Fox Terrier named Odin, so you may want to be her dog instead! *wink*

  4. Arf! I guess a dog will do. Odin? What a name. And a wire-haired fox terrier -- super-high energy, but it doesn't surprise me that she has an energetic dog. She's so energetic herself and gets so much accomplished.

    I read an essay by Jacqueline Winspear at her blog explaining why she writes about war. She explained her family background and their war experiences. She didn't have to justify her writing backgrounds or themes, but she did quite well. I wanted to email her to tell her that she did an excellent job expressing her reasons. Her family lived in Britain during the war. They were affected by it.

    It may not make sense to U.S. readers who didn't have the same experiences, but to Europeans I'd think it would make sense. But there are plenty of veterans here who were in wars and scarred by what they saw and experienced.

    Anyway, I put this book on library reserve.

    1. My own grandfather's experiences in the South Pacific in World War II had a profound effect, not only on him, but my entire family. It's possible that someone reading Winspear's books will be able to make sense of things that happened-- or are happening-- in their own family. Hope you enjoy it!


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