Thursday, May 11, 2017

Fiction with Heart: Elinor Florence at Canadian Authors

Bestselling novelist Elinor Florence carries Canadian history in her DNA. Wednesday she talked to Canadian Authors about salting fiction with nuggets from real life. The protagonist of Bird's Eye View is a prairie farm girl who works as a map interpreter at RAF Medmenham.

Born and raised on a former airport in North Battleford, Florence spoke of going to sleep thinking about the ghosts of airmen on her family's farm. One pilot crashed and died across the road on a training flight. Her father bought the farm land from the air force, and until he built the house, the family lived in a former airport building.

This airport, along with many more across the prairies, was built for the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, to ensure that pilots from Britain and the Commonwealth could learn to fly in safety before entering the Battle of Britain.

A journalist who worked on newspapers in BC and across the prairies, Florence talked about how she unearthed the telling details that place readers in the heart of the story.

The book was a long time in the making, and over a period of years, she interviewed people who remembered and served in the war. She read memoirs, including one by Constance Babington-Smith, the map interpreter who discovered the first V1 rocket on a German aerial map. Known today as cruise missiles, these flying bombs were a serious threat to London, and potentially to Halifax and New York as well, before the Normandy invasion.

To ensure she described the setting accurately, Florence visited Danesfield House, now a hotel. At this former site of RAF Medmenham, she met and interviewed a woman who had worked there during the war. By an amazing coincidence, this was the former map reader's first one day visit back to see her old workplace.

Florence also tracked down letters and pictures from obscure corners of museums. Astonishingly, a photo of the pilot who crashed in North Battleford led her, via the internet, to his relatives in Tasmania. She learned that the mother knew the young man and had written to his mother when he died. The Tasmanian cousin was delighted to learn where he was buried, and arranged to have the RCAF lay a wreath in remembrance.

A warm audience of Canadian Authors members and guests enjoyed Elinor Florence's fascinating presentation. Another book, My Favourite Veterans, is based on interviews she posts regularly on her blog, Wartime Wednesdays.

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