Author Ellen Feldman talks about Next to Love, our November Book of the Month, Weds 30 Nov, from 9pm

(82 Posts)

November's Book of the Month is Next to Love by Ellen Feldman, who was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for her last novel Scottsboro. Babe, Millie, and Grace are friends since childhood, living in a small Virginian town and waiting for news of their men who have gone to fight at D-Day.  As the war drags on, and when peace breaks out, they experience changes that move them in directions they never dreamed possible.  The women lose their innocence, struggle to raise their children, and find meaning and love in unexpected places. And as they change, so does America - from a country in which people know their place in the social hierarchy to a world in which women's rights, the Civil Rights movement, and technological innovations present new possibilities and uncertainties.

The kind folk at Macmillan have 50 free copies to give away - just email your name and address to promotions@macmillan.co.uk, putting Mumsnet/Next to Love in the Subject Bar.

But if you're not lucky enough to get one of those, don't forget you can get your paperback or Kindle e-book here

We are thrilled that Ellen will be chatting to us about Next to Love and all her other books on Wednesday 30 November 9-10 pm. Look forward to seeing you then.

If you'd like to find out more about Ellen Feldman and Next to Love, visit our Book of the Month page.

champagnesupernova Mon 28-Nov-11 09:00:15

I am worried I am not going to have time to finish before Wed
I am enjoying it SO much but short on time.

Don't worry if you haven't finished it - it is such a hectic time of year - just come along and chat about the bits you have read, or ask Ellen any question you like about writing in general.

Don't forget to put your advance questions here - I'll be sending on to Ellen later.

EllenFeldman Mon 28-Nov-11 13:07:24

GeraldineMumsnet

whereismywine

I read it. I liked it. When am I allowed to talk about it?!

You're welcome to talk about it whenever you like - but if there are any particular points or questions you'd like to put to the author about the book, then feel free to make them any time between now and 9pm on Wednesday evening, or come and put them to Ellen in 'real time' during the book club discussion.

Glad you liked it. smile

Just having a quick test. Glad you're enjoying it.

gailforce1 Mon 28-Nov-11 17:46:14

Loved the book and am now a quarter of the way through Scottsboro, which is also excellent!

EsioTrot Tue 29-Nov-11 19:02:49

I received a free copy, thank you so much. I'm really, really enjoying this. It's utterly heartbreaking in places and so well observed. I'm not going to be finished in time for tomorrow's chat but love what I've read so far.

missorinoco Tue 29-Nov-11 20:04:31

I won't finish it in time despite picking it up whenever I get a moment, I'm sadly short on moments at present.

It's fantastic though, very compelling, so far very poignant. I have a sense of doom and I'm only about half way in. I'll look out for other books by Ellen when I've finished.

whereismywine Wed 30-Nov-11 11:42:23

My question - were there any 'endings' that you wrestled with or that nearly went another way? I was rooting for certain people to end up together smile I did really enjoy the scope of the story though in terms of time. Thank you.

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 30-Nov-11 18:37:09

Hi Ellen,
Loved the book and (unusually for me) finished it in time for our book club chat. It struck me all the way through that it was very visual and would make a fab movie. Have you been approached/optioned? Or maybe Spielberg is already shooting?

(ps thanks so much for coming on)

typicalvirgo Wed 30-Nov-11 19:39:52

Hi Ellen,

I'm embarrassed to say this but I've only just started this book (and I was lucky enough to receive a free copy through the post) and so have only got through the first chapter or so. I can tell though I am going to get involved with the characters and that is something I enjoy.

My question therefore is a bit broad, how do you research a character ? are they based on people you know (although I understand you might not like to admit that wink ) or are they made up as the story progresses ?

Also who do you decide to dedicate the book too ?

Ps I loved the cover picture... I am reminded of my mum in her youth grin

beachhutbetty Wed 30-Nov-11 20:18:05

Hi Ellen
Another fan of the book here. I thought it was wonderful and will recommend it to many people. As I was reading it I had several questions and observations so please excuse me if this is long!!

1) I had no idea that the Jews suffered so much suspicion and discrimination in post war America. Obviously I know about racial segregation but this was something new to learn, along with the points system to decide the order in which people were sent home.

2) the part about Claude losing his fingers is familiar to me, my Grandfather was a tank driver in the war and lost the tops of 2 fingers also. He always told us it was from a 'bully beef' tin and for many years kept his hand hidden in his pocket!

3) as an army daughter and wife myself I could really associate with the emotions of the wives and families. Whenever we our loved ones are deployed the dread of someone official knocking on the door never goes away until the soldier returns home safely. Did you take inspiration from anyone in your family who has fought in a conflict? Or did you obtain information from other archives?

4) and finally (!) I read with interest the passage where Babe mentions the ability to send letters and photos but there is no 'V-mail' for transmitting voice. I often wonder whether our modern technology makes things harder for us when we are separated. I love getting letters from my husband and the children write letters and send pictures but somehow hearing his voice makes it seem more real that he is away and it is more unsettling for the children. In addition the amount of news coverage that we are bombarded with in print, tv and on the internet can increase the tension. I wonder if anyone else feels that we are sometimes presented with too much information these days which can be sensationalised and worry people more, do you have an opinion on this?

Apologies to all for the length of my contribution. I will certainly look at reading your other books.

CountrySlicker Wed 30-Nov-11 20:46:21

A beautiful book, thankyou. Amazingly strong characters and an equally powerful sense of time and place. Which came first the characters or the setting -did Babe, Millie, and Grace grow out of your research on this era or were you looking for a backdrop to set them and their lives against?

GerMom7 Wed 30-Nov-11 20:56:30

Hi Ellen,

I loved the book and also have Scottsboro, which I'm about to start. As both are historical novels, I wondered about the process. With Next to Love, had you read something in particular which inspired you to write about the war? Did you have a story in mind that you wanted to tell or did the story evolve while you researched the era?

Thanks

GerMom7 Wed 30-Nov-11 20:57:39

Country Slicker - I think I've asked exactly the same thing as you!

Evening everyone

I'm thrilled to introduce Orange Prize shortlister Ellen Feldman as tonight's Author of the Month. NEXT TO LOVE has kept us gripped and there are so many issues to discuss, I'm delighted that we have the chance to ask a few questions.

So without further ado...

Ellen, firstly - congratulations on a superbly written and fascinating novel. And thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Perhaps we could kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread? And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to add our standard two Mumsnet HQ questions:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:02:00

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone

I'm thrilled to introduce Orange Prize shortlister Ellen Feldman as tonight's Author of the Month. NEXT TO LOVE has kept us gripped and there are so many issues to discuss, I'm delighted that we have the chance to ask a few questions.

So without further ado...

llen, firstly - congratulations on a superbly written and fascinating novel. And thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Perhaps we could kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread? And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to add our standard two Mumsnet HQ questions:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Thanks for asking me. I'm delighted to be here.

My favorite childhood book was an entire series. I fell in love with the Betsy-Tacy novels by Maud Hart Lovelace early on and read them through, more than once. Looking back now, I realize that one of the reasons I adored the books was that Betsy was, from the age of five, a story teller and writer in the making.

What piece of advice would you give anyone attempting to write fiction?

I think I’d say that if you don’t have to write, don’t. By that I mean, if the need to put words to paper and tell stories is not a driving force of your life, if you can go for weeks without writing, don’t let yourself in for all the disappointment and heartbreak of writing. If, however, you begin to feel anxious when you go for a period of time without writing, go to it! When the writing is going well, few things in life are better.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:03:34

whereismywine

My question - were there any 'endings' that you wrestled with or that nearly went another way? I was rooting for certain people to end up together smile I did really enjoy the scope of the story though in terms of time. Thank you.

I wrestled with all the endings (I wrestle with everything I write), especially how the two children Amy and Jack would turn out, but also how Babe would survive. When you say you were rooting for certain people to end up together, I assume you mean Grace and Mac. Other readers have said the same thing, and to tell the truth, I wanted them to as well, but I knew Grace would never divorce her husband or run off with another man. It just wasn’t in her character, in terms of the era in which she lived.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:04:23

JustineMumsnet

Hi Ellen,
Loved the book and (unusually for me) finished it in time for our book club chat. It struck me all the way through that it was very visual and would make a fab movie. Have you been approached/optioned? Or maybe Spielberg is already shooting?

So glad you liked it and even finished in time. There’s movie interest –- there’s always movie interest; Hollywood is always afraid it’s going to miss something -– but nothing concrete yet. And it’s my pleasure to come on.

(ps thanks so much for coming on)

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:05:34

typicalvirgo

Hi Ellen,

I'm embarrassed to say this but I've only just started this book (and I was lucky enough to receive a free copy through the post) and so have only got through the first chapter or so. I can tell though I am going to get involved with the characters and that is something I enjoy.

My question therefore is a bit broad, how do you research a character ? are they based on people you know (although I understand you might not like to admit that wink ) or are they made up as the story progresses ?

Also who do you decide to dedicate the book too ?

Ps I loved the cover picture... I am reminded of my mum in her youth grin

In my earlier books, such as Scottsboro, I had to do quite a bit of research, because the characters were based on real people, so this involved secondary sources about them, letters, memoirs, and contemporary newspaper accounts. Millie and Grace in Next To Love were based originally on two women, one I knew as a child, the other, the mother of a friend, whom I only heard about. They both lost husbands in the war, and they reacted in diametrically opposed ways. One never got over mourning her husband, though she did remarry, unhappily as it turned out. The other was determined to get on with her life, and remarried immediately. I’m not suggesting she didn’t grieve, but she was a fierce survivor. That said, once I started to write, the characters became entirely my own, and ended up bearing little resemblance to those two women. The third woman in the book, Babe, just sidled up to me one afternoon as I was struggling with the prologue, said I’ll deliver those telegrams for you, and refused to go away. I have no idea where she came from, but characters who won’t leave you alone are one of the joys of the writing life.

I dedicate the books to people whom I want to thank and honor.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:06:45

beachhutbetty

Hi Ellen
Another fan of the book here. I thought it was wonderful and will recommend it to many people. As I was reading it I had several questions and observations so please excuse me if this is long!!

1) I had no idea that the Jews suffered so much suspicion and discrimination in post war America. Obviously I know about racial segregation but this was something new to learn, along with the points system to decide the order in which people were sent home.

2) the part about Claude losing his fingers is familiar to me, my Grandfather was a tank driver in the war and lost the tops of 2 fingers also. He always told us it was from a 'bully beef' tin and for many years kept his hand hidden in his pocket!

3) as an army daughter and wife myself I could really associate with the emotions of the wives and families. Whenever we our loved ones are deployed the dread of someone official knocking on the door never goes away until the soldier returns home safely. Did you take inspiration from anyone in your family who has fought in a conflict? Or did you obtain information from other archives?

4) and finally (!) I read with interest the passage where Babe mentions the ability to send letters and photos but there is no 'V-mail' for transmitting voice. I often wonder whether our modern technology makes things harder for us when we are separated. I love getting letters from my husband and the children write letters and send pictures but somehow hearing his voice makes it seem more real that he is away and it is more unsettling for the children. In addition the amount of news coverage that we are bombarded with in print, tv and on the internet can increase the tension. I wonder if anyone else feels that we are sometimes presented with too much information these days which can be sensationalised and worry people more, do you have an opinion on this?

Apologies to all for the length of my contribution. I will certainly look at reading your other books.

Everything in the book was researched carefully. I read letters from African-American G.I.s complaining about white soldiers with fewer points getting home before them. Similarly, anti-Semitism was rife before, during, and after the war. The interesting thing is that about half a million Jewish young men served in the war. They came from large ghettoized existences. Those boys who went off to war G.I. Jews came home G.I. Joes (an American term), swearing they would never again be second-class citizens in the country they had fought and lost buddies for. They did much to fight anti-Semitism after the war.

How sad about your grandfather. I think many men reacted with shame and embarrassment to their wounds and scars.

Most of my information came from archives, letters, and memoirs, but my favorite uncle served as a surgeon in the war. He was the inspiration for Mac, and in fact, he never quite recovered from what he had been through at the front.

As far as being bombarded with information and technology, I do have an opinion, but as a military wife, you’re the authority. However, I recently read about a chaplain in Afghanistan who, when personal problems between those in service and those at home get too rough, advises them not to phone or Skype or use any technical devises. Stop, think, and write a letter, he urges.

No apologies for the length necessary. I may be the writer, but as I said, you’re the expert on the subject.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:08:17

Thanks[/quote]

CountrySlicker

A beautiful book, thankyou. Amazingly strong characters and an equally powerful sense of time and place. Which came first the characters or the setting -did Babe, Millie, and Grace grow out of your research on this era or were you looking for a backdrop to set them and their lives against?

Ah, the chicken and egg question. I had wanted to write about this period for a long time, because I consider it my heritage. I grew up on these stories, and as you can see from the above answers, Millie and Grace were based on real characters, as was Mac, the doctor. But, again, I’m a fiction writer, and once I start writing, the characters become my own.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:09:58

GerMom7

Hi Ellen,

I loved the book and also have Scottsboro, which I'm about to start. As both are historical novels, I wondered about the process. With Next to Love, had you read something in particular which inspired you to write about the war? Did you have a story in mind that you wanted to tell or did the story evolve while you researched the era?

Thanks

As I said in an earlier answer, which you probably didn't get to read yet -- just apologizing for repeating myself -- it wasn't so much reading stories about the war, though I did read a lot when I started working on the book -- but I grew up with stories about the war. It was my heritage.

GerMom7 Wed 30-Nov-11 21:11:50

Can I ask how you find the editing process. Did you work with the same editor for both books and build a relationship with him/her? How did you find the whole publishing process - do you feel that the book is taken out of your hands somewhat?

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:12:13

JustineMumsnet

Hi Ellen,
Loved the book and (unusually for me) finished it in time for our book club chat. It struck me all the way through that it was very visual and would make a fab movie. Have you been approached/optioned? Or maybe Spielberg is already shooting?

(ps thanks so much for coming on)

So glad you liked it and even finished in time. There’s movie interest –- there’s always movie interest; Hollywood is always afraid it’s going to miss something -– but nothing concrete yet. And it’s my pleasure to come on.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:15:09

GerMom7

Can I ask how you find the editing process. Did you work with the same editor for both books and build a relationship with him/her? How did you find the whole publishing process - do you feel that the book is taken out of your hands somewhat?

I had published the previous three books with the same editor, but for Next To Love I moved to a different publishing house and a different editor, both of whom I adore. I also adore Picador, my U.K. publisher. Both my old editor and my current one are very respectful of writers and their work. I never felt I was being browbeaten in any way. That said, publishing is a difficult business, undergoing great change, and I've been around for enough books to know that I don't have a lot of control over marketing, publicity, etc. I've also been around long enough to know they know more about these matters than I do.

champagnesupernova Wed 30-Nov-11 21:15:40

Hi Ellen
I enjoyed it very much, though was reading in a hurry so as to chat tonight rather than lingering which I usually prefer.

Did you intentionally try to make the war bits more vivid and heightened and the aftermath more messy, because that mirrored lots of people's experiences? The war defined that generation but post-war more complicated.

I loved how you brought everything full circle with riding in cars with boys as Amy echoed Babe's experience with Claude but in much sadder way.

Haven't read everything above so may be x-posting but someone said that they liked the cover - I agree the woman is BEAUTIFUL but I for one was v glad I was reading on a Kindle and didn't actually attribute the face to the characters I was reading.

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