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.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 04-Nov-11 12:58:07

Stop press: all the free copies of Next to Love have now gone. If you got a free copy, please come and share your thoughts once you've read it.
Thanks smile

Explaining Remembrance Day to my 5 year old keeps making me think about this book - it almost feels like non-fiction as the detail is so particular.

Turns out to be extremely hard to get across to a soldier-crazy, camo-sporting young boy that war is gruesome...

gazzalw Sat 12-Nov-11 14:02:05

Anyone got a copy yet?

yUMMYmUMMYb Mon 14-Nov-11 11:49:35

Got mine from the library - stroke of luck that it had been returned this morning. hope i can read it in time.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Nov-11 09:26:53

Has anyone got a copy yet <startingtofret>?

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 15-Nov-11 10:07:18

Update about free copies

We've spoken to the publisher and the books went out yesterday, so they should arrive today or tomorrow.

Please post if you get a copy - and we look forward to hearing your thoughts. It's a swift read (because you get hooked).

missorinoco Tue 15-Nov-11 20:17:06

Anyone got one yet?

icannotfly Wed 16-Nov-11 12:04:35

I received my copy today morning!
Thanks! Will start reading tonight smile

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 16-Nov-11 12:23:26

Praise be grin

DazR Wed 16-Nov-11 13:01:44

Just got my copy!! You can keep your kindles there is NOTHING like the feel of a crisp new book waiting to be read... Am really pleased I got a copy - it sounds like it will be a great read.

gazzalw Wed 16-Nov-11 13:27:26

Yes, mine arrived too - so thanks!

gazzalw Wed 16-Nov-11 15:05:47

Yes, mine arrived too - so thanks!

whereismywine Wed 16-Nov-11 19:58:37

Yay! A parcel arrived with my lovely shiny new book that I'd forgotten I even asked for. It's made me all chuffed. Need to finish the Hunger Games then I'm onto it.

missorinoco Wed 16-Nov-11 20:06:34

I've got mine. Thankyou!

Great they've arrived, hope you're enjoying...

Did anyone else catch this review in the Guardian? Interesting points about hindsight and social issues. (Also gives rather a lot away about the plot so if you've only just started, don't look till you're further in...)

milchie Thu 17-Nov-11 18:51:53

I've got mine too..Thankyou! x

Emski76 Mon 21-Nov-11 12:53:44

I've got mine, it was a lovely surprise. Will start reading asap, am looking forward to it as it sounds fab.

Another accolade: Next to Love is Number 8 in the Indy's Best Winter Reads...

gailforce1 Tue 22-Nov-11 20:18:32

I've got mine but was fortunate to get a library copy so had started it and really enjoying it, so much so I have put a library reservation in for another of her books Scottsboro! Anyone else got any thoughts yet? Cannot wait for the discussion...

Its time to gather the advance questions - please pop yours here and I'll send on to Ellen at the end of the week..

ClareHavens Tue 22-Nov-11 23:26:52

This is the most striking book cover I have seen in a long time! I love it! Really stylish! I'll be trying to get my hands on a copy of the book asap!

whereismywine Fri 25-Nov-11 17:18:41

I'm only a quarter of the way through so on reading mission. It isn't a book I would have normally chosen but I'm really enjoying it so far smile

whereismywine Sun 27-Nov-11 18:37:00

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

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Sun 27-Nov-11 22:49:26

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

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.

vdelacruz Wed 30-Nov-11 21:16:30

Hi Ellen,
Loved your book. At first I wasn't too sure, but at some point it grabbed me and wouldn't let go.
Question for you: could you recommend a book, something you've liked that you've read recently? I've recommended yours left and right for Christmas presents...
Thank you
V

southlondonlady Wed 30-Nov-11 21:18:08

Hello, agree with others that this is a fascinating book. I found the part about the women following their men to the camps really interesting, I hadn't heard about this before. How did you research it, and was violence towards the women common? I found the rape scene almost unbearable to read.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:18:40

champagnesupernova

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.

Mirrored their experiences is a wonderful way to put it. Yes, I was trying to tell what really happened to the men and women who lived through the war and to the children upon whom the results were visited.

As for the cover, it addresses a previous question. A writer has little to say about the covers of her books. But once again, I think profession publishers, market people, and art directors perhaps have a better sense of what works than I do.

NYmomma Wed 30-Nov-11 21:20:16

Hi Ellen,

I loved Next to Love; the characters are still with me--still alive in my head. On that note, I wondered if you had a favorite. I loved reading from each perspective--all three women are unique--but I wondered if you enjoyed writing from one perspective in particular.

Thank you for this book. I'm going to buy it for my mom for Hanukkah and recommend it to everyone.

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

vdelacruz

Hi Ellen,
Loved your book. At first I wasn't too sure, but at some point it grabbed me and wouldn't let go.
Question for you: could you recommend a book, something you've liked that you've read recently? I've recommended yours left and right for Christmas presents...
Thank you
V

I'm delighted you liked it and are recommending it to everyone. Writers have to live too! There is a book by an Australian writer, Madeleine St.John, which was just re-released in the UK, called Women In Black. It's superb. I urge everyone to go her hands on a copy.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:22:29

NYmomma

Hi Ellen,

I loved Next to Love; the characters are still with me--still alive in my head. On that note, I wondered if you had a favorite. I loved reading from each perspective--all three women are unique--but I wondered if you enjoyed writing from one perspective in particular.

Thank you for this book. I'm going to buy it for my mom for Hanukkah and recommend it to everyone.

I suppose they're all my children, but I confess to falling more and more in love with Babe as the book went on. I admire and love Grace and Millie, but Babe and I are, I think, more alike.

champagnesupernova Wed 30-Nov-11 21:22:46

THanks for answering my question, Ellen
Can i ask another cheeky one, I hadn't read any of your work before -which book of yours should I read next?

gailforce1 Wed 30-Nov-11 21:23:03

Hi Ellen
Loved Next to Love and will be giving copies as Christmas pressies. I am half way through Scottsboro and am engrossed. I believe that you have written two other books - can you tells us a little about them please?

icannotfly Wed 30-Nov-11 21:23:46

Hi Ellen, I have no questions as I did not quiet finish the book (50 pages to go). I've enjoyed it so far! I'm from Eastern Europe where the effects of WW2 are still present. I'm thinking about my grandmothers while reading it - I might like them more now smile Thank you for that!

The small, killer details in the book are wonderful (like Babe's discovery of the PRO Kit and the pack of condoms with two missing). Whilst reading, I kept thinking 'I wish I'd had this book at school, then I would have understood the war and it's aftermath far better'... Fiction worms it's way into your head and sticks far better than textbooks.

Do you get approached by history teachers/students saying the same thing? Do you teach/have you ever taught any subject?

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:26:53

southlondonlady

Hello, agree with others that this is a fascinating book. I found the part about the women following their men to the camps really interesting, I hadn't heard about this before. How did you research it, and was violence towards the women common? I found the rape scene almost unbearable to read.

I found the rape scene almost unbearable to write, and I have a male friend who was undone by it. I'm not suggesting that American during the war was awash in sexual violence, but rape is, of course, very much a part of war, mostly in war zones, but you can't send millions of young men away from home, strip them of everything familiar, and tell them they stand a good chance of dying without turning up some nasty behavior. In one of the memoirs I read by a young woman who followed her husband to the camps, as many did, though the government asked them not to, she is warned by an older wife to be careful getting in taxis or letting a strange man lead her to someplace where he says he knows she can find a room because of rape.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:29:00

champagnesupernova

THanks for answering my question, Ellen
Can i ask another cheeky one, I hadn't read any of your work before -which book of yours should I read next?

Not cheeky at all. The two other books that are out in the UK are Scottsboro and The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank. I love them both -- once again they're all my children -- but I suppose Scottsboro, because that was the one that was shortlisted for the Orange.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:33:37

gailforce1

Hi Ellen
Loved Next to Love and will be giving copies as Christmas pressies. I am half way through Scottsboro and am engrossed. I believe that you have written two other books - can you tells us a little about them please?

Scottsboro is a fictional account of a heinous chapter in recent American history. Nine young African-American men were tried and sentenced to the electric chair, repeatedly, for rapes that never occurred. But one of the most interesting aspects of the case, and one that comes in some ways to dominate the book, is the story of the poor semi-literate white girl, who cried rape, then recanted, then cried rape again, and recanted again, and so it went.

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank is about the aftermath of the Holocaust in America. It posits that Peter, the boy who was in the secret annex with Anne, survives, comes to America, realizes the American dream, and is haunted by his secrets for the rest of his life. The odd thing is that after I wrote the book, I found many people who had lived such a story.

Lucy, the story of Franklin Roosevelt and the great love of his life, Lucy Mercer, has not yet been published in the UK, though I'm hoping it will be. A few weeks ago, BBC4 broadcast a short story connected to the novel.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:34:50

icannotfly

Hi Ellen, I have no questions as I did not quiet finish the book (50 pages to go). I've enjoyed it so far! I'm from Eastern Europe where the effects of WW2 are still present. I'm thinking about my grandmothers while reading it - I might like them more now smile Thank you for that!

If I can make you like your grandmothers, who obviously suffered through a great deal in Eastern Europe, better, I am one happy writer. Thank you.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:38:20

TillyBookClub

The small, killer details in the book are wonderful (like Babe's discovery of the PRO Kit and the pack of condoms with two missing). Whilst reading, I kept thinking 'I wish I'd had this book at school, then I would have understood the war and it's aftermath far better'... Fiction worms it's way into your head and sticks far better than textbooks.

Do you get approached by history teachers/students saying the same thing? Do you teach/have you ever taught any subject?

In reverse order, I have taught writing, which everyone knows cannot be taught.

Historians are often suspicious of me, because I'm a novelist, so with each book I've had to prove myself -- that I've done the research, that I'm not misrepresenting or romanticizing, etc. But one of the great joys is when someone who has lived through what I've written about tells me I got it right. I've received lots of e-mail from wives who lived through the war thanking me for writing the book, and even a man who fought in it. Similarly, with Scottsboro, an African-American lawyer told me he had always known about the case, but he'd never really felt it in his blood. These are the things writers live for.

NYmomma Wed 30-Nov-11 21:41:45

Can I ask one more question about the prewriting? Did you know everything that was going to happen before you started the book? For example, did you know that Claude & Babe wouldn't have children & that Babe would become an activist? Did you know what Jack would do at the end of the book? (I don't want to give it away for those who haven't finished.) Did you know how Amy would turn out?

Thanks so much for answering all of these questions. I'm so enjoying gaining more insight into your truly beautiful book.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:45:27

NYmomma

Can I ask one more question about the prewriting? Did you know everything that was going to happen before you started the book? For example, did you know that Claude & Babe wouldn't have children & that Babe would become an activist? Did you know what Jack would do at the end of the book? (I don't want to give it away for those who haven't finished.) Did you know how Amy would turn out?

Thanks so much for answering all of these questions. I'm so enjoying gaining more insight into your truly beautiful book.

Thanks to all of you for your generosity about the book. I knew some of the things you mention, but not all. I knew how Amy would turn out, and Jack too, and had some ideas about Babe, but not that they wouldn't have children or some other details. I wasn't sure whether Grace would have an affair with Mac or not until I got to know her. I think that's the writing process. We don't really know our characters when we start out, and we only plumb their depths as we write.

Interesting to hear you love Babe best: I got that feeling quite strongly!

Did you intentionally make her the non-widow because you didn't want her story with Claude to end? Had you played about with swapping alternative futures for each woman?

(I should add that I was more fond of the Babe/Claude duo than either Charlie/Grace or Pete/Millie.)

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:47:56

Since there seems to be a bit of a lull in the questions, I'm going to post something about the aftereffects of the war on women. Please keep asking questions, but in case anyone is interested later.
The party line during and after World War II was that the Rosie the Riveters, government girls, and other women who took over men’s jobs could not wait to hand them back to returning veterans and go home to their cooking, cleaning, and sewing. But at the war’s end, many of the women were far from eager to relinquish their work. They had enjoyed making their own decisions and their own money. It was the WWII riff on World World War I song, “How ya’ gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree.”
But sixteen million men were taking off their uniforms and looking for work and the dissatisfaction of the women was nothing compared to the possibility of mass unemployment and social unrest. However, a few industries that catered to women, such as fashion and food, recognized a problem and saw opportunity in the solution.
The fashion industry fired the first salvo. While the trousers and short skirts of wartime encouraged women to stride and reach, Dior’s New Look was intended to keep them in place. Who could move in those tight bodices, cinched waists, and yards and yards of long full skirts?
The women’s service magazines also got into the picture. During the war, women who were on an assembly line or in an office all day were still expected to get dinner on the table each evening. With that in mind, the March, 1944, issue of Good Housekeeping featured recipes illustrated with twin clocks showing start and finish times. After the war, the idea was to keep a woman in the kitchen for as long as possible. A 1950 dinner recipe in the same magazine begins preparations right after breakfast. Similarly, the dish that opens Babe’s eyes in the novel, which comes from an actual cookbook of the early postwar years, calls for thirty-two ingredients.
But the female genii who had escaped from the bottle could not be forced back in. It is no accident that the feminist revolution of the seventies was made by the daughters of the women who went out to work in the forties.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes wrought by the war was America’s newfound prosperity. The huge industrial machine that had geared up to supply the war could now turn to making products for peacetime. Meanwhile, the G.I. Bill made it possible for veterans who had never dreamed they’d own their own homes, or start their own businesses, or go to college to do just that. Add to that the growth of unions, and suddenly America had a burgeoning middle class with money and, starting in the fifties, credit cards, in its pockets. Suddenly America was awash in houses and cars and washing machines and dishwashers and televisions and cameras and pressure cookers and long playing records and all sorts of things American’s never knew they needed. But were they happy? This leads to another post-war change.
Plastic surgery as a medical specialty began during WWI and came of age during WWII. After the war, there was suddenly an army of well trained surgeons with no patients. There was also a population with discretionary income. It was a marriage made in heaven. The war ended up transforming not only the way we live but the way we look.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:49:43

TillyBookClub

Interesting to hear you love Babe best: I got that feeling quite strongly!

Did you intentionally make her the non-widow because you didn't want her story with Claude to end? Had you played about with swapping alternative futures for each woman?

(I should add that I was more fond of the Babe/Claude duo than either Charlie/Grace or Pete/Millie.)

The reason Babe was not widowed was because I wanted to explore the two extreme reactions to losing a husband, based on the women's stories I'd heard, and represented by Grace and Millie. I didn't want all three of them widowed, and I did want to explore what it was like for the men who came home.

southlondonlady Wed 30-Nov-11 21:54:18

Thanks for answering my question! What Babe goes through and also her character - she is the most modern thinker in many ways - serves to highlight how different the world was for women at that time. Was that intentional?

Loved Scottsboro too so your other one is next on my list!

beachhutbetty Wed 30-Nov-11 21:55:15

Ellen, thanks very much for the further information about the after effects of World War II on American women.
I've loved participating in this webchat (first time I've done anything like this, although I have attended a book club in real life)! It's been fascinating to read other people's questions and see your replies.
This book, the characters and their experiences will stay with me for a long time!

We've got ten minutes left, so time for just a couple more questions.

Can I quickly ask what you are working on right now?

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:56:52

southlondonlady

Thanks for answering my question! What Babe goes through and also her character - she is the most modern thinker in many ways - serves to highlight how different the world was for women at that time. Was that intentional?

Loved Scottsboro too so your other one is next on my list!

It was entirely intentional. The war changed the lives of many women -- gave them freedom, jobs, income -- but after the war they were supposed to go back to their old lives. Some were happy to; others less so. But as I said in the long essay I just posted, the women who made the feminist revolution of the 1970s were the daughters of the women who went out to work in the 1940s. They just couldn't get the genii back in the bottle.

So glad you loved Scottsboro too.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 21:58:27

TillyBookClub

We've got ten minutes left, so time for just a couple more questions.

Can I quickly ask what you are working on right now?

I'm working on a novel set against the cultural cold war of the 1950s and 60s. It's a story of a marriage and a country betrayed.

Thanks everyone for your enthusiasm and your excellent and thought-provoking questions. You're a fabulous audience!

southlondonlady Wed 30-Nov-11 21:59:12

Thanks, the essay is very interesting, especially about the fashion and food industries. Have really enjoyed all the Q&As this evening.

NYmomma Wed 30-Nov-11 21:59:53

Thank you for all of that information, Ellen. It's beyond fascinating. I have to say that I was seething when Millie said that she felt badly for Claude -- that he has to put the potatoes in the oven or turn on the grill because Babe was still at work. Millie really believed that a wife shouldn't work, but I also thought this was the new Millie. I could see that money -- because of Al's business acumen -- changes her. All of the women change, but I was disappointed a little bit in Millie. I didn't like that she pitied her friend, though I suppose this sentiment is of the time. I loved how Al got King's house, though.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 22:00:39

southlondonlady

Thanks, the essay is very interesting, especially about the fashion and food industries. Have really enjoyed all the Q&As this evening.

I'm the one who should say thanks. It was a great experience.

And thank you for the description of aftereffects. One of my favourite moments in the book is when Babe makes the Cordon Bleu Poulet, it taste like Chicken hash and Claude sweetly says 'Its good' and she says ''not two and a half hours good'. That rang a large bell with me.

EllenFeldman Wed 30-Nov-11 22:01:59

TillyBookClub

And thank you for the description of aftereffects. One of my favourite moments in the book is when Babe makes the Cordon Bleu Poulet, it taste like Chicken hash and Claude sweetly says 'Its good' and she says ''not two and a half hours good'. That rang a large bell with me.

Yes, one of my favorite moments too.

Thanks, Tilly, this was great.

Its been such an enlightening evening - thanks to everyone for your questions.

Ellen, thank you so much for coming on tonight. Your answers have illuminated the novel, and given us even more to think about. I have learnt a huge amount, both through reading the book and hearing you talk about it.

Good luck with the cold war novel, I'm looking forward to reading it. Please come back some day and tell us about it!

Many thanks again...

EllenFeldman Thu 01-Dec-11 00:31:40

TillyBookClub

Its been such an enlightening evening - thanks to everyone for your questions.

Ellen, thank you so much for coming on tonight. Your answers have illuminated the novel, and given us even more to think about. I have learnt a huge amount, both through reading the book and hearing you talk about it.

Good luck with the cold war novel, I'm looking forward to reading it. Please come back some day and tell us about it!

Many thanks again...

Thanks to you, Tilly, for setting up the chat, and to all of you who participated for making it such fun and so challenging.

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