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Caroline Beecham: On Organizing the Historical Fiction Novel

Historical fiction author Caroline Beecham discusses the trials of organizing her latest novel, When We Meet Again, and what she found that works.

Caroline Beecham is the author of four historical novels. She studied the craft of novel writing at the Faber Academy in Sydney, with Curtis Brown Creative in London, and has an MA in film and television and an MA in creative writing. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two teenage sons. When We Meet Again is the first of her novels to be published in the United States.

Caroline Beecham

Caroline Beecham

In this post, Beecham discusses the trials of organizing her latest novel, When We Meet Again, what she found that works, and more!

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Historical Fiction

Join Donna Russo Morin to learn the definition of historical markers and how and where to unearth them. And uncover the tools to integrate history, research, and the fiction plot arc. Most of all, find out how to honor verisimilitude—the goal of any historical writing—and avoid the dreaded anachronism.

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Name: Caroline Beecham
Book title: When We Meet Again
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Release date: July 20, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: A mystery inspired by real events and set in the publishing world of London and New York during the Second World War. It’s the story of a young woman, Alice Cotton, who shows extraordinary resilience as she manages to cleverly combine her search for her missing child with the challenge of creating much-needed books during wartime.
Previous titles by the author: Maggie’s Kitchen and Eleanor’s Secret

When We Meet Again by Caroline Beecham

When We Meet Again by Caroline Beecham

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What prompted you to write this book?

I discovered a long-held family secret from a few generations ago; that a relative’s baby was sold to a childless couple in a nearby town during wartime. It was quite confronting until I found out how common it was for unmarried mothers who needed to find a way of taking care of their illegitimate children, often through illegal adoptions or turning to baby farmers.

The illegal trade in babies was very prevalent during the Second World War because of inadequate protection, antiquated laws, and social pressures but thankfully there were some key social reformists who helped change things. While writing my earlier novels I also learned how important books were in wartime, and how difficult they were to create with paper rationing, and felt there was a story to follow.

(Writing in the Shadows: On Writing Better Historical Fiction)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

The research and writing took more than two years, although the idea germinated for longer. As soon as I knew that I wanted to write about this lesser-known part of history and I had my setting in the book publishing world, the characters and ideas started to connect.

The real research and writing began in 2018 with research trips to London, including to London Zoo, Fitzrovia, Bloomsbury, and Chelsea. The story changed quite a lot as I discovered more from archives and museums about significant events and locations such as London Zoo, which was a real refuge in the war for servicemen and servicewomen to visit.

It became an important setting in the story too for Alice; I think it must have been a very special place to visit when they were surrounded by so much danger and uncertainty.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

One of the reasons I enjoy reading and writing historical fiction is to see the parallels in history, and so it’s timely that this story about the importance of books in a time of crisis is being published when people are once again turning to books for comfort, to entertain and for information. Books grew in popularity during the Second World War to occupy the troops and for civilians to read during the blackouts and when they needed to stay indoors and stay safe.

Demand grew for books that would entertain, distract, and help people understand what was going on in their changed world, much like many people have relied heavily on reading through the lockdown. Even more reasons to love our books!

(10 Steps to the Past: How to Do World Building Right in Historical Fiction)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

When We Meet Again is set in London and New York and required a lot of research into the different industries, locations, and events of the Second World War to create an authentic backdrop. It was a challenge to stay organized and disciplined as there was so much great material that I could have included but I needed to stay focused and keep the story moving; that meant not disappearing down too many rabbit holes!

I wrote my first three novels in Word with Excel for timelines (and my second novel was a dual timeline narrative so more complex to write) but I have moved on to Scrivener for my new novel and it’s amazing, especially for all the research material and for moving scenes around. I don’t think there is any going back now!

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope readers will be surprised and enjoy discovering a part of history they might not already know about and feel compelled to follow the mystery. I also hope that they enjoy getting to know the characters as well as find meaning in the story; whether it’s recognizing the importance of friendships, realizing that most families have secrets, or acknowledging how far you would go to protect the ones you love.

Caroline Beecham: On Organizing the Historical Fiction Novel

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

I think the best advice I could offer is to develop your characters until they feel real to you. As Hemingway said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”

This quote resonates with me because I think there’s a point at which your characters do become people; they may be in your imagination but then it’s your skill as a writer to commit them to the page.

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