FALL OF POPPIES - Excerpt and Author Interview with Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

I'm so honored to be part of the FALL OF POPPIES release tour! Read below for an excerpt and author interview with Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. Plus, don't forget to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy. I fell in love with theses stories and know you will too. Each story has such vivid hope weaved into each line that after finishing, I wanted to read it over again.

Fall of Poppies:
Stories of Love and the Great War

Contributions by Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, Lauren Willig, Marci Jefferson, edited by Heather Webb

Releasing March 1st, 2016
William Morrow

Blurb:
Top voices in historical fiction deliver an intensely moving collection of short stories about loss, longing, and hope in the aftermath of World War I—featuring bestselling authors such as Hazel Gaynor, Jennifer Robson, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig and edited by Heather Webb.

 A squadron commander searches for meaning in the tattered photo of a girl he’s never met…

A Belgian rebel hides from the world, only to find herself nursing the enemy…

A young airman marries a stranger to save her honor—and prays to survive long enough to love her…The peace treaty signed on November 11, 1918, may herald the end of the Great War but for its survivors, the smoke is only beginning to clear. Picking up the pieces of shattered lives will take courage, resilience, and trust.

Within crumbled city walls and scarred souls, war’s echoes linger. But when the fighting ceases, renewal begins…and hope takes root in a fall of poppies.

Add to Goodreads or Follow the Tour here

Buy Links:  Amazon | B & N | Google Play | iTunes | Kobo


 

from “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb

Beatrix whisked around the showroom, feather duster in hand. Not a speck of dirt could remain or Joseph would be disappointed. The hour struck noon. A chorus of clocks whirred, their birds popping out from hiding to announce midday. Maidens twirled in their frocks with braids down their backs, woodcutters clacked their axes against pine, and the odd sawmill wheel spun in tune to the melody of a nursery rhyme. Two dozen cuckoos warbled and dinged, each crafted with loving detail by the same pair of hands—those with thick fingers and a steady grip.

Beatrix paused in her cleaning. One clock chimed to its own rhythm, apart from the others.

She could turn them off—the tinkling melodies, the incessant clatter of pendulums, wheels, and cogs, with the levers located near the weights—just as their creator had done before bed each evening, but she could not bring herself to do the same. To silence their music was to silence him, her husband, Joseph. The Great War had already done that; ravaged his gentle nature, stolen his final breath, and silenced him forever.

In a rush, Beatrix scurried from one clock to the next, assessing which needed oiling. With the final stroke of twelve, she found the offending clock. Its walnut face, less ornate than the others, had been her favorite, always. A winter scene displayed a cluster of snow-topped evergreens; rabbits and fawns danced in the drifts when the music began, and a scarlet cardinal dipped its head and opened its beak to the beauty of the music. The animals’ simplicity appealed to her now more than ever. With care, she removed the weights and pendulum, and unscrewed the back of the clock. She was grateful she had watched her husband tend to them so often. She could still see Joseph, blue eyes peering over his spectacles, focused on a figurine as he painted detailing on the linden wood. His patient hands had caressed the figures lovingly, as he had caressed her.

The memory of him sliced her open. She laid her head on the table as black pain stole over her body, pooling in every hidden pocket and filling her up until she could scarcely breathe.

“Give it time,” her friend Adelaide had said, as she set a basket of jam and dried sausages on the table; treasures in these times of rations, yet meager condolence for what Beatrix had lost.

“Time?” Beatrix had laughed, a hollow sound, and moved to the window overlooking the grassy patch of yard. The Vosges mountains rose in the distance, lording over the line between France and Germany along the battle front. Time’s passage never escaped her—not for a moment. The clocks made sure of it. There weren’t enough minutes, enough hours, to erase her loss.

 As quickly as the grief came, it fled. Though always powerful, its timing perplexed her. Pain stole through the night, or erupted at unlikely moments, until she feared its onslaught the way others feared death. Death felt easier, somehow.

Beatrix raised her head and pushed herself up from the table to finish her task. Joseph would not want her to mourn, after two long years. He would want to see her strength, her resilience, especially for their son. She pretended Adrien was away at school, though he had enlisted, too. His enlistment had been her fault. A vision of her son cutting barbed wire, sleeping in trenches, and pointing a gun at another man reignited the pain and it began to pool again. She suppressed the horrid thoughts quickly, and locked them away in a corner of her mind.

With a light touch she cleaned the clock’s bellows and dials, and anointed its oil bath with a few glistening drops. Once satisfied with her work, she hung the clock in its rightful place above the phonograph, where a disk waited patiently on the spool. She spun the disk once and watched the printed words on its center blur. Adrien had played Quand Madelon over and over, belting out the patriotic lyrics in time with the music. To him, it was a show of his support for his country. To Beatrix it had been a siren, a warning her only son would soon join the fight. His father’s death was the final push he had needed. The lure of patrimoine, of country, throbbed inside of him as it did in other men. They talked of war as women spoke of tea sets and linens, yearned for it as women yearned for children. Now, the war had seduced her Adrien. She stopped the spinning disk and plucked it from its wheel, the urge to destroy it pulsing in her hands.

She must try to be more optimistic. Surely God would not take all she had left.

Reprinted Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers


Excerpt from “Hour of the Bells” by Heather Webb

Beatrix whisked around the showroom, feather duster in hand. Not a speck of dirt could remain or Joseph would be disappointed. The hour struck noon. A chorus of clocks whirred, their birds popping out from hiding to announce midday. Maidens twirled in their frocks with braids down their backs, woodcutters clacked their axes against pine, and the odd sawmill wheel spun in tune to the melody of a nursery rhyme. Two dozen cuckoos warbled and dinged, each crafted with loving detail by the same pair of hands—those with thick fingers and a steady grip.

Beatrix paused in her cleaning. One clock chimed to its own rhythm, apart from the others.

She could turn them off—the tinkling melodies, the incessant clatter of pendulums, wheels, and cogs, with the levers located near the weights—just as their creator had done before bed each evening, but she could not bring herself to do the same. To silence their music was to silence him, her husband, Joseph. The Great War had already done that; ravaged his gentle nature, stolen his final breath, and silenced him forever.

In a rush, Beatrix scurried from one clock to the next, assessing which needed oiling. With the final stroke of twelve, she found the offending clock. Its walnut face, less ornate than the others, had been her favorite, always. A winter scene displayed a cluster of snow-topped evergreens; rabbits and fawns danced in the drifts when the music began, and a scarlet cardinal dipped its head and opened its beak to the beauty of the music. The animals’ simplicity appealed to her now more than ever. With care, she removed the weights and pendulum, and unscrewed the back of the clock. She was grateful she had watched her husband tend to them so often. She could still see Joseph, blue eyes peering over his spectacles, focused on a figurine as he painted detailing on the linden wood. His patient hands had caressed the figures lovingly, as he had caressed her.

The memory of him sliced her open. She laid her head on the table as black pain stole over her body, pooling in every hidden pocket and filling her up until she could scarcely breathe.

“Give it time,” her friend Adelaide had said, as she set a basket of jam and dried sausages on the table; treasures in these times of rations, yet meager condolence for what Beatrix had lost.

“Time?” Beatrix had laughed, a hollow sound, and moved to the window overlooking the grassy patch of yard. The Vosges mountains rose in the distance, lording over the line between France and Germany along the battle front. Time’s passage never escaped her—not for a moment. The clocks made sure of it. There weren’t enough minutes, enough hours, to erase her loss.

 As quickly as the grief came, it fled. Though always powerful, its timing perplexed her. Pain stole through the night, or erupted at unlikely moments, until she feared its onslaught the way others feared death. Death felt easier, somehow.

Beatrix raised her head and pushed herself up from the table to finish her task. Joseph would not want her to mourn, after two long years. He would want to see her strength, her resilience, especially for their son. She pretended Adrien was away at school, though he had enlisted, too. His enlistment had been her fault. A vision of her son cutting barbed wire, sleeping in trenches, and pointing a gun at another man reignited the pain and it began to pool again. She suppressed the horrid thoughts quickly, and locked them away in a corner of her mind.

With a light touch she cleaned the clock’s bellows and dials, and anointed its oil bath with a few glistening drops. Once satisfied with her work, she hung the clock in its rightful place above the phonograph, where a disk waited patiently on the spool. She spun the disk once and watched the printed words on its center blur. Adrien had played Quand Madelon over and over, belting out the patriotic lyrics in time with the music. To him, it was a show of his support for his country. To Beatrix it had been a siren, a warning her only son would soon join the fight. His father’s death was the final push he had needed. The lure of patrimoine, of country, throbbed inside of him as it did in other men. They talked of war as women spoke of tea sets and linens, yearned for it as women yearned for children. Now, the war had seduced her Adrien. She stopped the spinning disk and plucked it from its wheel, the urge to destroy it pulsing in her hands.

She must try to be more optimistic. Surely God would not take all she had left.

Reprinted Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers


Author Interview with Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Hazel Gaynor:

What is most difficult for you to write? Characters, conflict or emotions? Why?

I find emotions the hardest to write. To convey what a character is feeling, only through their words and actions, is especially challenging, as so much of emotion is very physical. The emotion has to feel immediate and authentic in order for the reader to engage with the character and it can be tricky to develop creative, original ways of expressing this. That said, I relish the challenge because all my novels have a very strong emotional core. I’ve reduced a lot of readers to tears!

What's one piece of history you learned about while researching for your story in the anthology?

In writing HUSH I wanted to explore the impact of the Great War at home, as well as on the battlefield. What I hadn’t appreciated is how many soldiers lost their lives just before and even after the Armistice was announced. Wilfred Owen, for example, was killed a week before the Armistice and news of his death reached home that very day. Imagining the cruel coincidence of the person receiving that news was the spark for my short story, HUSH. We tend to imagine the Armistice announcement as something everyone celebrated, but for many of the soldiers at the Front, and those at home, it was very difficult to process and many absorbed the news in quiet contemplation. 

WWI had a tremendous impact on a generation. What are some the struggles one of the heroes or heroines were dealing with in your story?

Annie Rawlins, my midwife in England, has to come to terms with the dreadful anguish of having lost one son early in the war, and still fearing for her other son, Will, as he fights on. I wanted to capture that fear by alternating between Will’s terror in France and Annie’s terror as she tries to resuscitate a dying baby. We see the connection between mother and son despite the distance between them. So many young men were lost in the Great War and yet the mothers had to grieve in silence and get on with life, often not talking about those they had lost. It was this silent grief that inspired the title for my story, HUSH, which is written in the two minutes leading up to the 11am Armistice announcement. Life, death, hope and renewal are all explored in my story.

What's your favorite line from your short story in this collection?

‘She would fight for him if she could, would become his very skin, his breath, his bones if only he could come home safe to her.’

What are you working on now? What is your next project?

My third novel THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY will be published in June. Set in London in the early 1920s, this was such a fascinating novel to research and write, taking me ‘downstairs’ at one of London’s most iconic hotels and into the dazzling world of the West End stage. I’m so excited for readers to meet my leading ladies, Dolly and Loretta, and hope to have written a novel rich in emotion and passion that will take readers back to London in the 1920s.

What drew you to historical fiction as a writer? As a reader?

I’ve always been drawn to the past, to historic events and characters. When I first started writing, I tried to write a contemporary novel, but it just didn’t come easily to me. History did! I love discovering new things as I research, and I hope I carry that passion with me in my writing. I always aim to take my readers on that journey of discovery with me, back in time, and yet in a way that feels natural and immediate, not a stuffy history lesson.

As a reader, I first fell in love with historical fiction through Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. Her style of writing made the history so fascinating and alive. She had a huge influence on my writing. I also love Rose Tremain and Tracy Chevalier.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you chose to be and why?

Wow. Big question! Probably lying on a tropical beach, sipping a cocktail and watching my children play in the sea. I really need a holiday and some sunshine!

Heather Webb:

What is most difficult for you to write? Characters, conflict or emotions? Why?

It really depends on the book for me as each novel’s protagonists and their situations change drastically from one book to the next. The emotional piece for Becoming Josephine came naturally, as did the conflict since the book was a plot-driven, exciting book set during the French Revolution. In Rodin’s Lover, the emotion and the characters came easily, but the conflict challenged me as it was a very internally-driven book, more literary in many ways. In my current work, the character is giving me fits. This is all part of the fun—wrangling all of these elements into something lovely and compelling to read. 

What's one piece of history you learned about while researching for your story in the anthology?

I read quite a bit about cuckoo clock-making, where they originated, the different types of craftsmanship, and how they were cared for by their owners. I was fascinated by this idea of time and how the Great War ended at 11 a.m. on 11/11, and wanted to explore the metaphor there. I did this by making the protagonist’s husband a clockmaker as well as weaving this concept throughout the story. Time is a precious commodity. 

WWI had a tremendous impact on a generation. What are some the struggles one of the heroes or heroines were dealing with in your story?

Beatrix Joubert is a German-born woman who marries a Frenchman, and their only son is ridiculed for being a dirty “boche”, spurring him to join the war efforts. When her son perishes, she can’t forgive herself for who she is and how she has failed him—and sets out on a quest for vengeance. I couldn’t think of a more powerful motivation than a mother’s love and grief. It seems as if women in grief are often portrayed as desolate and despondent and retreat into themselves. I wanted to explore the anger that comes with losing a loved one, and how one might turn it outward on the world. And, ultimately, how one can find hope in such loss. 

What's your favorite line from your short story in this collection?

This was so difficult! But I think this is it: Pain stole through the night, or erupted at unlikely moments, until she feared its onslaught the way others feared death. Death felt easier, somehow.

What are you working on now? What is your next project?

I’m working on two projects at that moment. The first is shaping up to be a bit of a Gothic thriller set during the Belle Époque era in Paris, and is a retelling of a popular story. I’m looking forward to being able to share more about this one soon, I hope! I’m also working on a co-novel, epistolary style, with Hazel Gaynor, which has been an absolute blast for both of us. More on this soon as well... 

What drew you to historical fiction as a writer? As a reader?

I blame my dad for my love of historical fiction. He used to watch those long epics with Elizabeth Taylor, Little House on the Prairie, westerns, and films set during Roman times. He also dragged me and my siblings to just about every war museum in the eastern half of the U.S. Consequently, I couldn’t read or watch enough of it as an adult. As for book writing, I’m a former high school teacher so I didn’t plan on writing a book until Josephine Bonaparte appeared to me in a dream. I knew very little about her, but somehow, I woke up knowing it was her. I picked up a biography about her the next day and immediately fell in love with her life and the era. At about the halfway point while reading, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m going to write a book about this woman”. He laughed and said, “Go for it, honey,” expression skeptical. Needless to say, he doesn’t give me that look anymore. I fell head over heels in love with writing and a historical voice is what came out!

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you chose to be and why?

Tough question. I’m a serious traveller so it really depends on my mood and what I’m working on, etc., but given that there’s melting snow on the ground right now, I’d have to say somewhere sunny and warmer—even 65 degrees will do. Perhaps California? Maybe the Caribbean? The southern Mediterranean would work nicely, too. Oh, and there must be expeditions to sites and a sampling of the local foods and beverages.

Thank you both so much for the interview!


Author Info

Jessica Brockmole is the author of the internationally bestselling Letters from Skye, an epistolary love story spanning an ocean and two wars. Named one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2013, Letters From Skye has been published in seventeen countries. 

Website  | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

Hazel Gaynor is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home and A Memory of Violets. She writes regularly for the national press, magazines and websites in Ireland and the UK.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

 Evangeline Holland is the founder and editor of Edwardian Promenade, the number one blog for lovers of World War I, the Gilded Age, and Belle Époque France with nearly forty thousand unique viewers a month. In addition, she blogs at Modern Belles of History. Her fiction includes An Ideal Duchess and its sequel, crafted in the tradition of Edith Warton.

 Website | Twitter | GoodReads

Marci Jefferson is the author of Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart, which Publisher’s Weekly called “intoxicating.” Her second novel, The Enchantress of Paris, will release in Spring 2015 from Thomas Dunne Books.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

Kate Kerrigan is the New York Times bestselling author of The Ellis Island trilogy. In addition she has written for the Irish Tatler, a Dublin-based newspaper, as well as The Irish Mail and a RTE radio show, Sunday Miscellany.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and international bestselling author of Somewhere in France and After the War is Over. She holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar and SSHRC Doctoral Fellow. Jennifer lives in Toronto with her husband and young children.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

Heather Webb is an author, freelance editor, and blogger at award-winning writing sites WriterUnboxed.com and RomanceUniversity.org. Heather is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and she may also be found teaching craft-based courses at a local college

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

Beatriz Williams is the New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Secret Life of Violet Grant and A Hundred Summers. A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons. She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry. William Morrow will publish her forthcoming hardcover, A Certain Age, in the summer of 2016. 

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

Lauren Willig is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven works of historical fiction. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. She lives in New York City, where she now writes full time.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads