Yesterday I posted my review of The Daughter of Victory Lights (check it out here if you missed it). I loved this book, and today I’m sharing a little Q&A with author Kerri Turner, who was kind enough to answer some questions I had for her about her books and writing. Enjoy!
In the notes at the back of The Daughter of Victory Lights you tell us a bit about some of the actual people/events that you drew on for the story, and I was really struck by how perfectly you have pulled these together into a beautiful story – for instance in the way that Evie’s training on spotlights during the war helps her find a place on the Victory. When you were first inspired to write The Daughter of Victory Lights did you start with the events and then put characters in, or did Evie and Flynn come to you first and you built the story around them?
The characters definitely came first. The very first spark of inspiration for this book was the Victory boat, and from there I quickly became familiar with the character of Evie. I knew she worked on the boat, and that she was not a performer but doing something behind the scenes instead. I had to work my way backward into finding the events that would have led to her working on this boat, and that’s how I came across the 93rdSearchlight Regiment, which opened up a world of possibility for the story. With Flynn, I knew that he was an American man (as I wanted to give a different perspective of those wartime and post-war years), and I had certain events that I needed him to be around to witness or take part in. I also knew that he was suffering from PTSD as a result of his work during the war and that this would inform a great deal of his story. The Graves Registration Unit fit with everything I had planned, and allowed me to go deeper into the kinds of awful, unheard-of experiences so many suffered through.
One of the key themes that comes up throughout The Daughter of Victory Lights is the difficulty so many people experienced with getting back to ‘normal’ life after the war. Was this aspect of post-war life something that you were particularly interested in drawing out of Evie and Flynn’s stories, and can you tell us a bit about whether you had to approach writing each character differently given the different kind of challenges they faced?
While doing my research (which is when a majority of my storyline is formed), the effects of post-war expectations was a subject matter that I kept coming across again and again. People who had lived through the war brought it up in nearly every interview or memoir I read – whether they were returned servicemen told to be strong, stoic and emotionless leaders of their families, or women systematically silenced when it came to their wartime work and forced back into rigid domestic roles. So while I did have to approach the two characters differently, it was the sameness of their experiences that I ended up wanting to capture. Flynn struggles with PTSD (although it was called shellshock back then), while Evie struggles with the societal expectations of getting married and having children, and the familial rifts caused by not following the excepted life script of the time. For both of them, this results in a sense of not fitting in, of being abnormal or ungrateful; but also of not knowing that everyone else is struggling too. And that’s what it came down to: after the war, despite the many different experiences, despite the fact they’d survived, despite peace being declared and life supposedly getting better, there was this silent, internal struggle that many were going through. A shared experience they didn’t know they were sharing. I wanted to put that on the page.
The Daughter of Victory Lights is your second novel, following The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers which was released in 2019. Was the experience of writing it very different to working on your debut novel?
I actually began work on this novel before I even got a publishing deal for my first book. Which is something I’m very grateful I did, because it helped me avoid the dreaded second book syndrome we hear so much about. After you’ve been through that publishing process once, you suddenly know the expectations that are riding on you and your work. You have the voices of publishers, editors, agents, publicists, reviewers, etc in your head. I think if I didn’t already have a story that I was passionate about and excited to work on, it would’ve been easy to have my own writing voice and creativity drowned out by those other voices. Not because they are trying to stifle you – those people are so supportive and helpful and completely on your side! – but just because you want to live up to all the things you did well, and improve on the things you didn’t. And there’s the added weight of knowing how many people besides yourself put in work on your book, and wanting to make it the best it can be for all of their sakes. One particular difficulty I did have with this book as opposed to my first one though, was that the first drew heavily on my own background training in ballet. That gave me a bit of a crutch to lean on, and a way of boosting my own confidence. I knew what I was talking about, it was my area of expertise, and had lived so many of the experiences I felt I could bring them to life and do them justice. This book, while it still has a performing art in it, didn’t have that same element of bringing my own background into it. I was afraid that it wasn’t going to be received as well – that this book would expose me as a dancer who got lucky instead of a writer. Luckily this hasn’t been the case at all. If anything, it’s been the opposite.
Did you have a favourite scene to write, or one that was particularly difficult to write, and I wonder whether you think they are the same ones that readers might find the most lovely or difficult to read (there were a lot of tears involved in reading this book!)?
Some of my favourite scenes to write actually didn’t make it into the final book! I wrote quite a lot about the secondary characters Humphrey and Bee. Originally we saw both their backgrounds and how the Victory came to be. It was exuberant and colourful, and there were other characters on board the Victory we got to meet. But in the end the story was becoming too cluttered with so many different perspectives. It was one of those ‘kill your darlings’ moments writers need to get so good at! Of the existing scenes, my favourites are what I call the ‘quiet moments’. Those little moments where there’s not a lot of action but there is some sense of human connection. Like Flynn finding Lucy in the sea fog, or the final scene (no spoilers!). I have had a few readers say those are the moments they particularly enjoy too. The most difficult to write was the reveal of what happened to Evie. The why, when and how of it has always stayed the same, but the small details around that event went through multiple changes and multiple drafts. It was definitely an emotional experience working on that scene, and I absolutely did cry every time.
Can you tell us anything about what you are working on next?
I’m actually switching between two different projects at the moment. Both are historical fiction novels, and both once again have a performing arts element to them, although they are set in different times and different countries. The manuscripts are at different stages of completion. I like to set a manuscript aside after I’ve done some major work on it (a completed first draft, or a structural edit, for instance), so I can come back to it weeks or months later with completely fresh eyes. But I can’t spend that time not writing, so that’s why I have more then one project on the go – while one is set aside, I pick up the other one. I don’t have any news as far as publication deals or dates with either of them yet, but fingers crossed I will in the near future!
Lastly, I’d love to know what you are currently reading, or whether there is something you have read recently and loved that you would like to recommend to us?
Because I write historical fiction, it’s also my favourite genre to read. There are so many amazing historical fiction novels coming out right now, and so many of them are focussed on women, which I love because women’s stories haven’t been given as much room throughout history. A few I’ve really enjoyed recently are Josephine’s Garden by Stephanie Parkyn, Fled by Meg Keneally, and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
Huge thanks to Kerri for ‘chatting’ about her writing with me!
You can find The Daughter of Victory Lights on Goodreads here.
Thanks again to Harlequin Australia for sending me this gorgeous book, and the others featuring in the HERSTORY campaign. You can check them all out here, and my other #HERSTORY blog posts are all here.