Launch: Paula Napier’s Lottie Beauchamp’s War
INTERVIEW BY LESLIE S. LOWE
Paula Napier lives on the south coast of England with a demanding tabby cat called Merlot. During lockdown she wrote a (mostly!) fictional blog about his escapades. Lottie Beauchamp’s War is her first historical novel and she is now starting research for a second novel.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
Lottie Beauchamp’s War is a novel of three distinct parts. It highlights the bravery and resilience of women who undertook dangerous and vitally important roles during WW2, within a fictional setting.
What inspired you to start writing and what has been most rewarding about it?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always written stories. Having a vivid imagination is a bonus! It’s very fulfilling to craft a story, mold and reshape it so that it brings to life what’s in your head.
What attracted you to writing historical fiction?
I’ve never written historical fiction before. I’m an ‘interesting-life-story-junkie’ so it seemed a natural progression to weave fact and fiction together.
What drew you into the setting for the story and made you want to share it?
I read some amazing biographies and autobiographies of women who served during WWII. I would have loved to have met the women and been part of their journeys.
How do the characters transform within the three phases of the story? What did that journey mean to you as you wrote it?
The three parts of the novel are intentionally very different. Lottie matures very quickly during the war. I think that was true of the majority of young men and women, at that time. It was important to me that she wasn’t portrayed as merely ‘frivolous’, as she begins her journey as a confident, upper-class young woman, studying at Cambridge University. At the outbreak of war, she’s invited to join the women ferry pilots before being recruited to serve her country, under extreme conditions in Europe. I wanted her to be as fearless as the real women she works with, as she moves through very different roles. I think, as she experiences love and loss and endures ever greater dangers and physical hardship, she develops into a character the reader will, hopefully, respect.
How do you think the reader will connect with Lottie?
I think anyone who has an appreciation of the limitations of being a woman in the 1940s, coupled with the uncertainty and dangers of war, will connect with her and understand the enormity of the risks she took to preserve liberty.
Why the focus on this topic now? Is there a historical event you found in researching that inspired you to write this story to portray a key message prevalent now?
It would be very nice to come out with something profound but I didn’t write it with a particular message in mind. I knew relatively little about WW2 at the beginning of this journey. It started with a vague interest in the important roles of women. Going into detail here, would be a ‘spoiler’. If anything, I think the unintended message is the power of endurance, bravery, loyalty and unbounded defense of your beliefs. That has to be relevant in any period of history.
How did you balance the research with writing the story? Did you get to do any interesting interviews for your research?
Balance was difficult! I regularly found myself disappearing down a rabbit hole, into a warren of historical gems. Each time I emerged, laden with tantalizing facts, I had to decide what was relevant to the story rather than to say to the reader, “OMG you have to know about this!” Sadly the people who were the source of my inspiration have all passed away but if I could bring them all back for one night around a dinner table, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Will you be writing additional books to turn this into a series? What are you working on now?
I have no immediate plans to write a sequel but it’s not out of the question. I’m about to start work on some 19th-century research with a plot outline that will again mix fact with fiction.
Every author has their own publishing journey. Tell me about yours (process, handling rejection, success). What would you do differently?
I’m still relatively inexperienced. You just have to handle rejection, however painful. A large gin and tonic helps! Joking apart, it really can knock your confidence but having good friends who believe in you really makes a difference. I always fall back on J. K. Rowling’s publishing story and my commercial head reminds me rejection isn’t ‘personal’ and that publishers are in business simply to maximize sales and it’s a numbers game. There are so many gifted writers out there and the competition is huge. It only takes a good, independent review or indeed reader reviews, to get you feeling positive again. I’m learning a lot about marketing and the importance of social media, which I find harder than writing. I don’t feel at all comfortable with self-promotion but if you want your Indie book to sell, there’s no choice. You can’t melt into the shadows. You have to get up and get on the dance floor. Next time I’ll be more prepared…
What advice would you give to other aspiring historical writers?
Do your research and never underestimate your readers. Make your setting as authentic as possible.
What is the last great book you read? Why?
Kristin Hannah, The Four Winds. The novel is set in the American Dust Bowl and describes the fall-out from the Great Depression. It’s a testament to hope and resilience.