Remembering: A Time of Great Purpose by Markham author Wendy Poole is historical fiction, based on memories her family, including her mom, dad, and an uncle, shared about their experiences in the Second World War. The book flips between the experiences of the characters in the book and historical information Poole researched.
Wendy, congratulations on Remembering. I really enjoyed the book, the characters, and the way the book was formatted – part fiction, part non-fiction. Those non-fiction parts were more exciting than I remember from history class.
Q. How long was this book in the making?
A. Sometimes it seemed like a thousand years, but it was probably closer to eight or nine years in total. As a child, I loved listening to my mum’s stories about her childhood and eventually enlisting in the Canadian Navy during the Second World War. I did record her telling me a few of these stories in 1997, but eventually stopped. Alzheimer’s disease was increasing its hold on her.
It wasn’t until I retired in 2014 that I decided that my next writing project would be about my mother.
Q. When you first started writing this book, what was your original intent? Did the intent change throughout the writing process?
A. My original intent once I retired was to commit more time to writing my mum’s story. And that’s also when the storyline began to change. A dear friend of mine, who had been born in the same year as my mum and lived in the Berlin, Germany, area before and during the Second World War, had begun to share with me her memories of that time. She also shared her personal photo and postcard albums, albums with images that subtly reflected the increasing Nazi influence.
Her stories were as interesting as my mother’s. Both my mum and my friend had some interesting childhood parallels. I began to consider the possibility of a book that would tell both of their stories.
And then the book changed again because I started to think about my dad, who had been in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war and my uncle, who had enlisted with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment (also known as the Hasty Ps). Both had been in England and served in the Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre.
And by 2017, I had a first draft.
Q. Actual places, dates, timelines and events in this book were true, as told to you by your parents, other relatives and friends, as well as copious amounts of research, but the book is a work of fiction with additional characters made up. Why did you decide to write a historical fiction as opposed to a straight memoir?
A. I’m not so sure I ever really made a conscious decision as to whether this book would be historical fiction or a straight memoir. I think the change just naturally happened as a result of the research I started doing. Elements of my parents, uncle, friend and relatives’ stories are true. They did provide actual dates, places, and events. However, much of this story does come from my imagination.
For example, one of the things my mum had mentioned a couple of times was about crossing the North Atlantic and how rough it could be. My dad’s brief diary notes from 1943 mentioned how seasick he and others had been during his crossing. I decided to research Atlantic crossings during the war.
I learned that the temperamental northern Atlantic Ocean itself was considered a special kind of hell by both Allied and Axis members. That led to further research on convoy crossings, then it was the U-boats along the Eastern coast of Canada, and what it was like for both the Allied and Axis crews, as well as for those who served in the Merchant Navy. And that led to The Black Pit and Murmansk Run.
Q. What was the most interesting bit of history you learned while writing this book.
A. There were many interesting bits, some quite shocking to learn about; however, I realized after searching/researching for more information on the northern Atlantic Ocean that my decision to create additional characters would allow me to expand and add those factual bits to the overall storyline. Those bits provided a fuller picture to the reader about the men and women—on both sides—who had actually lived, fought, and died crossing those waters during the Second World War.
Q. Can you please tell me your writing process for this book? Were you like your main character, Dee, who sat in front of her computer screening, breaking for wine?
A. I usually wrote every morning, sometimes for two to three hours. Sometimes it was more research than writing, and sometimes it was more deleting before re-writing. And at times it was a full day of very little accomplishment.
The book went through several rewrites. It was “all there,” but still not quite “all there.” I really didn’t know what to do. Some material I decided could be eliminated. And then I had that “aha” moment and a solution. The one character who was the glue to the whole storyline was not being used effectively.
Dee, as main character June and Stan’s daughter, was the glue that could bond these people’s stories, and the additional characters that had been created. It was the six degrees of separation theory. Dee knew everyone, directly or indirectly. And that is when the final rewrite happened. Suddenly I was able to discard or rewrite areas that up until then I had been reluctant to change. With that final rewrite, Dee became the writer, narrator, and a stronger part of the narrative.
So, to a certain degree, Dee is a fictionalized me. And in many ways, her storyline reflects some of my life story. The exception being perhaps the glass of wine. I might have been tempted to consider a large glass of wine occasionally, but it’s more than likely that I had a cup of tea or water as ‘we’ wrote.
Q. Can you please tell me what it was like working with Sheri Andrunyk of I C Publishing? How did she help in the editing and finalizing the book?
A. Sheri was absolutely amazing. Fun. It was a true partnership. Sheri said the book had many different levels to it (and it does) and she wanted to ensure they didn’t get lost through editing. She and her team always offered me their professional advice, and that is what made this book become the book I wanted it to be.
The I C Publishing team respected and saw what I was striving for. Their suggestion to highlight the historical sections of the story was brilliant. I knew when I signed with them that they were the professionals, and they would see things that I wouldn’t see.
When I was an educator, I would tell my students to have someone else read their copy before handing it in because when you read something a thousand times, you don’t always see the mistakes. I thought of my students a few times as I made the corrections Sheri and her team suggested. They were good, valid suggestions. For me, it was a learning opportunity and will make me a better writer.
Q. You have published short stories before. What was the difference between those types of stories and this one?
A. They were completed more quickly because of publication timelines. They were more focused because the word count didn’t allow for the detail that was in this book. Each story centred on just one to three people. And they were true stories. No research was required because I was one of the people in each story.
Q. What has been the response to your book?
A. It’s been positive. Everyone has said they are amazed with the depth of historical detail and love the highlighted historical sections.
They have also commented that the overall storyline is interesting, and they like how the historical facts blend with each character’s storyline. They felt that they had learned about the people who lived during that time because of those details.
Q. Will you write another book? Do you have anything you’re working on now?
A. Not at the moment. However, I’ve thought about a couple of the fictional characters in this book who could perhaps have another story to tell.
Read my review of Remembering.