A little background about Jennifer Robson:
I first learned about the Great War from my father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. I studied French literature and modern history as an undergraduate at King’s College at the University of Western Ontario, then attended Saint Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, where I obtained my doctorate in British economic and social history. For a number of years I worked as an editor but am now fortunate enough to consider myself a full-time writer. I live in Toronto, Canada, with my husband and young children, and share my home office with Ellie the sheepdog and Sam the cat. Somewhere in France is my first novel.
WHO? Who are you besides a writer?
When I began university, it was with the intention of teaching history one day. When I finished graduate school, however, there were no jobs to be had in academe (especially for a specialist in early 20th-century British history), and so I more or less fell into work as an editor. It was only once I was home with my children when they were really little that I looked at what I was doing with my life and realized I wanted—needed—to do something more creative. That’s when I first started writing down the collection of vague ideas that eventually became Somewhere in France.
WHAT? What do you enjoy doing other than writing in your spare time?
Before my children were born I loved to spend my weekends in the garden or at my sewing machine. Now that I’m busy ferrying them back and forth to their activities I haven’t much time for hobbies of my own, though I do manage to steal the occasional afternoon and curl up with a book and a cup of tea. I’ve also rediscovered crocheting, which I learned as a little girl, as it’s easy to carry around with me and pick up when I have a few minutes to spare. I’m not very good at it, however—I make lovely baby hats and that’s about it!
WHEN? When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was young, probably around nine or ten, I passionately wanted to become a novelist. My parents were friends with some well-known Canadian writers, Margaret Laurence and W.O. Mitchell among them, and I thought the idea of writing books and sharing them with the world was terribly romantic. Of course I had no idea, then, of the sheer hard work involved, nor the many setbacks most writers face along the road to publication.
Although I always enjoyed writing, I concentrated almost entirely on non-fiction throughout high school, university and graduate school. Friends and family members would say to me, “you really should write a book,” but I never took them seriously. It was only when my daughter, now almost seven, was a newborn that I decided to do more than just daydream about the stories in my head.
WHERE? Where do you write?
I live in a hundred-year-old house in the west end of Toronto. Upstairs at the back, facing west, is a funny little spot, possibly once a sleeping porch, that’s one step down from the other rooms on the floor. It’s wide and thin, with only enough space for a desk, easy chair and several bookcases, but its western wall is made almost entirely of windows. Sitting at my desk, I often feel like I’m working in a tree house, especially when the weather is warm, the trees are green and the birds are singing.
WHY? Why do you write?
I think I’m driven by the historian’s need to tell the stories of people from the past. The world of the Great War, for instance, is radically different from our own in many ways, but there is also much about it that’s instantly recognizable to even the most modern of observers. As we enter the centenary year of the war’s outbreak, it’s easy to think of the war as part of an impossibly distant past, but it honestly isn’t.
When I was a university student, admittedly twenty years ago now, I met and spoke with men who had fought in the trenches of the Western Front. I shook their hands and thanked them for their courage and promised them I would not forget. Those men are all gone, together with every single man or woman who wore a uniform during the war, but our memories of them are not gone, nor are the stories they left us. It’s those stories I hope to highlight through the fiction I create.
HOW? How has your writing success changed your life?
To be quite honest, it hasn’t changed my life in any dramatic way, although the past year has been tremendously exciting as Somewhere in France was edited and prepared for publication. What it has done is bolster my confidence. I was so nervous about even thinking of myself as a writer that I didn’t tell anyone for more than a year that I was working on a book. Now, I suppose, I honestly can describe myself as a writer, and it is a truly wonderful feeling.
Thank-you so much for joining us here at A Novel Review, Jennifer! I loved getting to know you better! I also love to crochet and make hats, booties and blankets and that is about all. I'm very excited about your novel SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE, I find novels make history much more 'real' to me.
Get to know Jennifer Robson more by following her:
Buy her new book SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE
Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War
by Jennifer Robson
Assigned to a field hospital in France, Lily is reunited with Robert Fraser, her dear brother Edward’s best friend. The handsome Scottish surgeon has always encouraged Lily’s dreams. She doesn’t care that Robbie grew up in poverty—she yearns for their friendly affection to become something more. Lily is the most beautiful—and forbidden—woman Robbie has ever known. Fearful for her life, he’s determined to keep her safe, even if it means breaking her heart.
In a world divided by class, filled with uncertainty and death, can their hope for love survive. . . or will it become another casualty of this tragic war?
“Utterly engaging and richly satisfying,
Somewhere in France depicts the very best in love and war. Fans of Downton Abbey will
devour this novel!”
- Erika Robuck, bestselling author of
Call Me Zelda and Hemingway’s Girl