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The Worm Hole Podcast Episode 92: Maggie Brookes (Acts Of Love And War)

Charlie and Maggie Brookes (Acts Of Love And War) discuss the small group of British Quakers who went to aid refugees during the Spanish Civil War, the way the war tore families apart as people chose different sides, and why she ended her romantic thread differently than might be expected.

All referenced media in this episode:
Francesca Wilson’s In The Margins Of Chaos
Maggie Brookes’ Acts Of Love And War
Maggie Brookes’ The Prisoner’s Wife

Buy Acts of Love and War and other books mentioned

Release details: recorded 26th September 2023; published 26th February 2024

Where to find Maggie online: Website || Twitter || Instagram

Where to find Charlie online: Twitter || Instagram

You can contact the show at

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01:53 The initial inspiration: Professor Farah Mendlesohn’s PhD on the Spanish Civil War
03:39 The very small group of Quakers, including Alfred Jacob, who went out to Spain from Britain to help refugees
07:02 The real life women in Maggie’s book: Francesca Wilson, Kanty Cooper
09:30 How the Quakers got their supplies to Spain, and the refugee children’s colonies
15:03 What happened to the refugees after the war
18:26 Maggie’s fictional characters – Lucy, Tom, and Jamie and having two brothers on different sides of the war
22:20 People in Britain who thought Franco was right, and why they thought that, and we mention the non-intervention pact many countries agreed to
27:27 On why Maggie had one of the brothers die, and who was better for Lucy
29:59 The ending, Maggie leaving Lucy single
32:00 Maggie tells us about the inspiration of her first book, The Prisoner’s Wife, and Maggie briefs us on what she’s writing now


Please note that this transcript has been edited for legibility and is not a 100% accurate representation of the audio. Filler words and many false sentence starts have been removed, and words have been added in square brackets for clarity.

Charlie: Hello and welcome to The Worm Hole Podcast episode 92. Bringing on an author and talking with them, about one – occasionally more – of their books in detail. I’m Charlie Place and today I am joined by Maggie Brookes who has been a poet for a long time under her married name, Maggie Butt, but now has two fiction books on her list as well. We’ll be talking today about her latest book, Acts Of Love And War. Lucy has a bit of a love triangle going on between herself and her childhood friends, brothers Jaime and Tom. It’s 1936, they’re now 20 or thereabouts and Tom and Jamie are both very keen to help in the Spanish Civil War, but each of them supports a different side. Tom leaves home to fight in the International Brigade for the Republicans having kissed Lucy goodbye. Jamie leaves soon after to work as a journalist for a Catholic newspaper, supporting General Franco. Lucy knows it’s not safe and wants them back; around the same time she gets talking to a fellow teacher at school who is a Quaker and tells her about the work some Quakers are doing helping refugees – mostly children – in Spain. Lucy decides to join these Quakers. For one, she is very drawn to aid the people going to help in the refugee crisis. And two, she will be nearer Tom and Jamie and can try to get them to return home. Hello Maggie!

Maggie: Hello! That was an amazing summary, Charlie. I need to record it and use it myself.

Charlie: Thank you! No, feel free, you can use it if you want to. So I would like to know the initial inspiration, if you don’t mind, of this book, where you got it from.

Maggie: Okay. Well, it was during Brexit and I was very interested in the whole question of divided nations and the extremes that that could lead to, thinking about civil wars in various countries. And I went to lunch with an old colleague and friend of mine, Professor Farah Mendlesohn, who I knew had a lot of interest in the English Civil Wars, about which I knew practically nothing. So over lunch I said to her, so are there any great stories about the English Civil Wars which nobody’s ever written as novels? And she looked at me a bit pityingly, like someone who’s an expert in something would do [laughs], and said, no, but I can give you my PhD and if there’s something in that that you’re interested in, you’re welcome to use it. So she sent me her PhD, electronically, and it turned out to be about the Spanish Civil War, and particularly about humanitarian aid given by a tiny group of completely unqualified volunteers who heard about the plight of children – because of the war – and just packed up their bags or put their stuff into their Austin A5s and drove down to Spain to see what they could do to help. And I was struck, like a meteor landed on me, really; I was just struck by this story and by these people and badly wanted to tell their story. So that’s where it came from.

Charlie: That’s amazing then, so you might have done something in the English Civil War, but yeah, it turned into the Spanish Civil War, which is obviously quite far in the future in that case. But when I heard about the Quakers being such a small group, and the people that helped them as well, being such a small group, I was amazed, because I suppose in my head when I was reading your book, I’d populated it with quite a number of people; and then you’re saying it was just such a small group. Can I ask how many, roughly how many, we’re talking about here?

Maggie: It varied at different times, but the first person to go out went out on his own. Actually, his wife went for a recce with him and then she went home to the children. He was only in his 20s and he went out; the Quakers allowed him to go to represent them because he spoke Spanish and he was the only person who spoke fluent Spanish that they had! So they allowed him to go and off he went. And if you think about the Ukraine-Russia war, if you think about Ukrainian people, women and children getting onto trains in the Ukraine and then getting off trains in Poland, we all saw film of that happening. And actually what was happening in the Spanish Civil War was that they were getting onto trains in Madrid, which was being bombed, getting off their trains in Barcelona, really without much of a welcome committee. Barcelona is Catalan, local people were very keen to help them and very sympathetic to them, but didn’t speak the same language. There were official reception centres set up where they could go, but the moment they got off the train into this strange city, having been travelling for hours, small children crying, terribly worried about what they’ve left behind, what they’re coming to, there was really nobody there to greet them. And that was what he decided to do; he looked around and said, what I think we really need here is a canteen. Serving hot chocolate, serving hot milk and biscuits and comforting things to these women and children who’ve just travelled all this way, and it’s been so difficult for them. So that’s what he did. So to start off with, there really were just him and a local man, and they set up this canteen and they set it up on Christmas Day, 1936. And the first few nights there were one or two people, the next few nights there were more, and then more, and then more came until there were thousands arriving. And they were then joined by a few other people. And he carried on – this is Alfred Jacob – carried on being the main leader in Barcelona. In the end, they moved to a big house, they had Catalan helpers, they had Spanish helpers, and probably about 20 volunteers, Quakers or supporters of Quakers, who came in and came out, at will. So it was a tiny, tiny number of people. And eventually, when it became an international organisation for the rescue of children in Spain, and there were 26 countries giving money to it, they still hadn’t got anybody on the ground in Spain, so Alfred Jacob continued to be the core person who ran this massive organisation.

Charlie: Blimey okay, so I’ve read about – and I’ll ask you about, I suppose, if we get onto it now, briefly, before we go back to your characters, the ones that you’ve created – you’ve got Francesca Wilson, I believe, and Kanty Cooper, and then Alfred is also a real person as well. Can you tell us more about these real people before we get onto your fictional characters?

Maggie: Sure. Well, perhaps I ought to now say when it was that I was doing this, because I went to Friend’s House, which is the Quaker headquarters and library in London, and took out books and read all the material they got online there or in the files there. And then I came home, and about a week later, the then prime minister came onto our televisions and told us that Covid had spread and that none of us were allowed to leave our homes any more. So it was the first lockdown. So there I was, first lockdown, thinking, I’m going to go to Spain – for my first novel I went to the Czech republic, Poland, Germany – I was thinking, right, I’m going to go to Spain and research this. No, that didn’t happen. I then had to see what I could find in books. And I had one or two books already, and one or two that I had borrowed from the Quaker library that in the end, I kept out for ages and ages! And one of those was an amazing book by Francesca Wilson called In The Margins Of Chaos. And Francesca was a history teacher, but she had gone to various theatres of war and just thrown herself in. She was that particular kind of breed of Englishwoman of that era. She said she had no fear, no personal fear, and she would just turn up somewhere and say, okay, what can I do to help? I can see we need some sewing machines for these people, or I can see we need food, I’ll go to the mayor, I’ll tell him what we want. And she just sort of made things happen. And Kanty Cooper was a sculptor who was actually suffering from a condition which meant when she was sculpting, she got fiery pain down her arms. So her doctor told her she had to stop sculpting for a year. And she’d read about the children of Spain. She got into a car, drove to Barcelona, and said, I’m here to help, what can I do? And ended up running, in the end, hundreds of canteens giving aid to the people of Barcelona, and particularly the children.

Charlie: That’s wonderful, that’s a lovely story. Yeah, you can’t do what you want to do for a year, and she goes and does something so poignant, so amazing. Nowadays we can think, okay, we’ve got lots of planes, we’ve got lots of technology. Okay, it doesn’t go instantly by any means, but we can get things to Ukraine, supplies are getting to Ukraine. Back then, obviously, it wasn’t quite so easy. I just wanted to ask how donations got to Spain, how the Quakers and the people helping them were able to be so happily successful, basically, because it was really nice to see.

Maggie: It was amazing. It was astonishing, actually, because things came by truck, but it was very hard to get across the French border. So mostly things came by boat into Barcelona. But then Franco had ships out trying to stop anything getting through to Barcelona. As fundraising began in America, tons of wheat was sent from America. Because all the farmland was in Franco’s hands, it meant that in the northern part of the country, in Barcelona and Catalonia, there was no bread, there was no milk, there was no sugar – you can imagine if the farmland is all cut off from you. And it was a siege, really. And the only thing that meant that millions and millions of people didn’t starve to death was the international aid, which came in and was managed in Barcelona by this tiny group of Quakers. And as I say, it did mostly arrive by ship. But the docks were being bombed, there was a blockade of shipping, it wasn’t easy to get stuff there. It went down to Marseille by truck, and then from Marseille to Barcelona by boat.

Charlie: And one of the things that I liked reading – the children’s colonies, which turned out to be this, certainly seemed, lovely, kind of set up with these, I think they were houses that had been abandoned by the rich people who had left, and the children were able to be children. And you’ve also got this summer camp, which I was like, wow, this was able to happen. From what I’ve read, you’ve based so much of this on real history, I’m guessing these happened. Can you tell us more?

Maggie: Yes. Immediately, Madrid began to be bombed, the Spanish authorities decided to set up what they called children’s colonies. Think of them like a mixture of a Barnardo’s and an American summer camp, a sort of cross of those things. And what they did was they sent children out, as you say, into these big houses that were either abandoned or commandeered – difficult to know which, really! And they set up these schools, boarding schools, I suppose. First of all, they were for orphans, but very, very quickly, parents in Madrid decided their children would be safer in these camps in the countryside and in the north, than they were in Madrid, which was under fire. So quite a lot of the children in them had not lost their families, but had been sent there for their safety. So there were quite a number that were set up by the government, there were more that were set up by the Quakers and run by the Quakers, there were more that were set up by individuals, particularly up in the border country in the Pyrenees, as far from the war as they could get the children. They sound amazing, really, these are children who must have been very unhappy away from home, but they were set up on Montessori lines. So they were a very avant-garde educational approach, and full of light and colour and toys and a very modern approach to the way that children want to behave. So there were those children’s colonies; the group on the beach that came from Francesca, from wonderful Francesca. She was the one who went down to Murcia in the south and found this absolutely appalling conditions that the refugees were living in down there, particularly one building, which was an unfinished apartment block with no sanitation, no windows, with thousands of people living in it. The floors were open latrines, there was one meal a day being provided by the government. And she thought, this is a really unhealthy – you can imagine that kind of English approach, well, this is very unhealthy for these children, I’m going to take them to the seaside. And so that’s what she did. She got some army trucks from the International Brigade. She got the permission of the parents, obviously. She got tents and camping equipment sent down via the Quakers. And she took them all, found a nice beach near Benidorm and set up camp on the beach for the summer – actually, the summer after the one that I have in the book. So she was full of these projects. She also set up a project to take young men of 14 to 16 years old, who she thought were in danger of volunteering and getting themselves killed, she took them up into the farm and set up a farm school to teach them how to do all sorts of trades that might be useful to them, but to get them away from volunteering for the war. So, quite amazing, really.

Charlie: Something that has occurred to me while you’re saying all this, and I want to ask, it’s not covered in your book because it’s beyond the scope, which is fair enough, but as far as I know, Franco’s side won the war. Do you know what happened to all these refugee camps and children? Were they OK? Were they able to get it away?

Maggie: I do. Well, not OK at all, really, because many of them escaped into France – there were about a million refugees in Catalonia at the end of the war trying to escape Franco. About half a million of them crossed the border into France. French authorities were appalling because they were afraid, they thought these were communists, and they didn’t want them in their country. So they dispersed the women and children across the country, essentially, they sent them to stay with people or organisations right across the country. They separated them from their men folk. They herded the men together into appalling concentration camps, on the beaches – basically, they had just surrounded beaches with netting, with barbed wire. They didn’t give them anywhere to sleep. They didn’t give them any huts to shelter from the wind; this was in the winter. They were starving to death. They were freezing to death. And again, it was these aid organisations like the Quakers and Save the Children and various other aid organisations, who tried to bring food, bring blankets, bring some ease to them. And for people who stayed behind in Spain, many were taken out and killed. And there were stories of some who went into hiding and remained in hiding – this is 1939 – until 1975, when Franco died.

Charlie: Blimey.

Maggie: Yeah. There are stories of people who… their fear was such that they knew they couldn’t come out for all that time.

Charlie: Wow. Okay, I didn’t expect that at the end there, goodness. It brings a bigger poignancy to the fact that there would have been, I expect there were a good few cases like this where Lucy brings back Concha. That in itself is nice.

Maggie: Among all of these children, these orphan children, there is one who attaches herself particularly to Lucy. She has seen her whole family killed. There were air raids on the refugees as they escaped north. It was the Italian RAF, actually; both Mussolini and Hitler sent supporting troops to Franco, and the Italians were strafing the refugees as they walked north. And in my story, Concha has seen her whole family wiped out on this road and has become mute as a result of that experience. And she attaches herself to Lucy. And Lucy feels that she can’t really take responsibility for one child among all the others, and she keeps trying to put her back into the dormitory with the children, and Concha keeps coming out and finding a way to Lucy again [laughs]. In the end until, I think we all think, you’ve got to keep her, Lucy! You can’t send her back. And that is, of course, what happens in the end.

Charlie: Even one child saves that that’s one more saved. I need to bring in your characters, I think, because you’ve got your own characters. You’ve created them from scratch. You’ve got Lucy, you’ve got Tom, you’ve got Jamie. You’ve also got Tom and Jamie’s mum, you’ve also got Lucy’s dad. But I think if we focus on Lucy, Tom, and Jamie, can you tell us about them, how you created them, their whys, I suppose, as well, considering the story?

Maggie: Okay, well, I knew that I was particularly interested in telling a story of the strength and courage of women under extreme circumstances. That was what I’d done with my first novel, and that’s what I wanted to do with this. And of course, once I started to read, most of the people who went out to Barcelona, apart from Alfred, were women. So it was very clear to me that I wanted this to be a woman. I’m not a Quaker myself, so I thought that perhaps I shouldn’t have my main character as a Quaker. So I imagined this young woman, and then I had to think about why she would want to go. So, first of all, she’s a teacher, what we now call a primary school teacher, and obviously concerned about the plight of children; so that’s one prime mover. And then I realised that I needed to tell our readers about the Spanish Civil War without piles and piles of exposition. The amount I knew about the Spanish Civil War before I began to research this, as they say, could be written on the back of a postage stamp. And I knew it was really, really complicated, and I had to make it as simple and clear as I could. So I decided that there had to be two men, one going to the Republican side and one going to Franco’s side. And then it seemed to me that it would be an awful lot of fun and make for a good story if they are brothers and they are both in love with her and are rivals for her affection, and she loves both of them, but in a slightly different way with each of them. And so I thought, well, okay, in terms of a story that’s going to carry the reader through some of this complex and heart-rending material, that would be the thing to do it.

Charlie: When I was into your book, as such, and I was seeing that you had the letters that were obviously full of Tom and Jamie’s experiences, that’s how you effectively chose to do it – you chose to have the soldiering, the battles in the letters and then have the reality of the children and refugees, which often doesn’t get covered; that was your kind of mainstay then. So that was a deliberate choice on your part?

Maggie: Absolutely. I wanted Lucy’s story with the refugees to be the skeleton of the novel and then the letters from Jamie and the letters from Tom to arrive with her so that we always get her reaction to those letters from the standpoint that she’s at, at that time. And obviously, I was extremely grateful; I read an awful lot about the different sides and was able to represent the views and the experiences of large numbers of young men, and a few women, who went out to join the International Brigades from all over Europe and America, Canada, Australia. Huge numbers turned up to the International Brigades and a much smaller number to General Franco’s forces. And my difficulty there was to write Jamie – who goes out in support of Franco’s side – to write Jamie in a way that would be sympathetic. I hope that I managed that. I wanted it to be difficult for the reader to choose who she should be with between the two men. So that was my principal task, I think, in the novel.

Charlie: I think you did succeed, definitely, in making Jamie sympathetic, because you definitely allow us to see why he’s thought what he does, even if we can see through it – but then the benefit of hindsight, obviously… But I have a question on that, actually, in that, with hindsight, again, Jamie’s thoughts seem like, oh, my goodness, what are you doing? But were there quite a few people in Britain that thought that Franco’s side was the right one?

Maggie: There were. And they were not all fascists or fascist supporters, because – just to give your listeners a very brief potted history – the Republican government was a democratically elected government in 1936, but they were anti the big landowners, the Church, who they thought had kept the people of Spain in a kind of medieval backwater. And so General Franco and the army decided they would stage a coup, essentially, and take over this democratically elected government. And as soon as they began this war, this march to take over the country, supporters of the Republicans went on the rampage. And among the other things they did was they murdered large numbers of monks, nuns and priests in the most horrific ways imaginable. So all of the papers in England were full of the Spanish Civil War and particularly full of this horrific attack on nuns and priests and monks. So all of the British Catholics would have felt that these people were beyond the pale and that General Franco had to be supported, whatever his other views and however much you disagreed with that, you would have to support him in order to make sure that this mob was not running the country. So there were a lot of people, yes. And obviously the Daily Mail was very pro-Franco, as you might guess [laughs], but also a lot of other papers because of this horror that went on at the beginning in 1936.

Charlie: Again, it’s benefit of hindsight, isn’t it? If it hadn’t been so much for that starting of killing the religious people, yeah, it wouldn’t have been maybe so effectively clear cut in people’s minds.

Maggie: No, but there comes a point later on where the Catholic Church, the Pope, says, we support Franco. So it’s not just one or two individuals, it’s the whole weight of the Catholic Church is behind him.

Charlie: Yeah, and at that point, yes, you go with what he said, definitely, yeah. On Jamie and Tom, I suppose there were, but I wanted to ask anyway, just in case you have more information, were there cases of families where some people fell on one side and some on the other?

Maggie: Absolutely. Some in this country, obviously – and that was partly what I wanted to explore when I set out, I wanted to explore divided nations. But in Spain, very, very much so. There’s a story in the book of an old man looking up at the sky, at a dogfight of aircraft from both sides in the sky, and weeping. And he is weeping because he has four sons and two of them are in Franco’s air force and two of them are in the Republican Air Force, and they could well have been up there in the sky killing each other. And that’s a true story from one of the books that I read. And it was not at all uncommon for families to be completely split down the middle.

Charlie: Yeah, I remember that bit, that took me back. I think you’ve just got a few sentences on it. It’s just this little tiny paragraph and yeah, that’s quite… goodness, yeah. Something that I didn’t know – it’s not something I know a lot of, the Spanish Civil War – but Germany and Italy helping Franco, and there was a non-intervention pact going on with various countries so it meant that effectively, the Republicans didn’t have their own support in that way, except the International Brigades.

Maggie: They had the International Brigades, but they also had armaments from Russia, but Britain and France refused to intervene. And it’s one of those ‘what if’ questions. What if Britain and France and the other European countries had intervened to support the democratically elected Republicans? Then Franco wouldn’t have come to power. Then Hitler wouldn’t have had a chance to try out his blitzkrieg on the Spanish. Perhaps Mussolini and Hitler would not have come to power. Perhaps the Second World War wouldn’t have happened.

Charlie: Yeah. It’s not something I learned about in school or anything, and after having read your book and reading about all these non intervention things that were going on, I thought, yeah, what you said – how things could have changed.

Maggie: Interestingly, they don’t learn about it in school in Spain either, because there’s people still alive who’s fought on one side or the other. It’s still very much unspoken. They are just setting up a museum for the Civil War, but there’s been nothing.

Charlie: I suppose it hurts a lot to think about it and yeah. On this romance – Lucy, Tom, and Jamie, I wanted to ask, was it important to what you were trying to do, et cetera, to have one of the brothers die?

Maggie: I suppose I felt I couldn’t see how I would resolve her dilemma, because I do think she loved both of them, I do think she was in love with both of them; I think that she loved them differently, as one might love two children differently, but I do think she was in love with both of them. And I do think that Jamie was actually the one who would have been better for her, he would have been a much better husband and father than Tom. Tom was entirely self-centred. I didn’t know that I was going to make him die [laughs], kill him off. But as we got to that point, it seemed to make sense to me that actually she would need to rely on her own strength.

Charlie: I’m going to ask on that in a minute. But you said about Jamie being the better husband for her, basically, which I agree on. And at the same time, it seemed to me – I suppose, how I read it – that Tom was the more immediate choice for her in values. But then I could definitely see what you were doing with Jamie, and he was working things out. He was very good, I think, for the reader, in seeing exactly how bad things were under Franco. And I suppose what I want to say is I liked how you showed the surface and then were always reminding us that there’s a lot more under it, yeah.

Maggie: The way I look at it is that Tom was flamboyant and had that kind of attractiveness. He was like the boyfriend that you have that you really shouldn’t end up married to because he’s no good, but he’s jolly attractive. And Jamie was much more steady. And as I say, I had to work hard on making Jamie as attractive as Tom because Tom is the swashbuckling hero going off to the International Brigade. So I have to make Jamie more handsome, a better dancer, kinder, all the other things that would balance that relationship. And Jamie is mistaken and discovers that he is mistaken, and it is a terrible, terrible discovery to him that he has been supporting a side which is doing brutal acts.

Charlie: Okay, so I’m going to go back to what you said a moment ago. The choice to have Lucy not end up with either of them; I wasn’t expecting it, I fully expected that she was going to get with Tom, especially after what happens to Jamie. But I really like that she didn’t. I don’t even know if I can explain why, I just really liked it. Can you talk more about this decision of yours to have her be on her own?

Maggie: Well, in my first or, umpteenth, draft – I mean, God knows how many drafts this has been through, 18, 1920, who knows? – but in an earlier draft, which my editor had, I have Tom waiting on the other side of the bridge in France for her. And so the ending there was going to be her with Tom. And then I thought, do you know what? Tom wouldn’t do that. Tom wants to go off and fight fascism somewhere else. There’s plenty of fascism to fight. Tom wants to go and do that! That’s who he is. And he’s not thoughtful and he’s not kind, and he is self-centred. And actually, I love. Lucy, and I don’t want her to end up with him. If she does, in 20 years time, if they both survive the Second World War, if he comes back and is an older, changed man, then maybe she can have him. But at the moment, no, I don’t want her to have him at the moment, he’s not good enough for her. Because in a way, this is a coming of age novel, isn’t it? It’s a coming of age of Lucy, who sets out as an innocent, really, and discovers who she is and discovers her own strengths. And there’s a moment, which I’m sure you’ll remember, when Tom is very satisfied that he has made love to her and he says, you’re a woman now, and she thinks, no, the night I became a woman was the night I ran out into an air raid and scooped up a child who was crying and left on their own and brought him back into the shelter. That’s when I became a woman. And I think that’s what this is about, really. It’s about that strength and courage that so many women show in so many desperate circumstances.

Charlie: [Agrees.] You weren’t going to write about war originally, before you wrote The Prisoner’s Wife, you didn’t plan to do so, but then you found the stories that led to these two books, The Prisoner’s Wife, Acts of Love And War. What did you think you were going to write about or might have written about before those books came to you?

Maggie: Well, before I began writing those books, I was very happily writing poetry, and I did write poems about refugees. I’ve always been anti-war, I’ve been pro-refugee, these things are not new to me. And when I was told the story which became The Prisoner’s Wife, I was in a lift at my mum’s sheltered housing and a very tall, elderly gentleman said to me, I bet I could tell you a story about the war that would make your hair stand on end. And I went, oh, yes, please [laughs], and went and interviewed him. And he told me this extraordinary story about a young Czech woman who was hidden in plain sight as a British soldier in a Nazi prisoner of war camp for the last six months of the war, because she was married to a British soldier. And it blew my socks off, really. And he told me this story he had been in the camp, and he told me the story from the point of view of the men – weren’t we good? We hid, her, we took risks for her; and the whole time I was thinking, oh, my God, what was that like for her in this terribly, terribly dangerous situation, and in this camp of men? So that’s what became The Prisoner’s Wife. But long before I wrote it as a novel, I wrote it as a long narrative poem. And even as a poet myself, the words long narrative poem kind of strike horror into my heart [both laugh], and it was published online with an MP3. And years went by, and I thought, you know what? That was a brilliant story. I’ve really got to try to write that as a novel. And although I had written fiction in the past, that was a big mountain to climb, to write a novel. And then when I was looking for my second story, for my second novel, after the first one was published, my editor said to me, well, your brand is women and war. And I went, I’m a brand now, how did that happen? [both laugh]. And again, I didn’t particularly want to write about war, but I did want to write about people under the great extremes and the extremes of emotion. And I suppose because I’m the age that I am, my dad had been a soldier and was a prisoner of war during the Second World War, my mum was a nurse during the Second World War, which is where I get my pacifist streak from. And so that awareness of war was always there. I am in the middle now of writing another novel about war, I didn’t want to do it, but I’m doing it, about the First World War. So by the time this podcast is broadcast in February, I might be able to give some more news about that.

Charlie: Okay, so, yeah, definitely people, look out for Maggie’s news when you finish listening to this podcast. Maggie, the man in the lift, did you happen to see him again? Does he know about these poems and this book?

Maggie: Yeah, I did see him a couple of times and took more notes from him. I gave him a recording of the long narrative poem and a copy of that, which he was delighted with. And then when I was going to write the novel, I went back to him but unfortunately, his memory was not very good by the time I went back to him for more information. But I have been in touch with his son, and his son gave me some very, very, helpful information, which led me to the correct camp to place The Prisoner’s Wife in.

Charlie: Wonderful, so you’ve got the story down and it’s out there now, and it’s never going to be forgotten. That’s wonderful. Love that. Maggie, it has been lovely having you today. Thank you very much for being here and thank you for your book.

Maggie: I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been to talk to you about the book. You’ve asked some great questions, and it’s been an absolute joy to meet you.

[Recorded later] Charlie: I do hope you enjoyed this episode. Do join me next time. And if you have a moment to spare, please do leave a rating and/or review of this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Podcast Addict. Thank you very much! The Worm Hole Podcast, episode 92, was recorded on the 26th September 2023 and published on the 26th February 2024. Music and production by Charlie Place.

Photo credit: Lyn Gregory
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