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Rachel-K
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Questions for Sarah Blake?

Sarah Blake will join our discussion for the rest of the month. Please welcome her to the boards and post your questions for her by replying to this message!

 

Rachel

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blkeyesuzi
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

First of all, thank you Sarah for allowing us to read your lovely book and trusting us with the First Look within its pages.  It is an honor and a privilege to be among the FirstLook readers enjoying your novel.  My questions are these:

 

I understand your book began based on the question, 'what would happen if a postmistress didn't deliver the mail in time of war?' (Please pardon the clumsy paraphrase).  How did this question come to be?  What were the circumstances that led to planting that seed of a thought to make you ponder the question and later build your story?

 

 

Suzi

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
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Carmenere_lady
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Good Morning Sarah and thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us First Lookers about your new book.  I am enjoying the read very much, you really have a knack for generating the right atmosphere of the times, although I wasn't there, I can tell it's not 2009 in your novel.  To me your story is  very Norman Rockwellish, vivid pictures of Americana.

One question, the transition between scenes was rather abrupt, more so toward the beginning of the novel,  was there a particular reason to write in this manner.  What I took away from it is how life can change so quickly, in a heartbeat so to speak.

Thanks again,

Lynda

"I think of literature.....as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but will never reach."
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thewanderingjew
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Hi Sarah,

I live on the Cape. I have searched the Cape for the towns you mentioned as Iris traveled to the Cape from Boston but they don't exist. There is a Franklin on the south shore but not on the Cape. The whole cape is only about 67.5 miles of roadway from Buzzard's Bay to Provincetown.

Chatham is about 40 miles from Buzzard's Bay and it is a beautiful town on the water with a harbor. Sandwich is known as the quintessential Cape locale. Other places I thought of were Provincetown, Wellfleet, Harwichport and Falmouth but the settings didn't quite fit in with any of the logistics in the book.

Did you base Franklin on many Cape towns to create a quintessential Cape Cod town?

twj

 

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Sarah-Blake
Posts: 66
Registered: ‎08-25-2009

Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Good morning everyone!

 

It's so great to be here with you! I've been reading all your posts up to now and I have to say it's completely fascinating to read your posts and hear the patterns of questions and see the myriad directions the novel seem to be taking you. You are making the book come alive for me--it's so exciting.

 

The questions posed already this morning center around the very thing I had wanted to start off after reading your discussion last week: where did the idea of a postmistress choosing to hold a letter come from? Why does the point of view shift so swiftly? and where is this town?

 

The Postmistress started in my head long ago (13 years ago, maybe), when I was living with my husband and 1 year old son  in Provincetown, the last town at the end of Cape Cod. I was in the middle of writing my first novel, Grange House, when suddenly I had this picture of a woman sorting mail in the post office, looking down at a letter, looking up, thinking--and then quietly sliding the letter into her pocket, instead of into the box where it should have gone. Who she was, Whose letter it was, What on earth she was doing--all these were questions that percolated as I finished that novel and turned to this one. Because Provincetown is a seasonal town--around 3000 in the winter (I think) whose population swells to triple that size in the summer--I loved feeling part of the small crew who stick around through the year, and I thought a lot about the secrets that the people in the post office would know about all of us. Did they read our postcards, for instance, since they could.

 

I didn't immediately intend to set the novel during WW2 but after I started really working on this novel, I realized that in order for the undelivered letter to matter--to have any narrative drive--it had to happen in a time when losing a letter might really have consequences. And I had some letters between my grandparents (my grandfather served in the Navy during the war), and I thought, great, I can use those for atmosphere, and I'll be all set. 

 

So I started writing by writing the town around the woman in the post office, who shortly became Iris--I needed to know whose letter Iris pocketed and why, and so Will and Emma appeared, and then about  100 pages of writing that first draft, Frankie Bard literally appeared off the bus into town. I had no idea who she was, why she was there, or where she had been. 

 

By this time I'd really been reading deeply into the time period, and I was interested in trying to tell a war story about WW2 that wasn't one I knew, or thought I knew, just by dint of how much a part of our culture that war is. And, because I live in Washington DC and moved here right before September 11, 2001--I was interested in trying to write about what it feels like be thrust suddenly into history, without really understanding the larger web of the moment.

 

And I grew especially interested in trying to write about the simultaneity--how to imagine war happening right now in the middle of our lives, our days--of life in war and life in peace, which is what brought me to jumping viewpoints, to shifting the narratives. One of you put it in a nutshell--"the transitions occur at the exact moment that the characters lives intersect." This is what I was hoping to achieve as I am very interested in this idea--how to register war as it is happening, somehow. I suppose that's another way of trying to do in the narrative what Frankie insists she is doing, wanting people to "pay attention," daring them to look away.

 

Franklin is Franklin, not Provincetown, because real names, I have found, can be distracting. They come with their own histories, their own persona. The physical landscape of Franklin is pretty true to Ptown, with the single impossibility, that Harry could not see all that he sees from the top of Ptown's town hall. Really, he should be at the top of Pilgrim Monument which rises high on a hill above town, but it wouldn't have been credible for him to be up there at all times of the day, etc. 

 

I can't wait to read more of your questions, and to read more of your responses to Rachel's great questions as well!

 

Sarah

 

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Bonnie824
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Hi Sarah. My mother was a child during the Blitz (in Scotland though) and my grandfather fought in the war for 6 years. Your descriptions of the bomb shelters, blackout curtains, and children being shipped to the country rang very true to me from what I had heard.

 

My question is Did you research from books alone or did you interview people who had been around London/France/Germany during those years?

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thewanderingjew
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

You were so well able to portray the feelings and emotions of the time, on both sides of the ocean, with all the nuances of fear, loss, hope, deprivation and pain, in  addition to the apathy and complacence exhibited by some, that I was truly captivated. I thought I was aware of most of the war experiences and yet you caught a whole new dimension and put it on the page. You made it very personal. I was trying to escape, I was in the shelter. I was frustrated and afraid. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, why isn't anyone listening? As a reader, I felt as if I was on the pages of the book with your characters.

Did you know anyone personally, who went through the war who shared stories of their experiences with you? Did you interview a lot of people who were there historically or were you able to  glean all this information just from your books and you own intuition?

twj

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eadieburke
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Since the sections of your book start with Fall - 1940 and go through Summer - 1941, it is obvious that your book does not include "the day that will live in infamy" (December 7, 1941). I would have loved to hear Harry's thoughts on the real story that it was the Japanese and not the Germans who pulled us into the war. Did you ever consider extending the story into December 7, 1941?

Eadie - A day out-of-doors, someone I loved to talk with, a good book and some simple food and music -- that would be rest. - Eleanor Roosevelt
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Choisya
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

[ Edited ]

Thankyou for writing such a captivating and historically accurate book Sarah!  As someone who grew up in England during the war it brought many memories back to me, some sad but some happy because, in the main, I had a 'good war' where none of my relatives were in the forces and none were killed (I came from a mining and heavy engineering community and they were essential workers who were not called up).  I did not see the bombing of London, thank goodness, but we lived close to Coventry and I saw that devastated city the day after it was heavily bombed, so I am pleased  that you gave it a mention.  

 

I have just two points to make.  One is that Westminster Abbey is described in the book as a 'medieval' bulding whereas very little of its medieval architecture remains and it is considered a fine example of the gothic.  Secondly, I was disappointed that you made no reference to the popular music of WWII or to the Beethoven's 5th 'V for victory' theme used in all BBC news broadcasts. Some of my most vivid memories are of the songs of Vera Lynn and American Big Band Music being played on the radio, in factories and in parks and much of this music was played on both sides of the Pond, as well as in occupied Europe. I feel sure that the lives of all of your characters would have been punctuated by this music just as mine was:smileyhappy:.   

 

Thanks again for a wonderful, evocative story.

 

 

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DSaff
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Sarah, welcome to our group and thank you for the opportunity to read your wonderful book. Your story has captured me and I have a hard time reading on schedule (but I am).

 

I haven't read any of the other questions, so if these are repeats I apologize. My questions relates to your characters and story. What was your impetus to write with this set of characters? Did you find yourself lost in their stories as they unfolded? How much did your research direct the characters and storyline? Thank you in advance for your answer and for your participation!

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
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abbyg7
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Hi Sarah

I also want to thank you for the opportunity to read your book and for spending time answering our questions. 

I just love this book.  It is so hard for me to put down.  I haven't quite finished it yet, I want to see how it ends, yet don't want it to.(Does that make sense?) 

My question has already been asked.  I also wondered if you knew someone that actually lived in Europe during the war?  My parents and grandparents did and some of their stories about the bombings, air raids, the tragic situation with the Jewish people, etc. sound so similar.  I could feel the same fear and the sadness in your book as in their stories.

I will definitely be buying copies of this book to give as gifts.

Thank you again,  Abby.

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ssizemore
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Sarah-

My question is also about the research.  Your characters are so convincing and the events seem absolutely faithful to what I have read and heard.

I do appreciate so much this opportunity.  This is a Book Club gem to be shared!

Sandy

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artist4nature
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Sarah:

Your book has captured a time in history and made it so realistic for me. Thanks to you for sharing it with First Look..

 

I was wondering if there is a reason why the book is called "The Postmistress" but through out the first 8 chapters Iris is referred to as the "postmaster".

 

Joan

 

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mediamissy
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Sarah,

 

First, thank you so much for allowing us to read your amazing book.  I have enjoyed it tremendously.  My question is actually more of a person question, so I hope that is alright.

 

I was wondering if there was a character you relate to most closely?  Was there a character you based on yourself?  Frankie seems like the sharp reporter who wants to delve into the REAL story, was she based on someone you knew?

 

Michele

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babzilla41
Posts: 252
Registered: ‎05-04-2009

Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?


Choisya wrote:

Thankyou for writing such a captivating and historically accurate book Sarah!  As someone who grew up in England during the war it brought many memories back to me, some sad but some happy because, in the main, I had a 'good war' where none of my relatives were in the forces and none were killed (I came from a mining and heavy engineering community and they were essential workers who were not called up).  I did not see the bombing of London, thank goodness, but we lived close to Coventry and I saw that devastated city the day after it was heavily bombed, so I am pleased  that you gave it a mention.  

 

I have just two points to make.  One is that Westminster Abbey is described in the book as a 'medieval' bulding whereas very little of its medieval architecture remains and it is considered a fine example of the gothic.  Secondly, I was disappointed that you made no reference to the popular music of WWII or to the Beethoven's 5th 'V for victory' theme used in all BBC news broadcasts. Some of my most vivid memories are of the songs of Vera Lynn and American Big Band Music being played on the radio, in factories and in parks and much of this music was played on both sides of the Pond, as well as in occupied Europe. I feel sure that the lives of all of your characters would have been punctuated by this music just as mine was:smileyhappy:.   

 

Thanks again for a wonderful, evocative story.

 

 


 

Actually, reference was made to Beethoven's 5th 'V for  Victory' theme... page 200...Frankie is broadcasting with the censor sitting in front of her...she says "If you have Beethoven's Fifth.....go and put it on..."  then she started to hum "Da da da Dum..." which was the Morse code for the letter V.

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Sarah-Blake
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Good morning everyone!

 

Three or four of you have asked about the research that went into the novel--what kind, how much, and if that affected the story line--and I'd love to answer those questions generally here. The short of it is that I spent thousands of hours-- reading history books, poring over photographs, renting every movie I could get my hands made  from 1939 to 1942, looking at Sears Catalogues and Life Magazines from that time, in the Holocaust Museum here in Washington DC, the National Postal Museum. The books I turned to over and over again were Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time; The Library of America's two-volume set: Reporting World War II; Gavin Mortimer's The Longest Night; Laurel Leff's Buried by the Times; Cloud and Olson's The Murrow Boys; and then, the incomparable collection of pieces by Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War.

 

I interviewed many people as well--only one who'd actually been in Provincetown during the war--it was she who gave me the story of the German breadwrapper, and she who first told me about the Cape Codders fear that Germans would land there and march up the Cape to Boston (the suspicion that Harry Vale voices). I interviewed a postmaster from a tiny island town in Maine who said to me, famously, "there is no such thing as a postmistress--it's postmaster, whether it's man, woman, or baboon." This fact caused me great consternation until I started to realize how to use this restriction. For me, there is a great distinction between the job of a postmaster--what Iris adheres to during much of the book, and the postmistress, the name Frankie gives her.

 

(But then, this is how research definitely shapes characters and plot--you run up against reality and you try and figure how to use it, how to re-use it, and the characters grow in response.)

 

Perhaps that's a great question to ask back to you--who is the postmistress? 

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Sarah-Blake
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Registered: ‎08-25-2009
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Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

 


eadieburke wrote:

Since the sections of your book start with Fall - 1940 and go through Summer - 1941, it is obvious that your book does not include "the day that will live in infamy" (December 7, 1941). I would have loved to hear Harry's thoughts on the real story that it was the Japanese and not the Germans who pulled us into the war. Did you ever consider extending the story into December 7, 1941?


 

In previous drafts, the novel started before Pearl Harbor, and Will went into the Army and was caught on Bataan. But the more I worked on the novel, the more I realized that part of what I wanted to write about was the odd, uneasy time before our role was clear--it makes Will's gesture that much more incomprehensible, and more personal, really. I was drawn to reflecting the months before we knew as a nation what was happening, and what we were doing.

 

Author
Sarah-Blake
Posts: 66
Registered: ‎08-25-2009

Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

 


Choisya wrote:

Thankyou for writing such a captivating and historically accurate book Sarah!  As someone who grew up in England during the war it brought many memories back to me, some sad but some happy because, in the main, I had a 'good war' where none of my relatives were in the forces and none were killed (I came from a mining and heavy engineering community and they were essential workers who were not called up).  I did not see the bombing of London, thank goodness, but we lived close to Coventry and I saw that devastated city the day after it was heavily bombed, so I am pleased  that you gave it a mention.  

 

I have just two points to make.  One is that Westminster Abbey is described in the book as a 'medieval' bulding whereas very little of its medieval architecture remains and it is considered a fine example of the gothic.  Secondly, I was disappointed that you made no reference to the popular music of WWII or to the Beethoven's 5th 'V for victory' theme used in all BBC news broadcasts. Some of my most vivid memories are of the songs of Vera Lynn and American Big Band Music being played on the radio, in factories and in parks and much of this music was played on both sides of the Pond, as well as in occupied Europe. I feel sure that the lives of all of your characters would have been punctuated by this music just as mine was:smileyhappy:.   

 

Thanks again for a wonderful, evocative story.

 

 


 

First, I have to echo many many posts on here just to thank you Choisya for all your really informative and generous posts about the era, and the place, and about your own memories during the war. In response to your point about the music--I'm afraid it's another case of reality not cooperating with my plot--songs like "White Cliffs of Dover," were not released until past the point in my narrative that I could use them, and so I found songs like the one that begins Chapter Two whose words did work for me--even as they may only have been heard over here in the States. The story of how Beethoven's Fifth was used as a bit of resistance in Europe I had to use (and it's the broadcast Frankie makes with Jim Holland listening, the one that nearly gets her into trouble), it's simply too great to pass up. The first four notes of the symphony Da Da Da Dum--spell out the letter V in Morse Code. And V was chalked up all over occupied Europe, a silent fist raised.

 

Author
Sarah-Blake
Posts: 66
Registered: ‎08-25-2009

Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

 


mediamissy wrote:

Sarah,

 

First, thank you so much for allowing us to read your amazing book.  I have enjoyed it tremendously.  My question is actually more of a person question, so I hope that is alright.

 

I was wondering if there was a character you relate to most closely?  Was there a character you based on yourself?  Frankie seems like the sharp reporter who wants to delve into the REAL story, was she based on someone you knew?

 

Michele


 

 

Great question, Michele, and one whose answer leads in many directions. The short answer is that these characters sprang up out of the writing--I didn't know them, or recognize them at all. Iris just arrived one day in the picture in my head of a woman holding back a letter, and then the rest followed, brought on by the narrative necessity. 

 

The longer and more complicated answer is realizing how each one of them became familiar to me in some way--Frankie's pursuit of the story was my own--trying to figure out and comprehend what is going on; Iris's faith in order, in an overseeing presence I feel I see all around me with varying consequences. Emma's perception of the world and what it hands you stems from being orphaned at an early age, and though I was not a child when my own parents died, her experience is probably the most autobiographical.

Moderator
dhaupt
Posts: 11,827
Registered: ‎10-19-2006

Re: Questions for Sarah Blake?

Sarah, Hi and welcome and thank you for such an intriguing piece of literature that I'm sure will be right up there on the best seller list soon after publication.

 

I don't really have questions just some comments about the book.

I love the dialogue and can almost shut my eyes and see the characters and the switch from one side of the ocean to the other. I can visualize Frankie broadcasting and then gently floating to Iris listening to her radio in the post office, it really works for me.

And I love the fact that it's about a time most of us have no recollection of except in history books and novels. The lifestyles and attitudes of the characters are very interesting to me, seeing how they lived remembering times before any question we had could just be googled. It's making me slow down and enjoy the things around me more, imagining what my grandmother went through my my grandpa went off to war.

The scenes on the train where Frankie is interviewing people is hard for me to take, hard to imagine what they were put through and I thank you for letting us remember again, to never forget the evil.