NARRATOR: "Books & Co." is made possible by the Virginia G. Piper center for creative writing. Serving writers and readers in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the state of Arizona, and the world.
ALBERTO RIOS: Welcome to "Books & Co." We're joined here today by Jacqueline Winspear about her book, and I'm going to say this very carefully because I find it a compelling title, "Leaving Everything Most Loved." Published by Harper Collins. Welcome.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure.
ALBERTO RIOS: I am serious about the title. I think it is a compelling title, it's -- It reaches to the reader immediately. And it has bearing on what happens in the book. Before we talk about the book, this is part of a series, perhaps you can recap what the series has done, and maybe her various news.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: This is the 10th novel in the series, and I would say particularly in that first novel, readers get a firm grasp of who she is and her background. The first book thought it opens in 1929, it actually traces some of her background from the time 11:58:21:24 she was a 13-year-old going into domestic service in pre-World War I Britain --
ALBERTO RIOS: Which is a heck of a time period.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: A heck of a time period. That's right. And she has gone into domestic service and we -- I don't want to give too much away, because some readers might not have read the first book. But very quickly her innate intellect and her deep, deep hunger for learning is discovered by her employer. And one thing leads to another, I'm not going to tell the whole story --
ALBERTO RIOS: This is Maurice?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Actually it's Lady Compton. And she talks to a friend of hers and says, this is the situation. I have this girl working for me, and she's incredibly bright. The background is that she feels she should be doing more on a social level, let's say for the poor. And this is her chance to do something. But her -- Maisie's education is sponsored, but she gives up that education when she is 18 years old. Because war has broken out. And she knows that she needs to serve. And she becomes a nurse. She volunteers for nursing service. Is sent overseas. And during her experiences as a wartime nurse, she sees death of the most terrible kind. In that regard she loses her innocence. The innocence that a young person at an impressionable age would lose if they see terrible things in terms of human beings killing each other.
ALBERTO RIOS: World War I, we can't overstate the horrific nature of --
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: We absolutely cannot.
ALBERTO RIOS: Of that particular war.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: You're absolutely right. And she's haunted by that. Later on, and much of her background unfolds gradually through the book, you will get a grasp of it in the first book. But she continues her education after the war. And she becomes Blanche's assistance. When we first meet her in the first book, she has just retired and she's setting off on her own. And she is a private investigator. And --
ALBERTO RIOS: Would that have been a common job would you say at that time period?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: It's not common, but it wasn't unknown. Because they were quite -- Maisie’s generation of women were very extraordinary. Their circumstances very, very much marked by the Great War there. Were several female investigators in the day.
ALBERTO RIOS: Very interesting. Out of curiosity, as an author, what made you choose that time period? You had a lot of other choice, but you created Maisie Dobbs in this time period.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: The whole thing chose me.
ALBERTO RIOS: Was it generational in your family?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Yeah. And you know, right down to even writing fiction, it chose me. Before I started work on Maisie Dobbs I had a day job, and I was a writer of nonfiction. I wrote articles and essays, I loved the personal essay, I loved memoir and I didn't think I would ever write fiction because I liked grounding my work in what is so. I didn't know then, I was most naive that you can touch truth more readily with fiction than you can with fact. And there is a real distinction there as we know. But the way that the idea came to me, classic stuck in traffic, idea comes to you. But it's like watching a movie. A moment that I've described as a moment of artistic grace. Because a whole story came to me. And I thought compelled to write the story. But I don't think those moments of artistic grace happen in a vacuum. And certainly for me there's been a lifelong interest and curiosity in the great war which actually started in childhood, quite early childhood. And that was in observing my grandfather. He was -- He had served in the 1914-18 war, although he was severely wounded in the battle in 1916. He was shell shocked. Gassed, and sustained horrible leg wounds. And Eden Prairie as a child I was very aware of his disabilities. And I had lots of questions about those disabilities.
ALBERTO RIOS: Especially as a little girl I would imagine.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Little children. Why this, why that? And in fact, we didn't see a huge amount of my grandparents. So their visits became these big events, because my parents left London after the end of the Second World War. Because they wanted to get away from bomb sites. So war is a theme here.
ALBERTO RIOS: The visual sense of bomb sites?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: And the experience of them. They wanted to get away from that. And they were very young, they left London for the county of Kent, and some years later I was born there.
ALBERTO RIOS: About what year had they been living -- Just post Great War?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Well --
ALBERTO RIOS: before World War II?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: My --
ALBERTO RIOS: I'm not asking when you were born.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: OK, so my grandparents all lived in London for -- London born and bred, all four grandparents. And my father was born in 1926. So therefore just before the second world war in 1939, he was, what, 13, something like that. And -- 13, 14. And he -- My mother was 13. And they really experienced war, the Second World War in London.
ALBERTO RIOS: Which is a separate discussion.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Absolutely separate discussion.
ALBERTO RIOS: But I think it's fair to say Britain carried memories of the great war in a way that this country did not, and --
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: And still don't.
ALBERTO RIOS: Right. It is very much present. And I know that with knowing people and understanding what they've -- Not been through, but what they've been through as children having been exposed to that through story, narrative, relatives, you know, great grandfathers, those pictures, all of that sort of stuff.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: That's right. And for me, those questions were, why does granddad -- Why do his legs hurt? When he breathes why do you hear this -- And why does this happen, why does that happen? The answer was always because, he was wounded in the great war. You know how children don't always understand the meeting of words, but they understand the way in which it is spoken. And upon reflection, though I couldn't articulate it at the time, it's that word wound. Because if my dad hurt himself while working on the house, he was hurt. When one of the elderly ladies on our street walked out in front of a car, she was injured. But wound was used for something else. And whenever people spoke about war, it was "wound," and there was a gravity in the way it was spoken. And children notice those things.
ALBERTO RIOS: And it was beyond the physical. Because you talk at great lengthy think it's part of the narrative here That you bring us now, the psychological wounds are every bit as powerful and difficult to straddle as the physical wounds. And we have all of that language that came to us perhaps from World War I, shell shocked, which now we think of as PTSD, and we have a maybe what seems like a refined sense of how to name it, but not how to deal with it.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: You know, that's absolutely right. In fact, the naming became a very political point. Because the government possibly did not want this named. Because they had not known it before. And it's really interesting, without going into different wars, how there is some manifestation of PTSD in every war. For example, in the civil war here in America, there was a condition known as soldiers heart. Soldiers literally got an arrhythmia.
ALBERTO RIOS: What a great phrase.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: It was an arrhythmia. Shell shocked, many shell shock wounds were percussion wounds. And some people suffered shell shock without even being near the battle. Just the sound. And if you put that together with the fact that even people in the south coast of England could hear the shelling in France. And the fact that sounds was different then. Sound was different. We didn't have all the noise we had today. Even within London. Sound carried further. The old bells of -- You could hear them better than you would today because the noises are different. It was quite revolutionary if you think about it, it's pertinent to the way shell shock was experienced.
ALBERTO RIOS: That’s a wonderful insight. As a child I think our connection to that is 101 Dalmatians or something, where they talk about the --
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Why am I barking?
ALBERTO RIOS: The dogs of London, which I always remembered as a sound idea. And you're giving it to us in an adult incarnation which I think is frightening and again very present in the experience of the people that we're talking about here.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: If you think about it, in the mid-1800s, we take a long time to evolve, human beings, but you saw the industrial revolution, a lot of people coming from the country, where there were not machines. Horses and plows -- Horses would plow the land. It wasn't a tractor.
ALBERTO RIOS: With the sound that comes from the tractor.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: So suddenly there's 60-year period, an assault, an auditory assault when people made change. They've got a cash register, there are motor cars on the street, it's not just clip clop of horses. Different new sounds. So you had -- There's a theory that a lot of shell shock was actually had been building up for a long time. And just came to fruition during the Great War.
ALBERTO RIOS: As it triggered those sounds.
ALBERTO RIOS: Does it apply to other senses as well? I'm going to stop and remind our viewers you're watching "Books & Co.," I'm your host, Alberto Rios, and we're joined today by Jacqueline Winspear, author of "Leaving Everything Most Loved."
ALBERTO RIOS: Maybe we'll move to the book now and talk a little bit about what you're working with, which is a compendium of things that are beyond the narrative. You've got a narrative case to be solved. A murder followed by another murder. I'm not giving anything away I think by saying that. But along with that you've got, for example, class, and social issues, you've got again some ideas that are still remnants of the great war, people who are doing work but are damaged as they come to that work. And how do you best work with that as something that Maisie I think is quite compassionate about? She herself is wounded.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: She is as shell shocked as many men that come back from the battlefield.
ALBERTO RIOS: Could you say something about the character of the people in the book? Because there's this sense of -- You use the phrase several times, pull your socks up. Where people are saying, we've all been through it. But we all have to get on.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Well, there was that sense in Britain. If you consider that the Great War left -- There was virtually no family left untouched. And no community, no street. And sometimes it's hard for people to get their heads around the great losses that were experienced. But you only have to go to any village in England and look at the war memorial, and the list of names. And three or four in a family. "saving private Ryan," where the young man was one of four brothers and three of them were dead already. That was nothing in the great war. Because -- I don't mean to minimize that, absolutely not. Because that kind of loss is indescribable. But if you see the war memorial and see there were cousins, and friends, and so on, and all the young men in the street, in a village could be wiped out on the very same day. Because of the way they structured the regiment. It was a big lesson in how to structure regiments in the future. They didn't do that again. Because they encouraging people to enlist together. And people from a workplace, people from a village, a football team.
ALBERTO RIOS: A team effort.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: A team. Because they realized pretty early in the war after the initial rush to enlistment, when war is declared, there is always an initial rush to enlistment, and then of course you start getting news of fatalities, and casualties, and people realize, we can get killed doing this. So they don't enlist in such numbers. And that was a real problem. So they encouraged people to enlist together because they realized a man may not lay down his life for his country but he surely would for those he loved. But what that meant was that an -- Especially with French warfare, you'd get all the men in one regiment going over the top into at the very same time. And all being lost at the same time. An example is the men -- I've forgotten the name. A place in northern England where I think 600 menopause were killed within the first 20 minutes of the battle. The then -- Newfoundland, which I know I pronounced incorrectly, lost most of its men during the first few days of the battle. And so what you've got is a real not just an individual's grief, but a collective grief and everybody knew they had to pull through it together.
ALBERTO RIOS: That raises an interesting issue. And you're mentioning a Canadian aspect to it. But in the book, who fought for Britain is an interesting question. And it raises the presence of Indians coming to the -- Be patrioted in England and the resulting friction that came from that. That's something Britain was struggling with.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Well, it was interestingly enough, when the men from India came to join his majesty's forces, actually there was a real fascination and support for everything India. People were big those Indian bedspreads, and it became -- That became very fashionable, the fabrics became fashionable and so on. But what do you -- What you also saw was a certain level of, on both sides, actually, let's say care and attention. For a start, just to do with the whole business of the -- The fact it was part of the empire, it wasn't until 1919 that an Indian couldn't become an officer, could become a noncommissioned officer, but could not become a commissioned officer. And there were other things as well. I think actually they did the best to accommodate the men from India who were in the country in their way, because, for example, there's this magnificent building in Brighton called the dome. It was built in -- It was built for the Prince regents in 1700s. It looks like an Indian palace. And you -- That's where they decided, we want to -- All the wounded that were completely requisitioned for the Indian wounded because they did not have nurses, they had their own -- Because of women were not allowed to tend the sick. But they felt it would make them feel at home because it looked like India. But you know, there had been this certain disconnect for a long time, and in fact there was in 1933 about 8,000 people of Indian descent living in Britain.
ALBERTO RIOS: You get to use that time period, and much of the plot in the book, to echo what's going to happen later. And one of the questions that occurred to me is, how do you deal with the future when you're writing about the past? You get to talk about Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler before they've really achieved -- They were present then, and I'm wondering how do you deal with things you know are going to become very present, very large when you're writing a piece like that?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: I think a lot of it happens in a very organic way. But it's looking at who they were then. And in fact in the book before this, you get a real sense that Winston Churchill was on the hinterland of power. In fact that's exactly what someone described, Winston is finished. I think Nancy Astor said that, Winston is finished. And he was very much on the hinterland of power. He was doing all the things he loved to do. But he was an early critic of the whole regime in Germany. He could see it coming. And he was working very much behind the scenes.
ALBERTO RIOS: If we could just go from the large issue for a moment to maybe some of the smaller things, there are issues, for example, you mentioned the Indian men wouldn't be treated by women. And so there was some accommodation made. The whole idea of medicine, you talk about in the book, some small approaches to medicine, and the larger ones where you make a statement that with doctors and pills, and -- We're being asked to forget what we know in terms of helping ourselves. Right? Were you trying to make a larger statement do you think about that?
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: I don't think I was trying to make a larger statement. I was just saying what is. It's talking about what is so. And how that was for people then. Because I remember, for example, when I was a kid, my mom had lots of tools up her sleeve. If you had a bee sting you put an onion on it.
ALBERTO RIOS: Which you use --
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: I think I did. I have great memories of that onion.
ALBERTO RIOS: I bet. I bet.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Even if you had a sty in your eye, the only time -- She didn't take off her wedding ring, she would rub the ring on the sty. And it would get rid of the sty, the gold. You can still buy an ointment in Britain called golden ointment.
ALBERTO RIOS: That's a good one.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Actual it will other thing about medicine, I think people often don't realize that we don't often put the two and two together, that a time of war brings with it usually great leaps forward in medicine. In the great war, for example, it was -- It offers an opportunity to test things out. To see if they really work. And when I tell people that, you know, they were using I.V.s then, they were experimenting with plastic surgery, they really were experimenting with it in the second world war, that's when it came into its own. But they would truly experiment with that. And Marie Curie, for example, she was the first one to set up mobile x-ray units on the battlefield. She and her daughter financed themselves, and people who operated them were women. You know, I --
ALBERTO RIOS: extraordinary.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: A lot of things come through organically. What I love is this juxtaposition of the present and past. A period of change where people are moving away from ways that had -- They had no wisdom they had to have received wisdom.
ALBERTO RIOS: You have at the center of this the solving of the crime of the murder of Usha Pramal. It's interesting we were talking about visuals and the different markers. You associate all color with her, and kind of senses are awakened and you've got the colors of the saris and silks and everything. That's an extraordinary presence. It is in what feels like darker circumstances, everybody carrying wounds, and difficult psychology along with them. She seemed to bring something to it. And all of the different explanations about why she might have been killed, I think are as interesting to me as what we might ultimately think of as the solution to it. Do you want to talk about all of those, what --
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Sure. Sure. You know, the whole -- First of all the people often ask me why I write mysteries. In fact I wouldn't -- My books are really very much cross genre. They're historical, Maisie Dobbs is an investigator, there is a mystery. But one of the things I love about the mystery is that you have this journey through chaos to resolution. So it's -- You can explore so much within that. Within the realms of mystery you can explore social conditions, you can explore the psychology of people, the way they interact. You can explore -- So much within a period of time. And drawn into the chaos. Regarding the color, there's actually a story that goes with that. When I was -- I guess I was about 12 or 13, we had a teacher at school who was from India. And every day she wore a different Sari. And we loved her saris. We were natural our uniforms, and she wore these wonderful Saris. Even though in the depth of winter you never saw the Silk of that Sari soiled by mud or even when she walked always cross the parking lot. How did she always look so beautiful? We were always commenting on it. She'd walk into the room -- One day we came in and there on her desk was 32 saris. She allowed us all to wear -- Each to wear a Sari.
ALBERTO RIOS: What a wonderful story.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: And we learned how to wrap the Sari, how to pleat it and wrap it, and drape it and we sat there and I'm -- I wore the peach Sari, which is why I have the peach Sari in the book. And it was just such an explosion of color. So whenever I think about it I think of that color.
ALBERTO RIOS: What a wonderful way to finish up our discussion here today. That's a wonderful story. I wouldn't have forgotten that either. We've been talking today with Jacqueline Winspear about her book, "Leaving Everything Most Loved." You've been watching "Books & Co." I'm your host, Alberto Rios. I hope you'll join us again next time when we bring you another good book. Thank you.
JACQUELINE WINSPEAR: Thank you very much.
NARRATOR: "Books & Co." is made possible by the Virginia G. piper center for creative writing. Serving writers and readers in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the state of Arizona, and the world.