author interview

Pamela Hart and A Letter From Italy

As most of you know, I love books! According to Goodreads, I read 1.44 of them a week – while my To Be Read list continues to grow.

One thing I’m really grateful for is that I’m on a run of choosing well – most of this year I’ve read and reviewed books worthy of four- and five-stars. This is not in small part thanks to Hachette Australia who have an outstanding list of authors on their books.

In fact, today I get to interview one my faves, the fabulously prolific and successful Pamela Hart – here she is with one of her gorgeous books:

So without further ado, let me start by asking you, Pamela, about your latest book A Letter From Italy.

You’ve talked before about why you crossed over from a successful career in children’s books to writing for adults about the women left behind in WWI, but what made you specifically choose a woman journalist?

When I was researching The Soldier’s Wife, I read the Women’s Pages in the Sydney Morning Herald from the period I was writing about, to get the good oil on fashions, prices, attitudes and recipes.

There was always an editorial (usually with no by-line or with a by-line like ‘Justice’) which was often very feminist – quite outspoken about women’s rights in a way we wouldn’t normally associate with a major newspaper in those days.

It turned out that the editor of that page was Louise Mack, who had been the first woman war correspondent to go to the front lines, during the 1914 German invasion of Belgium. I found her fascinating.

So when my publisher suggested that we ‘go overseas for the next book’, I said, ‘what about a woman war correspondent?’

She was delighted.

What made you choose Italy as your backdrop?

I like to write about parts of WWI that people don’t know about – we’ve all heard the Gallipoli story, perhaps too often. So when I discovered, via my friend Vicki, that the Royal Australian Navy had sent a flotilla to Italy in 1917, I knew I’d found the theatre of war my journalist should be covering.

I often wonder how my favourite authors can possibly make their next novel as good as the last one I loved, let alone better again.

Yet you’ve done exactly that with the exquisite A Letter From Italy, after the stunning The Soldier’s Wife and the beautiful The War Bride, not to mention all your other works.

Do you have any moments of self-doubt while writing?

All writers have self-doubt. My theory is that if you don’t have self-doubt, you end up writing crap.

Self-doubt is good – it pushes you to do better, to work harder. The book I’m currently working on, The Desert Nurse, has been quite confronting because the focus in it is primarily on the relationship, which is quite different from A Letter from Italy.

It’s been hard to get the pacing right, so I’m relying on my editors! We become enmeshed in the lives of our characters. Every book has its own problems and challenges. You’d think it would get easier, but it doesn’t. But hopefully you learn something along the way.

I imagine the women you write about help inspire you?

The women I write about inspire totally! That’s why I write the books. The women who waited at home for news, and kept society running while in constant anxiety, the women who were brave enough to set out for new countries with faith in their loves, the women who reported news and the women who made it, and the nurses who left their own lives behind in order to save others. All of them are heroes, and profoundly humbling.

I found disturbing parallels between the views some of your characters hold of women, and how some people still view women today.

Was this intentional on your part?

One of the things I realised about Louisa Mack’s editorials is how little things on the personal level have changed for women. Certainly some official gates have opened, and the law is far more fair than it was, but on a one-to-one level too much has stayed the same.

One of the advantages of writing historical fiction is that you can tackle these attitudes head on – and if the reader feels a resonance with their own experience, all the better!

Although one of the things I am finding interesting is that personality/character roles for men were wider and more diverse – there wasn’t the conflation of gentleness with being gay, for example, which we’ve seen in recent times. It seems to me that men have long defined themselves as ‘not woman’, and as the roles for women got wider, roles for men became narrower as a consequence.

I think this is a tragedy for everyone, and is perhaps a more subtle message in my writing. You won’t find an Alpha Male hero in my books – Jimmy in The Soldier’s Wife was the closest I’ve come to that, and he had to learn his lesson!

I admire the way you handle Jimmy – it feels very real. And while we’re on the topic, I like the lesson you give Frank in The War Bride too, no matter how difficult it might have been to inflict that on him, nor how much sympathy I have for him.

And speaking of lessons, is there a takeaway message you’re hoping shines through your work?

Mine is always the same. I was once privileged enough to interview Lores Bonney, the woman who was the first person to fly from Australia to South Africa, and the first woman to fly from Australia to Britain, in the 1930s. At one point, she patted me on the hand and said, ‘Don’t let them tell you you can’t do it.’

That’s my motto, and that’s the takeaway message I hope is in a lot of my books, for males as well as females, of all ages. It doesn’t matter what box they put you in; ignore them and break out of it. Don’t let them tell you you can’t do it.

Do you have any more plans for Rebecca Quinn?

Rebecca is a character in the book I’m writing now, The Desert Nurse, but since this book goes from 1914 to 1918, we meet her before the events of A Letter From Italy. You may remember that Rebecca gets a letter from her friend Evelyn, who is a nurse in Cairo – The Desert Nurse is about Evelyn, and the fate of Rebecca’s brother, Linus, is revealed in it!

It’s also entirely likely that we’ll meet both her and Sandro again in the book after The Desert Nurse, which will be set in Australia and Britain. My characters for that are certainly newsworthy, so who else should interview them?!

Ok, I’m sold – I want to read it already!
What about any women who might meet Jack?

I wouldn’t inflict Jack on anyone!

I’m sure I’m not the only person thanking you for that!
Thanks, Pamela, for your time today, and all the best with this perfect book.

You can find out more about Pamela Hart on her website, Twitter or Facebook.

Inspired by the life of the world’s first woman war correspondent, Australia’s Louise Mack, the most sweeping love story yet by Pamela Hart.

1917, Italy. Australian journalist Rebecca Quinn is an unconventional woman. At the height of World War I, she has given up the safety of her Sydney home for the bloody battlefields of Europe, following her journalist husband to the frontline as a war correspondent in Italy.

Reporting the horrors of the Italian campaign, Rebecca finds herself thrown together with American-born Italian photographer Alessandro Panucci, and soon discovers another battleground every bit as dangerous and unpredictable: the human heart.

A passionate and poignant love story set on the beautiful Italian coast by the bestselling author of The Soldier’s Wife and The War Bride.

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