Brought to you by OBS reviewer Valerie
- Be sure to read our review for In Falling Snow here at OBS.
Mary-Rose MacColl: As a writer, I think I am going backwards on the Information Superhighway. I wrote my first novel using a computer (a Mac Classic II) and didn’t even print it until I had an entire manuscript. When I came to do a second novel, a computer file felt too linear. I wanted to be able to write little pieces more easily and I couldn’t imagine having a computer document of 100,000 words in no particular order. How would I organise all that typed material? Not only that, I found myself resisting the desk every morning, as I’d become more self-conscious now that I had a novel published. So I started going out to coffee shops and writing in notebooks and on little cards. I found the pace of writing with a pen on paper very comfortable for fiction writing and so I’ve continued that practice. I have developed a love of pens.
Valerie: I love the idea of flower bird girls! How did you come up with that?
Mary-Rose MacColl: Iris was always called Iris Crane and Violet was called Violet Heron. Violet’s one of those characters who came to me fully formed and very strong. She just came out with it. I love it too. And I love her line, “I can’t love. They took out my love bones.”
Valerie: Did you have any doubts when you wrote In Falling Snow about the plot?
Mary-Rose MacColl: Another great question! I am not a particularly plotting writer, so I tend to think of a situation or secret and then get to know a few characters and involve them. This means I can spend days and days working out what should happen where. The biggest struggle with In Falling Snow was working out where to tell the story from. Is Iris telling us what happened just after the war, several years later or many years later? I finally settled on her telling the story many years later as I felt the passing of time was needed to help her come to terms with what has happened and also to show the long view of what happens with war and secrets.
Valerie: Who did you base Iris, Grace, and Violet off of, if anyone at all?
Mary-Rose MacColl: I was very close to my maternal grandmother, Meta Crane, who died a few months after I first heard of the real women of Royaumont 12 years ago. My grandmother was a magic person in my young life and I have the fondest memories of her. She was very bright but didn’t have any of the opportunities for education that I’ve had. I started to wonder how her life might have been different if, instead of marrying my grandfather, having four children and running his medical practice, she’d somehow found herself at Royaumont. What opportunities might have opened up for her? Grace just walked in one day and started bossing poor Iris around. And Violet came fairly fully-formed into the story.
Valerie: What message would you like readers to take out of this?
Mary-Rose MacColl: The women of Royaumont achieved something extraordinary, establishing a hospital staffed entirely by women in a hopelessly rundown abbey in France in World War I, and yet the story is little known. Bringing this wonderful story to a wider audience has been a highlight of my writing career.
Valerie: When researching, what was the most interesting fact that you found?
Mary-Rose MacColl: The only male staff member at Royaumont was the cook, because the French Red Cross wouldn’t have an English cook for French soldiers.
The youngest known British soldier in World War I was only 12 when he went to war. The War Office turned a blind eye to the fact of boy soldiers.
Valerie: Have you visited Royaumont before? If not, do you plan on doing so?
Mary-Rose MacColl: Royaumont is a cultural foundation for France and I was lucky enough to spend a two-week residency there to research the novel. As I wandered the abbey – the beautiful refectory, empty now but once the Canada ward, the cloisters where patients sat on summer evenings, the rooms on the second floor that became the Elsie Inglis And Blanche de Castille wards – I started to understand that the building itself would become a character in the novel. Most mornings, Royaumont was shrouded in mist. For Iris, the novel’s main character, Royaumont is a holy place, a haven in the midst of the chaos of war. I started to feel that holiness.
Thank you to author Mary-Rose MacColl for a great interview!