Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Jacqueline Winspear comes for Tea

Today I've invited my fellow Brit, Jackie Winspear for tea at the Jungle Red Cafe. We're serving scones and clotted cream and strawberry jam. Do join us:

RHYS: My good friend Jacqueline Winspear needs no introduction. She burst onto the literary scene a few years ago with her first novel Maisie Dobbs, which a combination of great writing and good luck thrust into the national spotlight, when First Lady Laura Bush endorsed it during a TV interview.
Since then her Maisie Dobbs novels have appeared regularly on the NYT list and she has developed a strong and loyal following that crosses genre lines. In fact it's hard to describe the books as mysteries, even though there is a mystery at the heart of each of them. They are, to quote a typical British response, just "rattling good stories" which have made the bestseller lists with no violence, gore or explicit sex. A unique achievement indeed.
Jackie and I have led paraellel lives in so many ways. We both escaped from England to America. We both live in California (where we are neighbors for part of the year). We both write about feisty female sleuths at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. We are both fascinated with the class system in Britain in the Thirties, and we seem to go for remarkably similar plots. Maybe we even channel each other. Jackie's new book is called Among the Mad, and my last Molly book ended in an insane assylum.

So Jackie, how did a typically English rose like you wind up in California? (of course, I> could ask myself the same question!)

JACKIE: I came here in 1990 on what you might call a "sabbatical" - I just wanted some time away to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of mylife. I'd been to the USA many times as a visitor, and thought it would be agood place to spend a few months - I had friends here and my brother hadmade his home here, so there was a starting place. Within a short time Iwas approached about a job with some people I'd worked with in the past -they were breaking away from the company we'd all worked for (I was in theUK office) and had started a new company. So I said "yes" - and the rest,as they say, is history.
RHYS: Where did Maisie Dobbs come from? to what extent is she you?
JACKIE: Maisie Dobbs came to me in a daydream while I was stuck in traffic - what I call my moment of "artistic grace." That moment was probably inspired by myinterest in the era of the Great War and its aftermath, and especially theimpact it had on the lives of the women of that generation - the firstgeneration of women to go to war in modern times. And I have to say, she isnot like me at all. Of course, I am sure there are various traits that comeout, but she is far more serious, in her way. I'd be inclined to tell herto go to a few more parties.

RHYS: Tell us about this latest book, Among the Mad, and the inspiration for it in> your own life.

JACKIE: In essence, Among The Mad is about the madnesses encountered in life -whether that madness is to be found in a psychologically damaged person (in this case a veteran of the Great War), or simply the everyday madness thatwe find on a busy street.

There are three main points of inspiration for this novel. The first is anexperience I had when I was in the final two years of school - from 16-18. I attended a school where, in those years, you were expected to undertake some sort of community service. Mine was in what was then called a mental hospital.
When it was built, in the mid-1800's, it was known as a lunatic asylum (and today it's probably a "Psychiatric Support Center" or something like that). I was at a very impressionable age, and the experience of volunteering in such a hospital made quite an impact on me. There was always that question - what happens to someone's mind so that a line is crossed and they end up in such a hospital?
The second experience happened in the early 1980's in London, when I was close enough to a terrorist bomb to hear it explode, and to hear the aftermath.

The third inspiration was a more personal understanding of the lives of men shell-shocked in the Great War. "Shell shock" was one of those terms picked up by the press of the day, but did not begin to illustrate the range of war neuroses experienced by soldiers psychologically damaged by the conflict.
There were issues of eligibility for pensions, and a great number of those"wounded" in such a way - wounds with no outward sign of physical injury -were sent home to "just get on with it." My grandfather was wounded both physically and psychologically by that war, and my childhood memories of him inspired my interest in how the veterans were treated - and they inspired my desire to touch on the tragedy of men who came home with psychological wounds.

RHYS: So the question we all want to know is who is that dark and handsome gentleman you are embracing?

Jackie will talk about him and about the diva in her life tomorrow, as well as answering the Jungle Red Questions on sex, chocolate and life....>


  1. I loved the chat. I've had your books in my TBR for a bit now, but I've just bumped them to the top of the pile. I can't wait.

  2. Thanks for the lovely interview and the enjoyable tea. Even though it was a virtual tea party, it was still somehow rejuvenating. :)

  3. I only wish I really was having scones and clotted cream:) Now I want to find out about that dark handsome man...

  4. Welcome! And I'll have two lumps of sugar, please. (Hi Clare, Hi Julia, Hi Mare!)

    Jackie, are you out there? (Or are you getting more biscuits?) I just opened Among the Mad, and was instantly transported to another place and time--in the first sentence alone.

    How do you--and you, Rhys, too--change your brain into writing from the past? Or do you walk around talking like your characters during the time you're writing?

  5. Hello there! It's me, Jackie, checking in from London, where the internet connection in my hotel room is very dodgy indeed - but in my jet-lagged state (only arrived a couple of hours ago) my mental connection leaves something to be desired.

    Ah, yes, that handsome man I'm in a clinch with - isn't he gorgeous?

  6. Hello again!

    We met a long while ago (Book Passage conference ca. 2004), but what a pleasure to see you here and to read this discussion at length.

    One of my colleagues at work is so terrific an admirer of your work that she's named her dog Maisie, in tribute. :) She (my colleague, not the dog) may show up to say hello here.

  7. Hi Jackie, we're so glad to have you to tea--and back again tomorrow! Rhys, I'm putting you in charge of refreshments next week too. You Brits know how to pick up an afternoon!

  8. Can't wait for the rest of the interview tomorrow. I'll be starting Among the Mad tonight. Can't wait.
    Hope you have a great time in London once you're over the jetlag.

  9. Hello Jacqueline, welcome! Yes, they adore you and Rhys at Book passage..I was there a few weeks ago..and they love you on the east coast too. I was at a library event today and your name came up and the bookseller was delighted to hear you were visiting Jungle Red. Connie, are you out there?