Elinor Answers Your Questions

Dear Friends, Followers, and Fans: I’ve been writing Wartime Wednesdays for almost five years. During this time, I’ve had two novels published, appeared at 160 book signing events, and answered hundreds of emails and phone calls. Many people are curious about the same topics, so today I want to share with you the answers to my most Frequently Asked Questions.

QUESTIONS ABOUT BIRD'S EYE VIEW

 

My first novel, Bird's Eye View, was published in October 2014. It's about a farm girl from Saskatchewan who joins the air force in the Second World War and goes overseas to England, where she becomes an interpreter of aerial photographs, spying on the enemy from the sky. Lonely and homesick, Rose is comforted by letters she receives from her family and friends back on the home front.

How did you get interested in WW2?

My father and uncles served in the Second World War, so we were accustomed to hearing about the war. More importantly, I grew up on a former wartime airfield!

After my father was discharged from the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1946, he bought an airport about fifteen kilometres east of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, that had been used as a training base by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. My parents then converted a small barracks building into my family home. I was their first child, born in 1951. You can see the house in the background -- and that's me standing in our first bumper wheat crop in 1954, when I was three years old.

Over the years, they made many improvements to the yard and the house, and this is what it looks like today. My brother took over the farm and built a new house in the same yard, but the old house is still used as a summer residence and I enjoy visiting there every summer and sleeping in my childhood bed!

A few years ago, my brother erected this sign at the corner of the property to honour the farm's proud history. You can read more about this in the first blog post I wrote back in October 2013 by clicking here: Growing Up With Air Force Ghosts.

Did someone inspire Bird's Eye View?

My mother, the former June Light, often described the home front in Western Canada. I was always close to her and she had many tales, both funny and sad, about being a teenager in Battleford, Saskatchewan during the war. Sadly, she died in November 2017. I miss her every day. Bird's Eye View is dedicated to her.

June was the postmaster’s daughter in Battleford, Saskatchewan and the red brick post office on Battleford’s main street, still in service after more than 100 years, was the model for the post office in Bird’s Eye View.

How much of the book is based on fact?

Bird's Eye View was built on factual bedrock. I interviewed many veterans during my research, and even travelled to England to visit the locations occupied by my heroine Rose.

Two specific tragedies that my mother described to me are fictionalized in the book. The character Max Cassidy, who appears in the opening section of the novel, was a young flyer from Australia who dated my mother, and you may read about him by clicking here: Maxwell Cassidy.

My mother’s brother Alan Light was accidentally killed when he was training as a pilot and flew his Cessna into a ferry cable strung across the South Saskatchewan River. His death is also fictionalized in Bird’s Eye View.

You may read his story by clicking: Alan Light. This is a photo of Uncle Alan, aged 19, with his grandmother.

Why did you write about a Canadian woman in uniform?

I was inspired in part by a scrapbook kept by my mother during the war. Each week she cut out and saved the front cover of the Star Weekly magazine. You can see a collection of my Star Weekly covers by clicking here: Star Weekly at War.

I loved looking at these patriotic illustrations, especially the ones featuring women in uniform, like this one. I knew that I wanted to write a novel someday featuring a Canadian woman in uniform. Although there were 50,000 of them, we never hear much about the valuable work that they performed. 

Is Rose based on a real person?

No, but she represents all the Canadian women who proudly served in uniform. They were dedicated and conscientious, like Rose, and their hard work really paved the way for women in the armed forces today.

How did you learn about aerial photographic interpretation?

Many years ago, I saw an old black-and-white photograph of a woman in an air force uniform studying an aerial photograph with a magnifying glass, and I was fascinated. I started researching aerial photographic interpretation, and read everything I could find on the subject.

Hundreds of women served as photo interpreters. This British woman named Constance Babington Smith was particularly gifted. It was Constance who discovered the very first jet-propelled weapon in history (today we call them cruise missiles) on an aerial photograph of northern Germany. She retained an interest in aviation all her life, and this photo taken after the war shows her wearing a hat of her own creation! You may read more about her by clicking here: Constance Babington Smith.

Is RAF Medmenham, the headquarters for aerial photo interpretation,a real place?

Yes, although it is now a luxury hotel called Danesfield House. George and Amal Clooney had their wedding reception here! During the war, this stately home located an hour northwest of London was expropriated by the Royal Air Force from the private owner as the headquarters for aerial photographic interpretation. I did not have to manufacture any of the discoveries described in my novel, since they were all found on aerial photos at this very spot. 

During my research, I visited the hotel and found it loaded with atmosphere. While strolling in the gardens, I met a British woman named Eileen Scott who had served at this top secret intelligence station during the war! You may read about that by clicking here: Medmenham.

Why do you write Wartime Wednesdays?

Because I had already interviewed so many veterans during the research for my novel, I decided to start my own website and publish their true stories.

One year before Bird’s Eye View appeared in print, I launched the blog in October 2013 to share some of the research I uncovered while writing my novel.

Since then Wartime Wednesdays has taken on a life of its own! I currently have more than 1,100 regular subscribers and 4,000 individual visits every month. And I continue to interview wonderful veterans like Yvonne Valleau Wildman of Kindersley, Saskatchewan, who trained in photography during her years in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Read her story here: Yvonne Wildman.

Why did you write My Favourite Veterans?

In 2016 I decided to take some of my best interviews with veterans and publish them into a printed book titled My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes.

I self-published (meaning that I hired my own designer and printer) because that took only three months, as opposed to three years if I had gone with a traditional publisher. At the time, fourteen of the 28 veterans I interviewed were still living, and I wanted them to have the book in their hands. The book is not available through bookstores, but you can order a copy from me.

On the cover are two of my favourite veterans, shown on their wedding day. Stocky Edwards from my home town of Battleford, Saskatchewan is Canada's greatest living fighter ace, and Toni trained as a nurse during her years in the air force. They still live in their own home in Comox, B.C.

QUESTIONS ABOUT WILDWOOD

Published in February 2018, Wildwood tells the story of a single mother from the big city of Phoenix, Arizona who inherits an abandoned farm in the remote backwoods north of Peace River, Alberta, on condition that she and her little girl survive for one year living off the grid. While battling the wilderness, Molly is inspired by the journal she finds in the old house, written by her great-aunt, the original homesteader, back in 1924.

What inspired your new novel, Wildwood?

One of my biggest inspirations was the house itself, named Wildwood. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to buy an old house and restore it. I’m handicapped by the fact that I live in a small town where there are very few historic homes – and more importantly, my husband wants nothing to do with it. The idea of restoring an old house is his worst nightmare!

I finally decided I would have to create an old house in my mind and lovingly restore it in my imagination. However, although the foursquare farmhouse is central to my novel, my heroine Molly never does get around to renovating it! (I may have to write a sequel, just to see Wildwood restored to its former glory).

Why did you set your novel in the Peace River area of northern Alberta?

I have no personal connection with the Peace River area, that broad, beautiful blanket of field and forest that sweeps through northern Alberta and British Columbia, but I fell in love with “The Peace” four decades ago, when I was an agriculture reporter for The Western Producer newspaper in Saskatoon. 

I travelled there on an assignment, and one of the flying farmers took me for a ride in his small airplane. As we swooped down the river valley, just as the sun was setting, I thought I had never seen anything so lovely.

This is a unique part of the world, Canada’s northernmost agricultural area. The rich soil, coupled with the long summer daylight hours, casts a magic spell over all living things.

Why did you set Wildwood in the present?

We hear a lot about living off the grid these days, and I wondered if a young modern woman from the city could possibly cope today with the challenges faced by the pioneers. The photo below pretty much sums up what I think would be the worst hardship about living off the grid!

And this would be the second-worst hardship, relying on a wood stove for heating and cooking and melting snow. This is the actual wood stove that I grew up with, still being used in my old farmhouse in Saskatchewan.

Although set in the present day, Wildwood has a strong historical story line. My contemporary heroine Molly Bannister is inspired by the diary she finds in the old house, describing the perils faced by her great-aunt, the original homesteader, Mary Margaret. I have excerpted passages from this diary, which I tried to make as authentic as possible, about what the early days were like for the first European setters.

Were there pioneers in your own family?

My own family tree is populated with both pioneers and indigenous people. My great-grandparents Peter Florence and Annie McRobbie emigrated with their baby daughter from Aberdeen, Scotland, and staked their claim at Balmoral, Manitoba in 1881. They had nine children, including my grandfather George.

This photo shows George and his wife Mary Margaret Florence. I borrowed their given names for the homesteaders in Wildwood. Mary Margaret's mother (my own great-grandmother Jessie McDonald) and her four sisters were registered as “Half-Breeds” — the legal term at that time for people of mixed Aboriginal and European ancestry — and granted scrip by the Manitoba government on July 23, 1875. It is through her that I proudly claim my Cree heritage.

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE WRITING LIFE

 

Were you always interested in writing?

I studied English, and then journalism, before becoming a writer and editor for daily newspapers and magazines, including Reader's Digest. It wasn’t until I left my last newspaper job in 2010 that I decided to turn my hand to fiction. You can read more about my career here: About Elinor.

Was it difficult to find a publisher?

I hired a professional editor, Sylvia McConnell of Toronto, whose photo appears below, to read my manuscript for Bird's Eye View. She also happened to be on contract with Dundurn Press as one of their Acquisitions Editors. Thankfully, she loved the book and pitched it to Dundurn, the largest independent Canadian publisher.

The book had to go through a lengthy review process that lasted eight months before it was approved. I think I got lucky, because most authors have to submit their book to multiple publishers! Happily, Dundurn Press decided to continue our relationship by publishing my novel Wildwood as well.

You can find her website by clicking here: Sylvia McConnell or on the Editors Canada website by clicking here: Editors Canada.

Bird's Eye View is a bestseller. What does that mean, exactly?

Canadian authors can call themselves bestsellers if their book appears on any legitimate Bestseller List -- for example, one that is published in a daily newspaper.

In my case, Bird’s Eye View was on the top ten in June 2016 in both the Globe & Mail, and the Toronto Star, newspapers. Their data is based upon bookstore sales across Canada. The below photo shows my prized clipping from the Globe & Mail.

Canadian authors can also call themselves bestsellers is if their book sells 5,000 copies worldwide, which Bird’s Eye View has now achieved after being in print for almost four years. Wildwood has probably sold about 2,000 copies after six months in print, but sales usually fall off after the first year.

Do you have a regular writing schedule?

I have found the only thing that works is rigid self-discipline. When I’m writing, I am at my computer by 9 a.m. and work until 3 p.m.

How long does it take to write a book?

There are several stages to writing a book, and a rough estimate is six months for each of the following stages: researching, writing, and editing. So that’s eighteen months of work even before hiring a professional editor, which I strongly recommend, and that process will take another six months. Getting a contract from a publisher will take another year, and then the copy editing, fact-checking and cover design will take another six to 12 months. So you’re looking at three to four years from inspiration to completion!

What is your share of the revenue?

Most people are shocked when I explain how little money authors make for their books. My standard publishing contract gives me eight percent of the retail sale price. So if Bird’s Eye View sells at the full price of $24.99, I receive two dollars and the rest is split between the publisher and the bookstore.

Does the publisher help with promotion?

Traditional publishers such as Dundurn Press assume all the costs of printing and distribution, and they place your book in as many physical bookstores as possible including Chapters; plus online with Amazon, Kobo, and other sites. They also promote your book through various websites and library catalogues and trade shows.

However, authors for the most part organize their own book signing events. I try to arrange my book events at places where I want to travel anyway, to minimize my travel expenses.

You must really enjoy book signings!

I've appeared at about 160 book club meetings, bookstore events, and private events. And yes, I love to meet people of all ages. In the first photo, I'm wearing my wartime outfit and posing with Royal Canadian Air Force veteran Ruth Nesbitt of Vernon, B.C.

Here I'm wearing my 1924-inspired outfit, the time period of the homesteader in Wildwood, and visiting with sweet little Evelyn. Her mother Sally MacDonald is a loyal fan in Cranbrook, B.C.

Are you working on another novel?

Not yet. If I were to write another book, it would probably be a sequel to Wildwood. I would enjoy spending more time with those characters, and the old house, of course! 

I am busy writing almost every day, however. My Wartime Wednesdays blog takes several days per month, and I also write a monthly column for The Senior Paper and another monthly column for an online news website called E-Know. I often write articles for newspapers and magazines. This month, I’m working on a piece for B.C. History Magazine.

Book promotion also takes a tremendous amount of time, with book signings, interviews, contacting media outlets, and social media postings. 

How can your book fans help you?

An author doesn’t become a bestseller without the support of many friends and fans. The most helpful things you can do are to write reviews and post them on Amazon, Goodreads, Kobo, or wherever you have an online account. Then you can use word of mouth to recommend the book to your friends, public library, bookstores, and book clubs. I’m deeply grateful to people who go out of their way to help me.

And by the way, I love it when people send me photos of themselves reading my books, so that I can share them on my social media. Please send them to elinor1@telus.net. The below photo is from Gehana Booth of Ottawa. I love her cup of tea!

QUESTIONS ABOUT MY DAILY LIFE

 

Where do you live now?

In 1996 we moved from Vancouver, British Columbia to the small mountain resort of Invermere, British Columbia because we wanted to raise our kids in a small town, and we have never regretted our decision. Invermere is ninety minutes away from Banff, Alberta, and three hours away from the nearest big city, Calgary. We built our house on an acreage at the edge of town, surrounded by nature.

My lovely home office with a view of Lake Windermere is surrounded by green trees in summer and snow-laden trees in winter. Deer often peer at me through the glass!

Do you have a family?

I’ve been happily married for 25 years to a mining construction manager who works with a Vancouver-based company that builds gold mines all over the world. I was lucky enough to accompany him to a few exotic locations, such as a mining camp on the windswept tundra of Far Eastern Russia. He still does some consulting work from his home office. He's also a big help when it comes to packing books around!

We have three grown daughters. Katie and her husband live here in Invermere and they have three little ones whom we see often. Our oldest daughter Janine lives in Calgary with her husband and two small children. Our youngest unmarried daughter Melinda also lives in Calgary.

Five years ago we had no grandchildren at all – and today we have five of them, including three little girls and two baby boys born in 2018! From left to right: Quinn, Axel, Nora, Juliet, and Jack.

Where do you enjoy travelling?

Back in the 1990s our family lived in Chihuahua for eighteen months while my husband was working on a gold mine in northern Mexico. That gave us a deep admiration for Mexican culture. For the past few years, we have spent two months every winter in old Puerto Vallarta. We find this city provides a satisfying mix of tourist amenities and Mexican culture.

Because we live in a rural area, when we travel we aren’t looking for wilderness – we’re looking for cities filled with human civilization and history. We love historic hotels, museums, art galleries, and cobblestone streets. Naturally Europe is high on our list of travel destinations!

One of the highlights is the rebuilt cathedral in Dresden, Germany, which was bombed to the ground in the Second World War. See more photos and read about my visit here: Dresden Cathedral.

What's your favourite hobby?

Reading has been my favourite hobby since I was old enough to pick up a book. I read one book weekly, on average. You can see some of my old favourites by clicking here: Favourite Books.

Like my mother June before me, and my daughter Katie after me, I also have a passion for thrift shops, junk stores, and garage sales. Many of the items in my home, log cabin, and cottage in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island were purchased for a few dollars!

I have a particular weakness for folk art, vintage needlework, and anything handmade, like these Mennonite quilts fashioned from men’s ties, seen here hanging on my clothesline. Some of my treasures have found their way into my own restored log cabin, which you can see by clicking here: Log Cabin.

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT ME?

I often say that my life is an open book, which is practically the truth! If you want to see what I'm doing, follow me on Instagram, or Facebook at Elinor Florence-Author.

And don't forget, I love to hear from you, too. I enjoy getting emails, letters and phone calls from people all over the world and I answer every one of them! To find out how to contact me, click here: Contact Elinor.

* * * * *

MY BOOK EVENT SCHEDULE

This is my schedule until the end of the year. At some of these events, I'll be giving a slide show presentation; at others, I'll be signing books only.

For full details, visit my Events page: Book Signing Events.​

  • October 6, 11 a.m. Chapters Red Deer, AB
  • October 9, 7 p.m. St. Albert Public Library, AB
  • October 10, 7 p.m. Breton Public Library, AB
  • October 12, 1 p.m. Calgary Lifelong Learners, AB
  • November 30-December 1: Christmas Market, Invermere, BC

* * * * *

To receive my monthly Wartime Wednesdays blog post, sign up by entering your email address in the yellow box on the top right-hand side of this page.

Share this post  

Read More:

Back to the Blog

comments powered by Disqus

Greetings

During my research into Canada’s wartime past, I uncovered some fascinating facts and anecdotes. I’ll share them here and welcome feedback and stories of your own.

Follow me by Email

For your convenience, enter your email address and have my weekly blog post sent straight to your inbox. (You will receive a confirmation email: if you don't see it in your inbox, check your Junk Mail folder or contact me for help.) I won't give your information to anyone else.

Pre-order the Book

Recently, on Wartime Wednesdays

Winston Churchill Parker was POW

Read it here