November 10, 2014

Fabulous interview and book giveaway with WW2 novel author Elinor Florence

You've heard me say it before, and no doubt you'll hear it again as time goes on, but British Columbia doesn't have a very big vintage community (especially when it comes to those who wear and/or blog about mid-century fashion or history), which makes it all the more fantastic when I have the pleasure and privilege with connecting with another vintage history sole right here in my home province. A few months ago, via email, I did just that with first time author Elinor Florence (pictured below) and we've been in frequent contact ever since.

Elinor's first book, A Bird's Eye View, was recently published by Dundurn and tells the moving, skillfully written fictional story of a prairie born young lady whose hometown is transformed into a military air training base during WW2.

Like 50,000 Canadian women who enlisted in some form of military service to help do their very hard working part on the war effort front, the the story's heroine, Rose Jolliffee decides to sign up for active duty and is soon whisked overseas where she works as aerial photographer taking photos of enemy bomb targets on the European continent. It's not all work Rose however, as she finds time to fall in love, though no shortage of hardship befalls her romantic endeavors and one feels for her plight every step of the way.

This highly enjoyable 384 page book is the just the sort that no history or historical fiction fan will want to put town. It is a story brimming with historical references and an air of days long gone, yet still so very fresh in the eyes of time.

Naturally, I was eager to sit down (via email) with Elinor - who has been very hard at work lately on a coast-to-coast Canadian blog tour, which concludes with a stop in the nearby Okanagan city of Kelowna on November 29th (see Elinor's website for further tour date and location details) - to learn more about her history as a writer, what went into creating her first novel, her own passion for vintage, and so much more! (Be sure to check out the rest of the post below the interview, too, where you can enter for your chance to win a signed copy of Elinor's debut novel.)

CV: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us here today, Elinor. You've had a lifelong love of writing, which shone through in many forms, notably including your earlier career as a journalist, magazine writer, and newspaper publisher. On your website you explain how your desire to pen a novel started to come through in more recent years, when your family was living in Mexico. Do you feel that the seeds for novel writing were there earlier on, or was there a turning point?

EF: My desire to write was born when I began to read the Lucy Maud Montgomery novels. Most people are familiar with Anne of Green Gables, but it was the three-part Emily series – Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest – in which she describes her burning desire to write that really ignited my passion.

The three books follow Emily through her climb up the symbolic “Alpine Path,” a phrase from a poem that inspired her to become a successful author. I recognized that same desire within myself, although it took the form of writing non-fiction for many years before I finally, with some trepidation, turned to fiction.

CV: I truly adore that you opted to make the heroine of your WW2 novel a fellow Canadian (like you and me). Was doing so something that was extremely important to you?

EF: Yes! I can't tell you how many people suggested that I place my heroine south of the border, to make it more appealing to the larger American audience and more specifically, television and movies. But that would have defeated the purpose. I felt that the American story and the British story have a much greater chance of being told, because of the larger populations in those countries, but that the Canadian story – our nation’s contribution to the war, and specifically, the women’s contribution – have been overlooked.

So I definitely wanted to write about a Canadian woman in uniform. And not only did my heroine watch the war unfold on the continent through her work, but she kept in touch with home front through frequent letters from her mother and her best friend, so I was able to describe what women were doing back in Canada as well.

Canada really emerged as a nation during this war. We went into the war still thinking of ourselves as a British colony, and we came out with a new identity, having earned the respect of the rest of the world. In some ways, Rose herself is a metaphor for her country – she went into the war as an unsophisticated farm girl, and came out a mature, capable woman.

CV: Do you see yourself in your main character or is she a bit more like an alter ego for you?

EF: They say all first novels are autobiographical to some extent. I do have some things in common with Rose, but at the same time I tried to make her a woman of her time. It’s all very well to have these incredibly strong, fearless heroines in historical novels, and I enjoy reading about them, but it’s not very realistic. Let’s not forget that women back in the 1940s were kept in their place much of the time, and they achieved their goals by working very hard to earn men’s respect. My heroine doesn't challenge authority, because that was something she just wouldn't have done back then – not only because she was a woman, but because she was in uniform. If I were writing about Rose today, her actions might have been very different.

CV: What would you say was the hardest/most challenging, and conversely, the most enjoyable part of writing your debut novel?

EF: The hardest part was learning to "make stuff up" after a lifetime of reporting the facts, ma'am, just the facts. I was afraid my novel would look like one long newspaper story by the time I was finished! I had to learn how to construct fictional characters and situations. And by far, the most difficult thing to manufacture was dialogue between the characters. I really slaved over that. I read a lot of books written at the time, and watched a lot of movies, trying to pick up figures of speech used in the 1940s.

The most enjoyable aspect was creating a dream world and feeling it come to life. I have always wanted to live back then, or at least make an extended visit! So this was a way for me to experience the drama and the excitement of wartime, as well as the sorrow. It was a very powerful period of history, when emotions were running high. I actually shed a few tears on my keyboard while I was writing, because I was identifying so strongly with my characters.

{A photo of Elinor's writing space at her home, where she wrote her gripping, marvelous first novel: A Bird's Eye View.} 

CV: What message in your book do you feel will speak to, or resonate with, a 21st-century audience?

EF: I hope that my book takes the dusty old history that we learned about in school and makes it come to life. We came very close to losing the war -- a fact that seems to have been forgotten. It took the strength of common will of every man, woman and child in the Western world to defeat the most horrible evil the world has ever known. And it took six long years of the most incredible struggle and sacrifice to make this happen.

The other message that I hope will resonate with young people is that it was the youth who bore the brunt of the fighting. Last year I interviewed a guy who had flown a Lancaster bomber. He was 20 years old at the time, and he was the oldest guy in the plane! When we look around at today’s teenagers, we can’t imagine what that was like for them and for their families.

CV: On top of writing a book, you also have an excellent and highly engaging blog called Wartime Wednesdays where you write primarily about stories of ordinary Canadians during wartime. How do you feel blog writing compares to, and differs from, journalistic writing? (If you haven't started following Elinor's blog yet, be sure to do so on the double, it really is fantastic!)

EF: Thank you, Jessica! The blog is much like reporting, because it involves doing research and interviewing people. I really missed that aspect of my life after I left newspaper journalism in 2010. And I had so much material from veterans that I accumulated during my research that I wanted to tell their stories.

Military history tends to be written by men who are interested in battles, in types of aircraft and weapons. I sort of glossed over that in my book because what really fascinates me about the war is people. How did they think, what did they feel, what was their daily life like?

Canada went on rations during the war – what did people eat? Girls left home and joined the air force – what did they wear? What was it like for the prairie boys when they travelled to England and saw the ocean for the first time? These are the answers that you don't find very often in history books – it is personal memories that really bring the past to life.

I'll give you an example: When my heroine Rose first arrives in England, she hears a child speaking with an English accent. And it sounds so odd to her, because she has never heard a child speak her own language in that strange way! I found that little nugget in a woman’s diary somewhere, and so I used it in the novel.

And that’s what I try to write about on my blog as well – personal stories that you can't find anywhere else.

CV: You did a great deal of research in the process of putting together your novel. What are some of the most surprising things that you learned in the process?

EF: One of the most powerful things that I understood after doing my research is how terribly homesick people were – Canadians especially, because they couldn’t go home on leaves the way the British guys did, or even the Germans. And because Canada was in the war two years longer than the Americans, our separations were longer, too.

It's almost incomprehensible now that husbands and wives, fathers and children, were separated for five or six years! How they must have longed for the sound of each other’s voices, the sight of each other’s faces! No wonder people sang sad songs like "We’ll Meet Again." And no wonder the mail was so important – without technology, it was the only thread that connected them.

And it wasn't just people that my heroine Rose was homesick for, it was the wind and the fields and the sky that she had known all her life, all the familiar things that we take for granted until we can’t have them. It was a physical yearning that lived in her soul the entire time she was away from her own country.

CV: You don't just write about vintage eras, you're also a passionate vintage fan and have added many old school items to your home's decor. Do you also wear vintage clothing and/or jewelry?

I think my environment reflects my love of vintage items more than my wardrobe does, although I have a few items of vintage clothing – a Hudson's baby blanket coat, some antique amethyst earrings, and an evening beaded bag that contains a tiny manicure set and a tiny sewing kit!

I love fabric items – I have a cedar chest filled with vintage tablecloths, and I rotate them on my kitchen table a weekly basis. And I’m a sucker for patchwork quilts – real patchwork ones, made from scraps of fabric that don’t match.

Vintage books, photographs, letters and scrapbooks are also like gold to me – and I’m so lucky that my 90-year-old mother is a hoarder and has preserved boxes full of them!

On my website, you can see [more] photographs of the log cabin that I restored and furnished in my back yard. It's my own little retreat from the modern world.

CV: You're already thinking about (starting to write?) your second novel. Way to go! Can you give us a teaser as to what it's going to be about?

EF: See the answer above! My new novel is about a young woman who inherits an old farmhouse and everything in it including furniture, dishes, books, and clothing -- on condition that she lives there for one year, without plumbing or electricity or any type of technology. In doing so, she develops an appreciation for the past. I have almost completed the first draft. The wheels of book publishing grind very slowly, so I can't tell you when it will see the light of day, but in the meantime I have immersed myself in another period of Canadian history, the very thrilling and challenging days of the pioneer!

CV: Thank you again very much for the engaging and very enjoyable, Elinor. I'm sincerely honoured that you included Chronically Vintage as part of your exciting Bird's Eye View novel release Blog Tour. You can check out all of the blogs that are taking part in this wonderful author's tour below (information provided by Elinor):

Wednesday, November 5: Wartime Wednesdays: Read an Excerpt From Bird’s Eye View on Elinor’s own Wartime Wednesdays blog itself.

Thursday, November 6: The Book Babe: Book Review, Author Interview and Giveaway. Tara Chevrestt is an American book and movie reviewer with a special interest in strong women, vintage fashion, and aviation. To read her interview with the author, and her review of Bird’s Eye View.

Friday, November 7: Rite While U Can: Author Interview and Giveaway. Barbara Brittain-Marshall is a human resources professional in Calgary, Alberta, and blogger on the lost art of letter-writing. Here the author talks about her grandfather’s post office and how it influenced her novel.

Saturday, November 8: The Vintage Inn: Author Interview and Giveaway. Liz Gruening is a professional marketer, swing dancer, member of the Toronto Vintage Society, and blogger. Here the author describes the air force uniforms worn by her heroine in the novel.

Sunday, November 9: Low Fell Writers Place: Author Interview and Giveaway. Suzy Henderson is a British historical fiction writer and amateur historian with a special interest in aviation, and blogger. Here Elinor discusses how her childhood experiences sparked her interest in Canadians in wartime.

Monday, November 10: Chronically Vintage. That would be this very interview & book giveaway post. :)

Tuesday, November 11: Author Interview and Giveaway. The Bird’s Eye View Blog Tour concludes on Remembrance Day with Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, a freelance writer and researcher, author of two non-fiction books about Canadian aviation, Edmonton’s Historian Laureate, and blogger. Here Elinor explains the ins and outs of aerial photo interpretation.

♥ ♥ ♥

By now I'm sure you're champing at the bit to get your hands on a copy A Bird's Eye View and one lucky gal or gent can do just that thanks to the fact that Elinor Florence has very generously offered to give away a signed copy to a lucky Chronically Vintage reader.

If you'd like to try your hand at winning, please enter this giveaway by doing as many of the following five things as you'd like. In order to increase your odds of winning, be sure to leave a separate comment for each method that you enter the contest with.

1. Leave a comment on this post letting me know about your favourite way to enjoy a great read like Elinor's book (for example, in the bathtub, at the beach, at the end of a long work day, etc.)

2. Follow Elinor on Twitter and tweet about this giveaway, including a link back to this post.

3. Like Elinor's (author) page on Facebook and post a Facebook comment about this giveaway, including a link back to this post.

4. Become a fan of Elinor's page on Goodreads.

5. Subscribe to Elinor's blog, Wartime Wednesdays, by email (and can do so on the right hand sidebar of her blog) or follow it via Bloglovin' or your favourite feed reader.

This giveaway is open to readers worldwide and will run until 11:59pm PST on Monday November 17, 2014, with the winner being drawn via a random number generator the following day and announced on Facebook and/or Twitter, as well as contacted directly via email or Facebook private message (provided such contact information is available), shortly thereafter. If you have questions pertaining to this book giveaway, please don't hesitate to email me anytime.

♥ ♥ ♥

Once again, I truly want to thank Elinor Florence for sharing her time, expertise, and a copy of her book here on Chronically Vintage. I adore shining the well deserved spotlight on fellow British Columbians with a passion for the past - be it wearing, selling or, in Elinor's case, writing about vintage - and am so happy that I got a chance to do just that on the blog today.

Here's wishing you the utmost of success with A Bird's Eye View and all your subsequent books, Elinor!


  1. I couldn't agree more. History is so much more interesting when told through personal memory.

    I love to read curled up in my favourite chair with a coffee and my dogs laying at my feet.


  2. I'm following Elinor's blog! I can't wait to dig in and start reading her stories!


  3. This book sounds really fascinating. I love learning about women's experiences during the war years, which are so often neglected in favor of the "bigger" stories about men on the front. Novels like this are really important in redressing that narrative balance. Her next novel sounds really intriguing as well - there seems to be a little movement going on about letting go of the accoutremonts of modern life and getting back to basics, so to speak.

  4. my book shelf is too full to enter right now but good luck to all the entrants

    retro rover

  5. A good book and I belong curled up on my bed. :)

    dollymadisonetsy [at] gmail >dot[ com

  6. I follow her on Twitter as GiveawayCowgirl!

  7. Ooh! I'd love to add Ms. Florence's book to my to-be-read stack! One of my favorite ways to pass some time reading is when visiting my parents, on their super comfy cushy couch. With their cat. Especially at Christmastime, when my parents and I are ALL likely to be reading in the living room near the tree. It's especially nice because I'm three thousand miles away from my home, job, and responsibilities, so I don't feel like I "should" be doing anything else. But I read constantly, and squeeze in reading whenever I can; there's practically always a book in my bag. If I win (fingers crossed!) you can find me at missionamanda at gmail dot com.

  8. My favourite place to read is in the summer in my hammock that's hanging between some beautiful trees... Nothing I like more than that!


  9. My favorite reading spot is my Queen Anne recliner in the living room, with a fire going, a blanket on my legs and a shawl around my shoulders. The book sounds awesome.

  10. I would love to follow Elinor on Twitter but I still don't have an account and I wouldn't know when I would have some time to spend it there, so sorry about that...


  11. But that doens't mean I don't follow her on facebook.


  12. Her novel is already a long time on my 'to-read' list on Goodreads and now I'm also a fan of her on Goodreads.


  13. I'm already following her blog for a long time! And I love reading everything she writes on it.
    She's also very nice because whenever you have a question she will do her best to answer it as good as possible. I can't wait to read her book.


  14. Fabulous interview!

  15. *claps her hands*
    What a joy!
    You're a great interviewer, Jessica. I liked the pace of it, and I like the deep insight into the novel that you've reached with the questions. You've managed to pull us closer not only to the book itself, but to the author.. and what a study- she's got! I'm a sap for grand views from a work desk - and what a view she's got there (make sure to tell her that). And the cabin.. it's an every peace-seeking person's dream.

    Great post!


  16. This was wonderful! Elinor and I found out that she lives in the same town as where my grandmother lived for many years. Small small world :)

  17. Great interview, you asked some really interesting questions. The book sounds like something I would enjoy. My favourite place to read is in the little summer house in my parents back garden. It is only big enough for two chairs but is quiet and relaxing and I get very cosy in there!

  18. This sounds like a fascinating read. I enjoy reading in my comfy chair by the window with a nice cup of tea. Its a great mid-day break. Also, when the insomnia kicks in, I tend to get a lot of reading done. I am now subscribed to her email and look forward to devouring each of her posts.

    She Knits in Pearls

  19. How very interesting! Admittedly, we Americans (er...from the US that is) do get a lot of credit in books and movies. I'd love to hear more about Canada's work in the war! A vastly interesting story, I'm sure, as all stories from this era are. Ill have to keep this title in mind (unless I win a copy ;-)

    As for the contest, I'm one who travels with a book. Quite literally, I tend to keep one in my purse at all times. But my favorite place to settle down with a good story is in the comfort of my own bed. Especially with a spot of tea or hot chocolate at my side. :)

  20. I like to read curled up in bed.

  21. i love reading curled up in my bed with a cup of tea ! especially on rainy cold days *.*
    thanks a lot for the giveaway

  22. I love reading sat in my comfy chair in front of my wood burning stove. I'm always reading historical fiction!
    tracy DOT holroyd-smith AT virgin DOT net

  23. I enjoy reading all snuggled under the covers!

  24. Facebook-

  25. Subscribed to her blog via e-mail! chevy49girl AT yahoo DOT com

  26. Tweeted and following on Twitter

  27. The only completely undisturbed time I get to read is on the train! At least 40 minutes of just me and a book. It's heaven!

    This book honestly sounds like just the thing I'd love. And what a super interview too. Great giveaway Jessica, thank you for running it x

  28. I am so far behind on my blog reading but fortunately saw this post just in time! Of course I would love to win the book. I like the history of every day folk far more than planes and guns, too! My favourite way to read is in bed at the end of a busy day, with my dog curled up on a blanket on my lap :)