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In Remembrance of Pearl Harbor with Anna Stuart

The Historical Fiction Company welcomes Anna Stuart, a Bookouture author of "A Letter from Pearl Harbor" as she celebrates today's book release with an article about the day.

Author Bio:

Anna Stuart lives in Derbyshire with her campervan-mad husband, two hungry teenagers and a slightly loopy dog. She was hooked on books from the moment she first opened one in her cot so is thrilled to now have several of her own to her name. Having studied English literature at Cambridge university, she took an enjoyable temporary trip into the ‘real world’ as a factory planner, before returning to her first love and becoming an author. History has also always fascinated her. Living in an old house with a stone fireplace, she often wonders who sat around it before her and is intrigued by how actively the past is woven into the present, something she likes to explore in her novels. Anna loves the way that writing lets her ‘try on’ so many different lives, but her favourite part of the job is undoubtedly hearing from readers. You can reach her on Facebook @annastuartauthor or Twitter @annastuartbooks.

Book Blurb:

Ninety-eight-year-old Ginny’s last wish is for her granddaughter to complete a treasure hunt containing clues to her past. Clues that reveal her life as one of the first female pilots at Pearl Harbor, and a devastating World War Two secret.

1941, Pearl Harbor: On the morning of December 7th, Ginny is flying her little yellow plane above the sparkling seas when she spots an unknown aircraft closing in on her. She recognises the red symbol of the Japanese fighter planes almost too late. Somehow, she manages to land unscathed but the choices she is forced to make in the terrible hours that follow have tragic consequences…

2019, Pearl Harbor: Heartbroken RobynHarris is reeling from the death of the strong, determined grandmother who raised her. Her only comfort is a letter written in Ginny’s distinctive hand which details a treasure hunt, just like the ones she used to set for her as a little girl. Except this time, the clues are scattered across the beautiful island of Hawaii. Despite her grief, Robyn finds herself intrigued as she follows the trail of letters, revealing the truth about Ginny’s service during the Second World War.

But Robyn’s whole world is turned upside down when she’s faced with a shocking secret which has the power to change the course of her own life…

Inspired by true events, this is a heartbreaking and unforgettable WW2 novel about love, loss and bravery. Perfect for fans of The Alice Network,The Nightingale and Kathryn Hughes.

Readers love A Letter From Pearl Harbor:

I LOVED it!... I LOVED it!... This book has it all!page-turner… I highly recommend this book. If you enjoyed The Alice Network or The Nightingale, this is a must-read for you!!, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘WOW!!!... 5 Star Book!... amazingI washooked. I couldn't stop reading… rich in detail, beautifully written and hugely absorbing.’ Oh.Happy.Reading, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

This book has it allkept me on edge the whole time. I devoured this book in one day! I also loved, loved, loved the ending!!!!!’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

So inspiring…heart-warming and beautiful… Hits all the emotions, I didn’t want it to end… a rapid page-turner… I devoured this book in one sitting… an amazing and fantastic read, I absolutely loved it… phenomenal and absolute must read.’Page Turners,⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Wow! I'm at a loss to describe the feelings I'm having after reading this booka beautiful and heartbreaking mix of fiction with true events.’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Blown away… I love the mix of history and a riveting story… you will shed a tear or twofantasticI just wanted to keep turning the pages to see what would unravel next.’Curled Up with a Good Book, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Heart wrenchingpage-turner!... completely captivatedexceptionalA heart-warming, beautifully written tale of strong women— that will linger with you long after the last page.’ NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

‘WonderfulI loved thisdidn't want it to endA truly wonderful book, terrific characters and an inspiration. Loved it!’ Linda Strong Book Reviews, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Gripping story… will take you on an emotional journeywonderfulthe pages turned quicklya heart-warming read.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Book Buy Link:

Guest Post:

Early on the morning of Sunday December 7th 1941, with the first rays of the sun glinting off the wings of her Interstate Cadet monoplane, Cornelia Fort, aviatrix and flight instructor, had the misfortune to be the first person in Pearl Harbor to catch sight of the incoming Japanese planes. The ‘Zeros’ came past her on their way to bomb the American navy into (as they hoped) non-existence but they had time to shoot at Cornelia as they went. She had to seize the controls from her hapless pupil and guide the plane down to John Rodgers civilian airport then make a dash for the cover of the Hanger as the true horror of the devastating surprise attack unfolded around them.

It was a terrifying start to the dreadful day that brought America into World War II, but for

those of us looking back on it now, it is perhaps something of a surprise that a female instructor was up in American airspace at all. In fact, there were quite a few dashing aviatrixes who had become the darling of the American people in the years before the war and who would go on to serve their country. The most famous of these female flyers was Amelia Earhart who filled the headlines with her records through the late twenties and thirties and was the first woman (and second person after Charles Lindbergh) to pilot a plane solo across the Atlantic. Sadly she lost her life attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, but there were plenty more cut in her mold.

Marguerite Gambo was a young Hawaiian who’d achieved her commercial pilot’s licence in

1937 and established the Gambo Flying Service out of Pearl Harbor. She was also in the air on the morning of December 7th and had to navigate her little plane through a seldom-used mountain pass to land safely out of the way of the Japanese.

Then there was Jacqui Cochran, a remarkable young woman from a poor family of millworkers in the Florida panhandle who, with commendable tenacity, worked her way up to a job in Saks department store in New York and invites to top parties. It was billionaire Floyd Bostwick Odlum who offered to pay for her pilot’s training if she passed within six weeks; she did it in three weeks and three days. Floyd paid up and then married her! She went on to promote her own line of cosmetics, Wings to Beauty, from her aircraft but also flew competitively, winning the prestigious Bendix race in 1938, setting records in both speed and altitude, and securing five Harmon trophies, a prize awarded to outstanding pilots.

From the very opposite end of the social spectrum was Nancy Love who came from an

old-money family and gained her pilot’s licence at sixteen. She celebrated this by flying her brother dangerously close over her school and only avoided expulsion because they had a policy banning girls from driving cars but not planes... After gaining her commercial licence, she was offered a job at Inter-City Aviation demonstrating planes to customers to show they were so easy to fly that even a woman could do it! The company was owned by Robert Love and the pair married in Jan 1936, after which – unusually for the time - Nancy continued to work as a commercial test pilot.

The aviatrixes (just 1% of all pilots in America at the time) knew they had to stick together and

in 1929 they founded the Ninety-nines under president Betty Gillies, a tiny woman, who led a

successful fight against the Air Commerce Department’s proposed ban on women flying during their period. But as war loomed on the horizon, it was clear there were important issues ahead.

Both Nancy Love and Jackie Cochran were keen to get women serving their country, ferrying

planes between factories and bases around the US to free up male pilots for active combat. Jackie was the more vociferous, talking to Eleanor Roosevelt about the idea as early as 1938 and, when she couldn’t persuade the military top brass to agree, taking a troop of talented female pilots over to Britain in 1942 to serve with the Air Transport Auxiliary.

Britain was, in this instance, ahead of its US counterparts, having taken female pilots into the

ATA from November 1939 under Commander Pauline Gower. At first they only flew Tiger Moths but they soon moved on to virtually every type of plane used by the RAF, including the heavy bombers that even the male pilots had initially thought too hard to handle. Hurricanes were first flown by women pilots in July 1941, and Spitfires a month later.

As the war progressed, one in eight ATA pilots were female and 166 women flew in total. It

was a very open, inclusive unit, taking volunteers from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, the Netherlands, Poland, Argentina and Chile. One of their more notable achievements is that, under a ruling of 1943, they were the first to receive equal pay to their male counterparts.

It was not a reward that the American female pilots were going to be able to repeat.

Throughout the war they were given as little as 65% of the pay of their male equivalents and no military honours or benefits. For example, when Cornelia Fort was killed in an air accident on duty in March 1943, the army didn’t pay for her funeral expenses and her widowed mother only got a $200 Civil Service Commission death benefit, rather than the $10,000 she’d have got if her daughter had been recognised as a military pilot. It was one of many great unfairnesses doled out to the brave women who just wanted to serve their country.

Another such unfairness was to Jackie Cochran. Whilst she was over in Britain doing her bit,

Nancy Love was able to use her moneyed contacts to finally talk Lieutenant General ‘Hap’ Arnold into authorizing the formation of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) under her command.

Needless to say, Jackie was furious and returned almost immediately to confront him. Arnold caved and formed the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) under Jackie to train more female pilots. The two services were merged in August 1943 to create the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

Jackie worked hard to bring new women into the program, fighting to create a training

program, initially at the Howard R Hughes Airport in Houston, although much of the set-up there was borderline farcical. With the commanding officer on site being hostile to his female recruits, it was left to Leoti ‘Dedie’ Deaton, a housewife, scout leader and general community volunteer who’d been railroaded into looking after the girls by Jackie, to sort things out.

The first recruits had to keep their jobs a secret and were encouraged to state that they were

part of a basketball team which was very tricky for those women who were barely above five feet tall! Their only canteen and toilet facilities were at the Houston Municipal Airport Terminal, a mile away. They were issued with no uniforms and even the silver wings they received at their much-delayed graduation were paid for by Jackie herself. There were no barracks for them on site so they had to find billets in the nearby town and, unbelievably, the bus Dedie found to transport the girls to the airfield had previously been used for a Tyrolean orchestra so was white with red and white striped awning and decorated all over with Edelweiss! These highly-skilled, volunteer women were only trying to serve their country and were treated very poorly.

They didn’t give up though and in the end ten classes of recruits graduated and many women

flew planes around America as the factories churned them out in their thousands for service in

Europe and the Pacific. But there were still battles to be fought as both Jackie and Nancy continued to try and persuade the government to pay female pilots the same as men, a proposal that was viciously opposed in senate and never passed during the war. Indeed, after D-day on June 6th, 1944, PR in the states switched away from encouraging women out to work, to getting them ready to return to their “real roles” of healing men’s physical and emotional wounds when they came back from war. There was much rumbling about women taking men’s jobs and On Oct 1st 1944 General Arnold wrote to Jackie telling her that he was ready to disband the WASP as the brave women ‘will soon become pilot material in excess of needs’.

The service was shut down by Dec 20th 1944 to give all the women time to get home for the

holidays and for many years their contribution to the war (not to mention the far greater

contribution they would willingly have offered) was suppressed. Luckily there are many good books now correcting that (I especially recommend Katherine Sharp Landdeck’s The Women with Silver Wings) and I hope this article and my novel, A Letter from Pearl Harbor, can also do their bit to bring these amazing women’s stories back to life.


Dee: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

Anna: I don’t know about ‘pilgrimages’ as such, but I do try to go to the places I write about whenever I can, however much they may have changed since the time the novel is set. However, during the pandemic I was writing about Berlin Zoo but obviously I couldn’t travel there. It was very frustrating until I was lucky enough to make contact with a wonderful German family who went on my research trip for me and sent me amazing photos and notes. They even tracked down people there to get some really specific details and it made a huge difference to the accuracy of the final novel.

Dee: Tell us the best writing tip you can think of, something that helps you.

Anna: Keep going! By which I mean, write as often as you can, try things out to find your voice and then believe in it. Take any feedback you can get but process it yourself and only make changes if they make sense to you. At the end of the day, writing a book has to come from deep within yourself and you have to trust that to happen in your own way.

Dee: What are common traps for aspiring writers? Advice for young writers starting out.

Anna: I think there’s a danger of trying to write a novel like one that’s successful or that you enjoyed yourself. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by successful authors, it’s vital to find your own style and you’ll only do that by writing and experimenting with what you most enjoy.

Dee: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Anna: Probably ‘write about World War II’. My fabulous editor Natasha kept trying to talk me into it but I resisted doing that for a long time because I thought there were so many people doing it already and I would never find a niche within that market. As soon as I started researching, however, I found a million ‘niches’ and I’ve loved every minute of it. Dee: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Anna: I’m lucky to have become friends with some really lovely authors, notably Tracy Bloom, Julie Houston, Tracy Rees and Kate Thompson. They all write women’s fiction, a mix of contemporary and historical, and all write with real heart and style. I love reading their books and I love that they’re all on hand if I need advice or support or just someone to have a cup or tea – or a glass of wine – and a good writerly natter with. Writing is a really funny career and it’s fantastic to find people who understand its joys and pains.

Dee: Can you give us a quick review of a favourite book by one of your author friends?

Anna: I’ve just finished reading Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson. It’s a warm, moving, wonderful book about an underground library – and indeed whole community – in Bethnal Green during World War II’. It appeals to my longing for stories about unusual corners of the war but it’s also great because the characters are so vibrant and involving. It’s coming out next February and I strongly recommend it.

Dee: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Anna: I don’t think it changed the process, but it did perhaps give me a little more confidence to believe in myself and keep going.

Dee: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Anna: I think the best money I’ve spent – and keep on spending – is nice bottles of bubbles to celebrate successes. Writing is a hard, lonely business a lot of the time so it’s important to acknowledge when things are going well.

Dee: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Anna: I suppose it has to be when I first picked up Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree and was transported to amazing and ever-changing worlds with the characters. That’s when I learned that books could take you to a million different places and I’ve never stopped travelling since.

Dee: What’s the best way to market your books?

Anna: These days I’d say it’s all about social media. I’m not a natural – I prefer writing my books to talking about them - so I’m very grateful that I’m now writing with Bookouture who are brilliant at it. Building a network of other writers can be a great way to help promote each other’s work but otherwise it seems to be a matter of slowly and patiently reaching out to readers in a natural way and building up a base of followers.

Dee: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Anna: I love research. I like to start wide, reading all I can about the time and place I’m going to write about and gradually hone in on specifics that capture my imagination and will become key elements of the novel. On average I spend about three months researching a novel and I enjoy every minute of it. The hard bit, for me, is stopping the research and plunging into the writing.

Dee: Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

Anna: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is a fascinating novel that plays with timelines and, indeed, realities, in an exceptionally clever way. I really enjoyed it but I’m not sure I’m ready to give something quite that complex a go myself just yet.

Dee: What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

Anna: That’s a very interesting question. I think it’s fine to use real historical figures as an ‘inspiration’ for a novel and then bring your own interpretation to their lives for your readers, but as a writer you also have a duty of care to represent history in as accurate a way as possible. That’s why research is so important, I guess, and I really like to include historical notes at the end of my novels to explain key elements to interested readers.

Dee: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Anna: I do and good ones will really make me tingle, but I try not to dwell on them. At the end of the day fiction is subjective and just because one person doesn’t like your book, doesn’t make it bad.

Dee: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Anna: I think that for me it’s planning the novel. I’m a bit of an obsessive planner and I find that, especially with writing historical fiction, I have to get a full chapter outline done before I start writing. It helps me to chart the overall plot of the novel, to be sure all the characters are having a convincing arc, and to keep the action moving forward. I’ve been known to write at least 20-page chapter summaries which I know is a lot, but if I get it right, it makes the writing process far smoother. It also saves on editing as I don’t have to do so much going back and adding in clues or plot details later.

Dee: Tell us about your novel/novels/or series and why you wrote about this topic?

Anna: Since I started researching World War II, I’ve been looking out for unknown stories from curious corners of the war. I found one such corner for my first novel, the Berlin Zookeeper but with Pearl Harbor it was a little bit different. It’s a well-known event in history but the moment I learned that the first person to see the Japanese planes was a female flight instructor I was hooked. The more I learned about female pilots, in both American and Britain, during the war, the more fascinated I was and A Letter from Pearl Harbor grew out of that.

Dee: What is your favourite line or passage from your own book?

Anna: I think this is a really difficult thing for any writer to pin down but perhaps in A Letter from Pearl Harbor, it’s the scene of the actual attack itself. Ginny says: How had their happy Sunday morning been so callously and ruthlessly ripped apart? She wanted it to end. She wanted to close her eyes and have it all just go away, but that wasn’t going to happen so, swallowing down bitter tears, she rolled up her sleeves and did the best she could. That, to me, sums up the attitude of so many amazing people during World War II and it’s always a privilege to try and capture their stories.

Dee: What was your hardest scene to write?

Anna: Whilst trying to avoid a spoiler, I think it was probably when one of the characters dies as I wanted to do justice to what had happened without sounding cheesy and it’s quite a fine line to tread. I’ve been delighted to have readers saying that they had to get the tissues out for that one, so hopefully I didn’t do too bad a job.

Dee: Tell us your favourite quote and how the quote tells us something about you.

Anna: I’m not a big person for self-help books, but when I was struggling earlier in my career, I read Dame Kelly Holmes’ book ‘Just do it’. For me that sums writing up. It’s challenging, it will make you doubt yourself time and again, it will provide incredible highs and devastating lows but at the end of the day it’s a wonderful way to make even a little bit of money. So I’d say to anyone thinking about trying to make it as a writer – ‘Just do it’.


Thank you to Bookouture and to Anna Stuart for stopping by today to celebrate the release of "A Letter from Pearl Harbor" on the anniversary of the day of infamy.

Dee Marley



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