B17 WWII & moon.jpg

It all started when…

It was the story of a child born to an ill-fated relationship between an English woman and an American pilot, a child kept secret from the world at large by the machinations of his grandmother. But once I began writing, I became fascinated by the relationship between the child’s parents and this quickly became the core of the novel, although the grandmother remained as a pivotal character.

This change in focus presented a huge challenge as I was not at all prepared to write about the world of an American airman.Having done almost no research on the subject, the first draft of the novel was very sketchy: Anna’s part of the narrative – her relationship with her mother, her grief and uncertainty, pregnancy and motherhood – all these developed at a reasonable pace, but Tom’s story was agonisingly slow in its development. I researched frantically, reading everything I could get my hands on about World War II.  In fact I don’t think I read anything else for about two years, and out of the wealth of detail I accumulated, Tom’s story gradually emerged, undergoing many incarnations as I grew more confident. My main concern was to get the details right: it was crucial that his experiences should be authentic.

I also did a lot of research about wartime Britain, but this tended to be more about small details – different stages of women’s conscription for example, work hours, types of restaurants, as I found I already had a good residual knowledge of the era from books and films and television. So I found I could write and research as I went along without too much rewriting.

Tom and Anna fall in love remarkably quickly and while the intensity of the affair is heightened by the spectre of the war, I think they would have fallen just as fast without it. Theirs is a lasting love that endures separation and silence and great hardship – for both of them it is the anchor that allows them not only to survive, but to change and grow.  In the first draft I wrote the story chronologically but it became very difficult to sustain the connection between them after Tom is shot down; I realised early on that the novel would work much better structurally if the affair was narrated through flashbacks. In this way the passion and intensity of their love for each other is woven through the entire novel and is, in effect, what holds it together.

Anna’s relationship with her mother became more complex with each draft I wrote. Initially, Mrs Pilgrim was completely evil. She was a lot of fun to write that way, but in toning her down and giving her more complexity, she became more plausible and I was able to develop the mother-daughter relationship in much greater depth. I wanted readers to sympathise with Anna but I also wanted them to have some understanding of why Mrs Pilgrim behaves the way she does. Abandoned by the man she once loved, she never recovered. Instead she nurtured her sense of betrayal and resentment over the years to finally vent it on Tom, who, in her mind, has taken on all the qualities of the husband who betrayed her. In her own eyes, she is only trying to protect Anna from the suffering she herself endured.

As Tom and Anna spend much of the novel apart from each other they needed friends to interact with but with time both Lottie and Harry became integral characters in the story, not only as foils for Tom and Anna but also with stories of their own. Both of them suffer deeply as a consequence of the war, far more, in fact, than either Anna or Tom, and so I used them to develop what became a dominant theme in the novel – loss. I didn’t set out with the idea of exploring loss as a concept but the setting made it inevitable, and much of the interest lies in the characters’ reaction to it.

I’m not quite sure how Morris ended up as such an important character. He took on a well-developed identity very early in the book and just sort of wheedled his way into a crucial role in the plot. But in fact it worked well. His interest in Anna allowed me to explore Anna’s dire situation more deeply, and it gave a focus for the complete disintegration of her relationship with her mother. In the circumstances it must have been very tempting to accept his proposal, and through her rejection of him Anna asserts herself as an independent and strong woman.

Discussion Points

  1. Right at the beginning of the novel Anna has disappeared for a week during wartime yet offers her mother no explanation. What does this indicate about the relationship between the two women? Where does your sympathy lie and why?

  2. Should Anna have told her mother about Tom from the start? Do you think that might have avoided some of the later problems?

  3. Mrs Pilgrim is made even more furious by the fact that Tom is American. The ‘Yanks’ were either loved or hated by the English during the war. Why do you think they provoked such strong reactions?

  4. Anna becomes a much stronger character as the novel progresses, learning to stand up to her mother after a lifetime of acquiescence. Where does this new strength come from? Her love for Tom? His for her? Impending motherhood?

  5. Tom’s upbringing and family are presented as loving, almost idyllic – how does this contrast with Anna’s own childhood? With Lottie’s? How have the differences affected their characters?

  6. Tom and Anna’s affair lasted only a week yet the novel suggests that right from the start they knew their love would last a lifetime. Is a week long enough to know this? If not, how long does it take?

  7. Both Anna and Tom have vivid dreams. What do these reveal about the dreamers, and their feelings about each other?

  8. Even though she dislikes him, Anna seriously considers marrying Morris. What does this tell you about the position of women in society at that time? Given that she had not heard from Tom for almost a year, do you think she was wise to refuse? Would Morris have made a good husband?

  9. The Germans in the story are seen as Tom sees them – threatening and dangerous. Is this a fair representation?

  10. Tom’s view of the war changes as a result of his experiences. Early on, his role as a bomber pilot deeply troubles him – he has nightmares about the victims – but later his conscience is clear. Do you think he is justified in feeling this way? Was the Allied bombing campaign necessary in order to win the war? How have our views on “Collateral Damage” changed in subsequent wars?

  11. The suffering caused by the war pervades Another Time and Place. But is it an anti-war novel? How does this come across?

  12. The winter of 1944/45 really was the coldest winter for 50 years and fuel shortages were severe. What do the descriptions of the weather contribute to the atmosphere of the novel?

  13. Not long after they meet Anna tells Tom, ‘It must be just awful to have a son or a husband in the war. Or a lover.’ How would you compare the different types of love and loss explored in the novel?

  14. ‘I want to know all about you,’ Anna tells Tom. ‘Even the bad things. I want to know everything you’ve ever done. No secrets.’ Tom tries to be as honest and open as he can but then he wonders ‘if perhaps there were things that were better left unsaid, unknown.’ Should partners tell each other everything or is it better to keep some things secret?

  15. If Tom had not made it back Anna planned to go to America after the war to find his parents. What do you think their reaction might have been?