Monday, July 24, 2017

How Much Research Went Into Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham + Giveaway (Open Internationally!)

Maggie's Kitchen
Caroline Beecham
Ebury Publishing // Penguin Random House UK

Amid the heartbreak and danger of London in the Blitz of WWII, Maggie Johnson finds her courage in friendship and food.

Family secrets, poignancy, humour, and a love story. When the British Ministry of Food urgently calls for the opening of restaurants to feed tired and hungry Londoners during WWII, Maggie Johnson seems close to realising a long-held dream.

Navigating a continuous tangle of government red-tape, Maggie's Kitchen finally opens its doors to the public and Maggie finds that she has a most unexpected problem.She simply can't find enough food to keep up with demand for meals.

Then Maggie takes twelve-year-old Robbie, a street urchin, under her wing and through him is introduced to a dashing Polish refugee, digging for victory on London's allotments. Between them they will have to break the rules in order to put food on the table...
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Researching Maggie's Kitchen—and Knowing When to Stop!


The idea for the novel was sparked when I came across British Restaurants during a library search; I had never heard about them before and was intrigued so decided to investigate further. I have read historical fiction set during the Second World War era so that gave me a sense of the setting I needed to aim for but the serious research came from three primary sources: The National Archives in the UK, which provided the Ministry of Food material and the War Cookery Leaflets that I’ve included. I also used the Times Digital Archive and other newspapers to reveal news of the day, domestic issues and background detail for painting a picture of how they lived on the home front, as well as what was going on during that stage of the war. There were a number of books too, fiction and non-fiction for background reading and recipe books to learn about food from the era.

Physical research such as visiting Islington, which is where the novel is set, and doing a Blitz tour and taking lots of photographs was also very important. I lived in Islington for a while so knew the area well but the Blitz tour introduced history and facts that I didn’t know about. It took me to actual buildings and places that were damaged or destroyed, so that many of those included in the book are actually real. For example, Islington had three dairies before the war so these helped inform the characters of Mrs Evans and the dairy workers. Walking the streets, getting the atmosphere and experiencing the place for myself was key; seeing church railings that were missing, taken away to be melted down for munitions, gives detail that helps colour the story. It also provides the sensory information you absorb that helps you write through the senses to build character as well as setting.

The material from the National archives was also really fascinating because it showed how these British Restaurants evolved during the Second World War because of food shortages and the need to feed a hungry population. Maggie’s character evolved really quickly after that; I knew she would be a nurturing character who wanted to help her community through the restorative power of food. At first I didn’t think I could write the story—it seemed paradoxical: how could you write about a character nurturing people though food when there was such a problem getting it?—until I realised that was part of the drama.

Part of the inspiration for Maggie’s character also came from discovering the courageousness of women on the home front and learning about the social history of the time and the changing role of women. They took on roles they had never had before: women moved from domestic roles into the workforce and British society changed forever. They not only looked after the home front: rationing, recycling and war work in the auxiliary services, but they took over work in the factories producing munitions, transport and food. There are lots of stories about active male heroes fighting courageous battles but I felt there were relatively few about women who were making a difference, so the novel really is about fighting battles at home.

Apart from the information in the archives on establishing and running these restaurants, it was useful to see how people communicated with each other at the time, which is so much more formal than today. The letter that Churchill wrote to Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, for example: “I hope the term ‘Communal Feeding Centres’ is not going to be adopted. It is an odious expression, suggestive of Communism and the workhouse. I suggest you call them ‘British Restaurants’. Everybody associates the word ‘restaurant’ with a good meal, and they may as well have the name if they cannot get anything else.” The tone of the letter helped inform the character of Mr Boyle and the bureaucracy that Maggie had to contend with at the Ministry of Food. Posters and photographs available on line and in archives such as the Imperial War Museum gave a visual account that helped with what people wore, the condition of London after the attacks, and how Londoners lived, that all helped create the sense of place.

It feels like a real privilege being able to spend time discovering the past and being inspired by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances but it’s important not to become too obsessed with research and wanting to include everything. Writing Maggie’s Kitchen taught me how to use small details to create setting and make the era authentic, but also remember that it’s a fictional world that needs to be real for the characters. The process of writing the novel showed me when to stop researching and just write freely, knowing that I could go back and check facts and details later; the most important thing after all is the story and the characters.

Giveaway!


Books à la Mode is giving away one print copy of Maggie's Kitchen—yay!!

To enter, all you have to do is answer Caroline's question in the comments below:
Creating memorable characters is the most important consideration for a novelist; who is your most memorable character from a novel and why?
Please make your comment MEANINGFUL. Comments solely consisting of stock responses or irrelevant fluff like "Thanks for the giveaway!" will not be considered for entry. Caroline and I really want to hear from you guys! :)

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher—a huge thank you to the lovely folks at Penguin Random House UK!
Giveaway ends August 7th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open internationally—woohoo! That means anyone in the world can enter, provided you have a verifiable postal and email address.
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!