Elinor Answers Your FAQ
Dear Friends and Followers: I’ve been writing my regular blog since October 2013. Since then, I’ve published two novels and one non-fiction anthology, and appeared at almost 200 book events! Here are 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 World War Two?
My father, grandfather and uncles all served in the Second World War. After the war, my father was discharged from the Royal Canadian Air Force, and he bought an airport that had been used as a training base by the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. He and my mother transformed a small barracks building into my family home. Growing up, we were always very aware that our farm had been part of the war effort.
My brother Rob Florence took over the farm and built a new home for his family. However, the old house is still used as a summer residence.
You can read more about my farm by visiting these two blog posts:
Growing Up With Air Force Ghosts, the very first blog post I wrote back in October 2013.
Farmhouse Kitchen, where you can see photos of the interior of the old house, published in March 2019.
I was also inspired by my parents. My father Douglas Florence, a farm boy from Richard, Saskatchewan, served as a payroll officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force, serving in Ottawa, Newfoundland, England, and India. He passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2003. You can read more about him here: My Dad’s Best Christmas.
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 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, probably due to my background as a journalist.
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 Bird’s Eye View. The character Max Cassidy was a real person and you may read about him by clicking here: Memories of Maxwell Cassidy.
My mother’s brother Alan Light was killed in a training accident when he flew his Cessma into a ferry cable on the South Saskatchewan River. His death is also fictionalized in Bird’s Eye View. This is a photo of Uncle Alan, aged 19, with his grandmother.
You my read his story here: Painting Dedicated to RCAF Pilot.
I was also inspired by a scrapbook kept by my mother during the war. My mother kept a scrapbook during the war. Each week she cut out and saved the front cover of the Star Weekly magazine. 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. There were 50,000 of them, but we never hear much about the valuable work that they performed.
This is just one of dozens of Star Weekly covers that I have posted on my website, and you can see them all here: Star Weekly at War.
Is your character 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 paved the way for women in the armed forces today.
How did you learn about aerial photo 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 so I started researching aerial photographic interpretation. Hundreds of women served as photo interpreters, among them this British woman named Constance Babington Smith. 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: The Woman With the X-Ray Eyes.
Is RAF Medmenham 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 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: Where the Magic Happened.
How do you become a bestseller?
Canadian authors can call themselves bestsellers if their book appears on a legitimate unbiased Bestseller List, for example, one 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.
* * * * *
Why did you decide to 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 my website to share some of the research I uncovered while writing my novel, but then Wartime Wednesdays took on a life of its own! I stopped writing wartime stories at the end of 2018, but thousands of people read my wartime stories each month, and I also receive many interesting emails from around the world. This is a sample of what my typical Wartime Wednesday story looks like. You may read ALL my stories by looking at the index, where they are grouped by category — for example, Stories That Inspire. Just click here: Wartime Wednesdays.
* * * * *
Why did you decide to write My Favourite Veterans?
In 2016 I selected some of my best interviews with veterans and published them into a printed book. I self-published (that means 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.
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.
The book is not available through regular bookstores, but you can order a copy from me. To read more, click here: My Favourite Veterans.
* * * * *
Questions about my new novel, Wildwood:
Wildwood is a contemporary novel with a strong historical background. This book departs from my former wartime era to explore an earlier aspect of Canadian history, pioneer life in the Peace River, Alberta area. 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.
Why did you choose a contemporary timeline?
With all the discussion around off-the-grid living, I wondered if a young urban woman today could possibly cope with the pioneer lifestyle.
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 excerpted passages from this diary, which I tried to make as authentic as possible, about daily life for the first European setters.
What was your inspiration for 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! He’s in the construction business, and 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 Wildwood, my heroine Molly never does get around to restoring it! (I may have to write a sequel, just to see Wildwood restored to its former glory).
Because I’m passionately fond of old houses, I gave Molly and Bridget an abandoned but fully-furnished foursquare farmhouse built in 1924, where they discover many interesting possessions left by the original inhabitants.
Even if you aren’t sure what a foursquare farmhouse is, you will probably recognize its shape. This home is called foursquare because it has four walls of equal length, four rooms on each floor, and a four-sided roof.
Thousands were built in North America, but the foursquare house inhabited by Molly and Bridget in Wildwood was ordered from the T. Eaton Company catalogue in pieces, and assembled on the spot.
Why did you select this setting?
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.
The last homesteaders to arrive were forced to take up land in the northern, forested areas of the Western provinces. They suffered more disadvantages than the sod-busters, since they had to clear the land, survive the long winters, and then get their grain to market.
Who are the main characters in Wildwood?
My fictional heroine Molly is a city girl, an accountant by profession. She has a four-year-old daughter Bridget who has a serious medical issue, but she is also very smart and funny.
Since there is a four-year-old girl in the novel, I dedicated it to my little granddaughters. Here is Nora, left, and Juliet, right, looking like little pioneer girls!
Were there pioneers in your own family?
Yes, my 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 indigenous and European ancestry — and granted scrip by the Manitoba government in 1875. It is through her that I proudly claim my Cree heritage.
* * * * *
What are you writing now?
I have not yet started on another novel. 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!
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 account. Then you can use word of mouth to recommend the book to your friends, public library, local bookstore, and anyone you know who belongs to a book club. I’m deeply grateful to a large group of 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 Wildwood, which I’m compiling into an album on my Facebook page. This photo is from Gehana Booth in Ottawa.
* * * * *
Questions About My Personal Life:
Where do you live now?
We moved from Vancouver, British Columbia to our small mountain resort community in 1996 because we wanted to raise our kids in a small town, and we have never regretted our decision. Invermere is situated on the shores of Lake Windermere, it has a nearby ski resort called Panorama, and we are 90 minutes away from Banff and three hours away from Calgary. We built our new house on an acreage at the edge of town, next door to the wilderness.
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 26 years to a mining construction manager named Heinz Drews. He 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, and 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.
I always tell people that my life is an open book, and that is pretty much the truth!
You can usually find out what I’m up to by following me on Facebook at Elinor Florence-Author.
If you want to see more about my life, subscribe to my new monthly blog called Letters From Windermere. This is a collection of news, notes, and nostalgia from my lakeview home in British Columbia, sent to you in the form of a monthly email.
Subscribe by entering your email address in the little green box in the masthead at the top of this page. If you can’t figure out how, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do it for you!