Find out what inspired The War in Our Hearts.
Eva, thanks for talking with me today! First thing’s first: What inspired you to write The War in Our Hearts?
Initially, I just wanted to fill in what I perceived to be a gap in historical fiction—a distinct lack of good novels set during WWI. There are some out there, but there are probably a dozen great WWII novels for every great novel set during WWI. The desire to write a book set in this period—I can’t lay a finger on when exactly it happened, but I do know that at the beginning of 2016, I read The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara W Tuchman and realized I hadn’t had a clue what the Zimmermann Telegram even was. Later in 2016, I watched the French film Joyeux Noel, about the 1914 Christmas Truce, and that also was a great visual inspiration. I’m very visual. I have Estelle Graham wearing a peacock blue dress in the opening scenes of TWIOH in homage to Diane Kruger’s peacock blue dress in the film. (You can see the dress here.) Anyway, it all snowballed after that—I kept reading all I could get my hands on until I actually started writing the book in late 2017!
That’s quite the turnaround since you’re now being publishing in 2019! Are there any themes, symbols, or motifs in your story?
Music has always been a huge influence in my life; the first novel I ever completed at the ripe old age of 16 was a Super Melodramatic Epic(™) where everybody in this rural Canadian town (why a rural Canadian town? Your guess is as good as mine) somehow happened to be a world-class musician. In some ways, The War in Our Hearts returned to that musical theme—without, I hope, resorting to the same ridiculous level of melodrama!
I’ve loved Nelson Eddy since I discovered him in the early 2000s, and Eddy is probably the main reason I made Jamie Graham a baritone instead of a tenor. The other reason is that life dealt Graham rather a rough deck of cards, and he simply doesn’t get the glamour of being a tenor! Music as the avenue through which Graham handles his life—be it facing personal hardship, courting/flirting with Estelle, or cheering those around him—is definitely a thread throughout.
Music has always been helpful for me as well so it was nice to see a book that had that relatable element to it. Who is your favorite character?
Automatically, I start to say Graham because he’s my precious cinnamon roll, but I freaking love Estelle. I want to be her when I grow up. I’m also rather fond of MacFie. My own Scottish ancestors were MacFies; I rather doubt that my MacFies were Scottish Travellers, but the name is a stereotypical Traveller name, and it just seemed to work for Oliver MacFie to be one. And my love for Aveline goes without saying, and I adore Willie Duncan. This is a terrible answer to a cruel question.
Estelle is definitely my favorite character, as well. She’s so fierce! So, how hard was it to research for your historical fiction?
Fortunately, despite the lack of great WWI-era novels, there is a lot of superb non-fiction out there! Directly relevant to TWIOH: Eye-Deep in Hell by John Ellis; Hot Blood and Cold Steel by Andy Simpson; The Somme: The Day-by-Day Account by Chris McCarthy; and The Fifteenth (Scottish) Division by J Stewart. I was also hugely inspired by Christian Miller’s A Childhood in Scotland.
That’s interesting—I’ll have to check out some of those books. What about this time period drew you in?
It’s underappreciated in fiction, as I mentioned above, but also it’s just a really interesting time of fluctuation in society—women’s suffrage beginning to be reality, to name just one. It’s definitely implied in TWIOH that Estelle is a forward-thinking, progressive woman, to reflect that. It’s also (for Britain) the beginning of the end of the “golden age” of empire. I put the quotes there deliberately because it wasn’t much of a golden age for the colonized countries! On the eastern front, you have imperial Russian falling to pieces and major societal shifts happening there. There’s the Middle East, too, which is not an area I even pretend to be expert in at this point, but Chris Bohjalian addresses it ably in his book The Sandcastle Girls. And America was really coming in as a world power. So all around, there’s no end of fodder for stories waiting to be told!
It really is a wonder that there aren’t more books set in that time period, then! I’d read up on just about any of those subjects. What is your favorite time period to read or write in?
I read pretty much all the WWI novels I can get my hands on, even the terrible ones. I have at least two WWI novels I definitely want to write in the future—one is partially written, one is just in my head—and there are several other embryonic ideas tucked in a back corner of my brain. There are a lot of great WWII stories that I love as well, but I don’t see myself ever writing WWII outside of, say, flashbacks, simply because so many other people have and still are doing a great job with the era. I like to look for untold stories or underappreciated eras as much as possible.
Speaking of reading, who are your favorite authors?
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, Bill Bryson, Jon Krakauer, Erik Larson, Harper Lee, Richard Llewellyn, Hilary McKay, Christian Miller, A A Milne, Ruta Sepetys, Elizabeth Wein, Ellen White, and Opal Whiteley are all authors who have inspired me!
Hopefully, some of our readers will check out those authors unfamiliar to them—I know I will. I’ve got one last question for you: What can readers expect next from you?
I’m about halfway done writing a middle grade historical novel set in Turner, Oregon in 1925—about an hour away from where I live. Researching it has been such a breeze and very hands-on. I’ve never written for children before, and it’s proving to be quite a lot of fun. My kids are pretty stoked that I’m writing a book for them!
It will not be a sequel to The War in Our Hearts, but it could be considered a companion novel, as some of the same characters will be involved. How that will work when all the characters of TWIOH live in France or Britain, you’ll just have to wait and see! But there are a couple of hints in TWIOH, if you are like me and have an overactive imagination. I also have another post-WWII adult novel that I’ll be finishing up once I’ve turned in my manuscript for the 1925 novel.
The War in Our Hearts
By Eva Seyler
France, 1916: Estelle Graham faces a nightmare. Expecting to meet her beloved husband and bring their newly adopted daughter home to Scotland, she instead finds him gravely injured and unconscious in a casualty station. As she fights for his care, she takes solace in his journals and letters.
In a farmhouse in Somme, Captain Jamie Graham is forever changed when he meets young Aveline Perrault. Both of them broken and walled off from the cruel and cold world around them—made even crueler and colder by the Great War—the pair form an unlikely bond. She finds in him the father she never had, and with her love, he faces the pain from his own childhood.
Discover the depth of love and faith in the face of brutality and neglect as they learn to live while surviving World War I.
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