Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Q & A with Julie Maria Peace, author of A Song in the Night

Julie Maria Peace asked me to read and review her book, A Song in the Night, and when I did I loved it. I was so intrigued by it, I asked her if I could hold a contest here on The Christian Bookmobile to offer several free copies of her book to our readers. The book is so good I wanted to help people around the world find it and read it. She agreed and you'll find the contest entry form here:
Please enter the contest and keep reading here to learn more about the book and the author.
Q: It must have been difficult writing two stories, set in different times, with different characters, all while maintaining links from one to the other. Did you write each story separately and then weave them together? Or, did you do them simultaneously?
Julie Maria Peace: Well, before I even put pen to paper (or rather fingers to laptop), I absolutely immersed myself in WW1 research. I had a pretty good idea from the beginning where I wanted to go with the characters in the modern day storyline. The challenge was to make the First World War characters as believable and relevant as the modern day ones. I read, researched and mulled on things until the second storyline began to take form in my head. By the time the dust settled, so to speak, the two stories had started to merge into one, and I saw the whole tale almost like a film in my head. After that, I really just wrote what I saw, scene by scene.    
Q: Sam's diary seemed so realistic I found myself wondering if you based it on an actual one. Please tell us how you researched that part of the story.
JMP: To be honest, no, I didn’t base Sam’s diary on an actual one. I very loosely followed a battalion diary, just to get some idea of where to place my soldiers and when. But even in that I made changes and moved them around. Like I say above, I researched and researched the Great War until it felt real enough to give me a small sense of what it was like to be actually there in the trenches. I took the reading in bite-size chunks at first. A lot of the accounts were so very harrowing, I found them emotionally quite difficult to read. As time went on, I began to notice something. Sometimes I would find myself imagining a scene or incident in my head. No sooner would I type it up as part of my story than I would come across a very similar event that actually did happen. That’s when I knew I was probably beginning to think like a Tommy.    
Q: I liked the way Sam's story began each time in the format of a diary and then went into a narrative. Did you develop that style to make the book more readable or what?
JMP: Ah, now it’s rather interesting how that came about. In my very first draft of the book, all the entries in Sam’s diary were simply that – diary entries. I, or rather, Sam, talked about things in a very matter-of-fact way, with little factual explanation and more of an emphasis on his reactions to events rather than descriptions of them. While that is probably more in keeping with what a WW1 diary would be like in reality, I soon realized I’d made far too many assumptions. Because I myself was so steeped in trench life research at this point, I’d unwittingly assumed my readers would understand everything I was talking about. Oh dear, ’twas not the case! After getting some much-needed critical feedback from a few honest folk, I puzzled about how to resolve the problem. Then it came to me. Why not write the diary sequences as I was seeing them in my head – as scenes in a movie? And so I incorporated the flashback technique. I think it does make the book more readable, and it provides information and perspective that I couldn’t have included otherwise.   
Q: Do you have a special interest in, or knowledge of, World War I?
JMP: It so happened that around the time of my conversion to Christ, I was studying WW1 French literature at university. Just before my spiritual awakening took place, I found myself experiencing a dark and suffocating sense of hopelessness that seemed to be mirrored very graphically in the material I was studying. Somehow, the image of men living and dying in the horror of the trenches became for me a powerful metaphor for the human condition in its alienation from God. With our world increasingly facing distresses beyond its control, I wanted to write a book that would explore those eternal issues that have pertained to the heart of man since the very beginning.
Q: Both Beth and Ciaran are musicians. What experience do you have in music to write such a realistic story?
JMP: I was brought up in a very artistic and musical home. Both my parents are pianists and my mum was one of the organists at the church I grew up in. My younger brother, who can play a variety of instruments, has grown up to become a music mentor and singer/songwriter. Now, as for myself, I have to confess that I don’t play an instrument. (My own fault entirely – I was shuffled off to music lessons as a child but, alas, failed to keep up with my piano practice!) That being said, I have a real passion for classical music. From my earliest days I remember listening to BBC Radio Three in our home, and being fascinated by my dad’s collection of classical 78’s. I’ve used quite a number of classical music references in my book. As I was writing the story, different pieces would pop into my head as though I was listening to a movie soundtrack. It just seemed the most natural thing in the world to include them as a melodic backdrop for the unfolding tale.
Q: I noticed an underlying story of a how a person may return to earlier spiritual beliefs when faced with a crisis. Is this a theme you are familiar with?
JMP: As a little girl, there was never a time when I didn’t believe in God. Back then, my faith was simple, ‘inherited’ … and untested. As I grew up, life and learning played a big part in its unravelling. By the age of twenty, I had studied enough philosophy and been through enough traumatic experiences to find myself in complete spiritual/ philosophical meltdown. With my twenty-first birthday fast approaching, I’d become an existential agnostic, mentally and emotionally burnt out. I could no longer see any point in living. God is so faithful and loving though. Just when I felt I was going down for the last time, someone introduced me to Jesus Christ. If He hadn’t saved me when He did, I doubt I’d be here today.
Q: Tell us about the settings selected for your story.
JMP: Well, for the First World War part of the tale, most of the action takes place around the Ypres Salient on the Western Front. For me, that enduring image of men struggling through the Flanders mud sums up the tragedy that was the Great War. For the modern day story, I used two very different settings – London and North Yorkshire. As my character, Rosie, is dealing with so many emotional issues, I tried to convey her sense of fear, loneliness, and lack of belonging by placing her, pretty much alone, in the big, hectic capital. I then contrasted this experience by bringing her up to a small village in North Yorkshire. Ridderch Standen is actually a fictional setting, but I created the place using different elements from a number of small villages that I know. Places like Ridderch Standen do exist! I wanted the village to represent a ‘safe place’ for Rosie, especially as her life begins to fall apart. Even in the First World War storyline, I used a similar technique. In the midst of all the craziness and carnage, my soldier characters get to visit a wonderful place called Talbot House (Toc H), just behind the front line in a town called Poperinge. Unlike Ridderch Standen, Talbot House was a very real place. The living museum there can still be visited today.
Q: Where can readers find you on the Internet?
JMP: You can find me on:
         My website:      
         Or on Twitter at:

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