Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War is one of several great books sent to me for potential interviews that I just couldn’t fit into my schedule. I was delighted when the editor, Heather Webb, agreed to a blog interview instead. The results are below, with my questions in bold and her answers following. But don’t stop here: the stories, too, are well worth your time.
Want to be sure? You can read a sample story on your Kindle, if you have one, for 99 cents: Lauren Willig’s “The Record Set Right.”
What is the impetus behind this project? Where did the idea come from?
I noticed an upswing in anthologies and it got the wheels turning. Why couldn’t there be one based on a historical event or theme, I asked myself. As a big Downton Abbey fan, I kept thinking I’d like to read more set during the Edwardian era, so I began brain-storming ideas and eventually wrote the pitch, which is the cover copy you see.
The goal of the stories was to portray the various forms of love—and loss—of citizens of Europe who suffered through World War I and, above all, tie these themes to a sense of hope. Ultimately, people need nothing more than hope in this world; to carry on, to get to the other side—to achieve, even. I thought the contributors did a terrific job of illustrating this basic human need.
How did you select authors for inclusion?
I did a little research on historical authors who had published novels or were currently working on projects that revolved around WWI already. A couple of the authors said, “Hey, I’d love to, and can I ask my friend XXX, too?” I agreed readily after taking a look at their biographies. The authors were eager and excited to try a new type of project.
Each of the stories deals in some way with the moment when the Armistice in what was then known as the Great War (World War I) took place. Some occur years later, others in the hours leading up to the battle—and a third group does both. Why pick that moment as the common thread for the book?
Armistice Day—the end of the Great War—paved the way for the modern world as we know it. Before the war, the western world had grown at a rapid rate with new transportation infrastructures and mechanization, thereby expanding the middle class and creating a working poor. All were living in a time of romanticism, in which all seemed possible and beautiful. The Beautiful Era or Belle Époque in France. The vast majority of society had gone a little soft around the edges. It had been one hundred years since the last major war. When the war began, men went off to prove their honor, to “become men again,” and not these metropolitan fellows, saturated with plenty of food and diversions. But so many things happened they didn’t expect—advancements in weaponry, including chemical warfare, barbed wire, and machine guns; and vacancies in the job sector at home, bringing women to the forefront of society, as well as triggering the collapse of the class system. It was a new world, for better or worse. This was the beginning of the world we live in today.
I can hardly think of a more interesting, and still relevant, topic to explore.
Tell us a bit about your own contribution, “Hour of the Bells.” Where does the story come from and how does it fit into your work as a whole, if it does?
As a cultural geographer and former military brat, I find myself perpetually fascinated by the idea of “the outsider” within a culture not their own, what it means to belong, and how our values and ideals can shift as we assimilate. Beatrix is a German-born woman who married a Frenchman and their only son is ridiculed for being a dirty “boche,” spurring him to join the war efforts. When her son perishes, she can’t forgive herself for who she is and how she has failed him—and sets out on a quest for vengeance, to prove her love. The story has a very cinematic quality to it, ultimately, which I was aiming for as I plotted the themes. I couldn’t think of a more powerful motivation than a mother’s love and grief.
The anthology focuses on themes of love in its various forms from lovers to friends, to parents and their children. In “Hour of the Bells,” I explore the love between mother and son as well as woman and country.
Thank you, Heather!
Heather Webb is the author of Becoming Josephine and Rodin’s Lover, as well as the editor of and a contributor to Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War. You can find out more about her and her books at her website.