INTERVIEW WITH LYNNE ABOUT THE MENDING
From Open Book Interview
Question: How did you choose the setting of your novel? What connection, if any, did you have to the setting when you began writing?
Lynne: The setting of the novel chose me, rather than the other way around, given that it is based on the real-life experiences of my great aunt who inspired the series. My aunt was born and raised in Brampton, Ontario, which is the setting of most of the series. But in The Mending, the protagonist leaves Brampton to attend Victoria College at the University of Toronto. It was so interesting writing about student life in 1921 and seeing how different it was from my experience at that same college sixty years later. Back in the day, Victoria College undergrads commenced each school day—and there were six school days per week, not five—in the chapel. My aunt’s course load included twenty-seven hours of in-class instruction per week, spread out over nine courses (including English, four sciences, two languages and religious knowledge). No dances were permitted on the grounds of Victoria College. Vic students had to dance elsewhere or entertain themselves on special Saturday nights by promenading through the halls of Old Vic—walking in their finery, parade-like, arm-in-arm with a partner, to the accompaniment of a live band.
Question: Did you find yourself having a "favourite" amongst your characters? If so, who was it and why?
Lynne: Of course, Jessie—the protagonist—is always my favourite character. That being said, each book has other characters that I love. Some readers will be glad to see a return of the zany Aunt Lil, who is another favourite and who has a fairly big role in the first two of chapters of The Mending. My favourite new character is a young man by the name of Henry Percival Montgomery Moorehead. I hope that from this multisyllabic name, you discern that he is British and from a “good” or once “good” family. His character is different from any of the others in the series. He is droll, witty, irreverent, impetuous, romantic, and in a way that makes him popular with other young people in the bootlegging ’20s, mischievous. I had a lot of fun writing his dialogue.
Question: Did you do any specific research for this novel? Tell us a bit about that process.
Historical fiction books involve a lot of research. Likely, the most research I did for The Mending related to the 1918 Battle of Amiens. While The Mending opens after that battle occurred, characters in the book return to Amiens in 1926, and a mystery about one of the book’s characters is resolved. I spent hours and hours reading about that battle, understanding troop movements and tactics, the operation of field hospitals—casualty clearing centres and surgical centres and more. My research was corroborated in three ways. First, I hired Bryan McClure, a PhD candidate in History at Western University, who read the relevant chapters and gave me some great insights. Second, I called upon my personal experiences visiting Amiens in 2013 and walking the streets, fields, and cemeteries described. Finally, I came upon my aunt’s actual diary of her 1926 trip to the area. She was twenty-three years old at the time. It was incredibly moving and fun—she was twenty-three, after all—reading her actual words.
Question: What was the strangest or most memorable moment or experience during the writing process for you?
Probably the most memorable moment was reading and writing about Spanish flu in the first few months of 2020. The Mending opens in late August 1918. In an earlier draft of the book, the narrative moved pretty quickly from that time until a later time in 1919 with barely a nod to the Spanish flu. My editor, Allister Thompson, who is really a very agreeable guy, took some exception to this. One could not write about that period of time, he said, and not talk about the effects of the Spanish flu. My problem was that I had no specific story line to advance in that period of time, and I didn’t think there was anything new to communicate to the readers, as I had previously described living in a state of quarantine in The Innocent, the first book in the series, in connection with an outbreak of scarlet fever.
But I never like to ignore Allister’s advice, and so in January 2020, I asked my researcher, Colleen Mahoney, to look into some specific aspects of the virus, and I returned to the library, rereading the newspapers from the fall of 1918. What started out as drudgery became a real fascination. Canada was not yet experiencing COVID-19, but Wuhan, and then Italy, and then Iran and other countries were. Reading about their experiences, I was struck by both the apparent similarities and differences between how the Spanish flu and COVID-19 affected society. It suddenly became exciting to weave the Spanish flu into the backdrop of two chapters—one of which was entirely new.
Question: Did you include an epigraph in your book? If so, how did you choose it and how does it relate to the narrative?
The Mending is the third book in the Beneath the Alders series. Each has an epigraph. I have to say that each is less lofty than its predecessor! The Innocent, the first book in the series, included a short poem by T.S. Eliot. It spoke to me about the importance of exploring the past to understand our current circumstances. In The Beleaguered, the epigram is an excerpt from the 1914 Christmas editorial of The Conservator, the local newspaper. About the Great War, it is insightful, inspirational and transcendental. The epigram in The Mending is the eight lines that appeared next to my aunt’s photograph in the 1925 edition of the Torontonensis, the yearbook of the University of Toronto. While the lines constitute very bad poetry, they form an accurate description of my loyal but headstrong aunt.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
- T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Jessie S. Roberts
Wee bit shy, kind and true,
Big heart and starry eyes.
If a friend’s in need, she’s a friend indeed
And she’ll tell you no lies.
She will not stop, till the goal is reached,
Although the road be rough.
She loves to work and she loves to play
Now perhaps we’ve said enough.
- Torontonensis, The Year Book of the University of Toronto, 1925