In an occasional series, Essex Mums who write, talk about their writing lives and their latest books.
Can you introduce yourself and your connection to Essex
I grew up in Westcliff, Essex. I ‘escaped’ for about fifteen years, and then came back to live in Leigh on Sea when I had my first son. I have three children, 8, 10 and 17. I have always written. It’s hard to combine writing with this parenting lark when the kids are at home – but it got easier once they went to school. (There is light at the end of the tunnel, people, hang on in there.) I write under the pen-name Lizzie Page.
Where are your favourite places in Essex to go with the kids?
I’m all about the seaside at Southend. I know it’s not the best seaside in the world, but its my seaside. I love it when the tide is out and it’s all mud, grey and post-apocalyptic. I love the way you can see all the way to the other side, I think it informs the can-do Essex temperament.
I hope I’ve given my kids a love of the Thames Estuary but whenever I say, ‘let’s walk the dog down the ‘front’, they always insist on going to the park instead. Sigh.
I love going out for coffee, with friends or with my lap-top. It’s hard to nail down my favourite places but I most particularly love: Saltwater Beach Cafe behind Chalkwell Station and Millys along Leigh Road, and Stop the World on the Broadway.
What’s your book about?
The War Nurses is a book about friendship set against the back-drop of the first world war.
1914 – Two young women pledge to help the war effort: Mairi is a wholesome idealist hoping to leave behind her past and Elsie is a glamorous single mother, a dare-devil motorcyclist, with a weakness for handsome soldiers. Despite their differences, the pair become firm friends.
At the emergency medical shelter where they’re based, Elsie and Mairi work around the clock to treat wounded soldiers. It’s heart-breaking work and they are at constant risk from shelling, fire and disease. But there are also happier times… parties, trips and letters. And maybe even the possibility of love with an attractive officer in their care…
But as the war continues and the stress of duty threatens to pull the two women apart, will Elsie and Mairi’s special bond be strong enough to see them through?
Why might it appeal to Essex Mums in particular?
The War Nurses is based on a true story. Women’s remarkable achievements have often gone unrecognised or uncelebrated, I think its about time we shone a spotlight on the women who’ve done incredible things in the past.
The War Nurses might appeal to Essex Mums especially because we’re a hardy breed, loyal and determined. I think readers may recognise themselves in the characters and their relationships. I like to think in times of trouble we’d all step up to the plate like Elsie and Mairi did.
Plus, one of my very favourite chapters is set in Southend! (see below)
Can we have a short extract?
The War Nurses (Chapter 26)
‘Have you ever been in love?’ Jack asked after I had thrown the cockle newspapers away.
‘I don’t know,’ I said truthfully. ‘Have you?’
‘Not until now’, he said quietly. The impact of that didn’t hit me until much later.
I don’t know how he did it, but as we were sat there, contemplating mud, Jack worked his arm around me. And somehow, he managed to slide his hand lower so that it was over my breast. I didn’t know if it was a mistake, but he didn’t move it, so I think it was intentional. His fingers smelled of vinegar. We sat there with his hand sort of living there, like when an insect lands on you.
I thought of all the boys I had been with at the moment they died, counting them like you do sheep to try to sleep: 18, 19.
Elsie would have said, ‘No, Mairi, think of all the men who you helped,’ so I tried counting them instead, starting with Dixmude and going upwards, until I got to Harold. And then my heart felt just as heavy as my breast.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The War Nurses is the first in a trilogy published by Bookouture, April 2018.
Book two is out in November 2018.
If you are in an Essex based Book Club, and would like to have an author visit, do get in touch. I’m on twitter @LizziePagewrite or FB me. Thanks for reading!