Friday, October 26, 2012

Researching the World War Two Novel
by Guest Blogger Jana Richards

I’ve always had a fascination for the stories of World War Two. The war is full of amazing tales of bravery and daring, of sadness and pain, and of love found and lost. I like to combine all of these elements in my stories.

When writing about any era of history, it’s important to get the details right. World War Two history is massive; it’s almost impossible to know everything. But it is possible to focus on one piece of that history and become something of an expert on it.

So far, I’ve written two novellas and one short story set in the 1940s, each concentrating on different elements of the war.  

Flawless is set in occupied France in 1942. Le Coeur Bleu, a famous and valuable blue diamond, has been stolen by the Nazis. They plan to trade the diamond for weapons that could crush the Allies. Jewel thief Hunter Smith is recruited to steal back the diamond with the help of Madeleine, a beautiful French Resistance fighter.

a Lysander
When I began writing Flawless, I didn’t know much about the French Resistance. I turned to my favorite sources of research for information; books and the Internet. One book I read, called “Just Raoul: Adventures in the French Resistance”, told the story of the war from the perspective of a French Resistance fighter. I learned what members of the Resistance accomplished and the dangers they faced. From the Internet, I learned about the Special Operations Executive or SOE, a branch of the British government that trained spies and sent operatives into occupied European countries to learn of the enemies’ movements and to disrupt their lines of communications and transportation. My research suggested elements of the plot. For instance, I discovered that the SOE brought spies in and out of France in small planes called Lysanders that were able to land and take off on short runways, most often fields or pastures. I used this information to get craft several scenes. I researched a myriad of other details on the Internet; what does a French chateau look like, how do you pick a lock, were flashlights available in the 1940s? (They were.)

Home Fires is set in Saskatchewan, Canada just after the end of the war. English nurse Anne Wakefield travels to Canada to marry her fiancé, a former pilot in the Canadian Air Force she met during the war. But when she arrives she discovers her fiancé has married someone else. Devastated, she prepares to return to England. But her ex-fiance’s mother has a suggestion; marriage to her other son. Badly scarred and wounded during the war, Eric Gustafson can’t believe that a beautiful woman like Anne would want him. But Anne sees past his scars to the beauty of his heart. Eric can’t forget that she was once engaged to his handsome, unscarred brother. Her biggest task is to convince Eric her love for him is real.

Researching English war brides was a labour of love. Some 43,000 English war brides, along with 22,000 of their children, came to live in Canada between 1942 and 1948. War brides faced many difficulties in their new homes. Many war brides, most of them coming from modern British cities, found themselves in rural Canada living in primitive conditions. The book “Risking it all for love” is written by a British war bride who finds life difficult after arriving in Canada. Coming from a well-off family, she goes to live with her new husband on a hard scrabble farm in northern Saskatchewan with no electricity, no running water and no indoor plumbing. Most brides were welcomed by their husbands and new families but some were not. “Brass Buttons and Silver Horseshoes” by Linda Granfield tells many stories of the war brides, some happy, some sad, and many poignant. Much information about war brides is also available online. Some of my favorite websites for information on war brides: . This site has passenger lists from the special war bride ships as well as stories from the war brides themselves. . This site, from Veterans Affairs Canada, has a lot of great statistics about the war brides. . This site has a lot of good pictures of war brides.

 BCATP airmen
My short story “Wings of Fire” appears in the Saskatchewan Romance Writers anthology, “Love, Loss and Other Oddities”. William Crane is a British airman training in Canada to be a pilot so he can do his part in the war. When he crashes his training plane into a farmer’s field and meets the farmer’s daughter, Will finds a reason to believe that love will find him when the war is over. For this story, I researched the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. To start, I visited the BCATP Museum in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, which contains archives of the program, including many of the training planes used by the airmen. The BCATP trained some 200,000 pilots and other aircrew from all over the British Commonwealth on 231 bases across Canada.  The airmen, far from home and lonely, were often befriended by Canadian families who took them into their homes. Many romances took place between Commonwealth airman and Canadian women. Though there are no statistics on how many Commonwealth men returned to live in Canada after the war with their Canadian wives, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest a sizable number.  “Canada’s War Grooms and the Girls Who loved them” by Judy Kozak tells the love stories of these men and women. I’m hoping to someday expand my short story into a full length novel.

The French Resistance, the war brides, and the BCATP are only three of the many stories of World War Two. I can hardly wait to discover more!

Jana Richards has tried her hand at many writing projects over the years, from magazine articles and short stories to full-length paranormal suspense and romantic comedy.  She loves to create characters with a sense of humor, but also a serious side.  She believes there’s nothing more interesting then peeling back the layers of a character to see what makes them tick.

When not writing up a storm, working at her day job as an Office Administrator, or dealing with ever present mountains of laundry, Jana can be found on the local golf course pursuing her newest hobby.

Jana lives in Western Canada with her husband Warren, and a highly spoiled Pug/Terrier cross named Lou. You can reach her through her website at


Annette said...

Hello Jana,
Thank you for sharing the large amount of research that you do to carry out your writing. When an author has command of the time and place the reader can just fall into the story and enjoy because they trust the author.
I look forward to reading Home Fires. I have enjoyed your short story, "Wings of Fire" in the SRW anthology.
You are right, when you suggest that the research will not be as overwhelming if you focus on the portion of interest, but I'm sure that all of your research has added depth to every story that you write.
Yours truly,
Annette Bower

Karyn Good said...

It's a fascinating time in history, Jana, from so many angles. From the horrors of a second world war to the way life changed after it was over. I love war bride stories. Stories like yours help me imagine what it must have been like to leave everything behind and come to Canada.

Jana Richards said...

I approach research the same way I approach any large project; break it into small, manageable bits. Look at one small aspect of the history you're interested in portraying and find out what you can about it.

I hope my research adds depth to my work. That's definitely always my intention.

Thanks for stopping by.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
I'm always fascinated by the stories of immigrants. What courage it must have taken for the war brides to leave everything they knew behind. The really amazing thing is that the majority of these often hastily arranged marriages worked and endured for many years. These women were tough and didn't give up easily!

Thanks for your comment,