I should be searching for images of Toulon France as it appeared in the 1920s, particularly the harbour as viewed from a cruise ship. I also need to wade through an endless list of books on Paris in the 1920s. The Lost Generation. How can I recreate that iconic time unless I know the history? Who was where and when? Where would my character go when she first arrives in London? And later in Paris. Where can she possibly get some sort of job? If I don’t have these necessary facts which will form the skeleton of my narrative, I simply can’t progress any further with this manuscript, the second book in my trilogy Paris Next Week.
Yet I am doing none of these things. Instead I am suddenly fascinated by a little known English writer Jan Struther, the pen name of Joyce Anstruther, later Joyce Maxtone Graham and finally Joyce Placzek. I found this beguiling image in the Australian Women’s Weekly icon edition 15 the other day. It was featured in an article on Greer Garson who of course starred in Mrs Minniver, the famous movie which persuaded the Americans to finally enter WW2. From the book by Jan Struther.
I am waiting anxiously for my pay to hit my account so I can buy the kindle version of The Real Mrs Minniver written by Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Joyce’s granddaughter. I am not sure why I have this urgency to read the biography but I am fascinated by this young woman in her print dress, sitting in the back garden of somewhere, with her small dog. There is a long fence in the background and a strange sort of wooden structure. I’m guessing the image is from the 1930s. She looks calm but the dog appears anxious looking off to the side at someone or something. I love the headband. The simple innocence of it. Yet her life was complicated and ultimately tragic.
How much will reading about this woman help my research? I have no idea but I have been, for a long time, interested in the arcs of people’s lives according to when and where they were born. What opportunities were available at the time, what turbulent decades were ahead as they reached maturity. These things are so important and how they affect each individual are what makes studying different lives fascinating. Joyce was born three years before my fictional character Sarah who was born in Sydney. Joyce was born in the UK in 1901 but I can’t wait to read about her working life in England in the 1920s (if she did work as a young woman). Within her life, I’m hoping there is inspiration for my character’s next few years as she steps off the ship in Tilbury. A long shot? Possibly. But you never know.