This arrangement of all the literature we gathered resembles my brain after so much exposure, although I seem never to tire of this era. And, as
Francis Bacon wrote, “By far, the best proof is experience.”
Fiction requires many types of information beyond basic historical facts. Often, what strikes me might seem trivial to others, but it’s the little things that flavor a novel.
For example, at the Yorkshire Eden Camp Museum, 29 buildings with incredible WWII displays, the Women’s Land Army stood out to me. In this an entire building devoted to women’s roles in the battle against Nazism, a specific corner still makes me smile:
About a thousand Land Girls specialized in...what would you guess? Repairing tractors? Harvesting hay? Hoeing endless rows of carrots? They did all of that, but the answer is...
Since rats ate food destined to feed British troops, the land girls pursued them like Hitler’s henchmen. Called to work farms in place of deployed men, these young women devised methods of attack. Sometimes they simply routed them from granaries or storage bins and whopped them to death with shovels, other times they gassed the ravenous creatures.
One element of this display boasts a hen’s roosting box. You stick your hand in to count the eggs... ARGH! You recoil and lift the lid to a sharp-toothed rat. Stuffed, of course. Talk about bringing the past to life...
Sooner or later, I’ll probably stitch this gleaning into a novel, along with so much else. From the beach and D-Day museum at Portsmouth, the launching point for Allied troops on June 6, 1944, to the large granite slab in Westminster Abbey engraved with three simple words:
to Blenheim Palace, where the down-to-earth Prime Minister who saved England was born prematurely, to the laburnum tree that shaded me in Oxford, these tidbits will surface when I need them.
This laburnum in glorious full bloom captivated me—I’d taken a day to rest my painful feet, and in the garden of our hotel...voila! Exactly like the one Addie planted to honor her fallen soldier husband in In Times Like These, but now I could truly embrace its beauty.
What we find online or in textbooks serves us well, but our tour convinced me that site visits meet our research needs even better. It’s one thing to craft facts into fiction, another to enter an era’s very heartbeat.
Hats off to Francis Bacon!
You can see more photos from Gail’s trip at www.gailkittleson.com, as well as her World War II series, Women of the Heartland.
Lest you think Gail flies off to England any old time, this was her very first visit to the magic island, but she definitely wants to return. Normally, her quiet life passes in a little north Iowa town where she and Lance enjoy grandchildren and gardening. In another life, she taught college expository writing and ESL, and still facilitates writing and creativity workshops and retreats. She loves connecting with her readers.