Inside The Kennel Exclusive: Elizabeth Wein
To help you choose which amazing book you should vote for in this year's Inky Awards, we'll be getting to know a little bit more about the authors behind them. Today it's my great pleasure to introduce Elizabeth Wein, author of Code Name Verity.
What is your book about?
How far would you go to save your best friend?
Code Name Verity is the story of two young women, a pilot and a spy, who become best friends during the Second World War. They go on a secret mission together and their plane is shot down in enemy territory—one of them is captured by the Gestapo, and it’s her confession, under torture, that starts off the novel.
I wrote Code Name Verity because I was excited about exploring women’s roles in two low profile wartime organizations: the Air Transport Auxiliary, the civilian team of pilots that assisted the Royal Air Force on the home front in Britain, and the Special Operations Executive, a secret group of agents who helped train and arm resistance operations in Nazi-occupied Europe.
I didn’t expect it to turn into a celebration of truth and friendship, but that is what happened.
How much did your own experience of piloting inspire and shape the story?
Having an interest in flying definitely inspired the story – I wouldn’t have discovered the men and women of the Air Transport Auxiliary if I hadn’t become interested in aviation. My knowledge gives a sense of verisimilitude (cool word!) to the novel, even though my own flight experiences are nowhere near as exciting or as frightening as the ones in Code Name Verity! The scene where Maddie flies over Scotland does mirror an actual flight I made—including the detail of the snow inside the cockpit.
But in terms of shaping the story, my close friendships were much more important than my flight experience. Because as I’ve said, first and foremost, it’s a story about friendship.
How do you decide what to keep historically accurate, and what to fictionalise? Did anything/fact surprise you in your research?
Of course I made up the story. It’s fiction. But within the framework of the fiction novel, I strive for historical accuracy. Inaccuracies are more likely to be honest errors than conscious decisions.
I made up most of the place names so that I could jiggle the timing a bit (the unreliable narrator also makes up place names—so sometimes a “real” place is very thinly disguised). I made up Maddie’s flight to France; I don’t know of a British female pilot who flew in France in 1943. But such a flight could have happened and might have happened. None of the characters really existed, so they’re not “historically accurate” either. But the torments that Verity suffers at the hands of the Nazis, and the descriptions of resistance work in France, and the jobs of the Special Operations agents and the Air Transport Auxiliary pilots, are all described as accurately as I was able.
Here’s an interesting example of how I fictionalize the story—and a surprising fact, too. In my research, I came across a brief reference to German-speaking Women’s Auxiliary Air Force recruits who were involved in trying to lure German pilots off course to land at British airfields. I used that idea in the scene where Maddie and Verity first meet, in the radio room at the fictional Maidsend Aerodrome, when they work together to guide a German pilot to land on their British airfield. I had to make up the setting and the background: the German plane has been damaged, the pilot is lost and thinks he’s approaching France when in fact he’s approaching the northern coast of Kent in England, Maddie works in the radio room and Verity is a wireless operator on the same airfield. In fact it’s not likely they’d have had people doing Verity’s work on an actual airfield, so their proximity is fictionalized. Otherwise I’d have to send someone out in a jeep to fetch her, which just wastes the reader’s time with explanation, and distracts from the story. So sometimes verifiable “historical accuracy” is sacrificed for the sake of a tight plot.
I like to think my books are historically plausible even when they’re not entirely verifiable.
What are you most afraid of?
It is an Unknown Catastrophe which I refer to as the Yellow Bolt. The Yellow Bolt is how my grandmother described a lightning strike that came through her bedroom window and exploded an electric fan standing at the foot of her bed. I’m not afraid of lightning in specific, but I think of The Yellow Bolt as the Big Personal Disaster which is lurking around the corner—loved ones suddenly struck by cars or cancer, the house going up in a gas explosion (it happens)! The Yellow Bolt will come out of a clear blue sky and there’s nothing you can do to predict it.
If you won the Silver Inky Award you would…?
…Be completely stunned. And when I picked myself up off the floor I would start planning a visit to Melbourne in October 2014—I will be in Tasmania for most of November 2014, so maybe I could be around for Inky Week too!
Want Code Name Verity to win the 2013 Silver Inky Award? Cast your vote!
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