In August 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany and the First World War began. That fateful day also kicks off The Beleaguered (Blue Moon Publishers) by Lynne Golding, the second book in Golding's Beneath the Alders series, which follows several families in early 20th century Brampton, Ontario through the tumultuous events of the pre-war and wartime era.
In The Beleaguered, readers return to Jessie Stephens, who was introduced in the first Beneath the Alders novel, The Innocent. Jessie is coming of age just as war breaks out. Just as she begins to engage with and comprehend the wider world, the reality of that world dramatically changes for Jessie and everyone else.
We're excited to welcome Lynne to Open Book today to talk about The Beleaguered as part of our Long Story interview series for novelists. She tells us about why she wanted to start on the first day of the War and how the timing effected her characters, why she dedicated the book to her great-aunt, whose stories helped shaped the narrative, and the intense early morning writing routine she manages around her full-time job as a lawyer.
Do you remember how you first started this novel or the very first bit of writing you did for it?
The book opens on that day in August 1914 on which hostilities in Europe commenced. I wanted to start the book there — to recount exactly where the protagonist was and what she was doing when she learned of it. I knew it was one of those moments everyone of the time would recollect. To start there, I had to do some work to determine what time of day it was likely those in her community would have heard the news.
But in those first pages, I wanted to communicate other things as well. I wanted to describe the feelings of the protagonist’s extended family members, some of whom were excited about the war, some of whom were resigned to it, and a few — a very few — were frightened by it. Finally, I wanted to communicate how little any of them really knew about what was to come or even why the war was being waged.
So I had a lot to accomplish in those first few pages.
How did you choose the setting of your novel? What connection, if any, did you have to the setting when you began writing?
I didn’t have much choice in the main setting of the novel. The book is the second in a trilogy that tells the history of a particular town and a family within it. But unlike the first volume, which is set almost entirely in Brampton, Ontario, this book takes the readers farther afield. Some places are determined by the war subject of the book: various places in England and a few battle sites in Europe. But this book also takes the reader to places not necessarily linked to the war, including the old ward area of Toronto, where immigrants often lived; small locales in Saskatchewan where homesteaders settled; to Winnipeg; and to places north of Toronto, including Caledon and Shelburne. The homesteader stories are inspired by the experiences of the ancestors of Colleen Mahoney, a dear friend who helped me with research for the book and whose family still resides in Success, Saskatchewan.
Did you find yourself having a "favourite" amongst your characters? If so, who was it and why?
Your CanLit News
Subscribe to Open Book’s newsletter to get local book events, literary content, writing tips, and more in your inbox
I have a favourite family of characters in this book — though they were not universally loved in the time and location in which they are placed. They were Austrians or people of Austrian descent and so were considered enemy aliens, even though they or their ancestors settled here many years before the war (in some cases, decades earlier). I love these characters because they all have interesting stories and they take the readers to different geographic places. They are sympathetic characters because although the readers know them to be good people with no bad intent, they were treated otherwise. Through them and their interactions with others, we see the good and bad of humanity; the judgements people make in the worst of times. For some of this, I apply no judgement. If we were at war now, what would we do?
If you had to describe your book in one sentence, what would you say?
The Beleaguered is the story of life in Canada during World War I.
Did you do any specific research for this novel? Tell us a bit about that process.
I did a lot of research for this novel. Some of it I did on my own. Some of it was done for me. Some I did with others. One of my favourite research stories relates to an account I read in the Peel Archives. Perkins Bull, the writer, was a locally born man who had become a successful lawyer, businessman, and historian. He blessed Peel County with a great trove of local research. In his biography he described his life in London during the war. Being rejected for enlistment, he and his wife sought to aid the war effort in another way. They chose to devote a part of their home to convalescing Canadian soldiers. When their home was found to be too small to meet the need, they supplemented it by renting a vacant home across the road. Perkins described the absent owner of that home as Ernest Shackleton, the explorer then in Antarctica. Wow! This was historical fiction gold as far as I was concerned. I need a place for one of my characters to convalesce in London. What better place than a hospital run by Bramptonians in the home owned by Ernest Shackleton. The archivists were pleased that I was interested in the story and gave me a brochure that had recently been written about the London hospital. However, it presented facts slightly differently from those of the book — particularly regarding the land ownership of Ernest Shackleton. We reviewed a lot of sources trying to reconcile the two accounts. In the end I kept in the story of the hospital but made no mention of Ernest Shackleton!
Who did you dedicate your novel to, and why?
I dedicated the book to my great-aunt, whose stories told to me in the years after she turned 100 years of age inspired the writing of the book. The war changed the trajectory of her life — as it did with so many men and women of her generation. The life she was told she would lead — the life she was told she had to lead — the life where she would go to university become a teacher for a couple of years and then marry and live a life as her mother had — that life was not available to her. Or to her sister. Or to her cousin. Or to many of her friends. They had to forge a new path, and it started here.
Did you include an epigraph in your book? If so, how did you choose it and how does it relate to the narrative?
For my epigraph, I chose an excerpt from a local newspaper in 1914. It described the attitudes of the time. It spoke about a number of notions that were true then and which I think are likely true today, at least here in Canada. "We have known peace so long that we can hardly comprehend war; ... Christmas of 1914 has torn away our selfish indolence. We know now that the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God have a deeper meaning than we have realized…"
What if, anything, did you learn from writing this novel?
I learned so much writing this novel, including how much more productive I am first thing in the morning! To complete the novel on time, I had to write about three hours a day for three months. I developed a routine of putting in forty minutes on the commuter train each weekday, followed by a couple of hours in a Starbucks. Then I started my day as a lawyer. Somehow it worked!
Lynne Golding was born and raised in Brampton, Ontario. She obtained a bachelor's degree in History and Political Science from Victoria College at the University of Toronto before studying law at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. She is a senior partner at the international law firm Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP where she leads their health law practice group. Lynne lives in Brampton, Ontario, and has three grown children. Lynne is also the winner of the OBPO's What's Your Story? Short Prose and Poetry Competition.