Shelley Marsden speaks to Katie Flynn about the personal story behind her latest WW2 saga and her ongoing struggles with M.E.
Norfolk author Katie Flynn has written over eighty books in her lifetime, and they are usually riding high in the bestsellers lists in the UK and Ireland. Her latest, Time to Say Goodbye, set against the backdrop of the Second World War is enjoying similar success.
“It’s lovely to know that people are still in a buying mood”, exclaims the quietly-spoken author, 78. “You have to say thank God for Fifty Shades of Grey, I think that book rescued publishing to a degree. Everybody bought it but nobody will admit to reading it.”
Katie (a pen name alongside her other Judith Saxton), believes people keep buying her historical novels out of nostalgia, and admits with a giggle that a lot of her readers will actually remember the war first-hand, perhaps even being evacuated.
“You write about that time and it brings out all sorts of things people have almost forgotten about. I appeal to a fairly elderly readership that still buys paper books and isn’t that interested in technical things. They can also buy mine freely from the supermarkets – you go along a line of baked beans, and there’s my book!”
Beginning in 1939, her latest novel sees three girls meet on a station platform. Imogen, Rita and Debby all missed the original evacuation and now the authorities are finding it hard to place them. When ‘Auntie’ and her niece Jill, who run a country pub in Norfolk, offer to take them in and the problem is solved.
The little townies soon grow to love the haven of their new countryside home, building a tree-house with the perfect view of the local RAF station and watching the comings and goings of young fighter pilots like it was a movie, until they find an injured soldier and reality starts to hits home.
It’s hard in the modern-day to imagine living through a war, but there is a more personal story than most behind this one, which Katie had almost forgotten about until she sat down to write. She, too was an evacuee child. It was 1939, like the book (“I was just three!” she confesses) and the family were following her father, who was in the army.
She explains: “When he got to Barnstaple, he was posted to India, and we couldn’t follow him there, so my mother looked round for somewhere that could take us in. We found a farm where they had evacuees, but I was extremely lucky because I had a little brother who was just one. If you had a little brother or sister, you could take your mum with you.”
And so, the relieved little family were evacuated together, her mother joined the farmer’s family that put them up as a Land Girl. She sounds almost embarrassed to say it, but admits her war years were “positively blissful”.
Katie only has a couple of memories which weren’t completely picturesque in nature: “I can never remember if it was a Spitfire or a Hurricane, but a fighter plane must have come down in the night, and we passed it one day on our way to school. My mother looked over the hedge, saw it and said, don’t look! Of course, we did. But that was the closest we came to the war – that and the slimy, smelly, dark underground shelters. They were quite terrifying.”
Katie was so young that a lot of her memories are second-hand, many told by her mother. But she’s surprised at how much she has retained of the war years, including the infamous Baedeker Raids in April 1942.
“It’s peculiar really”, she recalls slowly. “We were in Norwich during the Baedeker Raids. We all had to banish ourselves from our home and go into the country, where we’d just come from. It just so happened that Hitler had the same idea. I remember my uncle forcing a teaspoon of brandy down my protesting throat to calm me.”
For more see this week’s edition (Issue No. 1423) of the Irish World out July 16
Time to Say Goodbye (Arrow) is out now. For more, see www.katieflynn.com.