When I read that during the First World War in Serbia, a British woman became a soldier I was fascinated. I looked up her story and my first attempt at this novel, was of my own hero, Ellen Frankland, becoming a soldier. Only I wanted her to face more obstacles. I imagined that not all the soldiers welcomed her – that she usurped their abilities to fight and to kill – and they resisted her rise as a hero. My problem as her creator was that however hard I tried, I could not persuade her to shoot to kill a fellow human being – certainly not without provocation and the men I pictured her fighting alongside, did not allow her to face the dangers they did.
So I wrote a different novel. This time, Ellen’s story was interwoven with that of a Serb colonel, a soldier who had lost the hunger for war while Ellen, though not blood-thirsty, romanticised the fighting. Like many British young men who volunteered at the beginning of the First World War, Ellen had no idea of the cost of war: its traumas, the deaths of friends and what we now call post traumatic stress disorder.
In the process of writing this novel, I learned that for me, writing is finding the characters I can write about, and then allowing them to tell their stories. It is not easy!
Please see Marg’s Pinterest board ‘Flora Sandes’