Q: What is your inspiration for Angel of Mercy?
A: Believe it or not, my novel, set during World War One, is inspired by a rock song called “Mama” by My Chemical Romance. World War One is a war that deserves a hard rock soundtrack because many hard rock songs talk about great change, fear and lost youth. I find many contemporary songs remind me of the Great War and the sacrifices that were made.
“Mama” is about soldiers and its imagery was the inspiration for what later became the characters of Henrietta Steward, Geoffrey Bartlette and Frederick Steward.
Q: Why the title Angel of Mercy?
A: The nursing sisters serving the Canadian Army Nursing Service earned the respect of the soldiers they helped save. The solders gave them the nickname “angels of mercy”. They also gave them the nickname “bluebirds” because the nurses wore light blue dresses.
Q: What makes your main character tick?
A: That’s perhaps a more complicated question that you think. Henrietta “Hettie” Steward was born in 1892. That makes her a member of the Lost Generation, a generation that earned that moniker because so many had died or become disillusioned.
Her childhood was happy, however, and I use those happy memories to juxtapose the misery of the war with the pre-war years when everyone was innocent of the disaster that was about to befall them. She is the fourth of eight children and grew up upper middle class, both her grandfathers having been successful businessmen.
Hettie is not only a member of a large immediately family, but she has a large number of maternal relatives. Angel of Mercy is actually designed to be the first in a series about her family.
Hettie is highly educated. In a day in age when sixth grade was the highest grade the law required people to complete, she not only graduated high school, but completed a three-year nursing school program. All of her siblings are highly educated. She is dedicated to her job and believes women can have both a career and a family.
Hettie rebels against her mother and, although she is close to two of her sisters, seems better understood by males. At the beginning of the novel, Hettie has three men in her life – her father Benjamin, her fiancé Geoffrey and her brother Frederick.
It’s from Benjamin that Hettie gets many of her ideas. He is the one who drilled into his children’s heads the importance of education, changing the world where there is injustice and being progressive politically.
From Geoffrey, she learns about class difference and how society’s expectations are counter to her own wishes. As for Frederick, Freddie and Hettie are close in age and close emotionally. He also is rebellious against their parents and highly protective of his sister.
Q: Why do you like the World War One era?
A: It began with a dream I had as a teenager where I was a soldier being bayonetted to death. It was very real. My father said the uniforms I described could have been from World War One. Then I saw a PBS documentary called “The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century” about how the events of 1914-1918 still effect us today. I was hooked. It also was the first time battlefield photos made me cry. Only World War One photos have that effect on me.
Q: Why focus on a Canadian family?
A: The initial reason is because the United States wasn’t in the war long enough to tell the type of story I wanted to tell. However, after doing research, a new reason emerged. Canada has such a fascinating history, especially during the 1910s. I wanted to bring part of that story to Americans who otherwise think of Mounties and hockey when they think of Canada.
In addition, it’s been enlightening to learn the other side of the story for events like the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Neither side was evil or blameless. Those wars don’t appear in Angel of Mercy, but they are part of Hettie’s family history.
Q: What is the main conflict in the novel?
A: I can’t reveal too much without spoiling the plot. Much of the conflict revolves around World War One and certain characters’ decisions to participate in it. Some revolves around self discovery. In addition, there is conflict occurring back home. That part of the story will be told in novel two, Those Left Behind.
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