‘Letters From A Wary Watcher – Why I love it

Marty dec crop

I am happy to announce that the second book in the Moira Edwards Walker Mysteries is now on sale. Here is a picture of my husband deciding whether to read it on Kindle or in paperback form. Historian that he is I think he will choose the paperback but then again, he is frugal, so perhaps he will choose the $3.99 Kindle version.

I woke up this morning and realized that I love this book. I’ve never thought that about any of my previous writing – not my thesis on the Big Bend Country of Washington – not my dissertation on the transition of university faculty to the role of department chair – not the two school histories that I wrote – not even “Letters From Brackham Wood”, which I really like.

Characters Margaret and Moira were born in 1905, author Margaret and I were born in 1944. Two generations separate us. This might be a good time to explain why one of authors has the same name as one of our characters. My almost life-long friend, Jennine, had lived through World War II in England. I was fascinated by stories from her wartime childhood. While sitting on top of her porch she watched a German plane crash down behind her house. At age 6 she was evacuated from Worthing, a town on the south coast of England to a coal-mining village in the middle of the country wearing an identifying tag and carrying a few worldy goods in a pillowcase.

Later, after her mother came and took her and her brother Brian home, she had more terrifying experiences including walking home from school with a friend when a gasometer (gasoline storage tank to us Americans) was hit by a bomb and exploded just down the street. A woman rushed out of her shop, grabbed the two girls, and hovered over them until the debris quit falling. She then told them to get home as quickly as possible as their mothers would be frantic.

But – back to the Margaret/Margaret story. I had been trying for some time to write a book that would compare the wartime experiences of those on the homefronts of England and America. Narrative was not working so I began writing in the first person. I had composed six letters, written to a fictional cousin named Margaret, when I realized that this was not going to work because no one was answering the letters. Shortly after I set that project aside, I was asked to join the planning committee for the 50th reunion of my all girls high school.

I became the communicator and Margaret, who at that time, lived across the state in Seattle, was assigned to create our yearbook.   Our business emails soon began to include our personal stories as well. We became email pals. After she moved back to Spokane we began to meet in person. Early on I handed her those six letters and asked if she would join the project. She confessed that she hadn’t thought about writing a book but in her 30 years as the wife of an Army officer she had done a lot of letter writing. She promised to think about it in September after everything settled down. I told her that she could write from anywhere in the U.S. and change the characters name. She chose to write from Spokane and keep the name “Margaret.”

You can imagine my delight when I received an answer to Moira’s first letter after two days. Then the dynamics of actual letter writing took over.

“Letters From a Wary Watcher” takes place in our lifetimes. When we began we had no idea where the letters would take us. At the outset I thought we would begin where “Letters From Brackham Wood” ended. We would both be living in Spokane. But then we couldn’t recapture the energy that comes from letter writing so Moira had to return to post war England.

Post war England was not a pleasant place with crumbling buildings, broken windows, streets in need of repair and a record cold winter. In addition the war had severely weakened Britain’s economy. Bombed out factories could not begin production as did those in the U.S. which were immediately retooled for post-war production

Our second book grew to include Jello, a growing medical clinic, and a myriad of topics that have lately been in the news. As I was about to send in the final draft, my iPhone sounded an alert about deadly fluid leaking from a tank on the Hanford site. My first thought was terror. My second thought was that this could be good publicity for our book as Moira’s later letters are written from Richland, Washington, a town where Hanford employees alone could live at that time. Once Moira moves there Dr. Margaret constantly warns her of the dangers to health caused by Hanford’s nuclear reactors.

Next Vladimir Putin began to act up and the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the U.S. came back into focus in the press. Then a newly released video of Kim Philby hit the media. He was one of the ‘Cambridge 5’, a group of England’s Cambridge University graduates who spied for the Soviet Union during that time. In so doing they passed to Stalin the nuclear secrets not only of Britain but also of the U.S., with which Britain was allied. Moira is mixed up in this as well.

Perhaps I love the book because I never knew my father. A street photographer snapped the only picture taken of my mother, father, and me when I was but a few weeks old. Around 20 years ago I learned that he had been involved in covert activities during and after the war. Perhaps being forced to deal with the duplicity, lack of personal loyalty, secretiveness and deception of the world of spies helped me deal with something I could not face when I was younger.

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One thought on “‘Letters From A Wary Watcher – Why I love it

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  1. How intriguing, Rita! The epistolary (letter) format is not easy to write, but it encompasses another WWII exchange between an American and a Brit that I love, 84 Charing Cross Road. I can’t wait to read your latest.

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