Monday, February 18, 2013

The Great War and the Homeland: An interview with historical fiction author Diana Jackson

1) Please tell us about your book, Ancasta: Guide me Swiftly Home. 

In Ancasta we live with our family from Riduna my first novel, in Woolston, Southampton from 1910 and through the Great War, but it’s an unusual story. We witness first-hand the early flight of flying boats which changed the lives and economy of the local people, but it is the women whose lives are altered forever. Ancasta means 'The Swift One,' and is allegedly the Anglo Roman Goddess of the River Itchen. There is a sense of prayer through the ages as my characters, like the Roman's before them, looked out towards Southampton Water and pray for with swift and safe return of their loved ones.

2) Please tell us a bit about your characters. 

Harriet the recently widowed matriarch of the story has an energy for life and enthusiasm. In the war she turns her guest house into a convalescence home for recovering wounded. She is still the one who calmly holds the family together through crisis and loss. Sarah her daughter is more headstrong. She relishes her new freedoms and changing status as she begins to work at the new flying boat works, Supermarine, but there is a price to pay.

Two of Harriet's sons led me, not to the muddy fields of France, but to India and Turkey. Happy go luck Jack is full of adventure and joined the newly formed RNAS whereas Tom is dismayed to find himself journeying so far from home. The third son Ernest continues as a foreman of Supermarine throughout the war, taking on the responsibility of the father role within the family as well as looking after his own young family. One character whose presence is ever felt but rarely present is Edward, Harriet's sweetheart from the island of Riduna where she was born.

3) Three important centenaries of events involved in your book are coming up. Please tell us a bit about those. 

The RNAS Calshot was first opened in March 1913 and Jack volunteered to work there as a civilian engineer before joining up at the start of the war.

The first Schneider Trophy Contest, a speed flight competition of amphibian aircraft was in April 1913. Although not directly part of my novel, Supermarine went on to win the competition outright in 1931 and the earlier event of 1919 in Bournemouth was discussed by Ernest and Harry Harper, the air correspondent of The Daily Mail who is staying in Harriet's guest house.

The Supermarine Works were opened in October 1913, better known, of course, for RJ Mitchel's development of the Spitfire for WW2.

4) What inspired you to write about this time period? 

My first novel was set between 1966 and 1910. Ancasta is a sequel to Riduna although it is written to stand alone but my own family lived in Woolston at that time and my Great Grandmother did have a guest house at the time of the Schneider Trophy. This formidable lady inspired my writing.

5) Please tell us a bit about your research process and tools.

Whereas with Riduna I researched from books in libraries and museums, for Ancasta I continued to do the same, but I also reached out to experts in their fields. It is their support an enthusiasm which has made the experience so enjoyable and many have checked chapters for accuracy in the historical content. I wanted the novel to be believable, for the author to live life at the times through the eyes of my fictional characters, who led me on many merry paths I had not imagined when the novel was conceived. I tried not to rely on the internet but to find a primary source where I could.

6) Is there anything surprising you learned about this period when doing research?

Lots. I expected Tom to go to the Western Front as a cyclist messenger - he worked in a bicycle shop before the war you see, but discovered that The Ninth Hampshire Cyclist's Regiment went to India. I had already drafted the chapter so that meant a total rewrite. Also, if someone had told me ten years ago that I would be spending days researching about flying boats I would have laughed. Of course, only a small part of research actually ends in the novel but I was hooked. To learn that many in England expected Flying Boats to be the mainstay in Civil Aviation because, as an island passengers felt safer if they could land on sea, was a bit of an eye opener too!

7) Please tell us briefly about your other works.

While researching the third in the Riduna Series set between 1020 and the early thirties, I have two projects on the go. I've recently finished compiling the memoirs of a 103 yr old. Norman shared the story of his life on Video. Watch this space!

I'm also two-thirds into completing a murder mystery set locally here in Bedfordshire, but there's a bit of history in it too. It's been a challenge to write, keeping all the threads going, but the research has been less intensive.


Thanks, Diana.

If you'd like to learn more Diana, please visit

Diana's books are available for sale at Amazon.

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