Following higher education at the University of London’s Institute of Education, Jacqueline worked in academic publishing, in higher education and in marketing communications in the UK.
She emigrated to the United States in 1990, and while working in business and as a personal/professional coach, Jacqueline became a regular contributor to journals covering international education and travel, and has published articles in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and other publications.
Her short stories have appeared in magazines internationally, and Jacqueline has recorded her essays for KQED radio in San Francisco. She has contributed to several anthologies of essays and short stories.
Maisie Dobbs, housemaid, battlefield nurse, psychologist and private detective, first walked into her creator’s imagination nearly fifteen years ago, while she was stuck in traffic!
Jacqueline Winspear refers to the experience as a ‘moment of artistic grace’, and likens it to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, who first appeared on a train journey.
painfully aware of the suffering which war brings.
Lynne: I’m always interested to know how a new novel gets started in the author’s head. What strikes that first spark for you?
Jacqueline: Looking back over my work, it seems there’s kindling – an idea that has been rolling round for a while, and which might be added to until a number of elements connect with each other – followed by a spark, which is something with added energy that is held to that kindling to begin the fire of story. The kindling can be there for years before I begin to write, but then something else comes along – another piece of information, or something I’ve heard or observed. Elements of The American Agent were laid as kindling when I was a small child, and added to as I grew up – my mother’s stories of the Blitz, then later discovering the whole history of the Archibald McIndoe’s work with seriously burned pilots. When my brother was eight, he was admitted to the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead for a type of reconstructive surgery, and while wandering around I came across a plaque honouring McIndoe, and ended up asking the nurses all about him! Then came my interest in women war correspondents, which was ignited many years ago and continues to this day… and so on. That’s kindling being laid stick by stick over a period of time, until we come to Maisie in September 1940, when I wanted to bring back Mark Scott from Journey to Munich. It’s rooted in curiosity, and the fact that I tend to squirrel away things that interest me, along with the personal stories of people I know.
Jacqueline: The most important part of the novel is the story – creating that story takes precedence over everything. By the time I begin a novel, I know most of what I need to know to write the book. In truth, much of that research was going on years before I began writing my series, but I didn’t think of it as research – it was just a deep interest in a certain time period (roughly 1913–1954, which marks the end of post WW2 rationing in Britain), and specifically the history of women during that time. All the information is simply there to support the story, to give it colour and texture, and to create authentic voice and language. However, while I am writing, if there is something I need to know, I list it on a large white poster, and it becomes part of my research reading when I finish writing for the day.
Lynne: What process works best for you? Do you plan everything out in detail, chapter by chapter, or do you start writing and let it run? Do you know how a novel will end when you start writing?
Jacqueline: It’s a bit of both. I do enough planning to allow myself to ‘dance with the moment’ and go in another direction if I want. When I begin a novel, I stick three large posters on the wall (the sort you rip off a pad with self-adhesive that doesn’t bring the wallpaper down when you’ve finished). On one I draw what looks like a camel’s hump, only it leans to the right. On that I note the main landing points in the story, with the denouement on the top of the arch, followed by points down to the end of the story. On the second poster, I write the names of my characters, which is really important as I tend to change names as I go along – sometimes a name just doesn’t fit. And on the third I note ‘things I need to know but don’t.’ When I’m about fifty to a hundred pages in, I begin a notebook, jotting down events that might need to happen in the next chapter and the one after that, and so on. And that is it. When I am finished with the book, I destroy the posters, the notebook and any other papers. I don’t know why I do that – people have told me I should keep all the notes, but it has been part of my ritual when a book goes into production. Only the story remains.
Lynne: The Maisie Dobbs series now runs to fifteen titles, and you seem to have no difficulty at all in keeping it fresh and making each one different. Is this something you consciously set out to achieve? Or does each new story take on its own life?
Lynne: A book is a very special thing. When you hold your first copy of a new novel, does it feel familiar – or completely different from the manuscript you initially sent out? Do you re-read it?
The Maisie Dobbs series in reverse order:
To Die But Once. In This Grave Hour
Leaving Everything Most Loved
. An Incomplete Revenge
. Messenger of Truth.
Jacqueline Winspear has also written a standalone novel,
The Care and Management of Lies set during the Great War.