Thank you Leila Sales for stopping by Kid Lit Frenzy to talk to us about your research process when writing.
I do research for all my books, and sometimes my research gets pretty weird, like when I’m googling whether the air conditioner in your car uses up gas, or whether anyone still “grinds” at school dances. For THIS SONG WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE I read an entire book about how to DJ, and while writing PAST PERFECT I was reading a bunch of theory on the nature of memory and time. But ONCE WAS A TIME probably involved more research than any of my other books so far, because the protagonist, Lottie, is from Bristol, England, in the year 1940. So I had to find out what her whole life and environment would have been like.
Here are some of the ways I did research:
I was on vacation in London, and I went to the Imperial War Museum and the Churchill War Rooms. I took copious notes, but also just being in that space gave me a sense for what it felt like to live in a country under attack. I already had Lottie’s time travel story in mind, and when I saw this placard at the museum, I knew that I was on the right track. Here’s what it said:
Professor Frederick Lindemann, scientific adviser
“I have always looked upon Mr Churchill as a scientist who missed his vocation”
Churchill always believe in exploring new and different ways of fighting, no matter how strange they sounded.
Churchill loved new inventions and supported the scientists and engineers working on highly experimental technologies. One research establishment because known as “Winston Churchill’s toyshop.”
Some inventions were spectacular failures. Many others turned out to be crucial to winning the war.”
I read that and I thought, “I know I’m making up this whole story, but also that really does sound like a man who would have funded time travel research if he thought it might help win the war.”
I also read this terrific nonfiction book by Juliet Gardiner, called The Children’s War: The Second World War Through the Eyes of the Children of Britain. My author friend Sharon Biggs Waller, who’s an amazing historical researcher, recommended it to me, and I’m so glad she did because tons of the details in Lottie’s everyday life came from that book, about rationing, the blackout, etc.
ONCE WAS A TIME doesn’t really go into the children who were evacuated from the cities, but the chapter about the evacuees in The Children’s War made me cry. It described the experience of a boy from a poor family, who was being sent out of London with his sisters, and their mother couldn’t go with them of course, so she just kept polishing their shoes. “It’s very important that we get these shoes polished,” she kept saying. “Wherever you go, they need to know that you’re from a good family with a mother who cares enough to polish your shoes.” They were so poor that they had only one tube of toothpaste, and the mother kept worrying about how her children would all be able to brush their teeth if they were split up. It was so heartbreaking. She couldn’t protect her children, and she might never see them again, so she was focusing on these small things that she could control, like their shoes and toothpaste.
Another part of my research was that I brought in an expert on historical British language. She read Part One of my draft and gave me feedback on how Lottie spoke, if she was using words that someone in that time and place would have known. I also had one of my British friends read for general accuracy. I’d once lived in Bristol (Lottie’s hometown) for a year, so I was familiar with some Britishisms and sentence constructions. But some I’d never realized—like that they don’t say “faucet” in England, or what the distinctions are between referring to something as “British” versus “English.”
Also to help get the language right, I re-read kids’ books that were actually written in England during that time period, like Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes and Enid Blyton’s The Twins at St. Clare’s. Those were some of my primary sources!
Research is an important part of telling any story, and even more so if the story is based in a far-off time and place. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you can’t find the precise information you’re looking for. But it’s worth it because, along the way, you turn up all sorts of gems you didn’t even know you needed.
About the book:
In the war-ravaged England of 1940, Charlotte Bromley is sure of only one thing: Kitty McLaughlin is her best friend in the whole world. But when Charlotte’s scientist father makes an astonishing discovery that the Germans will covet for themselves, Charlotte is faced with an impossible choice between danger and safety. Should she remain with her friend or journey to another time and place?
Her split-second decision has huge consequences, and when she finds herself alone in the world, unsure of Kitty’s fate, she knows that somehow, some way, she must find her way back to her friend. Written in the spirit of classic time-travel tales, this book is an imaginative and heartfelt tribute to the unbreakable ties of friendship.
About the author: Leila Sales is the author of many critically acclaimed young adult novels, including Tonight the Streets Are Ours and This Song Will Save Your Life. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her at leilasales.com
Follow the tour:
Tuesday 4/5/2016 Cracking the Cover
Wednesday 4/6/2016 Book Nerd Canada
Thursday 4/7/2016 Mother Daughter Book Club
Friday 4/8/2016 Laurisa White Reyes
Saturday 4/9/2016 The Book Cellar
Sunday 4/10/2016 Good Books & Good Wine
Monday 4/11/2016 Novel Novice
Tuesday 4/12/2016 Kid Lit Frenzy
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