Picture this: I'm in my office at work (on my lunch break). I've got my laptop in front of me, a pad and pen to my right, and just behind the speaker phone I've set up Kiddo's tape recorder (I'm not going to miss a minute of this interview!). I speak to Annie for about 30 minutes, jotting down random notes, working through my list of questions. I thank her for her time, hang up the phone, and rewind the tape so I can listen to it right away. I hit play and ... nothing. ?!?!?!! I try again. Nothing. AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!
So what you see below is what I can recall from our interview plus the things I jotted notes about. I paraphrased everything from memory, unless I wrote down a direct quote. You can't imagine how incredibly disappointed I am at not having that recording to refer back to ...
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
August 3, 2009
Q: I’ve read the basic story of how you came to be involved with this book. Is there anything you more you can tell me about that?
A: The whole family knew about Mary Ann’s book (she’d been working on it for 20 years) and they were so excited when a publisher bought it. It took a while for the editors to come back with the list of changes they wanted and by that time Mary Ann was getting sick. She couldn’t handle the task so she asked me to step in. I readily agreed but I was secretly thinking “how can I do this?! How can I get her voice right?” Ends up, that was the easy part. I grew up hearing Mary Ann’s stories and it turned out to be a simple task of remembering her voice through all those years and putting it on the page.Q: Tell me a little about Mary Ann. She is your aunt, correct?
A: Yes, she was my mother’s sister. We always lived just a few miles away and our families saw each other all the time. “She was like wallpaper” – always there. I can never remember a time without her.Q: Do you know what type of historical research (if any) Mary Ann did? What drew her to this story, this place and time in history?
A: She visited Guernsey in 1980 and has been researching the area, WWII, resistance fighters, and much more ever since. She had so many books relating to these topics and I have many of them now. She finally began writing the book in 2000 and finished it 7 years later. She was very interested in resistance fighters and read all she could about them.Heather's note: Annie talked a bit about the actual German occupation of Guernsey and how it was difficult to say who was an enemy and who was not. I mentioned that part of the book reminded me of SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky and we discussed the similarities between that story and this one for a while. Then it was back to the official questions.
Q: Which (if any) characters do you identify with or feel strongly about one way or the other? Why?
A: Adelaide is based on a real person, someone I always had to have Christmas dinner with. Many of the other characters are compilations of real people. Isola isn’t one particular person, but she IS the kind of "complete wacko" that Mary Ann loved. Amelia (Heather's note: she is my favorite character) is based partly on Mary Ann’s grandmother whom she loved dearly. Her looks are patterned after her, and much of her personality as well. Kat is based mostly on my now 9-yr-old daughter Esme. When Esme was 3 & 4 she and Mary Ann were very close. Esme has a very strong personality. Remember the line in the book about the spinach, when Kat put up her hand stopping the food from coming near her plate, and said “Not for me”? That came directly from Esme. Juliet is the most like Mary Ann – she is witty and her love of people’s stories is very much like Mary Ann.Heather's note: We also discussed a post Annie wrote for ReadingGroupGuides called Literary Meandering. We agreed that you find the most interesting and unexpected books that way. It is a great post and I hope you'll go read it.
Q: How do you feel about all the publicity that the book is getting? Has it surprised you in any way? Any amusing stories to tell?
A:Not really “surprised” but definitely pleased. The book is so charming and so much like Mary Ann that of course people are going to love it.Q: Have you been to Guernsey? Or do you plan to go?
A: Yes, I went there last summer. “What was hard was writing about a place I hadn’t been.” I went just 3 weeks before the book was published so it was too late to change anything, but I feel that anything I said "definitely" is correct. There is one part where Eben and 5-year-old Eli are walking to a beach and I realized that the walk is probably too far for such a small child, but that was the only thing I'd change.Q: What has been the response from the people of Guernsey?
A: Most of the response has come from people who were children there during the war. Some of them were evacuated, some stayed. There has been little response from present-day residents. However, one intrepid reader is planning a trip to Guersney and she has promised to be my spy and let me know what they’re saying about the book over there.Heather's note: Before her work on this book Annie was already a successful children's book author. She writes a series called Ivy & Bean which is simply adorable. Go read the description of the books here and tell me you don't completely identify with those first few sentences. Annie is currently working on the 7th Ivy & Bean book.
Q: How different was your experience with this book from your work on the Ivy & Bean books, or your other children’s books?
A: It is like having two completely different freeways in your brain. Each type of book uses a different part of the brain and I can only work on one type at a time. I’ll usually spend a few days on an Ivy & Bean book, take a break for a day, then dive into an adult book project. The two types of writing are so different that it takes a while to transition from one to the other.Q: What do you want people to know about the Guernsey book, or about Mary Ann? What do you wish people would ask but they never do?
A: I wish people would ask more about the actual occupation. What were the Germans DOING there? Why were they there? What was their plan? And I wish people would ask more about the culture of Guernsey. It is very different from England. They are much more focused on seafaring and they are much more French. They even had their own language but it has almost died out now.Heather's note: Annie also mentioned that the film rights have been optioned but both she and I agreed that doesn't necessarily mean anything. She's hopeful though, as am I.
I had such a wonderful time speaking with Annie. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for arranging this interview. You can see my review of "that Guernsey book" here and a recap of my book club's discussion of it here.
I have five - that's right, FIVE! - copies of this book to give away to my readers. Here's how to enter:
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