I’ve been fascinated with the First World War for a very long time. The first time I came across WW1 was in the form of old, black and white photographs of the WW1 poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen on my school classroom walls. I remember being curious about who these old-fashioned men in uniform were, and what experiences they’d been through to make their faces look so sad and knowing. I recall being very affected by their poetry, which we studied in class, as, of course, most British schoolchildren do – Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est is required reading. But then we moved onto other topics, and I forgot about the First World War.
Then a few years later, when I was more mature, the literature of the First World War appeared on the curriculum for me once more, for both A levels and university. This time I had a chance to study the period and the writing in much more depth. And the texts I read (among them Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves and Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon) affected me then (and still do now) more than anything else I’d ever read. I defy anyone to read Testament of Youth and not be moved to tears.
As well as being a WW1 obsessive, I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. And I always knew that the novel I one day intended to write would be a historical love story, set during the First World War – one that would be intelligent, well-researched and have a big, emotional heart. But not only that, I always wanted my novel to have a touch of the fantastical about it too. As I child I loved to read books with magic in them – especially timeslips – and as I got older, I wondered why it was that all the best novels with elements of magic and time travel were exclusively for children.
And then one night, after reading some WW1 poetry before bed, I had a dream where I wandered into some forgotten room in our house, and came across a young man, who told me that he was a soldier in the Great War. And the idea for Beyond The Moon was born. I often wonder if I dreamt about that soldier because on some subconscious level I longed to be able to transport myself back in time to 1914-1918, and try to do something to help.
Of course, travelling back in time is not something – sadly – that I could ever do. But a young woman in a slightly different modern-day world could; a world where magic and fate were more powerful than in our own. A sensitive, intelligent and courageous young woman (for she’d need all those qualities), with a desire to do something good in the world, faith in destiny, a great capacity for love, and a willingness to sacrifice everything for it…
Mental health is a subject that has always hugely interested me, and from the very start I knew that Beyond The Moon would be set partly in a psychiatric hospital. As I began to research people’s experiences in mental hospitals I was shocked to find out just how common it is for patients to suffer neglect and abuse in such places. I can understand that modern-day Coldbrook Hall might seem far-fetched to some readers, but you don’t have to look very far to find some awful stories. Just recently the following articles appeared in UK newspapers: ‘Firms cash in on psychiatric care crisis’ in The Times, and ‘Care Quality Commission [the UK regulator] places two Priory Group hospitals in special measures’ in The Guardian. They make distressing reading. If I, in my very small way through Beyond The Moon, can help shine a light on this modern-day scandal, then I am glad.
I was thrilled to have Beyond The Moon shortlisted for the Eharmony/Orion Write Your Own Love Story Prize 2018.
I hope you enjoy Beyond The Moon as much as I loved writing it. I love to hear from readers, so please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.