Before We Jump Into Lauren Willig’s Interview
I want to mention a couple of thoughts before jumping into our interview with Lauren Willig. I will not talk much about Two Wars and a Wedding (releasing tomorrow) in this post. My review of Two Wars and a Wedding will post tomorrow. However, you can see my ranting love of Willig’s last book, Band of Sisters, in my Best Recent Reads Round-Up Part 1 (Linked). After the interview, I will provide a summary of both Band of Sisters and Two Wars and a Wedding in the author information section. You can read each book as a stand-alone, but Two Wars and A Wedding is a prequel (review linked) to Band of Sisters. I will say that both books are incredible. There aren’t spoilers for either book.
Lauren Willig Interview
Kit and St. Louis
- I was born in Brooklyn, NY, but call St. Louis home. Was Kit’s hometown historically relevant, or did you choose it for other reasons (along with the St. Louis Telegraph, which I can’t find online)?
I have to confess, I suffer from what I call “author lag.” By the time a book comes out, I’ve usually researched and written two other books in the interim, so some of the details that were so fresh when I was writing the book grow hazy—like why I had Kit come from St. Louis! I modeled Kit on a composite of the various real female reporters of the period. Kit’s first name comes from a Canadian journalist, Kathleen “Kit” Coleman, who was sent to cover the Spanish-American War and encountered opposition. While I can’t swear to it (sorry, author lag!), I suspect one of the female journalists I was reading up on work for a St. Louis paper and that’s why I placed Kit there.
As for the St. Louis Telegraph…. Although I do reference real people and newspapers in my books, when I’m using a paper in the book, I’ll often make up a paper rather than use a real one. For example, in many of my England-set books, I borrowed the fictional Daily Yell from Elizabeth Peters. She, in turn had borrowed it from Dorothy Sayers. So it’s a pretend paper with a pedigree! However, in Two Wars and a Wedding, I didn’t want to put fake articles on a real paper, so I invented the St. Louis Telegraph for Kit.
2. Between Band of Sisters and Two Wars and a Wedding (along with the research I’ve done), it is abundantly clear that you have an affinity for the Red Cross. Have you ever worked with them, or would you like to ever work with them? Why do you feel so strongly about readers learning about it through your books?
As much as I admire the Red Cross and the work they do, I have no affiliation with them, nor have I ever worked for them. I suspect I’d be more of a liability than an asset. I love to chase fascinating historical snippets and follow where they lead. Back in 2019, I stumbled on a memoir by one of the women of the Smith College Relief Unit. I’d had no idea there was a group of Smithies at the front in World War I, and I was utterly fascinated—and even more fascinated when I found a treasure trove of their letters home in the archives at Smith College!
My research into the Smith College Relief Unit led me to their eccentric founder, Harriet Boyd Hawes, who had worked with the Red Cross in both the Greco-Turkish War and the Spanish-American War in the 1890s… and here we are! I feel very strongly about readers learning about the incredible women of the past and the stories that have been left out of the history books. In this case, the Red Cross was a key part of that story.
Two Wars And A Wedding Themes
3. The major themes that have struck me are the brutality of life. Whether it is through the brutality of war, the grief of loss (friends, comrades, and lovers), condescending patriarchy, or the acceptance of dreams that might float away. You sow the thread of them together meticulously and exquisitely. My question is simply- how do you do it?
People are people, and generation after generation, we struggle with the same human issues. The costumes may change, but many of the preoccupations and worries don’t. What has always fascinated me is how each individual person and each new generation wrestles with those challenges in the context of their own times, finding ways to find hope in the midst of hopelessness and the redemptive power of love, both romantic love and the bonds between friends.
Thank you to Lauren Willig and Harper Collins for this interview
4. One other theme that struck me is that there is always hope, bravery when we don’t think we have it, and fight we have when exhausted. It would be easy for the themes from question 3 to collide with these. But you are able to keep everything in a scope of humanity and reality that hits home. It works. Again- how? Why? Where did the ideas come from… all the information, please! 😊
In Band of Sisters, so much was drawn directly from the letters of the real women of the Smith College Relief Unit! Likewise, in Two Wars and a Wedding, I had the distinctive voices of Harriet Boyd Hawes (my real-life model for Betsy Hayes) and the women journalists and nurses who went to Cuba calling to me across the generations. Their emotions, their hope, and their humanity still echo through their writings. I’ve always believed large sentiments work best when grounded in daily realities (one of my favorite examples of this is the wonderful Dodie Smith line from I Capture the Castle: “Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”) Both the real women of the Smith College Relief Unit and Harriet Boyd Hawes, in their writings, juxtaposed comedy and mundane concerns against the larger dramas of war and grief and I gratefully followed their lead.
Lauren Willig Author Information
Biography (from Lauren Willig’s Website- linked below)
Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty works of historical fiction, including Band of Sisters, The Summer Country, The English Wife, the RITA Award-winning Pink Carnation series, and four novels co-written with Beatriz Williams and Karen White. Her books have been translated into over twenty languages, picked for Book of the Month Club, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best, and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. An alumna of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in history from Harvard and a JD from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City with her husband, two young children, and vast quantities of coffee.
Contact Lauren Willig
Band Of Sisters
A group of young women from Smith College risk their lives in France at the height of World War I in this sweeping novel based on a true story—a skillful blend of Call the Midwife and The Alice Network—from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig.
A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. Then Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April 1917. She is looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine. However, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.
Excerpt, Video About Smith College, And Book Club Kit For Band Of Sisters
Three weeks later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars. Their crops were destroyed, and their wells were poisoned.
Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals. All threatening the very existence of the Unit.
With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?
Buy Band Of Sisters
Barnes & Noble
Title: Band of Sisters
Published by: William Morrow
Release Date: March 2, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Two Wars And A Wedding
From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig: a dramatic coming-of-age story with a dual timeline and a single heroine—a bold and adventuring young woman who finds herself caught up in two very different wars on both sides of the Atlantic.
September 1896: An aspiring archaeologist, Smith College graduate Betsy Hayes travels to Athens, desperate to break into the male-dominated field of excavation. In the midst of the heat and dust of Greece, she finds an unlikely ally in Charles, Baron de Robecourt, one of the few men who takes her academic passion seriously. But when a simmering conflict between Greece and Turkey erupts into open warfare, Betsy rushes to the front lines as a nurse. Not knowing that the decision will change her life forever—and cause a deep and painful rift with her oldest friend, Ava.
June 1898: Betsy has sworn off war nursing—until she gets the word that her estranged friend Ava is headed to Cuba with Clara Barton and the Red Cross to patch up the wounded in the Spanish-American War. Betsy is determined to stop her the only way she knows how: by joining in her place. Battling heat, disease, and her own demons, Betsy follows Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders straight to the heart of the fighting. There she is forced to confront her greatest fears to save both old friends and new….
Set during an electrifying era of nation-building, idealism, and upheaval, TWO WARS AND A WEDDING is a tale of remarkable women striving to make their place in a man’s world—an unforgettable saga of friendship, love, and fighting for what is right.
Buy Two Wars And A Wedding
Two Wars And A Wedding Excerpt And Bibliography
Reader’s Guide To Come