My new friend and fellow author, Elinor Florence, recently released her debut novel, Bird’s Eye View. She has been doing a blog tour and fittingly – given the subject of the book – it ends today, on Remembrance Day. Bird’s Eye View tells the story of a young woman from the prairies whose home town becomes an air training base. Rose Jolliffe travels overseas, joins the air force and becomes an interpreter of aerial photographs, spying on the enemy from the sky, searching out camouflaged bomb targets on the continent.
I became acquainted with Elinor because we share a publisher, Dundurn Press of Toronto. My book Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the North was released in September, and hers in October. We also share a common interest in Canadian history, although my book is non-fiction, and hers is fact-based fiction.
DMC: Your heroine Rose Jolliffe joins the air force and becomes an aerial photographic interpreter. What is that?
EF: It’s an art that sprang up after the fall of the European continent to Germany. The Allies had no way of finding out what the enemy was up to, except for spies on the ground, radio transmissions, and aerial reconnaissance. Because aerial photos were black and white, often blurry, and difficult to decipher, an entire new skill was developed. It was called interpretation because it was like learning a new language. One early reconnaissance pilot predicted that women would be especially good at this because they must have the patience of Job and the skill of a good darner of socks! He was correct. Women were good at it. More than half of the 600 photo interpreters who worked at the Allied Central Interpretation headquarters at RAF Medmenham in England were women. This is a photo interpreter studying a photograph while two Canadian pilots look on. She’s probably trying to determine if their bombs hit the target.
EF: The interpreters used an instrument called a stereoscope that allowed them to see the ground in three dimensions. The pilot had to fly the plane straight and level, while the camera took two photos, a split second apart. When the “stereo pair,” as they were called, were lined up under the stereoscope, then each eye was looking at a slightly different photograph, and the result was to see the image in three dimensions. It really is quite magical, when you think about it.
EF: It was a British woman, a Women’s Auxiliary Air Force member named Constance Babington Smith, who discovered the first weapon of mass destruction in history. “Babs” found a miniature winged pilotless aircraft on an aerial photograph taken on the northern German coastline at a place called Peenemunde. That was the jet-propelled V-1 weapon called the flying bomb. The Allies immediately destroyed Peenemunde and set back the manufacture of this deadly weapon by six months, influencing the outcome of the war. This aerial photograph shows Peenemunde after the bombing raid.
DMC: How is Canada’s role in wartime portrayed in your novel?
EF: My heroine sees the entire progress of the war from a uniquely Canadian perspective. She interprets the photos of the raid on Dieppe, for example. Her brother is flying a Spitfire. Her friends are in Bomber Command’s 6 Group, in Yorkshire. And throughout the book, she is receiving letters from her mother and her best friend June, describing what’s happening back on the home front.
DMC: Did you visit any of the locales used in your book?
EF: Yes, the headquarters for photo interpretation was a converted mansion called RAF Medmenham. It’s now a luxury hotel called Danesfield House. My husband and I visited the hotel, and while we were walking around the grounds discussing the past, we were approached by a distinguished white-haired woman who had served at RAF Medmenham during the war! It was the most extraordinary coincidence. We whisked her off for lunch and I plied her with questions, and some of her tidbits I used in my novel. Eileen Scott has passed away, but I’m still in contact with her son. Here’s a photo of the former RAF Medmenham as it appears today.
About the Author:
Elinor Florence grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, a former World War Two training airfield. She worked as a newspaper and magazine editor, and was a regular writer for Reader’s Digest before turning to fiction. Married with three grown daughters, Elinor lives in the tiny but perfect mountain resort of Invermere, British Columbia. She loves village life, thrift stores, antiques, and old houses. You can read more about her, and sign up for her blog called Wartime Wednesdays, at www.elinorflorence.com. She is also on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Pinterest. Bird’s Eye View is available at bookstores everywhere, and as an ebook.
Elinor has generously provided me with a signed copy of her book to give away to a lucky reader. If you’d like to enter, please do one of the following (or all to increase your odds of winning) before 11:59 MST on Tuesday, November 18, 2014. The winner will be drawn via random number generator the following day and announced on Facebook and/or Twitter, as well as contacted directly via email if you have provided that information.
1. Leave a comment on this post letting me know why you like reading historical novels.
2. Tweet about this post on Twitter and tag @danicanuck and @florencewriter in it.
3. Post a Facebook comment about this giveaway, including a link back to this post.