Hi Kate, thank you so much for joining me on Fast Forward Friday today. A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON is your debut novel that comes out on February 2nd with Margaret Ferguson Books. This is one of those books that gave me ALL the feels, and I can’t wait for readers to meet the Pearce siblings. Let’s start by telling everyone a little bit about the book, please.
Thank you so much for having me, Kathie, and for your kind words about the book! A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON is a historical novel set in England in 1940. It’s about Anna, Edmund, and William Pearce, three orphaned siblings who hope the World War II evacuation of London will be their chance at a forever home.
Can you share a little bit about your research process, and tell us about some real-world events that made it into the novel?
Absolutely! This story has its roots in my lifelong fascination with the WWII evacuation of London. I learned about that little piece of history as a child and – appropriately enough – I learned about it through a story. C.S. Lewis’ THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE includes a single line about why the Pevensies were being sent to the professor’s estate in the country, and even as a child I found the idea of the evacuation extraordinary. So, Edmund was named in honor of Narnia.
Before I started writing the book, I read a lot of World War II history, and specifically a lot of evacuee memoirs and other firsthand accounts. As far as real-world events that occur in the novel, I tried to be as accurate as possible about the events themselves and when they occurred. That’s true for the big events like the London Blitz and the bombing of Coventry, and for the smaller ones like Princess Elizabeth’s first radio speech and the King’s Christmas broadcast. It’s also true for little details like the books that would have been available to the children at the time, and the sweets they might have packed in their suitcases. I love that part of the research process… finding the obscure little details of everyday life that make both the history and the story feel real.
It’s impossible to avoid the hardships that families faced during World War II when writing a historical fiction novel, but I still walked away thinking of this as a tender and hopeful story. Was it difficult to find a balance between writing light and dark moments?
That’s such a great question, and it’s something I did think about a lot as I was writing. The fact that the story takes place where it does definitely made it easier to walk that line. When it comes to the really horrific parts of the war, like the Blitz, the children would have read about those events in the paper or heard about them on the wireless, but been one step removed from the horror. And that bit of remove allows the story to focus on the less traumatic, “everyday” hardships the children might have experienced, like food rationing and clothing shortages. In a way, I think those deprivations make the simple comforts in the story (buttered toast, hot water bottles, library books) that much more poignant.
You have a true gift for touching the reader’s emotions with the way that you write character relationships. I’m not sure I could pick a favorite one, but I really loved the way Mrs. Muller, the librarian, saw something in Edmund that no one else did. Which relationship was the easiest for you to write, and which was the most challenging?
Gosh, first of all, thank you! For me, characters are the reasons for writing and reading! To really enjoy writing something, I have to fall in love with the people I’m writing about, and that was definitely the case with Anna, Edmund, and William, each in their own way. I love Anna for the way she wears her whole heart on her sleeve. I love Edmund for the fact that he never stops to think before he speaks. And I love William for being the responsible one. I identify the most with William, but to quote Mrs. Muller, I think I would be better off if I had a little more Edmund in me.
In terms of writing the relationships between characters, I can’t say one was more challenging than another, but the thing I probably worked hardest on during the editing process was each of the children’s individual journeys in their thinking about Mrs. Muller and whether she was ‘the one.’
If I had a young patron standing in front of me looking for a recommendation, what’s one thing you think is important that I let them know about this book?
I’d like young readers to know that this is an old-fashioned story. It’s old-fashioned, in part, because it’s set eighty years ago, but I also hope it has the feel of an old story, the sort of stories Anna, Edmund, and William would have had available to them. And I hope readers will find comfort in this story the way the Pearce children did in theirs.
Without giving too much away, the children’s Christmas experience is unlike any they have experienced before. Did you ever experience a holiday or celebration that was not what you were expecting?
Yikes, all of the 2020 holidays were different, weren’t they?!? When I think about unexpected or unusual holidays in my own life, the ones that come to mind are those I’ve spent somewhere other than home, like Easter Sundays when I was away at college. As a serious homebody, I will always choose to be in my own house, but I ended up loving those holidays anyway. Those away-from-home Easters, my college friends and I started a brunch tradition that I still think warmly of and reminisce with friends about today.
Is there a writing project that you’re working on, and if so, can you share anything about it with us?
I’m currently working on another middle grade historical. Set in World War II again, but this time in my beloved New York home. It’s still in the early stages, but I’ve fallen head-over-heels for the characters, which seems like a good sign!
Where can our readers go to find out more about you and your writing?
I wish you all the best with your book’s release in February, Kate, and I look forward to getting it into the hands of young readers.
Kate: A million thanks, Kathie. You do so much to support middle grade books and their authors, and I’m so grateful for everything!
Kate Albus is the author of A PLACE TO HANG THE MOON (Margaret Ferguson Books at Holiday House). Kate is originally from New York, but now lives in rural Maryland with her family. She was a research psychologist for many years before stepping away to be with her children. Other than writing, her favorite activities are reading, knitting, baking, and other pastimes that are inherently quiet.