Jennifer Robson is the author of the new novel Moonlight Over Paris. She also has written the novels Somewhere in France and After the War is Over. She lives in Toronto.
Q: Your main character, Helena, was a minor character in your two previous novels. At what point did you decide to write a novel centered on her?
A: Early in the process of writing After the War is Over, I started to feel a little bit guilty about Helena. I worried that she was doomed to a life that was unsatisfying as well as unhappy – can you tell that I tend to get pretty wrapped up in the lives of my characters? The only solution, I decided, was to write a book about her and find a better ending for her story along the way.
Q: The novel takes place in Paris in the 1920s. Why did you choose that setting, and how important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is vitally important to me, and I go to a great deal of trouble to enrich my books with details that will bring the past to life as vividly as possible.
As far as Paris in the 1920s is concerned, it simply fit in perfectly with Helena’s journey. I wanted to send her somewhere that would inspire her to spread her wings, and where better than the most beautiful city in the world, and at a time when some of the greatest artists, writers, poets and performers of the 20th century were gathered there?
Q: You include many real-life figures in the novel. What do you see as the right blend between the fictional and the historical?
A: I think it depends on the book and the story. With Moonlight Over Paris, I wanted Helena to be at the center of things, and for her story to take precedence.
I included the Hemingways and Fitzgeralds, as well as other lesser-known figures such as Sylvia Beach and Sara Murphy, because they’re an integral part of the setting—when I think of Paris in the 1920s my mind immediately goes to the Lost Generation and their circle.
Q: Helena is an artist, and the creation of art is a major theme in the book. How did you decide on that topic?
A: I have absolutely no talent at all where fine arts are concerned—I can barely draw a stick figure—but I have the greatest respect for, and fascination with, artists and their work.
This was a chance for me to dive into their world and, crucially, to explore what it’s like to be a good and talented artist, but not possessed by true artistic genius. Talent of that sort is rare indeed, so what about all those artists, like Helena, who are diligent and skilled but fall short of artistic immortality?
Q: What are you working on now?
A: As much as I love the period of the Great War and its aftermath, I felt it was time for a change, and so I’ve turned to the Second World War.
The heroine of my work in progress, Ruby Sutton, is a young and rather inexperienced American magazine writer who is given the assignment of a lifetime when she is seconded to a British weekly newsmagazine in 1940. The book follows her as she lives through, and writes about, the war as it was experienced on the home front in Britain – the Blitz, rationing, G.I.s and all.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I’m tremendously excited about Fall of Poppies, an anthology of stories about the Great War that comes out on March 1st. I’m one of nine writers who contributed to the collection, and the stories all revolve around November 11, 1918, the last day of the war.
I feel so honored—being part of a collection that features writers such as Beatriz Williams, Hazel Gaynor and Lauren Willig is a thrill I won’t forget anytime soon!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Jennifer Robson, please click here.