This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Have you ever been so inspired by an author’s work that you wish you could tell them exactly how much they have impacted your life? In this series, Literary Love Letters, we do just that – share open love letters to inspiring authors. Today, Summertime author Vanessa Lafaye writes to Sebastian Faulks.
I could never have imagined that a novel would change the course of my life, but Birdsong did just that – not once, but twice. I was born and raised in Florida, but I had been living in England for quite a while when I first read it. After I finished, it felt like I had stepped through a hidden doorway in history, as if a creaky portal in a dusty corner had opened up. Although I had a high-quality education in the US, it lacked any meaningful coverage of WWI. So, when I moved to England, I was vaguely mystified by all the fuss around November 11th. I’d see the aged veterans shuffle slowly towards the Cenotaph, clutching their poppy wreaths, and wonder what it meant. Where I come from, WWII was the ‘big one’, the war that people cared about, the one that movies were made about … and probably the last one that America still feels good about. WWI has receded almost completely from American consciousness. I had no idea that this faraway, murky conflict would become so important in my life.Birdsong set me on a voyage of discovery through the canon of WWI fiction, poetry, and history (including your other books). The more I learned about its causes and campaigns, and the utter, desperate pointlessness of it all, the more aggrieved I felt about my own lack of knowledge. I wondered, ‘How could I not know about this?’ Your book had the power to engage and inform. It made me want to know more, and fill in the gaps in my education. For the first time, I could appreciate the sacrifice of those old veterans, bent double by the weight of their medals. When I next watched the Armistice ceremony, I wept.
It was many years later when your book changed my life for the second time. In 2010, I discovered the story about WWI veterans in Florida in 1935, who were left to die in the path of a mighty hurricane. I was so outraged by their treatment and – once again – by my own ignorance, that I felt compelled to dramatise their story. My research led me to understand not just America’s involvement in this ‘ghost war’, but the plight of the returning soldiers. The difference this time was that it was part of my history. I grew up in Florida. It happened in the Keys, not in some unpronounceable Belgian town. Yet I knew nothing about it – and neither did any of my friends or family. It was like it had been erased along with the veterans.
And now Summertime is out in the world, and people are asking, ‘How could I not know about these events?’ I wrote the book to shine a light on them, but without Birdsong, I would have lacked both the interest and the background knowledge to bring this story to life. It feels like I have completed a big circle of some kind. I’m so grateful to you, for writing the book that set me on the path, for opening that portal for me. Thank you.