Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Interview with Louise Brass, Author

Okay all you history buffs and lovers of everything World War II. Here's a goodie for you.

I had the honor of meeting Louise Brass last summer during an informative seminar hosted by the Chicago Writers Association. In a room filled with authors, I boldly approached Louise and asked if I could interview her for my blog. She agreed and generously gave me a copy of her book, Presenting Pauline: I was a dancer.

Relive the days of war-torn London during WWII as told by Pauline Fraser to author, Louise Brass. Pauline was an entertainer/dancer in a world in turmoil. Many fascinating events lead Pauline to meet powerful leaders and interesting people during this chaotic time. Presenting Pauline: I was a dancer is her story.



Louise is from England and is an accomplished journalist and author. I am thrilled to have her as a guest on my blog.
Louise Brass



--What inspired you to write the memoir, Presenting Pauline?

I was inspired to write Pauline Fraser’s memoir because of her outlook on life, as well as her fascinating experiences on the London stage during WWII. Talk about a “keep calm and carry on” attitude. Imagine being on the stage while London was bombed nightly and having to keep on tap dancing and smiling—as long as some people stayed in the audience—instead of running to an air raid shelter. That took real grit. Pauline is a very inspiring lady.

Her life story seems to inspire many people, judging from the feedback we have had about the memoir, Presenting Pauline, I was a dancer, (Outskirts Press, Amazon and B&N.com).

Writing about individuals who do the unusual, the brave, or the surprising thing has always been a passion of mine. As a journalist for many years, I’ve had the privilege of bringing to the public, elements of the life stories of people from many different walks of life.

So, it was natural for me to write about Pauline Fraser’s struggles and her courage as a young review artist and tap dancer, and eventually also as a spy catcher in London during the dark and dangerous days and nights of World War II.                                                                                                       
--How did you come to know Pauline Fraser and become involved with telling her story? 
We met in 2010 through mutual friends. Over tea, Pauline would often mention interesting things that happened to her during the war in London. She recollected how she turned down a date with Prince Philip at one time. That was of course before he was engaged to the present Queen of England, Elizabeth II. It would have been a blind date, Pauline said. But she already had a date to go out with the GI who eventually became her husband of more than 50 years. So she turned down the other opportunity without knowing who the blind date was to have been. She said, she often reminded her husband of that during the many years of married bliss that followed.

The suggestion of writing her memoir seemed too intriguing an idea to pass up, especially when I learned that Pauline was asked by British Intelligence to do some spy tracking. London at that time was being infiltrated by spies. British Intelligence believed Pauline had the ability to uncover some of them, because some spies were faking American accents. Pauline had lived in the United States for a time as a teenager and had some familiarity with the accents.
Pauline Fraser's Wedding Day with Her Mother


--How long did it take you to research and write the book? Did you interview Pauline Fraser in one sitting or several?

Pauline was in her late 80s when we began the year-long process of writing and publishing her memoir. We met for a couple of hours about every two weeks (every fortnight to put it in English lingo) for about six months to talk about her experiences. We discussed the different shows and theaters she performed in, and the stars she rubbed shoulders with, including David Niven, Judy Garland, Broderick Crawford and Hermione Gingold, (noted for playing the mother in the movie Gigi).

The editing and other pre-publishing work took an additional six months. Because I wanted Pauline to have the book in a timely manner, we knew that we couldn’t wait years for a traditional publisher to decide if they wanted the memoir or not. So we chose to publish independently. I am happy with that decision, although it involved considerably more work than simply sending the completed manuscript out to a traditional publishing house. But being able to make the many decisions about the book, including the front cover design and the inside layout, was very satisfying.

Research included corresponding with some entities in Great Britain, including a museum on the south coast where Pauline was on tour with a theater group in 1940 when Plymouth was first bombed. It was then, as she recalls, that the town of Plymouth was first attacked in WWII and bombed by the Luftwaffe. But, at first, I couldn’t find that information anywhere in my research material. I contacted the people at The Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery and they dug deeper for us.  It turned out Pauline was correct about the date and the incident. Apparently, the Luftwaffe bombers were actually trying to hit a navel base nearby.  (Pauline was in the right place at the wrong time.)

 I also had some researchers in the UK hunt through newspaper archives to verify some facts. Of course, I didn’t want the book to be heavy with historical details. It is more about Pauline herself, her feelings, and sense of humor about what happened to her and the people who were important to her during this incredible time of world class heroes and horrific villains.

--What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing your book to life?

I think one of the biggest challenges was the fact that because Pauline appeared in so many different shows and reviews in various theaters and clubs, we had to sort out which performance and songs and dance routines were in which theatre or club and in which year. And, we had to make sure the terrifying world events were placed correctly in the story, time-wise, in relation to her performances and her recollections. Of-course it all happened 70 or so years ago and on the other side of the world. But I was very impressed with her memory. I couldn’t actually visit those places, so thank goodness for the Internet. As I plotted the details of her memoir, I used color coding to help keep the dates and the details straight.

A big plus was that because we both grew up in England, we spoke the same language, so to speak. Our mothers, although from different generations, both used similar phrases for certain critical or humorous moments in life. I can just picture her mother’s shock when she found out about her daughter’s clandestine activities with spies, and said: “Who do you think you are, Marta Hari?”

--Can you tell us about your detective miniseries.

When I was a staff writer and columnist for the Naperville Sun a few years ago, I was asked by then editor, Jim King, to write a fiction series for the project we called Naperville Unwound.  Writers, both at the newspaper and at with the Naperville Writers Group, were invited to submit their series. My character, Detective Denny Van Dyke, “came alive” to me one day at dusk while walking through downtown Naperville, Illinois, just as happy hour was beginning. It seems some character almost write themselves.


--How long have you been writing? Tell us about your journey as a writer/author.

I suppose I have been writing ever since I was a preteen and became enamored with the beauty and diversity of creation: trees, snow, stars and the ever changing colors of the ocean.  I just felt compelled to try to put what I saw into words. I think a great deal of writing goes on in an author’s, or poet’s, or journalist’s head long before it is put on paper or in digital format. Not until I became a mother did I really start to do serious writing. I became a journalist for a daily newspaper and later wrote for magazines, including SCREEN magazine, covering the Chicago theater scene.

It is a tough job to be a writer, but it is very fulfilling work. Being a journalist is a great experience because you are writing history almost as it happens. At least, if you write with honestly and clarity you are recording history. But as a journalist, the most important thing is to explain both sides of any issues, and not to neglect the other sides as well, because there are usually more than two sides. And, always be fair to all concerned. Save your opinions for your columns, is my advice, and be prepared for long hours and many “a hard day’s night.”

The news never stops and it’s chock full of ideas. So it shouldn’t be a surprise if a reporter becomes a main character in one of my upcoming books.

--Who designed the cover?

We discussed options extensively, and then designed the cover of Presenting Pauline with the help of our editor, Anthony Brass. There was no doubt about the need to use the picture for the front cover. It’s a beautiful photograph that to me reflects suspense and mystery as well as beauty. It was taken in 1943, at about the time when Pauline was asked to become a spy catcher.

As we were poring over Pauline’s old photographs, one afternoon, I saw the black and white head shot, and knew at once that had to be on the cover of her memoir. Pauline calls it her “way-out” photo.

We worked with Outskirts Press to publish the book just exactly as we wanted it— and they were great.  There was a lot of back and forth. We decided we wanted details such as the little white corners on the photograph reminiscent of the way photographs were presented in the 1940s. We also wanted simplicity in design and insisted on an explanatory paragraph on the front to give people a sort of speak preview of what the book was about.

--Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy browsing through antique shops. I love to read historical novels, memoirs and biographies, and like to dance when time permits. I also paint occasionally. Paintings can make fun gifts, as long as nobody expects a masterpiece! I created and reproduced a limited edition print that comes with my children’s audio book: Princess June Rose Bud and her Chocolate Colored Horse. That CD and print is currently sold exclusively at book signings. I am working on turning it into a coloring book which I hope to be released for broader distribution next year at book stores.

 I find children’s literature is not only delightful, generally, but is very important in helping young minds find joy and wonder, and of course children’s books are vital in encouraging literacy.


--What can we expect from you in the future?
      
I expect to write more memoirs and some cozy mysteries—I’m finishing one at the moment. I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie stories and books by Peter Mayle. Also I expect to do more book narrations, and continue writing more children’s books. Pauline and I are working on a book about her life after coming to live in the United States. That will include recipes. As a young war bride, her life was also full of surprises.  I am currently completing a screen play version of Presenting Pauline for film or television, perhaps to be produced in the UK. At least we dream about that.

Being a writer means dreaming about possibilities: dreaming up characters, situations and locations for your stories. But at some point you must stop dreaming, wake up and start writing. Writers shouldn’t wait for everything to fall into place in their plot line before diving into the story. That will happen as you write and rewrite and edit and re-edit.
Louise Brass with her book, Presenting Pauline: I was a dancer.

 Photo courtesy James Svehla  /  www.jcsphotography.net
--Do you have any upcoming events or appearances you can tell us about?

I will be making an appearance with Pauline and doing a book signing Feb 15 at The Little Traveler in Geneva to talk about Pauline’s life and memoir (www.littletraveler.com). The event is called the “Dancing through the Darkness.”

This year I plan to continue to attend WWII reenactments, where Presenting Pauline has been well received since publication in 2011.  Book signings at coffee shops, cafes, libraries, book clubs and museums, including The First Division Museum, at Cantigny Park, in Wheaton, are always fun and I greatly appreciate all those who have invited us and have been so gracious to us.

--Do you have a website, blog, or Facebook page that you’d like to share so people can find out more about you and your books?

Presenting Pauline’s website is www.presentingpauline.com


E-mail us there, or follow us on Twitter at @PresentgPauline

More about Pauline can be found in the blog section at www.GIBrides.com


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