Meg Waite Clayton Talks Wartime Correspondents and Jane Austen
May 10, 2016
by Megan Wessell, A Bookish Affair
Meg Waite Clayton is the author of the new historical fiction novel, “The Race for Paris.” It’s a riveting tale of female war correspondents during World War II during a time when the war front was anything but permissive for women especially. Inspired by women like Martha Gellhorn and Lee Miller among others, this book packs a punch. Ms. Clayton will join us at GBF on May 21st to discuss more about these fascinating women in a very exciting time period.
What inspired you to write “The Race for Paris”?
“The Race for Paris” was inspired by the real women journalists who defied military regulations and gender barriers to cover World War II and the “race for Paris,” vying to be among the first to report from the liberated city in the summer of 1944. They did so by stowing away in bathrooms of Channel-crossing boats, going AWOL from support positions to get to the front lines, climbing fences meant to contain them, struggling to get their photographs and stories out, and risking their lives. Despite being confronted with red tape and derision, denied access to jeeps and to the information and accommodations provided to their male colleagues at press camps, pursued by military police, and even arrested and stripped of credentials, women like Lee Carson, Helen Kirkpatrick, Sigrid Schultz, Iris Carpenter, Ruth Cowan, Lee Miller, Sonia Tomara, Catherine Coyne, Dot Avery, Virginia Irwin, Judy Barden, Tania Long, Barbara Wace, Margaret Bourke-White, and Martha Gellhorn proved that they could report the war, and opened the way for generations of women.
Why do you think people are fascinated by wartime correspondents?
It’s one thing to go to war because you have to, and quite another to go because you choose to as a correspondent — that’s part of it. And then the correspondents, because they are “boots on the ground” and because they are so often so eloquent, give us a more intimate look at extraordinary times than we can find anywhere else.
I imagine you did a lot of research for this book. What is the most interesting or strangest thing you found during your research?
So many strange and interesting things! One was the simple amount of crap the women journalists had to put up with, starting with not being allowed at the press camps because — I kid you not, this was the official reason — there were no women’s latrines there, and they weren’t about to start digging them now. And those press camps were usually in gorgeous chateaus with perfectly respectable (and coed!) plumbing. But the single find I most love is the way the photojournalists protected their film from the rain until they could get it to a darkroom: they popped the film canister into a condom and tied it up like you would tie a balloon.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Keep writing long beyond when even your own mother thinks you should give it up!
And now for a fun question, if you could bring any three people with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?
Ha! Well, I’d have to start with my husband, Mac Clayton, and will leave the why to the reader’s imagination. The other two? Well, much as I love the writing of Harper Lee and George Eliot, I might have to go with Jane Austen because she is so funny (in a kind, clever way), and I imagine funny goes a long way on a deserted island. And then … oh, I guess Robert Redford, just in case anything happens to my husband! Also, we could talk about film, which I also love. But, gosh, I hope one of them can sing, as I can’t and I’d hate to be anywhere without music. So maybe I’d sub in Bruce Springsteen for Redford? And I know what you’re thinking, I could take Springsteen and Redford and leave Mac at home, but he really is pretty special, and he’s very funny, and he can actually sing decently!
Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels, most recently “The Race for Paris”—the story of two journalists vying to make history by reporting the liberation of Paris in the summer of 1944. “The Wednesday Sisters” was named one of Entertainment Weekly’s 25 Essential Best Friend Novels of all time, and “The Language of Light” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize (now the PEN/Bellwether). Meg has also written for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Runner’s World and public radio.