Maggie’s Choice explores aspects of the socialist and labour movements during and after WW1, through the eyes of a nurse who serves in the Canadian army. I am pleased to welcome author Susan Taylor Meehan to Great War 100 Reads today, to share some thoughts about her work.
Why did you write Maggie’s Choice?
Susan Taylor Meehan: Originally, I wanted to write a non-fiction book about the women who served as nurses at the front during World War I, in part because my great-aunt was one of them. However, I discovered that someone else had beaten me to it! Her book was excellent, and the world didn’t need another one. But there was still a story to tell, so I decided that since we can often convey more truth through fiction than non-fiction, I would write my great-aunt’s personal story as a fictional memoir. Every one of her reminiscences is in Maggie’s Choice, along with material both adapted and imagined from numerous other sources. For more info, check out my website.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in the process of writing the book?
STM: As I did my research, I discovered that there was a lot of opposition to the war, both in Canada and in Britain, as well as throughout Europe. Some of the opposition was personal, as in the case of Siegfried Sassoon, the British poet, but a lot of it was grounded in the international socialist and labour movements. Resistance in Canada, particularly in Quebec, is well-known, but I would be interested in finding out more about the international aspect. I’ll add it to my research list!
What do you hope people will take away from the book?
STM: Your review said it all: the personal is political – and vice versa. This is the story of people affected by the vast events of history, people whose lives were changed forever but who remained true to their values and ideals. The fact that it’s also a love story underscores that theme, making it both universal and timeless.
If you could change one thing about your novel, what would it be? Why?
STM: I would take more time with some of the scenes, go into more detail to set the stage and flesh out the characters. So many people have told me that the book left them wanting more – so I have taken that into account in the book I’m writing now.
What question do you wish people would ask about your work that they don’t ask?
STM: People don’t normally ask me if I have a personal agenda or goal as a writer. I love to try all kinds of genres and media, mainly just to please myself, but I do have a mission of sorts: to tell reality-based Canadian stories, from the woman’s point of view, and mainly from an historical perspective.
Where will your next book take us?
STM: I am currently working on a book set in Saskatchewan in the 1930s. It tells the story of a scandal that involves a terrified group of young children, a rag-tag band of desperate people radicalized by the Depression, and a well-meaning schoolteacher (with a political agenda) stuck in the middle. This is the second in a three-part series, based on characters introduced in the first novel, Maggie’s Choice.
Thank you so much, Susan, for taking the time for our email chat. You have inspired me to look deeper into the movements that opposed the war.