Awhile back, I did an interview in which I mentioned how much I loved the book Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding. A short time later I received a package in the mail containing a copy of a historical fiction title called Dear Mrs. Bird, written by a debut British author named AJ Pearce. The publisher mentioned that despite this book being WWII-era historical fiction, the protagonist and the voice of the novel were a bit evocative of Bridget. Something about the cover struck me–it has the title spelled out in old-fashioned typewriter keys–and I picked it up. Within a few pages, I was irresistibly hooked: it was charming and witty and quotable, and, at the same time so deeply moving, which is my absolute favorite kind of read. There are some books you want to have on your e-reader, just to get through them quickly, and then there are those you enjoy so much you need a hard copy so you can open to your favorite pages any time your mood requires a boost. This is one of those books for me: I loved it so much I wound up blurbing it.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
London, 1941. Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a war correspondent but finds herself working for the formidable advice columnist Henrietta Bird, doyenne of Woman’s Friend magazine. When Mrs Bird refuses to answer letters containing any form of Unpleasantness and Emmy sees the desperate pleas from women going unhelped, she decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back.
Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to the enduring power of friendship, the kindness of strangers and the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times.
‘Funny, fresh and touching, Dear Mrs. Bird is pitch-perfect pleasure. It’s a rare and wonderful thing to read a book that seems to live properly in its era.’
Annie Barrows, co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
‘I relished every moment of Dear Mrs.Bird. What a joy! Hilarious, heart-warming, and unutterably charming.’
Jennifer Ryan, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
I was thrilled at the opportunity to have AJ Pearce answer a few questions about her own reading habits, a secret about the novel, and, as I am delighted to learn, the fact that there’s a sequel in the works. (Let’s hope a movie deal is soon to follow!) If you haven’t read this book yet, I urge you to do so immediately. And one of our lucky readers will win a copy! To enter, SHARE our post on Facebook or Retweet the following:
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) August 18, 2018
KM: Talk about one book that made an impact on you.
AJP: So many books have been hugely important to me that it’s hard to pick just one, but I think D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book (1936) was one of the first novels I read that inspired my interest in British novelists writing in the 1930s and 40s. That and Angela Thirkell’s Cheerfulness Breaks In (1940) and Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (1938) which I realise means I’ve already mentioned three books and so and proves that it really is hard to just talk about one!
But all made a huge impact as I realised how much I loved reading novels not just set in the pre-war and World War II era, but actually written at the time. I love the humour, and the lightness of touch in their writing. D.E. Stevenson in particular is wonderful at adding subtleties of great sadness that stop you in your tracks.
KM: When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
AJP: I can remember wanting to be a poet, which wouldn’t have gone down well with the careers advisor, and I dreamt of being a vet, but wasn’t good enough at science. My favourite subjects at school were English and History, and having written a novel based in 1941, finally this all makes sense!
KM: What is your advice for aspiring writers?
AJP: I’m sure lots of authors say this, but I am a huge believer in writing what you love. Don’t worry about what you think publishers or agents or even readers might want – just write what you love – the book you would like to read yourself. And keep going – if you’re keen to be published, perseverance and patience are two of the most important qualities to hold onto. Don’t worry about how long it takes – you can be a debut novelist when you’re ninety – just concentrate on writing the best book you possibly can.
KM: Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel — something that’s not even in your book.
AJP: The main character in Dear Mrs Bird is called Emmeline Lake and although it’s never mentioned in the book, her middle name is Hope. If you’ve read the novel, I hope you’ll think this is right for her. Actually, absolutely no one knows this – not even my publishers or agent!
KM: What’s your next big thing? (new book, new project, etc.)
AJP: I’m currently writing the sequel to Dear Mrs Bird so I’m hiding away at home, surrounded by stacks of wartime magazines and banning myself from Social Media and anything else that isn’t related to the book! It’s so lovely to be back with Emmy and Bunty and Mr Collins. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that they are fictional and not actually real.
AJ Pearce was born in Hampshire in the UK. She attended the University of Sussex and spent her junior year at Northwestern University. When she came across a 1939 copy of a weekly women’s magazine, the idea of a writing a novel set in wartime London was born. She is currently at work on her second book. You can learn more about her at her website: www.ajpearce.com, or on social media: @ajpearcewrites on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.