Evie’s background was inspired in part by my mother, who, like Evie, came from a working class family in Cowley and went to an Oxford grammar school. When I knew I wanted to write about a WAAF plotter, that meant I needed a heroine who was good at maths. The two ideas merged, and Evie was born: a working class girl from Cowley who had set her heart on reading maths at Oxford. Once I had the character, the first question I had to ask was, ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen to her?’ For Evie, that meant taking away her scholarship and ending her dreams of Oxford. I was so invested in Evie’s hopes by this time that it was really painful to rip them apart!
It sounds as though you get to know your characters really well, but how easy is that when your writing about women who lived in an era before you were born?
It really helps to read letters, diaries and other accounts written by women who experienced the war, as that is a great way of discovering how they spoke and thought. Of course, people are essentially the same whatever era they lived in. They experienced the same emotions; they wanted love, friendship and acceptance. So although I’m writing about characters in an era I haven’t experienced, I can tap into their emotions and give them the same quest for fulfilment to make them relatable.
I always think first hand accounts are the best sources but I would guess you had to do a great deal of research into the actual events of the war as well?
Absolutely. A lot of the book is set on a fighter station during the Battle of Britain, so I had to do a lot of reading to make sure the timeline of my story fitted in with the events of the war. I found Patrick Bishop’s Battle of Britain especially useful because it gives a day by day chronicle. As The Ops Room Girls is set in a fictional location, I was careful to add as much genuine detail as possible to ground the story in reality. I also found local newspaper archives invaluable for getting the smaller details right. In fact, an article I found in a Sussex newspaper warning people to be on guard against enemy parachutists was inspiration for a major plot point.
That sounds intriguing! Without giving too much away, can you tell me just a little bit about the book?
The story centres on Evie Bishop, a working class girl who has a burning ambition to win a scholarship to read maths at Oxford University. Just when it looks like she’s achieved her dream, everything comes crashing down, and she needs to rebuild her life elsewhere. Inspired to contribute to the war effort, she joins the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as an Ops Room plotter. She is posted to a fighter station in West Sussex where she befriends two other WAAFs – shy, awkward May and flirty, glamorous Jess. The three girls band together to overcome challenges, navigate new romances and keep their pilots safe in the skies. But as the Battle of Britain rages, it becomes apparent the enemy is not just attacking from the air, and soon Evie, May and Jess are caught up in a world more dangerous than they ever imagined.