Jennifer Robson, author of “Somewhere in France: A Novel of the Great War” answers 10 questions about her favorite time period in history, her favorite figures from history, and the age old question of coffee or tea.
1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?
Recently I’ve been reading about the Lost Generation, writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, who flocked to Paris in the years after the First World War and tried to put the devastation of the past decade behind them. I’m not sure I’d want to be any of them, or their wives, but being a fly on the wall at some of their parties would be great fun. Let’s say that I would be an observant hanger-on who then returned to a staid life in America and lived happily ever after.
2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?
I wouldn’t want to go too far back in time—until quite recently, life was difficult, dirty and dangerous for most people—but I would love to spend a day in 1919. Not only is it the year in which my forthcoming book After the War is Over is set, but it’s also the year my grandmother was born. When I think about how much the world has changed in her lifetime alone…it’s just mind-boggling.
3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite five people from history. Who would they be?
William Shakespeare, because I have so many questions about the mysteries of his life; Wilfred Owen, to thank him for his poetry, and his valor; Jane Austen, because she would have such interesting observations about the other guests; Captain James Cook, who would entertain us with stories of his voyages; and Zelda Fitzgerald, because she knew how to throw one hell of a party.
4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?
When I was living in England I visited Warwick Castle a number of times and was always impressed by how the Greville family had managed to retain the castle’s historic elements while also living very elegantly in its more modern wings. It’s like the Tower of London melded to Downton Abbey.
5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?
I think Erika Robuck, the author of “Hemingway’s Girl” and “Call Me Zelda”, would be great fun, and would feed us all sorts of amazing stories about Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds and the way that people traveled in style in the early 20th century. And Hazel Gaynor, author of “The Girl Who Came Home” and “A Memory of Violets”, because she already lives in Ireland and we could begin by staying with her!
6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?
By all accounts Louis the Fourteenth wasn’t an especially interesting man apart from his kingship and all the trappings of it, whereas Henry VIII, though a monster in pretty much every demonstrable fashion, was actually a very learned and intelligent man—if also terribly dangerous if you got in his way!
7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favorite?
Definitely Anne of Cleves, who gets short shrift in most histories and novels of the period. But I think she must have been a very intelligent and canny woman, for she survived marriage to a man who had a very spotty track record with his previous wives, and also somehow managed to stay clear of court intrigue for the rest of her life. I’ll bet she would have some interesting stories to share—she seems like the sort of person who was happy to sit on the sidelines and absorb everything going on around her.
8. English monarchy or French monarchy?
Although I’m an unabashed Francophile, English history is what makes my heart sing—and the history of the English monarchy is a topic that never fails to fascinate me.
9. What three novels could you read over and over?
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier, “The Ghost Road” by Pat Barker and “What’s Bred in the Bone” by Robertson Davies.
10. Tea or coffee when writing?
Coffee when I need to stay up; tea when I need to relax. My years at Oxford were fueled by mugs of “builder’s tea,” which is tea so strong and black you can almost stand a spoon up in it. During the long, chilly and very wet winters there it also helped to keep me from freezing solid!
Jennifer Robson’s official website: