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January Book Club Choice

In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

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The international bestseller, inspired by the real women who set off from Scotland to set up a hospital in an Abbey in war-stricken France.

Iris is getting old. A widow, her days are spent living quietly and worrying about her granddaughter, Grace, a headstrong young doctor. It's a small sort of life. But one day Iris receives something unexpected in the post – an invitation to a WWI reunion in France. Determined to go, Iris is overcome by memories of the past and of her journey to France in 1914, where she followed her young brother Tom, intending to bring him home to safety.

As a young woman, on her way to find Tom, Iris discovers the old abbey of Royaumont, where a group of women work to set up a field hospital. Putting her fears aside, Iris decides to stay and help. It is at Royaumont that she truly comes of age, finding her capability and her strength, discovering her passion for medicine, making friends with the vivacious Violet and falling in love. But war is a brutal thing, and there is a terrible price that Iris has to pay – a price that will echo down the generations.

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Author Q&A

Q. The story is based on the real women of Royaumont. Do you think it is easier to build a novel from a 'real' foundation? Or is it harder because you are restricted by facts?
Liz Harrold

A. I thought a lot about how much I'd stick to historical fact and how much I'd digress. Ultimately, the true story of Royaumont was so fascinating that I used mostly real events in relation to the hospital, although Iris and Violet were completely fictional. The things readers have said are hard to believe - the spat about the uniforms, the male cook - really happened. Then there are things I made up and figured people wouldn't believe but they've never questioned those. I don't think it's easier to build from a real foundation as you still have to make characters come to life on the page and even if you know facts about them, they must live and breathe for a reader and that is the biggest challenge of writing fiction.

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Q. Did you visit France and Royaumont? How did this aid your writing?
David Clark, London

A. I spent two weeks at the abbey, now Fondation Royaumont, a cultural centre for France, working on the manuscript. It was wonderful to walk up those stairs the orderlies carried stretchers, to see the refectory which had been the Canada ward, the cloisters, and to feel the sense of holiness the women felt. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity and many readers have visited the abbey since reading In Falling Snow.

Q. Medicine and nursing is a constant theme throughout the novel. Do you have any background or particular interest in this area?
Amy Ellis

A. I worked on a review of maternity services in 2005 and was so taken by the commitment and dedication of midwives, nurses and doctors. What an important job they do. It's a theme I'll go back to in future novels I think as I find the challenges they face interesting.

Q. Iris begins the book as a lonely widow slowly getting old. How hard do you think it is for her to rediscover her past and sense of self?
Edna Hughes, Bristol

A. Women in Iris's generation weren't encouraged to work through their feelings, just get on with it, and secrets are there in every family if you dig deep enough. These things are hard for Iris as she revisits all that grief.

Q. 100 years on, how important do you think it is to keep revisiting the first world war in literature (or indeed film and television)?
Stella Hindes

A. I learned many things I didn't know about World War I and its impact on families. It's wonderful to look at where we've come from, the experiences and events that have formed us. In Falling Snow brings a forgotten story of war to life.


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