Lynn Austin has sold more than one and a half million copies of her books worldwide. A former teacher who now writes and speaks full-time, she has won eight Christy Awards for her historical fiction and was one of the first inductees into the Christy Award Hall of Fame. One of her novels, Hidden Places (Bethany House), was made into a Hallmark Channel Original Movie. Lynn and her husband have three grown children and make their home in western Michigan. Her latest book is If I Were You (Tyndale House). In this interview, Lynn tells how she came to love reading, explains why she writes historical fiction, and reveals the research she did to get the details right.
What about your formative years fostered your love for reading and books?
Books have been part of my life for as long as I can remember, beginning with bedtime stories when I was a child. My mother was the town librarian in the village where I grew up, so it’s not an exaggeration to say I was raised in a library. Over the years, I helped with everything from processing books to reading aloud for story hour, and I developed a deep appreciation for all sorts of books. In addition, my grandmother was a natural-born storyteller whose tales kept my sisters and me spellbound for hours on warm summer evenings.
How did you become a writer?
I loved to read, but after a while it seemed like so many well-written books offered very little hope. Too many themes seemed to be “Life is hard and then you die.” I agree that life is hard—but God is good! So I sat down one day 35 years ago (I was a stay-at-home mom with a new baby at the time) and decided to write the kind of book I enjoyed reading—one that makes me laugh, makes me cry, and helps me learn something about myself and my life. I knew nothing about getting published (that would come later), but I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed writing. Eventually, God brought a wonderful Christian author into my life who asked me to join her writers’ critique group, where I learned the basics of writing and publishing. As the years passed, I struggled to figure out if God was calling me to be a writer. I decided to persevere, and eleven years after I first sat down to write, my first novel was published.
What made you want to write historical fiction? What about that genre do you enjoy?
I write historical fiction because I love history, especially the little-known stories of ordinary people. For me, reading about the past and how people like me lived lives of courage in difficult times helps me live a life of faith and grace with God’s help. When we travel back in history through novels, I think it’s easier to see how God used tragic events as part of His redemption story. And that gives us faith to believe that He is still working now and that our lives can play a part in His story today.
What motivated you to write a story line about two women in WWII?
The idea for If I Were You began with a true story someone told me about a British war bride who came to America after WWII—only to learn that her husband had died in a tragic accident. Should she stay? Return to London? As I began researching the time period, I discovered how much the war changed roles and expectations for women in Britain, dissolving class differences. I’m a huge fan of the TV series Downton Abbey, so I decided to create two women—Audrey, a wealthy aristocrat, and Eve, her servant—and explore the ways the war and the “invasion” of American soldiers before D-Day changed their lives.
Please tell us a bit about the setting of your novel.
There are three settings, really. The main characters grow up at Wellingford Hall, a stately manor house in the countryside outside of London in the 1930s. Audrey lives upstairs with all of the advantages of wealth and prestige. Eve lives belowstairs as a scullery maid. When the war begins, the setting changes to Audrey’s town house in London in the 1940s, where the now-grown women endure the nightly catastrophic Nazi bombing raids known as the Blitz. But both of these settings are surrounded by a framework set in 1950s America, where one of the women has gone to live as a British war bride.
Please tell us about your main characters in If I Were You and what kind of challenges they face.
Audrey Clarkson is raised with wealth and privilege—which seems enviable except that she’s confined to a life of narrowly defined roles and is expected to marry within her class, not for love. Eve Dawson is born into the working class as a servant, with very little hope of ever bettering herself—or marrying the upper-class man she loves. But when the war begins, the women enlist in the Army together and drive ambulances in war-ravaged London. Their courage and faith are challenged in ways they’d never imagined.
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I think Eve was my favorite. She had a hard life, yet for the most part she remained happy and optimistic, seeing life as an adventure. She makes some terrible choices out of desperation—but don’t we all? I love that she is imperfect like the rest of us.
What lessons can be learned from your main characters?
Adversity—in this case a devastating war—can sometimes help us figure out who we are and what our purpose in life might be. God has a purpose for each of us, and once we find the courage to break free from the expectations of family and society—and our own fears—we can live the life we were meant to live. Also, there are things each woman envies about the other, and the story reveals how jealousy can sometimes blind us to the many opportunities right in front of us.
How much research did you have to do on the WWII period in the United Kingdom?
A lot! My favorite way to research is to travel, and for this book, I was able to spend a few days exploring London. The Imperial War Museum allowed me to immerse myself in the setting with the re-creation of a typical house from this time period. It also had an Anderson shelter I could crawl inside for a simulated air raid. (Very claustrophobic!) I love to interview people and read first-person accounts from people who lived through these events and experiences, which I then incorporated into the story. My purpose isn’t to write a history book that teaches readers about dates and battles, but to help them experience wartime London through my characters.
What is your hope for If I Were You?
I hope that by reading this story of ordinary women who persevered through extraordinary circumstances, my readers will be encouraged to face their own challenges with courage and faith.
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If I Were You
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