The Next Chapter

Jennifer Robson on the unsung heroes of WWI

The author of Somewhere in France and After the War Is Over talks about keeping the stories of the First World War alive in her fiction.
Jennifer Robson's father, a professor and historian, encouraged her interest in history from a young age. (HarperCollins)
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Historical novelist Jennifer Robson talked to The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers about the First World War and how it has influenced her writing. Her latest novel is Moonlight over Paris.

ON DISCUSSING WORLD WARS AROUND THE DINNER TABLE

My father, Stuart Robson, taught for many years at Trent University in Peterborough. Although his specialty was German history, what was central to his teaching were the histories of the two world wars. He's passionate about sharing the history of these wars, and particularly the Great War, with as many people as possible. It was the kind of thing we'd speak about at the dinner table.

When I was 19, I spent a term as a guide at Vimy Ridge in France. This was over 20 years ago, but at the time there were still some veterans of the Great War alive, and some of them visited the site when I was there. To be there and listen to these men reminisce, and to have a chance to thank them personally, was something that's never left me.

WHY SHE WRITES ABOUT WOMEN AT WAR

I think women's voices have been largely absent from the narratives that we read. I don't think it's simple enough to say that this was a war where only men were fighting at the front. Because when you dig deeper, you find that although women were not combatants in the war, women — mostly nurses — were at the front working in perilous situations. I thought maybe I could tell the story of one of these women and maybe find a different viewpoint on the war. 

Jennifer Robson's comments have been edited and condensed.

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