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The Mapping of Love and Death (Maisie Dobbs, Book 7) Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 23, 2010
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Alexander McCall Smith: Characters, once created, have a way of staying on. Maisie is an attractive character--when did she say to you: "I want a series?"
Jacqueline Winspear: As I was writing the first novel in the series, Maisie Dobbs, I realized that scenes and ideas were coming to me that were not part of the book. I started keeping notes on those other scenes, passages of dialogue and so on, and when I had finished Maisie Dobbs, I went through those notes and realized I had rough plans for another five or six books. Indeed, as I was writing the second book in the series, Birds of a Feather, I really had to push any thoughts of the intended third novel from my mind, so strong were the images for Pardonable Lies that kept popping into my mind's eye. I had to be very disciplined not to be distracted by those images--it was rather like being nagged by one's own characters.
Smith: Maisie Dobbs is firmly placed in the past. Would you be comfortable writing about contemporary Britain?
Winspear: That’s a very good question, and indeed, I have a more contemporary novel on the proverbial "back-burner." However, although I visit my parents in Sussex many several times each year, for me there is a certain detachment from everyday life in the UK. I am not as familiar with various aspects of life there, so it might be difficult to get that ring of authenticity. On the other hand, one could argue that the lack of transparency could act in my favor, because I now take notice of so many things that might have passed me by. I believe one of the reasons I am so comfortable writing about the past is that when I was a child we lived in a small hamlet with very few children, so it was a world of adults, many of them elderly, and all of them ready to tell a story of their own youth.
I have always been drawn to the past through family history, a curiosity that has its roots in my grandfather's experience in the Great War--he was wounded and shell-shocked at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Even as a very young child I understood the extent of his suffering and struggled to fathom how something so terrible could happen to a beloved grandparent. And I am sure my interest in the women of that generation--the first generation of women to go to war in modern times--is rooted in memories of the ladies of a certain age who lived in our neighborhood as I was growing up. They were typical of that generation, very independent women who had remained single due to circumstance, for the men they might have married had been lost to war.
So, to the question of writing about contemporary Britain--I think I'll find out more about my level of comfort with modern times when I pull that contemporary novel off the back burner. In the meantime, there's so much that I want to explore from the past, though when I immerse myself in the preparatory research for my books, I am always reminded of the old adage: "history repeats itself."
Smith: You and I both started as novelists rather later than is perhaps usual. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Winspear: When I was sixteen I rather precociously announced that I would write my first novel by the time I was thirty--it seemed such a formidable age of adulthood, I suppose. Of course, thirty came and went with no novel to show for it, and in the meantime I was becoming more and more interested in nonfiction writing. I was in my late thirties by the time I made a real commitment to getting my work published, and I concentrated more on essays, articles and other creative nonfiction. I believe my writing at that time represented something of an apprenticeship in that I was really working at the craft of writing, of building my understanding of framing a scene, of bringing the reader along with metaphor, and with developing scenes that were something like the literary equivalent of a zoom lens on the camera; I was trying to find out what worked in terms of drawing the reader in and placing them at the center of the action. Though I had no plans to write a novel until the idea for Maisie Dobbs actually came to me, upon reflection it seems as if I had been preparing for the task with my literary cross-training in the same way that an athlete prepares for the big event.
I believe the journey to becoming a writer is one that is very personal to the individual and is neither good or bad--it's just what it is. There are times when I think it would have been so much more fun to have started writing fiction earlier, but had that happened, the stars might not have aligned to bring the character of Maisie Dobbs into my life. And I think that in embarking upon being novelists in our middle years, we’ve probably both brought something to our work that we might not have been able to offer in younger days, either due to other responsibilities, or simply who we were at the time (though having said that, I am sure your readers wish the wonderful Precious Ramotswe had been created many years before you decided to write The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency!)
Smith: Have you written anything about Maisie that you would like to unwrite?
Winspear: No, not at all, although I should add that I have never gone back and re-read any of my books, a prospect I find rather daunting. Of course, I dip back into the books to check a point here and there, but I have never read the books from beginning to end--if I had done so, I might have a whole list of things that cause me to shudder.
Smith: Do you think that transplanting oneself--in your case from the UK to California--helps one as a writer?
Winspear: Another very good question! Many years ago, during a visit to New York, I went along to an exhibit at the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue--it was called "Writers in Exile." The focus was on writers who lived in a place other than the land of their birth, "by will, or by compunction." I spent ages going around the exhibit taking copious notes, and remember it left me with a real sense of the power of being transplanted, whether by one’s own choice, or by circumstance; and I have to say, I often think of it when people ask me if being here in California contributes to my work as a writer--and it does. To give an example, I can immerse myself in the time and place about which I write--Britain from the Great War on up to the 1930s--and I am not distracted by British life as it is today. Yes, of course, there is contemporary life here in California, but it is different (the way people speak, interact, shop, travel, work, etc.) so I can draw a firm line between life here and the world about which I write. I should confess that one of my recent challenges came when I started writing The Mapping of Love and Death. The opening is set in California in 1914, so I had to ensure that my knowledge of that region today did not seep into the story. To that end I immersed myself in old books about the region, and managed to procure some vintage photographs to pin on the wall so that the past was very much with me as I wrote.
When I write, the time and place of my imagination becomes very distilled, very sharp in my mind's eye. In terms of the series featuring Maisie Dobbs, it has definitely helped to be living here; when I sit down at my desk to write, I step from my world into her world, and I’m aware of nothing else until I stop writing. And when I drag myself back from a morning spent in the smog-enveloped London of the 1930s, it's not bad to be able to walk outside into the garden and warm my bones in the California sun for a while.
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
Most of the characters, with the possible exception of Maisie's father, are developing and moving forward. It's especially amusing to see Maisie and her former adversary, now-Detective Inspector Caldwell, sparring and fencing with each other. The book is well-written (if occasionally overly descriptive), with a strong narrative that carries the reader through.
Now for potential faults. I figured out who one of the killers was as soon as the character appeared on the page, and I also knew how the book would end. Maisie is as unruffled and serenely compentent as ever. Those who find her trajectory from former servant to educated investigator unbelivable will not like this book. Those same people will probably dislike her new love interest intensely. Neither really bothered me, because they happened in semi-believable fashion and, besides, I like the occasional flash of fantasy in my stories.
The ending provides a shift both in circumstance and perspective that will move Maisie forward - one way or another - in her life. Rather than looking backwards, at the Great War, Maisie will have a new focus. I'm looking forward to seeing how that plays out.
Series books, like the "Maisie Dobbs" novels, represent both a challenge and opportunity to the writer. The challenge is to keep the story and characters moving forward in an engaging way and the opportunity is to accept the challenge to do so. Winspear does both. Her lead characters, Maisie Dobbs, Billy Beale, the Compton family, and Maisie's mentor Maurice Blanche continue to age as time passes from England in the 1920's to England in the 1930's. Maisie's detective agency is succeeding in the midst of the Depression and she is given a new case that involves the death of of an American soldier during The Great War and the repercussions on to the soldier's family. As usual with Maisie's cases, the truth at the end contains many deceptions and cover ups.
As real life does, I suppose...
Winspear's writing is so good that a new "Maisie Dobbs" reader could pick up this, her latest, and feel completely comfortable reading it. She reintroduces old characters and situations in such a nuanced way that doesn't seem repetitious to the veteran series reader. She has written a great addition to the "Maisie Dobbs" series. Enjoy.
I couldn't put this book down. It was nice seeing so many returning characters from previous books in this series. What's more, I wasn't able to figure out "whodunit", which is always a sign of a successful writer. If you haven't read this series, I suggest you give it a try. I think you'll be glad you did.
The Maisie Dobbs mysteries are a clever series, mixing cozy and historical fiction with a more traditional mystery. Their most appealing aspect, however, is the way Winspear develops her characters and pulls the reader into their lives. The mystery almost becomes peripheral and you actually find yourself more interested in finding out what happens to Maisie's family, friends, lovers and to Maisie herself than to the identity of the culprit. That is not to say that the mystery and its intricacies are not intriguing and well written, it's just that Winspear has created an engaging cast of characters and has made the world they inhabit so captivating, that the reader is literally transported to another time and place, one filled with history and life lessons, that they will want to visit again and again.
As discerned by Maisie's mentor Maurice Blanche, "All maps are drawn in hindsight, and hindsight if interpreted with care, is what brings us wisdom". A wise observation most of us can relate to and learn from as we map our own lives. 3 1/2 stars
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Set in a time I know little about. Between the wars in Britain. T is very interesting and the way maisie solves the crimes is always interestingPublished 7 days ago by Amazon Customer
So, to begin...I am a huge fan of this author. Love mysteries, love how much historical soup the characters swim in, love her writing. Read morePublished 21 days ago by Teresa Camajani
I just finished a highly touted book about a girl spy during WWII. It was certainly readable. But it just didn't catch me the way the Maisie Dobbs books do. Read morePublished 2 months ago by nancy48
This is my favorite so far, I think, just because the mystery was so good. All in all, it's hard to have a favorite with these books, they all are the best while you're reading... Read morePublished 2 months ago by R. Roberts
The maisie Dobbs series are so smartly written and give nourishment to my soul. A character after my own heart.Published 3 months ago by Domenico Romano
This is another great book in this series, these are well planned mysteries with a great historical setting.Published 3 months ago by Delpha
Just a good story. In each book, you learn something. In this book, I learned about the importance of cartography in war.Published 3 months ago by JP