Yesterday, we met international author, Clare Mulley at DeeScribe Writing. Today she is back to give us some tips on how she wrote her amazing book, The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children.
For me, one of the most fascinating parts of this whole story is that Eglantyne didn’t even like children.
She set up Save the Children in 1919, at the end of the First World War, to bring relief to the starving children of Austria and Germany. Later she wrote the pioneering statement of children’s human rights that has since evolved into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history.
Although Eglantyne devoted her life to saving children, she said in 1919
‘I suppose it is a judgement on me for not caring about children that I am made to talk, all day long, about the universal love of humanity towards them’.
Eglantyne was not an overtly sentimental or maternal woman, but she was inspired by a burning humanitarian compassion that helped to bring many back to reason after the horror of the war, saved the life of many thousands of children immediately and many millions around the world since, fundamentally altered relations between the generations and permanently changed the way the world regards and treats children.
Today Clare has some tips for us on how she wrote this amazing book, The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children.
I started off with Eglantyne as my inspiration, fell out with her about half way through my research, and then finally managed to sort things out between us and admire her with all her faults and eccentricities by the time I was really writing. A person’s faults are often also their best points, and Eglantyne had plenty to work with here…
Get the big facts, but it is often the detail that is most fascinating and evocative. Don’t forget smells and temperatures. Ask everyone all the time. Start writing before you finish researching. Keep at it.
3. Follow up leads
I was stumped about what went wrong with one of her romances which had ended abruptly. She must have got rid of any letters she had – the sort of fossil residue of emotions that biographers rely on – and I had no idea where to go next. Then a friend introduced me socially to the grandson of Eglantyne’s lost love… three weeks later I was having dinner at their house, and picking up the story from the other side, looking at letters no one else had even seen. At times like that I almost felt that Eglantyne herself was tapping me on the shoulder, saying ‘come on, over here…’
4. Decide which facts to include
I still have files I can’t bear to throw out. It is hard, but I think you have to respect your reader and not expect them to plough through every detail. In the end it is a judgment call. I kept in a list of her clothes at death, and chucked out the agendas of early charity meetings… I just thought; what do I really want to know about?
5. How to make dry facts interesting
Dry facts have their place, but most facts are pretty juicy once you start looking at the why, why not, what did it look/taste/feel like, who said it and why, or who tried to cover it up.
I learnt that I think I am both a better writer, and a better mother, for having these two passions in my life. All of my time, with my girls or at my desk, is hugely precious to me, because there is never enough of either. I feel immensely lucky to be able to combine these two great jobs.
it was only a year or so in that I realised I was going to write a book – so I guess I learned that I have the ability to be an author. Then with every chapter I think I got a bit better at it – in the end I rewrote most of it!
7. Clare’s general writing tips
- Try and write regularly
- Try to stop when you know what you’re going to start writing the next day.
- Get a friend to read some and give some honest feed back. Stay friends with them.
- Get an agent.
Congratulations to Clare on an amazing book and for winning the prestigious Daily Mail Biographers’ Club Prize for The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children.
Thanks for visiting and sharing your amazing journey and Eglantyne’s amazing story with us.
ALL AUTHOR ROYALTIES FROM THE BOOK ARE BEING DONATED TO THE CHARITY, ‘SAVE THE CHILDREN’.
Buy The Woman Who Saved the Children: A Biography of Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children from any good bookstore or online at Boomerang Books