At its heart, The Poppy Factory is a love story, and about how love can help to heal the devastating wounds – both physical and mental – that warfare can cause. But it is also a tribute to the extraordinary courage of serving soldiers through the ages. We may not always agree with the premise of war, but you can never deny the incredible courage and dedication of those in our armed forces.
I had the idea for the theme of the novel after being moved by the solemn Remembrance Sunday ceremonies held in my home town, the garrison town of Colchester in Essex. And I was intrigued to learn that the remembrance poppy, one of the most powerful symbols of the twentieth century, was actually initiated by two women: an American and a Frenchwoman, both of whom were inspired by the famous poem In Flanders Fields. It was then the brainchild of a WW1 veteran, Major George Howson, to set up the Poppy Factory in London to employ disabled servicemen, and which is still going strong today.
When I started finding out more about the work of The Poppy Factory and discovered that although they still make millions of poppies each year, they also help disabled veterans back in to work in many other jobs all over the country, I knew that as well as the WW1 theme I would have to bring the story up to date.
So the novel tells the parallel stories of two soldiers returning from wars a hundred years apart, and the difficulties faced by them and their families. One is a woman army medic who served on the front line in Afghanistan and the other is an infantry soldier returning from the trenches of World War One.
There has been much debate recently about whether British women soldiers should be allowed to serve on the front line, as in other countries. But some women already do: not as fighters, but as medics. Through my local contacts I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a remarkable young woman army medic who put her own life at risk to save numbers of lives. She later received the Queen’s Commendation for her bravery.
Of course my character Jess is nothing like her in real life, but I could not have written the novel without her help.
You can find out more about the work of The Poppy Factory here.