The beloved film, The Wizard of Oz opened today, August 25th 1939 in theatres throughout America. Starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film was based on the children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.
Also on this day in 1944, Paris is finally liberated following many days of fighting between the Resistance and German soldiers. The French 2nd Armoured Division under General Philippe Leclerc is the first Allied force to enter the city. Parisians,relieved, overjoyed, cheer. The German commander of the Paris region, General Dietrich von Choltitz, signed a surrender at Montparnasse station in the presence of General Leclerc and Colonel Rol,commander of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI).
The new Free French wireless station reports that the German commander of the Paris region, General Dietrich von Choltitz signed a surrender at Montparnasse station in front of General Leclerc and Colonel Rol in Paris.
At 1900hrs, General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French broadcasts to the nation from the Hotel de Ville. He begins, “I wish simply from the bottom of my heart to say to you: Vive Paris!”
Friends call me, saying they can see huge fireworks all over the Hôtel de Ville, with red and blue rockets answering them in the south and west. It was the signal. The first tanks of Leclerc’s army had just rolled up to Notre-Dame. And then all the bells of all the churches rang in the night, drowning out the rumbling of the big guns.”
Diary entry from Jean Guéhenno, a resident of Paris.
“I have never seen in any face such joy as radiated from the faces of the people of Paris this morning.”
Charles Christian Wertenbaker, Time Magazine’s war correspondent.
American writer Ernest Hemingway, tied with the 4th Infantry, made his way to the Ritz Hotel, where he “liberated” its famous bar, helping himself to numerous dry martinis.
I’ve written about D-Day a few times over the years, but today marks 77 years since the British and Allied Forces landed on various beaches on the French coast. Of course, that’s only part of the story and part of the military campaign. Many more men jumped from Dakota’s while the Navy played their part from the ocean depths and the air force theirs in the sky.
D-Day – the words sound strong. It stands for “Day Day” which sounds so very different and rather less effective if you were announcing it to the troops for the first time. D Day has a much stronger military effect overall. The term has become iconic and was coined for the actual name of the campaign – Operation Overlord.
D-Day, launched this day in 1944, was the largest sea, land and air operation. The forces involved in the campaign, included British, American, Canadian, Australian, Belgian, French, Greek, New Zealanders, Polish, and servicemen from Norway, the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
There had never been a campaign on this scale before. Even the equipment with which to carry it out was invented, such as landing craft with a drop down ramp so the men didn’t have to scramble over the side of the vessel. The campaign was scheduled to leave the Southern coast of England on June 5th. Due to bad weather, it was postponed, and brought forward to the 6th, when a meteorologist spotted a window of opportunity – a break in the bad weather that was just enough time for the landings to take place.
The south coast became one massive camp as troops prepared and equipment built up. Security was tight, travel restricted. Next came the job of fooling the enemy. Fake news was big news. The allies carried out exercises to confuse the Germans, who were already bracing for an allied invasion. Fake camps were established in England, and fake plans were leaked. Even fake coded radio messages were sent out.
Flight Lieutenant Les Munro, dropped “Window” from his aircraft on D-Day to make it appear there was an invasion fleet off Calais. “Window” was actually strips of aluminium dropped from aircraft to confuse German radar. Les (New Zealander) was a bomber pilot who previously took part in the Dambusters raid in May 1943 with 617 Squadron. The picture above shows him talking to King George VI.
There were more than 5000 ships, 11000 aircraft, and over 150,000 troops. Training for the operation began months before in England and for days leading up to the 5th June, equipment and vehicles lined the streets in England, as troops waited for their orders to ship out. In addition, around 100,000 French Resistance were ready and waiting to carry out planned acts of sabotage on German targets throughout France.
While Hitler had information that there would be an Allied invasion, he did not know when or where they would strike. The Allies launched a series of false operations in a bid to deceive the German forces and lead them to believe that the invasion target was the Pas-de-Calais. Norway and other targets were also leaked. The deception was to prove very effective, leaving the Germans with little defences at the Normandy beaches.
For the troops landing on the beaches, it was anything but a piece of cake.Hitler’s troops had prepared well, building impenetrable defences that stretched along the coast from Norway to Spain. For the troops, surviving the amphibious landings was their first objective. The second, was to breach the defences. Concrete turret defences, walls, and anti-landing obstacles.
News of the invasion reached Anne Frank as she listened to the radio from the family’s hiding place. From her written account she stated how there was “Listening on a secret radio, Anne Frank recounts there was “great commotion in the secret annexe!” She went on to say, “Hope is revived within us. It gives us fresh courage, and makes us strong again”. Tragically, the Franks were discovered by the Nazis and taken away to a concentration camp. Liberation for them did not arrive soon enough.
Nancy Wake longed for D-Day. Having joined SOE and trained hard, she parachuted into France in April 1944. Her orders? To infiltrate the various Maquis groups in the Auvergne region, recruit them, train them in readiness for the Allied invasion. The only problem was, she, like most others at that time, had little idea of when the invasion would take place. So, she carried out her orders. Just before June 6th, Nancy took a trip from her base in Chaudes-Aigues, to Montlucon. She had an address in her head, and her driver sped along the dry, dusty roads, the sun blazing. She wore a dress and had her bicycle in the back of the car. Her mission? Collect Anselm (codename), their new weapons instructor.
When they drew close enough to the town, out of sight of any German checkpoint, Nancy got out, climbed on her bicycle and pedalled the rest of the way. As she approached a checkpoint, the Germans had stopped a male citizen and one searched him while the other waved Nancy through. She arrived at the address, and was surprised to see Anselm was no other than her friend, Rene, from SOE training in England. He would be responsible for training the men to use a bazooka. When they returned to Chaudes-Aigues, Denis Rake, her radio op and friend rushed over to her. “It’s finally happened, Gertie,” he said. Gertie was his friendly nickname for her. “The Allies are here.” Well, needless to say Nancy was miffed to have missed all the excitement, especially all the acts of sabotage her group had carried out during the previous 24 hours.
Events are taking place across the UK to mark this special day this year. In Normandy, France, second world war reenactors paraded in WW2 vehicles in Colleville-Montgomery on June 5. There are also events taking place on the Normandy beaches.
The image above shows an Army nurse at a field hospital. Nurses landed on the Normandy beachhead four days after the initial invasion. The first to arrive were members of the 42nd and 45th Field Hospitals and the 91st and 128th Evacuation Hospitals. (Image courtesy of National Archives, 111-SC-190305)
In the UK, the National Memorial Arboretum will host an event with the Royal British Legion and Normandy Memorial Trust to commemorate the day. This includes a live broadcast of the official opening of the British Normandy Memorial in Ver-sur-Mer.
D-Day was brutal, bloody, with huge losses of life, but it was a monumental campaign which overall proved to be successful, helping to bring an end to the war.
MADAME FIOCCA: A WWII NOVEL Inspired by the true story of SOE heroine, Nancy Wake. Universal buy link: http://mybook.to/MadameFiocca Now only 99p throughout June 2021.
When I first decided to write about SOE heroine, Nancy Wake, I read the tiniest snippet about her beloved husband, Henri Fiocca. It wasn’t much to go on, but it gave me an insight. Having watched and re-watched Nancy in interviews she gave over the years, I gained more insight whenever she was asked or spoke about Henri. Again, it wasn’t much to go on, but it was a little more and that combined with the author’s poetic licence, gave me quite a lot for a novel.
Nancy left her home in Australia and finally, after seeing the world, landed on her feet in her own apartment in the heart of Paris. The city of love. The city of lights. It was a city she loved dearly, and her French neighbours loved her.
While travelling on journalist assignments, she crossed paths with the wealthy industrialist, Henri Fiocca. Henri, an eligible bachelor, had a list of ‘girlfriends’ he’d call and take out to dinner. When he asked Nancy to call him, she replied, “I don’t call men. They call me.”
Needless to say, they crossed paths again, he wined and dined her and they tangoed. The rest is history. They married in October 1939, before the Germans reached France, before Henri was called up to fight. In June, 1940, after the fall of Paris, Henri returned home from the front. He and Nancy settled down to resume married life, but their quiet life was not to last. Nancy became intrigued by the plight of British officers interned at the fort in Marseille. One of them spoke of an escape line and she couldn’t wait to assist. Henri on the other hand was hesitant, only too aware of the horrors that lay in wait should she be caught. Still, he loved her and promised he’d help financially.
While Nancy travelled by train to deliver messages or crystals for radios, with parts hand-sewn into the lining of her coat, the Germans presence was felt more and more throughout France. Even though southern France was the Free Zone, it was thought that German spies were everywhere. When the Free Zone was scrapped, the Germans marched into Marseille, and in no time at all became aware of a mystery woman operating there. They called her “The White Mouse,” because she was so good at evading capture, and offered a bounty for information that would lead to her capture. Of course, Nancy didn’t have a clue, nor did Henri. She continued her work, escorted refugees, Jews and Allied servicemen to the foothills of the Pyrenees where they waited for guides to take them across into neutral Spain.
In January 1943, a tip-off from a friend probably saved her life. He said the Germans had been asking about her. Henri told her she had to leave immediately. It was a mad rush to pack while he gathered a large sum of money for her to take. He arranged her departure with the escape line network. They were both distraught and worried. Nancy always maintained that her war was filled with laughter and that she never felt afraid. I find that typical of her generation, strong, courageous and indomitable. But she was surely speaking of her war before and after Henri, and her departure.
On the day she left, it was hurried and no doubt blurry. Imagine having to tear yourself away from the man you love, from your home and whole life, including your precious, beloved pet terrier. To walk away, pretend you’re going shopping and call back, “I’ll see you later.” Then, with the utmost composure, walk half a mile to the train station, board, and journey along the south coast watching out for German patrols. I can only imagine. And her escape from Marseille did not go smoothly, and if you read MADAME FIOOCA, you’ll find out exactly what happened.
Nancy once said that she loved the Tango – the dance of love. She remarked how well Henri danced. So, recently I saw a trailer for a film that came out in 2008. It’s called Easy Virtue. I’ve never watched it, but in the clip you’ll see a couple dance the tango, and all I saw were Henri and Nancy.
Lest we forget.
MADAME FIOCCA: A WWII NOVEL – Ebook available via Amazon now only 99p/99c throughout June 2021. Universal buy link: Mybook.to/MadameFiocca
"I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don't see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas." Nancy Augusta Wake.
My novel, Madame Fiocca: A WWII Novel, is based on the life of Nancy Wake, the famous SOE heroine, journalist and French Resistance courier.
I first read about Nancy Wake and her role in World War Two several years ago, while researching another story. I remember thinking how incredible she was, leading thousands of maquisards into battle against the Germans in 1944. Her exploits grabbed my attention, and I wondered many things. Who was this woman who helped thousands of Allied servicemen (many airmen) and refugees flee the Germans via an escape network? How did she do it? She escorted them to the foot of the Pyrenees where Spanish guides waited to take them up and over the mountains into Spain. She reportedly killed a German with her bare hands and has spoken of this in many an interview, crediting her training with SOE in giving her such a skill. Then, once back in France as an SOE agent, she won over the difficult temperaments of certain Maquis leaders, and their men, and earned their respect, going on to lead around seven thousand of them into battle against the Germans.
And in-between these battles, Nancy was a lady who wore a silk nightdress to bed and had her own parcels of personal items flown in along with the arms and equipment for the Maquis. SOE sent her precious Lizzie Arden face cream and other things.
I found it intriguing how Nancy always denied ever being afraid during the war. She used to say, “I was far too busy to be scared.” How can that possibly be? Surely everyone was frightened, after all, one never knew who to trust. Even a good friend or family member might give you away to save themselves. I had so many questions and I did not find the answers to all of them, sadly, but I did discover an extraordinary lady who really was very ordinary, but very strong in so many wonderful ways. In writing a novel based on her life, I feel very honoured to have had the chance to do so, knowing that this story has travelled all around the globe and been received very well. It is my own way of shining a light upon one of the most fascinating, amazing women of the 20th century who deserves to be remembered for all that she did.
Nancy Augusta Wake was born in Wellington, New Zealand on 30th August 1912 but her family moved to Sydney, Australia when she was two years old. Her childhood was not the happiest, and her father left them when she was five. Nancy was devastated, having been the apple of his eye until the day he left. Life at home became unbearable for her and when she was sixteen she ran away. That was the beginning of her new life, her story. She found work, lodgings, and made a plan. She needed to save money to buy a ticket out of Oz. Nancy was determined to see the world, a dream she’d had for so long.
Eventually, she achieved that dream with the aid of her aunt, Hinemoa, who sent her a cheque for two hundred pounds. Soon, she set sail on the RMS Aorangi II in February 1933, aged twenty. She sailed around the world, loved New York, Canada and Europe, but finished in England where she had plans. Within a year she’d trained to be a journalist and had a job offer in Paris with the Chicago Tribune. France was a breath of fresh air, and Nancy embraced it as her own, devouring the culture and the language. And the French loved her. She was a jolly Australian woman, pleasant, gregarious, and one to join in. They often referred to her as ‘the girl who always laughed’.
Nancy loved reporting, and her work took her into the heart of Germany when one of her earliest assignments was to interview Hitler. While there she attended the mass rallies and witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party and saw first hand their brutality on the streets of Vienna. It was there while she watched a member of the SA (Brown Shirt) whip a Jewish man that she felt so useless because she couldn’t stop it. She vowed then that if ever she had an opportunity to do something about the Nazis, she would.
As war brewed, Nancy met and fell in love with Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist. They married on the eve of war. When Henri was drafted to the front, Nancy decided to relinquish her wealthy life in Marseille and volunteered for the Red Cross, driving an ambulance. When the Germans took Paris, she drove home, weeping part of the way, and waited for Henri’s return. Fortunately he returned home within a month or two and life resumed some semblance of normal.
The German presence was not felt much in the south of France until later. Even so, when Nancy discovered an escape network had sprung up with its HQ in Marseille, she rose, eager to do whatever she could to help. That was the beginning of her clandestine work. Henri would have preferred her not to have become embroiled in that, but he assisted her and the network mainly with financial donations as money was key.
Nancy was undoubtedly busy as a courier for the escape network in the early years of WW2, and having such a sense of purpose possibly helped her brush aside any natural fear. She had a strong spirit and the strength to push on, fighting what she perceived to be a worthy cause, despite the risks. It was around late 1942 when the Germans became aware of a woman operating in southern France, and they dubbed her “The White Mouse”, offering a bounty for her capture. However, she never knew about this or the bounty, not until much later.
Nancy was the consummate actress, quite forward, openly flirtatious with German soldiers in order to bluff her way through checkpoints. Painting on a brave face was a simple task and like a chameleon, she was changeable and adaptable to any situation or environment.
A friend tipped her off one day in January 1943 when the Gestapo were asking questions in her neighbourhood. Her husband, Henri, decided there was no choice but for Nancy to leave. It was the last thing she wanted to do, especially as Henri said he had to stay behind to secure his business but he promised he would follow on and meet her in London. And her escape? It was not a straightforward journey. She had to wait months, hiding at a safe house while arrangements were made and conditions were right for a journey that would lead her up and over the perilous Pyrenees and down into neutral Spain. During her wait, she made firm friends she would always remember and revisit after the war, people to whom she owed much.
Later, in London, she joined SOE and would parachute into France in April 1944, with plans to arm, equip and train thousands of Maquisards, and to cause disruption to the Germans ahead of D-Day. She was then code name Helene.
The French men she fought with loved her. They thought she was amazing, and formidable. Nancy made many firm friends for life, and one of them, Henri Tardivat, once stated: “She is the most feminine woman I know, but when the fighting starts she is like five men.”
Nancy Augusta Wake began life with very little, and went on to marry a wealthy man, Henri Fiocca, living a millionaire’s life, only to lose it all through war. At the end of it all she had to start again. Her story is a tragic story, like so many from those dark, dangerous years, but she eventually found happiness and perhaps peace later when she met and fell in love with John Forward, a fighter pilot at the end of the war. They married and settled eventually in Australia.
She visited France many times after the war, met up with old friends, reminisced over their exploits. Later, after John died, Nancy relocated to England having sold her many medals at an auction for quite a sum. She set up home at the Stafford Hotel, just off Green Park in the heart of Mayfair, London. At 11am each day, Nancy would arrive at the American Bar and order her usual – G&T. She lived there for two years, long enough for the hotel to have a bar stool specially made with her name engraved. If you go there today you’ll be able to order cocktails such as ‘The White Mouse’ and ‘The Spitfire’. Her stool is still there if you care to see.
Nancy moved to the Royal Star and Garter Home on June 9th 2003 and was there for just over eight years. Even towards the end of her days she was not forgotten. She received letters and pictures from people around the world, many from children whose pictures gave her great delight.
On August 7th, 2011, the world lost another of the greatest generation when Nancy Wake passed away. Her coffin, draped with the Union Jack, bore three small white mice, a fitting tribute to a war heroine. Her ashes would be scattered later as she requested, in the Montlucon area in her beloved France, where she spent exciting and enjoyable times that she once described as the best years of her life.
This is her quote from her own autobiography:
“I already knew the horrors a totalitarian state could bring and long before the Second World was declared, I understood that the free world can only remain free by defending itself against any form of aggression.
I knew too that freedom could not be permanent. It has to be defended at all cost, even if by doing so part of our own freedom has to be sacrificed.
Freedom will always be in danger because, alas, victory is not permanent.”
Nancy’s real story reads like something out of Hollywood. She was a wonderful human being, kind, incredibly generous, the greatest friend to have, and incredibly patriotic and brave. She was undeniably one of the great heroines of that era, although if she were still with us I know she’d dismiss that in a heartbeat. My greatest regret is not having had the chance to meet her and yet I feel as if I know her as well as any good friend.
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake 30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011
This week I’m on tour with my latest release, Madame Fiocca. For those who don’t know, it’s about Nancy Wake, the infamous SOE heroine, journalist and French Resistance courier. Here’s a piece I wrote for Viviana Mackade’s fabulous book blog today. To read the entire piece click the link below:
by Suzy Henderson, author of Madame Fiocca.
I first read about Nancy Wake and her role in World War Two several years ago, while researching another story. I recall thinking how commendable, but I read on, discovering other heroines of SOE including the American, Virginia Hall, the first female operative in France. What is even more remarkable is that she had a prosthetic leg. While working with the Special Operations Executive in France, Virginia had to escape over the Pyrenees, quite literally at one-point crawling part of the way. It was an incredible achievement and so courageous.
One day I came across an article about Nancy Wake, and it mentioned her husband. That caught my interest, so I bought a biography of Wake written by Russel Braddon. Suddenly, Nancy was on my mind and I wanted to know more, such as where she grew up, and her life before France. Braddon’s book was wonderful, but it didn’t cover much of Nancy’s life in Australia. I then bought Nancy’s own biography, written at a later stage in her life. Once again, not much in there about Australia, so I decided to go digging on the internet, turning to genealogy sites as I looked for family ties. Well, after many hours of searching and triple checking the facts, I discovered her family tree, unearthing British, Maori and French roots.
I discovered through Nancy’s own words in her books and tv interviews, that her father had abandoned her and her family at an early age. And there was something else that stood out every time Nancy spoke of her war times. She vehemently denied ever being afraid, saying things such as she was far too busy to be scared. I found this interesting, because I’ve also heard of soldiers and airmen who have said exactly the same. And then I’ve heard dozens more state that any man who said he wasn’t afraid in war is a liar!
The fact is, Nancy was the consummate actress, quite forward, openly flirtatious with German soldiers in order to bluff her way through check points for instance. She could probably do just about anything and so painting on a brave face was a simple task. Like a chameleon, Nancy was changeable and adaptable to any situation or environment.
The French men she fought with and led loved her. They thought she was amazing, and formidable. Nancy made many firm friends for life, and one of them, Henri Tardivat, once stated: “She is the most feminine woman I know, but when the fighting starts she is like five men.”
Food for thought indeed. My take was that Nancy would have been afraid. Fear is a natural response after all, but Nancy had a strong spirit and the strength to push on, doing what she needed to do despite the risks.
There’s a lot to consider when writing about a real person, and the fear factor was important to me because I knew it existed, and I didn’t wish to write a person who was completely without it.
Re-reads of the biographies gave me more insight – it’s funny what you miss when reading something the first or even the second time. Piece by piece Nancy was emerging before my eyes.
Having gone from learning about a New Zealander, raised in Sydney, who became a guerrilla fighter with the Maquis in France – a great leader of some 7000 men, I was suddenly facing a woman who bore her own emotional scars, who did admit to feeling worried at times during the war, and who was a true lady with the heart of a lion. She was a born leader, involved in dangerous courier work for Resistance groups from the very beginning in France, and well before she joined the Special Operations Executive. It was during this time that the Germans became aware of a woman operating in southern France, and they dubbed her “The White Mouse”, offering a bounty for her capture.
Her real story reads like something out of Hollywood, and I was hooked, and I knew I had to write about her, to enable people to see the real Nancy. She was a wonderful human being, kind, incredibly generous, the greatest friend to have, and incredibly patriotic and brave.
Nancy Augusta Wake began life with very little, and went on to marry a wealthy man, Henri Fiocca, living a millionaire’s life, only to lose it all through war. At the end of it all she had to start again. It’s a tragic story, but she eventually found happiness and perhaps some peace later when she met and fell in love with John Forward. They married and settled eventually in Australia.
Nancy never got over the loss of Henri. He was, as she often remarked, the greatest love of her life, and his selfless sacrifice was her one regret from the war years.
Henri was arrested in May 1943 and tortured by the Germans, but he refused to give up his wife’s location. On October 16th, 1943, Henri Fiocca was executed by firing squad. And to the end of her days, Nancy always declared that “the only good Nazi is a dead one”.
Nancy Grace Augusta Wake 30 August 1912 – 7 August 2011
N.N. Light’s Book Heaven New Year New Books Fete running throughout January.
Runs January 1 – 31 2020.
Draw to be held on February 1, 2020.
Calling all readers! It’s a brand new year and I’m ringing in 2020 with N. N Light’s Book Heaven New Year New Books Fete. 39 books from multiple genres featured plus a chance to win one of the following:
Enter to win a $50 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card
Enter to win a $25 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card
Enter to win a $10 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card
I’m thrilled to be a part of this event. My book, Madame Fiocca, will be featured on 2 January 2020. I even talk about my resolutions/goals for the new year. You won’t want to miss it.
Bookmark this bookish get-together and tell your friends:
People often ask me when I began to write and why. Well, the answer is, it crept up on me. My first desire to write cropped up during my English lit degree with the Open University. For those of you familiar with the OU, one chooses which module they wish to study from a selection of courses relevant to the degree. I was in my third year, and at a crossroads. None of the options appealed to me, so I chose creative writing. Well, I thought I love to read, so why not? And that was that. With my love of history and a particular interest in WW2, I was hooked.
For me, it was a defining moment and I have not stopped writing since my degree years. It is fascinating how even the smallest of events define us, often altering our life’s path, encompassing great change. Perhaps we are drawn to the historical past because many events, situations remain current, and so people can identify with the past, and feel a certain connection.
My interests in military history range far and wide, but having come across an old biography written in the 1950s, about Nancy Wake, I was mesmerised. Later, I bought the memoir she wrote herself, published in the 1980s. While it was a captivating read, it mainly detailed her life in France on the eve of war and during. I learned about her time as a journalist in the 1930s, her first encounter with her future husband, Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist, her courageous work as a courier with the Resistance, and finally, her life as an SOE agent.
All accounts talk of her war work, and I often read about this fierce Guerrilla fighter, a leader of seven thousand maquisards, who could drink any man under the table and still be sober enough to recall every detail. But instinctively I knew there was more to this fearless lady. Yes, she was strong-willed, she was angry, so ferociously angry with the Germans, and for a good reason. Mad enough to have the will to do something about their cruel ways.
Nancy was a lady who enjoyed the finer things in life, beautiful clothes, and dining. She was as far removed from the fighter she became when she first stepped onto French soil in 1933. Once I’d read all about her, a picture formed in my mind, but it was one mined with gaping holes, where secrets lay, buried, forgotten, and I had to uncover them to get to the heart of this amazing woman.
Nancy Wake was a frivolous, decent, young woman when she decided to study journalism in the early 1930s. She’d left her home in Sydney, unhappy with family life, embarked on a cruise, docked in England at the finale, and had to make a living. So, having completed a six-month course, armed with the basics in reporting and typing, she was fortunate enough to be offered a post in Paris, working with the Hearst News Group. In the beginning, life was idyllic.
She had suitors, dined out, and enjoyed the jet-setting lifestyle of a reporter, travelling the breadth of France, venturing across borders into Europe. It was her travels where she began to hear and see for herself, the ugliness metered out by the Nazi Party. Like so many at that time, she was intrigued by Adolf Hitler, but when she finally witnessed the brutal treatment of Jewish people by the SA in Vienna, she’d seen enough. It was a turning point in her young, gentile life. A defining moment. Hatred of the Nazis began to burn in her soul, one that would burn until her dying breath. What she witnessed in Vienna defined her in a heartbeat, and she would seize her chance when it sailed along, making a decision that would change her life forever.
The Nancy I went searching for, was a young girl in Sydney, having moved there with her family at the age of two. Originally born in New Zealand, her mother was descended from the French Huguenots and Maoris, her father from the British. Nancy had a tough upbringing, and her parents divorced when she was six years old. Sadly, her father sold the family home, effectively leaving his wife and children homeless. A new home elsewhere beckoned. Nancy was the youngest of all of her siblings, and so childhood was lonely at home. But when she went to school, she found friends and was a bit of a tomboy by all accounts.
It was this innocent child that drew me in because I began to picture a girl who had been shaped by hard family life, disappointment, rejection, an apparent lack of parental affection, and scarred by the absence of her father. As she once said, ‘I adored my dad, but he was a bastard.’ Nancy never saw her father again.
As people, we are so complex, and Nancy was no different. It seemed essential that I discovered every detail possible, to truly know the subject of my novel. Not all detail needed to be included in the book, it’s more about finding the person. After much digging and trawling genealogy sites, I’d gathered as much information as I was likely to find. Finally, I’d found Nancy. And she was quite different to the figure in those biographies.
Once we find what we are looking for, we must make sense of it, and things aren’t always as they seem. Nancy was often quoted as saying that she was never afraid. She was too busy to be scared, or her hatred of the Nazis flowed so deep that eclipsed all else. Well, you see, I believe Nancy was afraid, and, quite rightly so. I think what she genuinely realised was that fear would not be a barrier. She really was far too busy to dwell on it, and, like most people, simply got on with things. As a writer, we have an option to exercise some creative licence when writing about real people, while taking care to be as factually correct as reasonably possible.
As any writer of historical fiction knows, the research phase of writing can be exhausting, producing mountains of notes, many of which are never utilised – at least not in the written sense. But much of what is uncovered is used in other ways because the writer is now informed, and such insight informs their writing, characterisation, voice etc. It is the light bulb moment – a defining event. And it’s exciting, and satisfying when that finally happens.
Madame Fiocca is available to buy now from Amazon as an e-book. It is also available to read for FREE via KindleUnlimited – mybook.to/MadameFiocca