Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Lecia Cornwall Interview - The Woman at the Front

Photo Content from Lecia Cornwall

Lecia Cornwall, acclaimed author of numerous historical novels, lives and writes in the beautiful foothills of the Canadian Rockies with four cats and a wild and crazy ninety-pound chocolate Lab named Andy. She has two grown children and one very patient husband. When she is not writing, Lecia is a dedicated volunteer at the Museum of the Highwood in High River, Alberta.

Tell us about THE WOMAN AT THE FRONT! What inspired you to write this story?
Initially, the idea came from a promise to my grandfather. My grandfather, Robert Greenwell, and his older brother Matthew both served in World War I. Robert was a gunner, and Matthew was with the infantry. At the battle of Vimy Ridge, Robert was behind the lines with the artillery, while Matthew was in the front lines, where he was killed in the early hours of the battle. When I was fifteen, my grandfather noticed I was doing history homework (British history that year) and told me I should be learning about Canada’s war, his war. He asked me to go to France and find his brother’s war grave someday. I finally kept that promise in 2009. The search for Matthew took us from the Vimy monument, through a series of Commonwealth war cemeteries, to a local village where everyone had war stories to tell us, and finally to a tiny, tucked away little cemetery where we found Matthew’s grave, just a mile or so from where he’d been killed. I knew then that I wanted to write a story about my grandfather’s war, and I set about researching possible stories.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel? 
Early in my career, I went to a writing conference where the speaker said every writer’s goal should be to cause readers to ‘burn the spaghetti’, meaning that they should find themselves so immersed in the story that they forget everything else around them, even what’s on the stove. While I hope there’s no flames, I do hope that readers will find themselves transported to the Western Front in France in 1918 and feel like they’ve stepped into Eleanor’s shoes.

What part of Eleanor did you enjoy writing the most? 
As a writer, I get to be all the things I ever wanted to be growing up—a doctor in 1918, an artist, or even an archaeologist or a photojournalist. My heroines are my alter-egos, bold, brave, and self-reliant whereas I’m a rather timid and introverted creature. Eleanor is very human. She strives her whole life to find acceptance and love. She’s a brilliant doctor, but like many other medical women of that era, she’s expected that she’d give up her dream of actually practicing medicine in favor of finding a husband. Her medical education might make her a good doctor’s wife, someone who cleans the surgery and keeps his notes, but she is not expected to be a doctor in her own right. I loved giving her the chance to go to the front on a mission of mercy and finding the opportunity to use her wits as well as her training. But life isn’t as easy as that—she faces some tough choices if she truly wants to be a real doctor. It means turning her back on her past, her family, and social expectations with no guarantee of success or acceptance. Writing her character meant creating a delicate balance of conflicting choices before Eleanor discovers who she really is and what she truly wants. But we all face that, don’t we? We can’t be all the things we wish were possible, but if we’re fortunate, we find the life we’re meant to live. I loved being with Eleanor through her adventure, the journey of discovery and understanding, and watching her find her destiny.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why? 
That’s a tough question! My kids and I used to play a game—if you could invite anyone, living or dead, real or fictional, to a dinner party, who would you choose? I have a number of favorite real-life, strong, passionate, determined historical heroes who break the mold—women like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Anne Boleyn, and Martha Gellhorn among others. Wouldn’t a dinner party with those fascinating ladies be fun? I think I’d also invite Scarlett O’Hara and Mary Seacole, and Jane Eyre and Anne Shirley.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us? 
Our brains work in story. We learn by following unfolding plots, great adventures, and satisfying endings. Whether we read fiction or not, stories are everywhere, in movies, in TV, in the news, even a trip to the grocery store or the park leads us to stories. We tell stories about our day, and we love stories about the kind of day we wish we could have had, the places we want to go, the eras in history we’d like to visit, the famous people we’d love to meet, or the lives that we might have led if we’d made (0r had) other choices. Stories give us a chance to do all those things, to create a little magic in our lives, to see other perspectives, and make sense of our world.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
When I was first published in 2011, I got an e-mail from a man in Japan. It was shortly after an earthquake and tsunami had devastated the country. He wanted to tell me that he and his wife had been alone in their apartment without power for several days during the disaster. She was scheduled for surgery, which had been delayed. She was afraid and in pain, and her husband read to her to take her mind off what was happening outside. It just happened that it was my debut novel that he read aloud, and he wanted to tell me how much they’d both enjoyed the book, and how much it had helped them through that very dark time. All the great reviews I’ve ever received, all the struggles to write a story and get published could never compare to that very kind and heartfelt e-mail from the other side of the world. Unfortunately, there was no way to stay in touch, and the e-mail was eaten by a computer crash, but I’ve never forgotten the honor of receiving that note.

What are you working on next? 
I’ve just finished a novel set in Berlin in 1936, with the Olympics as a backdrop. A young woman with a talent for photography is sent to Germany on holiday and she teams up with a reporter to expose the dark truth behind the propaganda fa├žade of peace and goodwill Hitler presented to the world during the games.

  • 1. “What are my other options?” she asked. “For practicing medicine, I mean, helping with the wounded?” “Confound it, Miss Atherton, can you not knit?” “I prefer embroidery, actually,” she said. “It has helped me perfect my suturing.”
  • 2. “Men are pitied when they come home maimed, scarred, missing limbs, their wits gone. For a woman, it would be better if you didn’t come home at all.” Eleanor’s mouth dried. “Mama,” she said softly but her mother’s face had turned to stone.
  • 3. Did hope have a color? Did love, or joy? These things seemed in short supply, like rationed butter. At every slight, every late train or jostled woman on a crowded platform, the cry was always the same, a chant, an excuse, or a blessing. “There’s a war on!” The precise meaning was determined by the tone, whether it was yelled in anger, or frustration, whispered in sorrow, or sung with hubris or as a dark jest. The phrase had taken the place of ‘please’, or ‘thank you’, or ‘excuse me.’
  • 4. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found a wounded lad on the field, and that’s the first thing he’ll ask me. ‘Is it a Blighty?’. His leg might be gone, or his guts spilling from his belly, but that’s what he’ll ask. “What do you say?” she asked. He fixed his gaze on her. “I lie. I tell them they’ll be home before they know it. I suppose in a way, if you’re of a religious mind, that’s true enough.”
  • 5. He stared down at her fingers. The rest of her was a mess, but her hands were clean, ready, though it had been fourteen hours since the first ambulance arrived. She hadn’t stopped, or broken down, or given up.
  • 6. “You’ve had a taste of real medicine, and nothing you do will ever be as real as this. Have I figured out what makes you tick, Eleanor Atherton? Have you found what you really want?”
  • 7. “I don’t regret it, you know—not choosing the safe path. Not a minute of it, especially if I’m to die young.” He caught her hand. “Don’t do it, El. Don’t be dutiful. Take your chance while you can. Do something daring, rebel. Be a doctor if you want but do it on your own terms. Don’t let anyone tell you how, or say no.”
  • 8. “We’re still human, Dr. Atherton. A medical degree doesn’t change that. We bleed and we suffer, feel pain just like our patients. And when we fail them, with all our skill and our training and our cleverness, we suffer even more.”
  • 9. Eleanor had a kind of restless energy, something to prove to the world. Even when she sat still, he could still tell her mind was moving a hundred miles an hour. Did she ever allow herself to be languid? He couldn’t picture it. He suspected that if she was ever properly set alight, the intensity would burn a man to cinders. He’d caught a glimpse of that fire when the brash sergeant demanded she help with the wounded. It was as if a trumpet had sounded. Eleanor had mounted her chariot like Boudicca and rushed away to meet the challenge, purposeful and sure, her eyes bright. She mucked in, got dirty, and saved lives.
  • 10. “Really sir, I must object to such language in front of a woman,” Willmott said. Bellford glared at him. “I daresay Dr. Atherton has heard all the inappropriate language there is. In fact, it is entirely likely that a number of new words have been coined just for her.”
Meet the Characters
I do a lot of research when I’m creating my characters, even the secondary ones, so they are as real and relatable as possible. I make a list of questions about their background, their hopes and dreams, their flaws, and their journey. A lot of that doesn’t make it into the story, but I get to know them intimately as people, and that comes across on the page. I know what will interest them, what they hate, and how they’ll react in almost any situation (one of the best things about being a writer is when a character surprises you during the writing process, just like a real person might do, and you realize they’ve led you in a new—and perfect—direction. I think of that as the story and the characters speaking to me, and it’s the most breathtaking, wonderful magic imaginable). So let me describe one of my secondary characters, Louis Chastaine. 

Louis is the second son of an earl, a friend of Eleanor’s brother, though their social ranks are quite different. Because he isn’t his father’s heir, Louis is allowed to live a wild, carefree life, without the restrictions his older brother faces. He enlists as a lark with his best friend (Eleanor’s twin brother) when war is declared, expecting another boyish adventure, and when his social rank hands him a safe job behind the lines, he signs up for the Royal Flying Corps. Pilots, in the fragile little airplanes of the time, had a very short life expectancy, about eighteen hours. When his older brother dies accidentally while safe at home in England, Louis suddenly finds himself heir to an earldom, with the full weight of tradition, parental expectations, and dull duty falling on his carefree shoulders. His mother wants him to give up the war and come home, but Louis refuses. When his plane is shot down, and he’s wounded, his mother sends Eleanor to bring him back to England. It isn’t only because Eleanor is a doctor, but because she’s grown up to be an attractive young woman, and the countess knows her son cannot resist the lure of a pretty face. 

Eleanor is the carrot on a stick to lure the stubborn young lord back home. Louis is flattered by the novelty of having a lovely lady doctor all his own at the Casualty Clearing Station. Eleanor amuses him. She was once the girl who tagged along unwanted in childhood games, and Louis is aware that she’s always had a crush on him. He thinks it will be easy to wind Eleanor around his little finger, have a bit of fun with her, but he soon realizes she’s all grown up, a real doctor, and she surprises him. She’s smart, compassionate, determined, and brave. Her example sets Louis on a new and different path and takes him from a life of dissipation to one of honor.

A daring young woman risks everything to pursue a career as a doctor on the front lines in France during World War I, and learns the true meaning of hope, love, and resilience in the darkest of times.

When Eleanor Atherton graduates from medical school near the top of her class in 1917, she dreams of going overseas to help the wounded, but her ambition is thwarted at every turn. Eleanor's parents insist she must give up medicine, marry a respectable man, and assume her proper place. While women might serve as ambulance drivers or nurses at the front, they cannot be physicians—that work is too dangerous and frightening.

Nevertheless, Eleanor is determined to make more of a contribution than sitting at home knitting for the troops. When an unexpected twist of fate sends Eleanor to the battlefields of France as the private doctor of a British peer, she seizes the opportunity for what it is—the chance to finally prove herself.

But there's a war on, and a casualty clearing station close to the front lines is an unforgiving place. Facing skeptical commanders who question her skills, scores of wounded men needing care, underhanded efforts by her family to bring her back home, and a blossoming romance, Eleanor must decide if she's brave enough to break the rules, face her darkest fears, and take the chance to win the career—and the love—she's always wanted.

You can purchase The Woman at the Front at the following Retailers:

1 Winner will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.


  1. On Saturday, our youngest daughter & I got back from a trip to Vermont. Sunday was spent doing laundry.

  2. Not a whole lot. Walked the dog, watched a little football, cleaned the house, ate well, hung out and chatted.

  3. Just stayed home and watched TV and did some laundry.

  4. Just some chores and grocery shopping.

  5. Last weekend I went camping in Northern Michigan.

  6. I got to spend some time with my grandson last weekend.

  7. Had the best time at a local theatre production. The actors were excellent & I haven't laughed that hard in years. Support your local artists. :)

  8. I worked on fall cleaning! Getting everything ready for the snow to fly!

  9. "What did you do last weekend?" I think I went to the hardware store, maybe.