Victoria Purman is an Adelaide author with titles published in a range of genres, mediums and publishers. I used to be able to proudly say that I have read them all but I have managed to miss a couple of recent digital releases; though I do have them on my device waiting for the time to get to them. I have loved her work across all genres but I must say that her historical works is relevant and fascinating.
The Land Girls is her latest release and a May book club read for the Beauty and Lace Club. I read and loved the book recently, my review will be up in a couple of days.
Welcome back to Beauty and Lace Victoria, it’s always a pleasure to speak to you. We first interviewed you back in 2013 when your debut released, and you have done lots of different things since then.
Thanks for having me back! I really appreciate all the support you’ve shown to me since my first book was published.
Does the feeling you get when you hold the first copy of a new book in your hands ever change?
Never! “The Land Girls” is my 16th book and when the books arrive and I get to hold them in my hot little hands, I still experience that same feeling as I did when I held my first. “I wrote that!” Honestly, to be published in the first place is a huge thrill, but to continue to be published, to have publishers who love my books and – importantly – readers who keep reading my books – is an utter joy.
The new release is The Land Girls, can you tell us a little about it?
We know a lot about the men who served, some about the women who served, but we don’t know about the women who “did it for the boys” at home. About 6000 women answered the call to assist in the war effort, replace the male farm workers who’d gone off to war or those who’d left farms to take up essential war work. It’s not an exaggeration to say that through their labours, Australia was able to keep its citizens and its troops fed.
These women, who became known as the Land Girls, walked away from offices, factories, shops and typing pools to work in shearing sheds, herding sheep and classing wool. On farms all over the country, they picked grapes and potatoes and oranges and cherries and onions. When Australia was forced to create a flax industry, because European flax supplies had been so severely disrupted, they harvested flax. (Flax was turned into linen thread which made shoelaces and canvas tents and parachutes.)
They drove tractors and repaired farm machinery. Some of them were away from home for years, all the while earning about half of the men they’d replaced.
What inspired you to write The Land Girls?
It was the knowledge that women were there in almost every theatre of war. More than 66,000 of them enlisted in a branch of the women’s services during the war and thousands more served as nurses, doctors and allied health professionals in theatres of war all over the world. And here at home, they were champing at the bit to play their part in the war effort.
I am passionate about digging into our history to tell the forgotten or overlooked stories of Australian women. Women accomplished so much, in places and in industries we don’t know about, and these stories deserve to be told.
Are any of the characters based on real people?
I used the real-life stories of members of the Australian Women’s Land Army to create the characters in the book – Flora, Lilian and Betty. The Keith Murdoch Sound Archive of Australia in the war of 1939–45, held at the Australian War Memorial, was a treasure trove as I was able to listen to former members of the Land Army telling their own stories, which revealed they were far from ordinary women. I was also lucky enough to have access to original letters and other memorabilia – sent by my husband’s Uncle Reg back to his family – from both the Middle East and New Guinea during the war years. That helped enormously with creating the male characters in the book.
Can you tell us a little about the research you undertook for the writing of The Land Girls?
As well as the oral transcripts, I immersed myself in non-fiction books about wartime Australia and it really inspired my recreation of the cities and peoples’ attitudes at the time. Let’s just say there were a lot of men who didn’t think women would cope with doing farm work. Funny that the wives and daughters of farmers had been doing the exact same work for generations! I was also lucky enough to have those original letters I mentioned earlier – they are a real window into the language and worries of the time. So much was unsaid but the words are laden with meaning.
The Land Army employed women in positions that were mainly male dominated before the war, what happened to them when the war was over?
The war ended in August 1945 and by Christmas, all the Land Army girls were sacked. (They had to stay on a little longer to ensure that farms had labour until all the soldiers came home, which did take months and months.) Many went back to the jobs they’d had before the war, but their wartime services had unleashed something in them: a fierce sense of independence and confidence that they had done jobs – and done them well – that men had once done. It’s been said that these women gave birth to the feminists of the 1970s and it’s easy to see that their confidence and independence rubbed off on their daughters. These women not only discovered a new-found sense of freedom, but among the other Land Girls they met friends they could turn to in their darkest hours. For they had loved ones fighting abroad too, and suffered their own grief and losses. After the war, their work and sacrifices were largely forgotten, and I hope my book brings their adventures, toil and sacrifices to light.
What kind of women joined The Land Army?
They were mostly working class girls although a few more privileged women joined up to, and I portray that divide in the character of Lilian. She has her own particular reason for heading out to the country for work (no spoilers) and for the first time, she realises that she is more than a decorative object and a “good” girl.
Are you doing any appearances or touring to promote the release of The Land Girls?
Yes, I am! I’m thrilled to be going on a national tour with “The Land Girls”, and I’ll be meeting readers in South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Canberra. All the details are on my website (www.victoriapurman.com/events).
Is there anything new you’re working on you can tell us about?
I’m deep in research on my 2020 book, which is set in the years just after the war, and will look at the kind of Australia that women like the Land Girls returned to. It’s fascinating!
That does sound fascinating. I would love to discover it had some info about The Land Girls that we have just come to know in it.
Available now from Harlequin and where all good books are sold.