Please give a warm welcome to historical fiction author, Joan Fallon.
One day, a few years ago, I was flicking through an old copy of the Economist, which someone had left in the waiting room of my dentist, when quite by chance my attention was caught by a short article on WWII’s child migrants. Child migrants? Did they mean evacuees? Thousands of children had been evacuated to safer parts of Britain during World War II but I’d never heard of the child migrants. As I read the article I was astounded, not only that it claimed that thousands of children were routinely sent to the British Dominions, before, during and after the war, but also because I, along with thousands of other people it seemed, had never heard anything about this.
It had come to light by accident in 1986 when a social worker called Margaret Humphreys was approached by a former child migrant asking her for assistance in locating her relatives. She claimed that she had been deported from Britain when she was only four years old. The social worker was astonished. Even she didn’t realise that thousands of British children had been sent as child migrants to countries such as Australia and Canada and never knew their own parents. Some had been told they were orphans and if it hadn't been for this chance circumstance, many of those children, now adults, would never have been reunited with their families. As it was, for some it was too late—their parents were already dead.
As soon as the news about the child migrants became known, people began to write their own memoirs and accounts of their experiences. Some of them were heartbreaking. But one thing became clear—and this is something that a writer of historical fiction must bear in mind—the charities, religious organisations and the British government who sent these children thousands of miles away from their homes and families, really thought they were doing the best for the children at that time. Many children came from poor homes and some were indeed orphans and so they believed they were giving the children a fresh start in life. Today we realise that removing a child from its parents should always be a last resort, but then things were viewed differently. What they failed to do however, was to keep an eye on the children once they were in their new homes. Many were put into orphanages or sent to farm schools. Rather than having a better life, they were used as slave labour, poorly educated and often abused.
The article I had chanced upon inspired me to read extensively around this subject and in the end to write a book of my own. is historical fiction, a novel based on true occurrences and drawn from the real experiences of those immigrant children. It is the story of the three Smith children from Bethnal Green who, through a series of unfortunate incidents, find themselves on a boat to Australia in 1941. This is not a story of tears and recriminations but rather the story of how each child, in their own way, struggles to make the best of their lives and never gives up the hope of being reunited with their family.
Born in Scotland, Joan Fallon has always wanted to be a writer. Books are her passion and she grew up reading everything she could get her hands on. Although writing was always a major part of her work, both as a teacher and later, as a management consultant and trainer, it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that she had the opportunity to devote herself to being a novelist. It was when she moved to Spain that she decided that the time had come to take her writing seriously. She enrolled in an Open University course in Creative Writing—the same university where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Open in the early eighties—and hasn’t stopped writing since. Because her working life, during the 1970s and through to the nineties, was that of a woman struggling for recognition in a man’s world, almost all her books have a strong female protagonist. She writes mainly about women and the challenges they have to face because she understands them best. She also likes to write about the past, but not kings and queens, rather the social fabric of society. To date she has written six historical novels, five contemporary novels and one book of non-fiction. Joan is a member of the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
The Only Blue Door
It is September 1940, Maggie and her young siblings, Grace and Billy, are living in the East End of London with their mother. Their father has been killed at Dunkirk and their mother goes into hospital to have her fourth child, leaving the children with a neighbour. In one of the worst bombing raids of the war their home is destroyed and the neighbour is killed. Bewildered and frightened, the children wander the streets until they are taken in by some nuns. But their problems are not over; no-one can trace their mother and, labelled as orphans, they are sent as child migrants to Australia.
The novel traces their adventures in their new country, the homesickness, the heartbreak when Billy is separated from his sisters and the loneliness of life in a cold and unfeeling orphanage. Eventually the children make new lives for themselves, but Maggie is still convinced that her mother is alive and once she is old enough, begins to search for her.