Interview: AJ Pearce talks about Yours Cheerfully
Updated: Sep 2, 2021
NZ Booklovers loved Dear Mrs Bird, so we are excited to be reading the sequel, Yours Cheerfully. Can you tell us a little about the new book?
Thank you! I really hope you enjoy it! Yours Cheerfully begins just a few months after the end of Dear Mrs Bird where Emmy is now doing well at ‘Woman’s Friend’. When the Ministry of Information asks Britain’s women’s magazines to help recruit thousands of vitally needed women into war work, Emmy is thrilled to really be doing her bit. However, when she and Bunty meet some young war workers, they find that their reality is very different to the propaganda.
The novel follows Emmy as she is torn between helping the war effort and standing up for her friends and the readers. Almost all of the cast of Dear Mrs Bird are back, including Mr Collins and the team at ‘Woman’s Friend’, and Emmy’s boyfriend Charles who has been posted back to the UK, so I hope readers will enjoy catching up with old friends, as it were.
How difficult was it writing the follow up to Dear Mrs Bird and what did you find different about the process from the first book?
Lots of people talk about second books being a little like ‘the difficult second album’ for bands, and it is definitely a challenge. I wrote Dear Mrs Bird as a hobby, and things do change if you’re lucky enough to then get a publishing contract.
I was hugely committed to trying to make Yours Cheerfully as good as I possibly could as I didn’t want to let people down, particularly the readers who had been so supportive about Dear Mrs Bird. So I thought long and hard about not only the new story, but how Emmy, Bunty and the other characters would develop. I hope that the new novel has the same sort of fun and attitude, but of course with an entirely new adventure.
What research was involved?
As with the first novel, I used a range of difference resources. I was really lucky to meet a wonderful lady who told me of her childhood memories playing in a factory where her mother worked, and this inspired me to investigate the issue of female war workers.
As well as reference books, I did extensive research through news and women’s magazines from the period, which meant I could look at opinions in 1941 as they were then – rather than purely retrospective accounts, and as ever, I used photographic and film materials to try to get a real feel of the era.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
Once I had the main idea and a decent amount of research and knowledge under my belt, I mapped out a chapter outline so that I could share it with my editors to make sure they liked the idea! This also worked as my ‘satnav’ for writing the first draft. I like to have a decent idea of the storyline rather than writing into the void. I really admire writers who can do that – I need an idea of where I am going or I’ll get lost or stuck in a one way street!
If a soundtrack was made to accompany the new book, name a song or two you would include.
Sing Sing Sing by Benny Goodman is an absolute must. It’s really upbeat and I think sets the scene for the novel beautifully – do find it on Spotify when you start reading the book! And it’s actually played at one point in one of my favourite scenes in the book, with Emmy and Bunty.
We Must All Stick Together is also on my playlist as Emmy quotes it in a situation where she has been eavesdropping on something she shouldn’t have!
What did you enjoy the most about writing Yours Cheerfully?
It was lovely to spend time with the characters I love, and also to create new ones. There’s a little girl called Ruby who I had great fun with, and a new baddie who I loathed spending any time with! There are several scenes near the end of the book that I had a ball writing, but I can’t mention them as they contain massive spoilers. I think readers will probably be able to tell how much I enjoyed writing them.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Slept! I’m joking – although I did put in some long hours to meet my deadline! With lockdowns, celebrations have been a little low key, but I did get break open the champagne and toast Yours Cheerfully when it was published.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
It’s hard to narrow down as there have been so many cracking books. I’m going through a slight Victorian phase I think as I loved The Man Women’s Ball by Victoria Mas, set in an asylum for women in 1880’s Paris. It is quite short, but beautifully written and translated from the original French. I also adored Dog Days by Erika Waller about a group of friends and their dogs in Brighton. The characters were so well drawn. It is very witty but also made me cry. I highly recommend both of these – they’re great book club reads too.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I am now working on my next novel, the follow up to Yours Cheerfully and the third in what have become The Emmy Lake Chronicles. So I’m thrilled to say that Emmy and Bunty will be back!
Author photo: Alexander James