Gabriele Wills Guest Post and Give@way

Why I Chose to Write About This Era :
 by Gabriele Wills

“We danced on the edge of an abyss,” the Countess of Fingall said in 1911. Even the privileged realized that radical change was in the air. But no one could have foreseen that this generation would soon be challenged by the most tumultuous time in modern history.

Already women were stepping out of breath-snatching corsets and stultifying drawing rooms. Some demanded the vote; a few braved ridicule and contempt to invade the realm of men at medical and law schools. Restless fellows wanted to conquer the skies and drive ever-faster automobiles. Domestics began to seek independence from a life of servitude. Science and technology were electrifying the world even as their hubris led to the tragedy of the “unsinkable” Titanic.

The Summer Before the Storm begins in 1914 by immersing readers in the genteel Age of Elegance - the glittering balls and courtly romances played out in the seductive lake district of Muskoka in the Canadian wilderness. War seemed improbable, even to the country’s Prime Minister, who was holidaying in Muskoka and hastily recalled to the capital just days before Britain declared war on Germany. Canada was suddenly embroiled in the conflict as well.

So when chivalrous young men went blithely and patriotically off to do their duty for King and Country, none realized the enormous sacrifices they would make. Privilege and wealth didn’t help. In fact, officers were killed in proportionally larger numbers than their men. Some families, like a friend of Nancy Astor, lost all their sons. Many felt that the best and brightest were among those who now lay in the endless rows of graves.

Eager to “do their bit”, sisters and sweethearts had new opportunities to prove themselves by taking over traditional men’s jobs, or becoming volunteer (VAD) nurses, clerks, and drivers. Some were aristocrats, like Lady Diana Manners, reputedly the most beautiful debutante in England. Her mother was against her becoming a VAD nurse, but finally gave in. The Duchess “knew, as I did, that my emancipation was at hand," Diana stated in her memoir, and admitted, "I seemed to have done nothing practical in all my twenty years." One of the most famous VADs was Agatha Christie, whose job was to dispense drugs. That was how she learned so much about poisons, which she later used in her mysteries.

VADs were generally from sheltered and chaperoned backgrounds. Growing up with servants, most of these young women had never washed a plate or boiled an egg. One girl related how amusing it was to serve tea to the wounded at the hospital and then return home to have her own tea served by the parlour maid. But when rivers of casualties overwhelmed staff, there was little difference between what was expected of inexperienced VADs and fully trained nurses. The volunteers were often left in charge of as many as 100 dangerously ill men, and had to help treat horrific injuries that would forever haunt them.

Even more adventuresome were the intrepid women who drove ambulances in France and Belgium, especially members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), who earned 136 medals and decorations. Their work was difficult, dangerous, and dirty (they fixed their own ambulances), but these gently reared ladies endured it all with stoicism and grace. In Book 2 of my Muskoka Novels, Elusive Dawn, I pay homage to these courageous women through my version of the Corps.

People live more intensely and passionately during turbulent times when death is unpredictable and ever present.  But even those who survived were forever changed by their experiences and losses. What fertile ground for an author!

The three Muskoka Novels cover twenty years of unprecedented social changes in Europe and North America. My characters mingle with Alfred Vanderbilt on the Lusitania, dine with Nancy Astor at her fabulous estate, Cliveden, spend a country house weekend with Lord Beaverbrook, fly with Britain and Canada’s top Ace, Billy Bishop, drink with Ernest Hemingway in Paris, and dance with the Prince of Wales. So it’s been tremendous fun for me to research this fascinating time, and bring it vividly to life.

As Cole Porter so aptly wrote in his 1934 hit tune:
“ In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.”

Thanks to Gabrielle Wills and Premier Author Book Tours I have a copy of The Summer Before The Storm to giveaway to a lucky reader. The giveaway is for one copy of the book in print or Kindle.  Winners in the U.S. or Canada will receive their choice. International winners will receive the Kindle version. Good Luck!


  1. Thanks for inviting me to talk about my favourite time period, Marcie! :)
    Gabriele Wills

  2. Thanks again for taking part in the tour! Good luck to everyone who enters the giveaway!


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