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Laura Spence-Ash Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Beyond That, the Sea (2023)Description / Buy at Amazon

Laura Spence-Ash
Laura Spence-Ash’s fiction work has appeared in Crazyhorse, One Story, New England Review, and other places. Her book reviews and critical essays regularly appear in the Ploughshares blog. She got her MFA in fiction from Rutgers-Newark.

Laura got the idea for “Beyond That, The Sea” in 1998. She read this article in the New York Times about this group of older British adults that returned to the States to see where they’d lived during the war. While she knew that kids were sent to the country, she’d no idea that kids were sent so far away and often all alone.

She could not quit thinking about this, since her kids were young at the time, and she could not even imagine making the decision to send them away. She read everything that she could get her hands on, including accounts that were written by evacuees. When she read a memoir written by a man that had been sent to live in the same town where she went to high school, a story started to form in Laura’s mind.

One of the reasons that she loves writing about the past is the connection to the present. She never once thought that she was writing historical fiction; she was just writing about characters that lived in a different time. She often writes about the past in present tense, since she likes the friction which develops there, and the way that the present tense is able to make the past come alive.

In terms of weaving history in, she did a fair bit of research early on about the Blitz, however she started wondering if she would ever actually write the novel if she continued doing research. So she focused more on actually writing, rather than continue doing deep dives into a given time period when she got there. Laura loves putting in these small details which firmly place the reader in time, yet don’t overwhelm the stories of her characters.

When Laura first started writing the novel, in 2008, Bea was the only one narrating. Then she expanded it, to give William, Bea, and Gerald a chance to narrate a decade. However she then found that she was increasingly interested in the older generation and how the choice to send Bea to America affected them too. While Bea is the spine of this novel, it’s really a novel about family.

When she decided to write this novel with multiple perspectives and over such a long period of time, she knew that each moment would need to be rather brief. She’d written “Desire Lines”, which is a short story about two characters over the course of thirty years, and the perspective continues pinging back and forth between both of them, moving forward in time. Laura really enjoyed writing this story and thinking about a moment which may help clarify who they were at that time and their relationship to one another.

This was her model when she began working on the novel in this format, to think about moments, instead of scenes, and not always focus on the bigger moments, but to also consider the before and the after. Laura thought about these moments as memories in the making. It seems to her that we do not always remember the big moments, but we often remember something rather small which resonates, for whatever reason. She is always interested in the passage of time and in incremental change over time. She wishes she could write a novel which takes place just over a weekend, but she doesn’t believe she is able to.

The title comes from “The Waves” by Virginia Woolf. “In the beginning, there was the nursery, with windows opening on to a garden, and beyond that the sea.” It’s a line that Laura has always admired. She loves how the sentence moves from start to finish, from inside to out, from childhood to adulthood, from the known and to the unknown. To Laura, it’s describing how life unfurls, and, at its core, that is what her novel is about. Each of her POV characters change and grow through the novel, while their lives develop and open up.

“Beyond That, The Sea” is the first stand alone novel and was released in 2023. A tenderhearted and sweeping love story, this novel tells the story about two families living through World War II on opposing sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and the shy, irresistible young woman that will call them both her own.

While German bombs are falling all over London in 1940, Reginald and Millie Thompson make this impossible decision: they choose to send Beatrix, their eleven year old daughter, to America. There, she is going to live with another family for the war’s duration, and where they hope she’ll remain safe.

Angry and scared, feeling both displaced and lonely, Bea arrives in Boston to meet the Gregorys. Mr. and Mrs. G, and their sons Gerald and William, fold her seamlessly into their world. She becomes a part of this lively family, learning their ways and their stories, adjusting to their affluent lifestyle. Bea grows close to both sons, one younger and one older, and fills the gap between them. Before too long, before she can even realize it, life with the Gregorys feels much more natural to her than the spare and quiet life with her parents back in England.

While she comes into herself and relaxes into this new life, summers on the coast in Maine, new friends that clamor to hear more about life across the sea, the girl that she had been starts to fade away, until, rather abruptly, she’s called back home to London once the war has ended.

As desperate as she is not to leave this life behind, she dutifully retraces her trip across the Atlantic to return back to her new, old world. As she gets back to post-war London, the memories of her American family remain with her, never fully letting her go, and always tugging at her heart while she tries to move on and pursue a life and love of her own.

While we follow Bea over time, navigating between her two worlds, this novel emerges as an absorbing and beautiful novel, filled with heartache and grace, understanding and forgiveness, love and loss.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Laura Spence-Ash

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