Wendy Waters is an author, composer, lyricist and librettist. Born in Australia, she grew up in Sydney, lived in the USA for six years and now divides her time between London, Sydney and Paris. In 2011 Waters volunteered to work with OASIS Salvation Army Crisis Centre in Sydney, helping musically gifted young people. Waters has written three musicals: FRED, ALEXANDER and THE LAST TALE (with composer Shanon Whitelock) and two books, Catch the Moon, Mary and Fields of Grace. Music is a constant theme in Waters’ work.
Set against a backdrop of war in 30s Europe, Grace Fieldergill, a starry-eyed young actress from Devon moves to London to pursue her dream of becoming a star. The lovable boarders of Wyncote House, a ladies-only establishment, take her under their collective wing and share her triumph when she is accepted into the brilliant young John Gielgud’s Company as Peggy Ashcroft’s understudy. When Peggy misses a show one night Grace gets her chance. Watching her performance that evening are two people who will change her life forever, London’s most famous actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and a man whose love she never thought she could win.
Fields of Grace is a searingly beautiful love letter to the performing arts, based loosely on my grandmother’s life as a virtuoso violinist whose stellar career in London was cut short by the burgeoning war in 1936. Even though I have made my leading lady a theatrical ingenue her rise and fall echo my grandmother’s experiences, which she told to me in the last few months of her life. She loved passionately – her music, her family, my grandfather and the mysterious man who rocked her world in Europe in the 30s.
Excerpt from review by Sarah Sansom @theBookWhiskers: Fields of Grace is a story about every kind of love silhouetted against the evils of persecution and envy. The narrative carries the reader from the flirtatious bright lights of 1930s London, to the grand romance of Paris, before mercilessly setting down in the hostile streets of Hitler’s Berlin where life takes an ugly twist. Grace is the story’s leading lady, and its main narrator. We first meet her in Sydney in the autumn of 2009, the winter of her life. An ethereal tawny fog has settled over the city, and its portentous arrival lets Grace know that this will be her last earthbound day; the day when she can finally set herself free from the secrets of her past, and heal old wounds. “Time has a way of sorting out most things, but I have no more time, so today I will unlock the trunk pass John’s legacy on to Sam [Grace’s granddaughter], and tell my son the truth about his father. Then the amberglow may claim my soul.” Standing in the corner of Grace’s bedroom is an old trunk that has remained locked for over seventy-four years. It holds little of monetary value, but its contents are the precious mementoes of an unparalleled life. A faded program from a production of Hamlet staged in Berlin in 1936 still holds the bloom of a lilac rose frozen in time between the pages. A scroll of handwritten notes remains tied with a lilac ribbon. The intoxicating scent of fresh roses. With the tenderest of prompts the scenery changes, and Grace is recounting her breathtaking story of theatre, friends, love and war…Overall, this is a breathtaking story about every kind of love: the uplifting love of friends, the anchoring love of family, the romantic love of partners. It’s about true love, passionate love, unrequited love, forbidden love, illicit love, failed love, infatuation and forgiveness. By Sarah Sansom @theBookWhiskers
When I was fifteen, I moved in with my grandmother, ostensibly to help her during the period of her mourning after my grandfather passed away. During that time, she told me stories about her early life that even my father had never heard. She spoke of her music and the years of training that turned her into a virtuoso performer. I was studying drama at the time and my love for the theatre chimed with her passion for music and that acceptance of the yoke we all bow to when we aspire to artistic excellence. She recounted an extraordinary life playing for the famous and infamous in London and Europe. Such was her reception that she fully expected a stellar career culminating in an appearance at Covent Garden and one day, Carnegie Hall. Her talent merited such an arrival. But alas, her family summoned her home in 1936, fearing she would get caught up in the war that was looming. She returned and as the war dragged on and there seemed to be no end in sight, she accepted a marriage proposal from my grandfather who had loved her for over a decade. He had fallen in love with her when he was fourteen and she was twenty-two. They were neighbours. My grandmother was the love of his life and she adored him but during the revelations I was privy to in her final months I realised there had been another great unfulfilled love for her – the career she had left behind in Europe and London. Australia was far from welcoming in 1936 – the most she was offered was second fiddle in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, hugely insulting for a consummate musician who had studied with Ysayë, a master violinist in Belgium and played in some of the most salubrious salons in London and Paris.
I felt her heartache so keenly and her story stayed with me for years, long after she had gone. Every so often I would examine aspects of it and wonder if there was a turn she missed along the way.
In writing Fields of Grace, I am both reconciling myself to the loss of my grandmother and her dream and also hoping to inspire others to follow their dreams no matter how steep the climb, how inhospitable the terrain.
Note from Anna Bushi:
I am an author of medieval fiction “Heir to Malla” that is available on Kindle Unlimited.
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