From the pop buzz feel of Will Kemp‘s award winning ‘The Day I Met Vini Reilly’, brimming with light-touch social commentary, ironic personal reflections, sharp dialogue and insights about the author and his hero, to Jane McLaughlin‘s ‘Common Ground’ in which the narrator finds emotional release through an unexpected encounter; and from the dramatic first paragraph of ‘Eclipsed’ by Kate Mitchell, opening a story full of psychological entanglement that leads to a chilling conclusion, to the deft first person voice of Jane Austin‘s historical and personal drama in ‘Les Petites Curies’, these are stories that will delight, grip, entertain and intrigue. From 1970s pop buzz to hi-tech Saigon, Jeremy Worman has selected ten extraordinary stories.
My story traces the tense relationship between mother and daughter, Marie and Irène Curie, who used X-rays for the wounded at the battlefront in the First World War. The X-ray vans were dubbed Les Petites Curies.
The inspiration for this story was a spin-off from my novel, News from Nowhere, to be published by Cinnamon, March 2017. The novel is based on family letters from the First World War. It takes the point of view of a young woman whose life is changed forever by the letters she receives from the Front.
As I researched the byways of women’s achievements at that time, I came across peace campaigners, doctors, journalists, scientists, and the extraordinary career of Marie Curie. There was a side of her life, little known today, that I found quite fascinating.
Marie Curie was a world famous twice Nobel Prize winner, yet fighting to salvage her reputation. Vilified for her affair with fellow scientist, Paul Langevin, she was under severe stress and in poor health, when in the summer of 1912, Hertha Ayrton offered her respite in Dorset. The two had a lot in common; both were physicists, widowed, and of Polish origin. Marie had been hounded as a ‘foreigner’ by a rampantly xenophobic French press.
Two years later, the world was at war. Marie was determined to play her part in defending her beloved France. She turned her energies to establishing a fleet of X-ray vans, learned to drive, and took her machines to the frontline. The equipment she used produced images of shrapnel in the body and greatly increased chances of survival. Irène, her daughter and assistant, accompanied her at the tender age of seventeen.
What was the relationship between mother and daughter? How would Irène survive the experience of war, witness to horrific injuries? And what of the daughter left behind? These are the questions that drew me to their story.