What inspired you to write this story?
A long time ago, I happened upon the documentary "Wasps and Witches" on TV.
It tells the parallel story of the American Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP’s) of World War II and the female combat pilots fighting for the Soviet Union at the same time. I was particularly fascinated by the Soviet women, and read as much on them as I could. Until then, I had no idea that women had fought in combat during WWII, let alone flew fighters and bombers.
There's now been quite a bit of fiction and non-fiction written about the night bomber pilots, the "Night Witches," but very little about the fighter pilots. I thought that was a shame, so I decided to step into that gap. And so, many years later, Sparrow Squadron came into being.
Did you write Sparrow Squadron what is currently happening in society in mind?
I think all fiction reflects the world around the writer. While the idea for the novel came much earlier, the bulk of it was written a year and a half ago. Probably the biggest external influence was the lead up to the 2016 US election. Because a female US president was a likely possibility, there was this strange mix of uplifting inspiration and rampant misogyny. Neither of these things is new. As each generation faces its own struggles to make progress, it's good to be exposed to what previous generations faced and achieved. All of that was definitely playing in my mind when I wrote the novel.
How much of Sparrow Squadron is fiction?
Aelya’s story itself is fiction and all of the people, with one notable exception, are all inventions of mine. However, I wrote this with the intent that all the events in the novel could reasonably have happened. Obviously, the major historical events all happened and many incidents are drawn from real-life accounts. The backgrounds of many of the characters are also based on real-life people.
What was your favourite discovery in doing your research?
As a result of Lend-Lease, in which the United States sent supplies to the Soviet Union to support their war effort, Soviet military personnel got inundated with a Spam-like canned meat. They took to calling it "Second Front." This was in part a dig at the repeated promises and delays the West made to open up a second front against Germany while the Soviets continued battling every day.
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“I don’t doubt your ability,” Stitches continued, “but combat’s not just about being good. Only luck will determine when you go out. Whether you get shot down next week or make it through this war without a scratch, the odds are the same.”
He seemed happy to hear himself talk. Stitches was a veteran. With four confirmed kills, he was almost an ace. She shifted to the edge of her seat, gripped with the urge to take advantage of this moment of openness.
“I probably could have done better.” A lot better. “Any suggestions?”
“It’s impossible to know what’s going on with so many planes in the air. Half the time I have no clue what anyone else is doing. To be honest, I have no idea how well you did, but that you dived into a swarm of Junkers and came out all right speaks well of you.”
“Wait . . . you saw enough to confirm I damaged one, right?”
“Caught me in a lie, I’m afraid.”
She slapped him on the shoulder. “I don’t need your pity.”
“It’s not pity.” He lowered his voice, and she strained to hear him over the canopy rattling against the wind. “It’s what we do for each other. Everyone plays up their numbers. Damaged planes don’t count for anything anyway, just kills. If you added up all the planes we say we shoot up each month, it would be more than all the planes in Europe.”
She had to calm down. Although it seemed patronizing, she realized that Stitches’s little lie meant she was one of the group. In some small way, she belonged.
“To be honest,” she said, “I barely hit anything before using up my ammo. Any ideas how to get better?”
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