Writing about places and a journey she knew well helped a best-selling author make “the emotional leap between me and my characters much easier” in the novel aiming to unite Watford through a love of reading.

Former Watford resident Katharine McMahon’s The Hour of Separation is the subject of the One Town, One Book initiative. This is part of the Watford Together campaign, which has been helping to bring the community together during the coronavirus pandemic.

The story is set in Watford and a fictional farm in Belgium during two world wars and in her blog the Sunday Tomes best-selling author explains how her own work and journeys helped provide an “anchor from which the imagination of writer and reader can take flight”.

She said: “Christa Geering trains to be a schoolteacher. Her character, indeed the inspiration for The Hour of Separation, are borrowed from my mother’s war-time history. A sixth former at the end of the war, she spent her summers working on a farm in Flaunden, and afterwards went to Queen Mary College to study French, and became a teacher.

Watford Observer:

“I was visiting Anne Frank House in Amsterdam when it dawned on me somewhat belatedly that Anne Frank and my mother were near contemporaries. Accident of birth permitted one girl to survive the war, marry, have a career and children – sent the other to the gas chambers. And that, in essence, is how The Hour of Separation was born.

“So Christa trains to be a teacher and at the outset of war is appointed to a school in St Albans. The journeys she takes each day, and her brief experience of teaching, are based on the hundreds of journeys I took between Watford and St Albans.

“My first job was at St Michael’s in Garston, where I used to travel by bus, and I was a keen member of the Abbey Theatre in St Albans. When I first made the journey there was no M25.

"Christa, on the night she again meets Pere Borland, travels home through frozen fields. In an ancient omnibus, in war-time, the journey takes far too long and by the time she gets to Watford there is total black-out."

The author continued: “Writing about a place I knew so well made the emotional leap between me and my characters much easier. I knew the distances they’d travelled, the town-scape they occupied. I knew what Estelle would see when she first arrived in Watford; how she’d walk up Clarendon Road and into the High Street. I’d lived in the Geering’s house when I was first married, though in North Watford not West).

“For historical – or any other - fiction to succeed, the reader has to be immersed, without question, in the world created by the author. Locations, like historical facts, are anchors from which the imagination of writer and reader can take flight.”