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  • Writer's picturePatti Callahan Henry

Female First UK: 8 Things I did to research my characters’ for BECOMING MRS. LEWIS - Patti Callahan

Updated: May 24, 2022

Female First UK by Matt Shine | 15 April 2020 Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis’s improbable love story is told in Joy’s voice in my novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis. Very early on during the writing of her fascinating and brave story, I decided that I wanted to dive into primary resources – the resources that allowed me to hear directly from her voice as much as was possible. C. S. Lewis’s nickname to his friends was Jack, and Joy and Jack’s story is one for the ages. Joy died in 1960 and Jack in 1963; their love story lives on in many places, including this novel told from Joy’s point of view.

So let’s take a ride through Joy’s voice and story!

1.  Read her poetry:

One of the first things I did to “hear” Joy Davidman’s voice was to read her poetry. Joy was an award-winning poet (The Yale Younger Poet’s Award) and had published much of it. In addition to much of her published poetry, a novelist’s dream happened about eight years ago: in a closet of Joy’s best friend, in Oxford England, Joy’s on living son, Douglas Gresham, found a box of unpublished poetry, short stories and personal papers. In that box were three hundred (Yes! three hundred) unpublished poems, and within those three hundred was a folder of forty-five love sonnets for C. S. Lewis. I read these poems/sonnets over and over, listening for Joy’s voice and heart. (To read yourself, you can check out A Naked Tree – edited by Don W. King)

2. Read Joy Davidman’s letters:

C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman had an almost three-year pen friendship, but lamentably those letters have been lost. Therefore, I had to rely on the letters they wrote to other people. Some of Joy’s letters have been published and others are meticulously stored at the Marion E. Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois. I traveled to Chicago and onto Wheaton to read those letters. Joy’s letters are as detailed and vivid as any journal I’ve read. Her eye to detail and her poet’s ear fill her letters with a voice we can almost hear, and I listened!

3. Read C. S. Lewis’s letters:

I say I read his letters, but there is no way I could have read them all. Thousands of his letters have been published! I focused on the published letters that he wrote to other people during the time he was in a decade long relationship with Joy (1950-1960). I focused on his feelings about world events, his friendships, thoughts, and advice. He often wrote about Joy, and I used that to round out the narrative.

4. Visited the landscape where they lived and fell in love:

Except for the years of pen friendship, Joy and Jack’s love story unfolded in London, Oxford and Cambridge. After I finished a very rough draft of the novel, and when I knew where we would see Joy and Jack, I organized a trip to England titled “In the Steps of Joy”. I listed each place you visit in the novel and I went to those very places with my eye and heart leaning toward Joy’s point of view. What would she have seen? What would she have felt upon arrival? From Jack’s home, The Kilns, to his college, Magdalen at Oxford, to Joy’s house in London, I visited them all, my imagination on fire as I envisioned them both in those places.

5. Researched the historical events of the day:

It was important to me that not only was the story and landscape accurate but also the times (1950-1960). What was happening in both America and Britain during those years? How would those historical happenings have impacted their story? For example, about the time Joy arrived on the scene, King Edward VIII had just abdicated his throne for the love of the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Surely Jack and Joy would have seen the similarities and talked about it as Joy was an American divorcee and the Church of England did not allow remarriage.

6. Talked to Joy’s son:

I was quite fortunate to be able to talk to Joy’s son, Douglas Gresham. I didn’t talk to him until after the first draft of the book was finished as I wanted to make sure that the novel was in her point of view, but afterward I met and talked at length with Douglas. He does a tremendous job safekeeping his mother and Jacks’ legacy with the C. S. Lewis Company. He told me a couple stories I slipped into the narrative.

7. Researched Joy and Jack’s childhoods:

Psychologically I want to know my characters as deeply as possible, and knowing as much as I can about their formative years is important to me. Both Joy and Jack have much written about their childhoods, parenting, and growing up years. I read about them as I attempted to find their soft and hard places of the heart.

8. Read Joy’s ex-husband, Bill Gresham’s letters:

No matter how bitter the divorce, Joy and her ex-husband, William Gresham, kept up a vigorous correspondence for all her life. Although Joy was the one fully responsible for raising their two sons in England, while Bill remarried and moved on in America, Joy kept him updated about their lives. These letters from Bill were fascinating and offered a bit of perspective into Joy’s marriage and communication with the father of her sons.

Behind the Scenes of Becoming Mrs. Lewis Podcast Audiobook Collection


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Dec 23, 2022

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