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Talking about the Belleville novels

Australian author J Mary Masters

Author J Mary Masters (Judith) answers questions on the Belleville family series.

Q. Who do you think your Belleville family saga will appeal to?

A. I think my books appeal to readers who enjoy being transported back into the fairly recent past - to a time when life was more formal. There are aspects of those times I don’t applaud of course such as the lack of opportunity and lack of equality for women. But most of all, I strive for an authenticity in my characters, an authenticity in their responses to circumstances and historical accuracy in depicting real historical events. 

Q. Tell us about the historical events the provide the backdrop to your story?

A. The series begins in 1942. The world is at war. Australia is playing host to thousands of American soldiers, under the leadership of General Douglas Macarthur. The war impacted life in many ways - and I remember my father telling stories about the American soldiers stationed around my home town of Rockhampton during this period. When I look at my notes, I see just how much research I conducted to understand the era - newspapers, magazines and the like - I enjoyed delving into the past.

Q. The series has international links too. Was this just a natural part of the story progression?

A. Ideas for the story spring from many sources, but I know, for example, that many Australian men served with the RAF in Britain during the war. It seemed an obvious choice for the elder son of the Belleville family as he heads off to war. It was a period of great change in society as a whole but it had enormous impact on individual relationships. People formed relationships they would otherwise never have had the opportunity to do, which is what you see with Richard's marriage. 

Q. Spoiler alert: without giving too much away, what are the major themes of your novel?

A. Indeed, spoiler alert it is. I’ve always believed that seemingly successful families may hide beneath their polished façades secrets and lies they would give anything not to reveal publicly.

I won’t go into too much detail but suffice to say two big issues in particular are at the heart of the first two novels and I think many women - readers of a certain age - will identify with one particular issue. You’ll have to read the books to find out more. But it is not hard to imagine the issues that a wealthy family with three children coming to adulthood just as World War II takes hold will face. The world as they know it and as they expect it to continue is turned upside down.

Q. So the action takes place across the three countries?

A. Yes, it’s mainly based in Australia but the action moves to England and to the United States at various times. I was keen to only use places I’ve been to. I’ve visited England a number of times, most recently in 2023, and also the United States, most recently in 2003. My husband and I lived in Washington DC for a year during his time at the Australian Embassy too.

Q. The third book ends as we enter the 1960s. This was always going to be just a trilogy but I hear that there may be another book on the way?

A. Yes, I love my characters so much, I can't leave them out of my writing life.

I've become very emotionally engaged myself with the Belleville family, even though they are fictional characters. They are alive to me. I want my readers to feel the same emotional response I do.