Keira: If you could only communicate to one person, one time, and only by telegram – who would you send it to and what would it say?
Liz Trenow: To my husband: IN CASE I HAVEN’T TOLD YOU BEFORE, I LOVE YOU. X
Keira: Before emails and the internet, there was the telegram – how did one go about sending a telegram and what did it cost?
Liz: Before telephones were available, people had to go to a telegram office (in England, the Post Office) and write their message on a blank form, which would then be turned into Morse code. When telephones became available, you could phone the telegram office and dictate the message: the cost of the service was added to your phone bill.
The cost of sending a telegram depended on distance the message had to be sent, the speed with which it needed to be delivered, and its length. A ten-word telegram sent within a city cost as little as twenty cents in the 1920s but the same telegram sent from Chicago to New York City, for example, cost sixty cents. They were charged by the word so were usually very brief, missing out any pronouns or articles such as ‘you’, ‘and’ or ‘the’.
Keira: What is the mistake that Lily Verner commits during World War II and how has it affected her?
Liz: It would be a shame to reveal the secret of Lily’s mistake to people who may not have read the book yet! Of course it affects her deeply, and she deals with her guilt and shame it by locking it away for most of her life (both metaphorically, in her subconscious mind, and physically, in the suitcase). She probably spends her adulthood subconsciously trying to make up for it by being as perfect as possible at work and at home. But as she grows old and frail, she realises that she has to face up to what happened, and make peace with herself before she dies.
Keira: What would be the worse consequences Lily could face? What does she imagine them to be?
Liz: The worst consequence is the one that actually happens. Again it would be a shame to reveal the outcome for readers who have not read the book yet. She is so devastated by this consequence of her actions that she cannot imagine that anything worse could ever happen to her.
Keira: If you can’t avoid “the consequences” (being negative), how do you decide what to do?
Liz: That’s a profound question! When something bad happens, that perhaps is something they have caused, people deal with it in so many different ways. In an ideal world, you need to acknowledge your own complicity (and apologise, if necessary) and then move on if possible. But it’s never that easy! My own way of dealing with anxiety is to try to restrict the amount of time (in a day, say) that I stress about the big things and otherwise try to put them in a metaphorical box and close the lid (as Lily does).
Keira: How do you define (romantic/true) love?
Liz: Whoo, another deep one! There have been two major loves in my life: the first was the big ‘romantic’ one: at the time I couldn’t eat, sleep, or stop thinking about him and was devastated when it ended, but he would have been a disaster as a long-term partner! The second is my husband, who has been the most wonderful life’s companion and father to our children. That’s the one I would define as ‘true’ love.
Keira: Anything you want goes here!
Liz: I just want to add that I am intensely proud to be part of a silk family and its unique heritage, but most of all I am proud of my father and tens of thousands of others for their tireless work behind the scenes of the home front during the Second World War, playing a critical role in helping to keep this country safe. I offer Last Telegram as a small tribute to all those remarkable men and women whose stories are otherwise untold.