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Past Encounters by Davina Blake

PastEncounters_Ebook

If you were born in the 1950’s as I was, you will no doubt remember wartime stories passed down to you from your parents.

My parents were not old enough to fight in the second world war, but their stories of gas masks and rationing, dried egg sandwiches, and night-time forays into the Andersen shelter at the bottom of the garden, stuck with me. In particular, one story fascinated me – the one about a neighbour of theirs who was taken prisoner early in the war and spent five years in a forced labour camp for the Germans. He struggled to get over his experience more than those who had actually been fighting, and I always wondered why.

Years later, I moved to a small town ; Carnforth in Lancashire. The town itself used to have a big ironworks, long since gone, but now its one claim to fame is that it was once the scene for the famous film ‘Brief Encounter’ starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard.  When I went to look around the Station Heritage Centre and found out more about the filming, I discovered the film was made in the last months of WWII. So now I had two ingredients – the story of a prisoner of war, and the story of the making of ‘Brief Encounter.’

Research led me to discover that  in February 1945,  when David Lean was filming ‘Brief Encounter’, on the very same day  we were sending bombs to decimate the beautiful cultural city of Dresden. What if these two events could be brought together? So, I had the third ingredient and an idea was born, the story of a wartime couple torn apart by war. But not just that – ten years later they are married, but neither has any idea what really went on for the other during their separation, or what it will mean for their future relationship. Wartime stories by necessity deal with larger themes of love and death, and people under extraordinary pressure. Rhoda and Peter have always hidden their pasts from each other, partly from self-preservation, and partly to shield the other from the truth. When Rhoda finds a letter from another woman, and the facts begin to surface, will Rhoda and Peter survive knowing the other’s darkest secret?

I was very attracted by the visual style of the film, ‘Brief Encounter’, its light and shadow, the way it made locations significant and tell their own story, so I have tried to keep that in my descriptions. The theme of the film is that hard choices have to be made about loyalty if a relationship is to survive, and I wanted my book to reflect this.

Whilst writing Past Encounters I interviewed people who remembered wartime Carnforth, and drank more tea and ate more biscuits than is probably good for me, whilst scribbling frantically in my notebook. I was also incredibly grateful for on-line sources such as ‘The People’s War’. Memoirs of prisoners of war and soldiers who endured the Great March of Prisoners of War through frozen Germany, also helped give a backbone to the book.

One of my aims is to show just how amazing ordinary people can be, if you scratch beneath the surface. By the end of the book Rhoda and Peter have found and lost loves, fought for survival, endured tragedy, and discovered the hidden depths that make a bond between two people true and lasting.

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www.davinablake.com

twitter: @davinajblake

blog: www.davinablake.blogspot.com

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The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar – Kim Rendfeld

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Sometimes, what the primary sources don’t say attracts my attention.

In researching my first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, I learned of two grim realities:

  • In 772, Charlemagne ordered the destruction of the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Saxon peoples.
  • War captives often became slaves.

I could not explore those concepts in The Cross and the Dragon, a tale of a young Frankish noblewoman who must contend with a jilted suitor and the premonition she might lose her husband in battle, but I could not let them go either. I needed to write a second book, which became The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, a story of the lengths a mother will go to protect her children after she had lost everything else – her home, her husband, her faith, even her freedom.

Perhaps, Ashes was borne from an instinct that came from my years in journalism, to give a voice to people who otherwise had none.

Few people in 8th-century Europe could write. In addition, the Continental Saxons, who ultimately lost the wars with Charlemagne’s Franks, lacked a written language as we know it.

So most of what we know about the history originates from Frankish primary sources. Although they offer the freshest perspective on what happened, the writers were biased and not afraid to bend the truth to fit their narrative. To them, the pagans were brutes, and they rarely mentioned peasants at all.

Yet the questions that rose in mind would not rest: What was it like for the Saxons to see a symbol of their faith destroyed? What was it like for peasants to lose their freedom? Historical fiction can provide possible answers.

My heroine, Leova, and her children are the products of my imagination. But sometimes the only way to understand an ordinary early medieval family neglected by history is to make one up.

 

Advance Reviews

“Carolingian Europe comes alive in Kim Rendfeld’s sweeping story of family and hope, set against the Saxon Wars. Her transportive and triumphant novel immerses us in an eighth century world that feels both mystical and starkly real.”  – Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye

“A captivating historical filled with rich detail, compelling characters, and a well-paced plot that keeps the pages turning to its very satisfying end. A true delight for fans of historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down.” – Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi Mysteries

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is refreshingly set in a less familiar medieval period – soon after Charlemagne has conquered a portion of today’s Germany and its people. The characters are refreshing also, common folk instead of the lords and ladies who are the usual inhabitants of historical novels, and how they adjust to their new condition is fascinating. Altogether, this book was absorbing from start to finish.” – Roberta Gellis, author of The Roselynde Chronicles

Available at:

Amazon U.S.  Amazon U.K.  Amazon Canada  Amazon Australia (Kindle)  Barnes & Noble  Kobo

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (2014, Fireship Press). You can read the first chapter of either book, read excerpts of reviews, and learn more about Kim at kimrendfeld.com. You can also visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.