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Two books with #WW2 connections

Of Darkness and Light is an engaging mystery of art and artists set in WW2 Norway. Heidi Eljarbo has certainly given herself a challenge – to write two historical periods in one novel which flow seamlessly from one to another, but the narrative works well and the two timelines inform each other beautifully. We begin the story in WW2 Norway where Soli works in an art shop. We see the shock of the invasion of Norway by the German army and what that means for Soli’s close family and friends.

As the book progresses, the art shop where Soli works is frequented by Nazi collectors of fine art, although the owner does his best to hide the most precious works from these men. When a murder happens right outside the shop, Soli finds herself irresistibly drawn into the mystery of who killed her colleague and why, and the puzzle deepens when Soli discovers that the victim, who she thought she knew well, is also known by another name.

At the same time a painting is missing from auction and Soli must uncover what has happened to it before the Nazis do. I can’t reveal too much of the plot without revealing all the twists and turns, but suffice it to say, Soli and her Art Club are drawn into the Resistance in their bid to save the art world’s cultural heritage from being stolen by the Nazis. Soli is an engaging protagonist, with the skill to tell a real painting from a fake, and the author makes the most of Soli’s ‘eye’ in giving us detailed descriptions of people and places. The reveal of what is inside the walnut and gilded frame is a highlight for me in descriptive writing.

As well as finely drawn detail within WW2 Norway, We are taken back to 17th Century Valetta, Malta, to the studio of Michelangelo known as Caravaggio, and his model Fabiola, again all described in sumptuous detail. If you love the art world and a good mystery, you will really enjoy this well-written book which has plenty of excitement and intrigue to keep you turning the pages.

Find out more about Heidi and her other books.

Endless Skies by Jane Cable is a contemporary romantic novel that harks back to memories of WW2. Archaeologist Rachel Ward’s relationships with men have always been a disaster.  Short-lived, and lacking in commitment. This novel begins to unlock why by gradually letting us into her past. Brought up by her grandmother, Rachel has a natural empathy with Esther, an elderly woman in a care home near where she is working. I really enjoyed the character of Esther, and thought she was drawn well without too much sentimentality.

The men in Rachel’s life are the dreadful, manipulative Ben, one of her students, and Jonathan, who is a property developer. An affair with Ben was always going to be a bad idea, but it also causes Rachel to look back at why she always makes such bad choices. Jonathan asks Rachel to do some work surveying what used to be a local airbase. This links up to Esther’s story, but I won’t give too much away.

One of the delights of the book is the atmospheric setting of the flat Lincolnshire countryside, and the deserted airfield which contributes to the idea that the ghosts of the past still have a bearing on what happens in the present. A thoroughly enjoyable read with multiple interesting strands.

Read more from Jane about the book.

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Interview with Mary Anne Yarde – Saints, Standing Stones and an Ancient Curse

Dulac1I’m delighted to welcome Mary Anne Yarde to my blog today. Mary Anne is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Did you envisage writing a long series when you started the first book, or did the idea grow? What made you want to carry on writing them?

The Du Lac Chronicles was meant to be an Arthurian romance, and it was meant to be a trilogy. It still has an Arthurian theme, but it is no longer a trilogy! I have in one of my many folders on my computer the first-drafts of the first three manuscripts of The Du Lac Chronicles that I had written over ten years ago — I never realised that two of them would never see the light of day. The joy of being an indie author is that you are allowed to change your mind, and I can remember reading over what was meant to be Book 2 of The Du Lac Chronicles and screwing up my nose with the realisation that this wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. So, I rewrote it, and I concluded that there was no way I was going to be able to tell this story in three books, and with that recognition, I felt free to indulge in my imagination and write the story that was begging to be written. 

What made me carrying on writing about those Du Lac boys is simply because I adore them, I adore the era, and I have had such positive feedback from my readers. I am always being asked when the next book is coming out, which certainly motivates me to keep writing.

Who is yDulac2our favourite minor character in the book, and why?

My favourite minor character is Saint Sampson of Dol, although he is not a saint in my books because he isn’t dead — yet! Saint Sampson was a character that I stumbled upon when I was still in the research stage for The Du Lac Devil: Book 2 of The Du Lac Chronicles. I had never heard of this Saint of Brittany before. I became compelled to find out more about him, and I discovered his life’s work overlapped events that happen in my book, so it seemed as if finding him was somehow predestined. Saint Sampson, even though he is a secondary character, has influenced the narrative of the story from the moments he makes his first appearance in Book 2. Through him, I have explored the influence of the Christian Church in Britain during this time.

Tell me about an object or place that is important in the novel and what it signifies.

A place that is really important to several characters in my series is the Standing Stones “The Hurlers” on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. It is where Merton du Lac first encounters Tegan. Tegan is a seer and former knight of Arthur’s, and it is also the place where history and myths collide. During my research for The Du Lac Princess, Book 3 of The Du Lac Chronicles, I visited The Hurlers, and I knew I had to include them. They scream myths and legends.

Dulac3Your books are described as a mixture of historical fiction and myth. Do you think this reflects what you are trying to achieve in your novels?

The Early Medieval era or The Dark Ages as it is more commonly known, is a challenging period to research as it is the age of the lost manuscripts. The manuscripts were lost due to various reasons. Firstly, the Viking raiders destroyed many written primary sources. Henry VIII did not help matters when he ordered The Dissolution of the Monasteries. More were lost due to the English Civil War and indeed, The French Revolution, and of course not forgetting the tragic Cotton Library Fire in 1731. So, researching this era can undoubtedly be challenging, although of course, not impossible. The one thing we do have is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s, The History of The Kings of Briton, (first published in c.1136).   

Monmouth’s book was for many, many years considered factually correct, and I think sometimes we forget that. Of course, there is very little fact in it. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore. The history of oral storytelling in Britain fascinates me. Folklore is its own particular brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about an era by the stories that were told.

The Du Lac Chronicles is an Arthurian tale, and it is based upon the life of Budic II of Brittany. I discovered Budic, purely by accident many years ago when I was researching the origins of the legend of Arthur’s most infamous knight, Lancelot du Lac. Budic’s story fascinated me. There is not a great deal of detail to it, but I found out all I could about him, and there were tiny gems of information which I thought, hang on, I could weave this into a story, and that is what I did. Along the way, I encountered other historical figures, such as Cerdic of Wessex.Dulac4

When you are dealing with myths and legends such as the story of King Arthur, or Robin Hood, for example, there has to be a historical element to the story. It has to be as historically accurate as you can get it even though you are dealing with people who may never have lived. Hopefully, what I write reflects a world where historical fact and legends collide.

How important is the story of Lancelot, who the series is named after, to this new book and what you are writing now?

Lancelot’s story is incredibly important, although it is Budic II’s life that the series is following. In The Du Lac Chronicles series it is with Lancelot where the idea of a “curse” begins. It is also Lancelot’s actions in the past that trigger the events that his sons are left to deal with after his death. 

The actual origins of the story of Lancelot are not mythical. He was the invention of a 12th century French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, who depicted him in his great work Le Chevalier de la Charette, replacing Gawain as First Knight. Lancelot’s story, however, captivated a nation. There is this unspoken understanding that if Lancelot did not exist, then he should have done. Talk about the power of fiction. Lancelot has inspired many writers, myself included. Without his story, I would never have found Budic’s.

And finally, I asked Mary Anne, what are you currently writing?

I am currently writing a second edition of The Pitchfork Rebellion, which is an interim novella between Book 1 and Book 2. I am also just beginning the research for Book 6 of The Du Lac Chronicles.

Dulac6God against Gods. King against King. Brother against Brother.

Mordred Pendragon had once said that the sons of Lancelot would eventually destroy each other, it seemed he was right all along.

Garren du Lac knew what the burning pyres meant in his brother’s kingdom — invasion. But who would dare to challenge King Alden of Cerniw for his throne? Only one man was daring enough, arrogant enough, to attempt such a feat — Budic du Lac, their eldest half-brother.

While Merton du Lac struggles to come to terms with the magnitude of Budic’s crime, there is another threat, one that is as ancient as it is powerful. But with the death toll rising and his men deserting who will take up the banner and fight in his name?

BUY THE BOOK : Amazon UK  Amazon US

Connect with Mary Anne: WebsiteBlogTwitterFacebookGoodreads. 

I am currently reading Book One of this series, and was immediately hooked. It’s on offer at the moment, and its so good I bought the second in the series before even finishing the first. My review will be on this blog soon. If you like the myths and legends of Arthurian Britain you’ll love these.  Do go and check them out.

Dulac7

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Blog Reviews

The East India Company – The Palace of Lost Dreams

I’m delighted to welcome historical novelist Charlotte Betts today, to tell us the history of the East India Company.

My review of Charlotte’s most recent novel, The Palace of Lost Dreams is at the bottom of this article.

THE EAST INDIA COMPANY

India 2007 075

The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies (The Company) was founded in 1600. It established a ‘factory’, or free-trade area, in Masulipatnam in India where local inhabitants could interact with foreign merchants with the consent of local rulers. In 1640 a further factory was established in Madras and this was followed by rapid expansion into other areas. Meanwhile, other companies founded by the Dutch, Portuguese, Danish and the French were also spreading their tentacles throughout India.

Dance-Holland, Nathaniel; Robert Clive (1725-1774), 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, 'Clive of India'; National Trust, Powis Castle; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/robert-clive-17251774-1st-baron-clive-of-plassey-clive-of-india-102275
Dance-Holland, Nathaniel; Robert Clive (1725-1774), 1st Baron Clive of Plassey, ‘Clive of India’

The company’s victory at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 under Robert Clive, Commander-in-Chief of British India, established political and military supremacy of the East India Company in Bengal. Clive followed this by securing large areas of land, and its riches, in south Asia – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – becoming a multi-millionaire at the same time. Together with Warren Hastings, the first Governor of Bengal, the foundations were laid for the British Raj.

The British government began an intensive effort to work with the East India Company, who already had armies in place, to snatch power and control over India as a whole. In 1797 the two strongest powers in India, Mysore and the Marathas, had declined in strength and it was a good time for Britain to grasp the upper hand. The Marquis of Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s elder brother, arrived in India in 1798 to take up his new post as Governor General at a time when Britain was locked in a life or death struggle with France all over the world.

Since Napoleon had set his sights on India, too, Wellesley had to move quickly. To achieve his aims, he set up a system of Subsidiary Alliances, which signed away an Indian state’s independence and right of self-defence. The Alliance system was advantageous to the British since they could now maintain a large army at the cost of the Indian states. The first Subsidiary Treaty was signed between Wellesley and the Nizam of Hyderabad on 1st September 1798.

A month later, the largest French force in India was disarmed by the British, who had only a third of their number, without any casualties or a single shot being fired. This turning point, combined with Admiral Nelson’s sinking of the French fleet in Aboukir Bay, effectively ruined Napoleon’s dreams of India becoming a French colony and allowed the Company, backed by the British government, to annex more and more of India.

Queen_Victoria_Golden_Jubilee (1)In 1813, Parliament renewed the Company’s charter but terminated its monopoly, except with regard to tea and trade with China, opening India both to private investment and missionaries. Following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the rule of British India was transferred from the British East India Company to the Crown. In 1876 Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India.

Kistna_viaduct,_Great_Indian_Peninsula_Railway

During the hey-day of the Raj, the British civil service collected taxes, raised armies, which included local forces, imposed a system of justice and a postal service, instigated the building of railways, canals, schools and universities. At all times the British demonstrated a breath-taking level of self-confidence that their customs, religions and moral values were infinitely superior to those of the Indians whose country they had appropriated. The British system of governance remained until Partition in 1947.

The Palace of Lost Dreams is set in Hyderabad in 1798.

ThePalaceOfLostDreams (1)Newly widowed Beatrice Sinclair returns to the India of her childhood to visit her brother, an employee of the British East India Company. She’s astonished to discover he has married a beautiful Indian girl and lives with his wife’s extended family in a dilapidated palace.

As an outsider in an unfamiliar world, she faces many challenges.

 Meanwhile the French and British forces become locked in a battle over India’s riches, and matters are complicated further by the presence of the dashing Harry Wyndam: a maverick ex-soldier and suspected spy.

 With rebellion in the air, Bee must decide where her loyalties lie . . .

The Palace of Lost Dreams is out now. Buy it here

Follow Charlotte on Twitter: @CharlotteBetts1

Facebook: Charlotte Betts Author

Website: www.charlottebetts.com

Many thanks to Deborah for hosting me!

My Review of The Palace of Lost Dreams – perfect escapism

Set in the eighteenth century, in an India riven by political conflict, the era provides a rich, evocative setting for a romance and one full of tension. When recently-bereaved Bee returns to India she remembers her childhood friend, Harry, but he has a son by now, and this is not the only obstacle to their closeness. Whilst in the palace she must unravel the mystery of her mother’s sudden departure from India, and the simmering background to the loss of a rare jewel which is now the cause of intense feelings in her newly adopted family.

Bee is a lovely character, who picks herself up from tragedy and is determined to save the diapidated palace with her own new idea for a business.

Charlotte Betts fleshes out the history of India with detail and atmosphere. There is a glossary of Indian words in the back too, and historical notes for anyone who is unfamiliar with Indian history.

This is both an adventure and a romance and perfect escapism for a summer holiday read. Highly recommended.

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Fort Howe, protection during the American War of Independence.

DianeI know I have many readers from Canada, so today  I welcome Diane Parkinson to share her research for her new book  ‘On a Stormy Primeval Shore‘. Over to Diane.

In researching my novel set in New Brunswick, Canada, in the eighteenth century, I needed a fort for my heroine’s father to be stationed. Several forts had been built around the Bay of Fundy coast. Unfortunately, none have survived. The French constructed forts during the seventeenth century when France occupied the area they’d named New France. England took possession in 1763 after the Seven Years War (also called the French and Indian War) and built their own forts.

I traveled to the port city of Saint John in New Brunswick in May 2017, and discovered a lone block house on a hill behind the town. Thus, I ferreted out the history.

Park Blockhouse Ft. Howe NB (2)In 1777, Brigade-Major Gilfred Studholme was sent to Parr Town (future Saint John) to ensure the settlement’s security. Two years before the American colonies to the south had erupted in rebellion against Britain. American privateers were raiding the harbor and encampments up the St John River.

On the limestone knoll that overlooked the harbor, Studholme’s detachment along with local inhabitants built Fort Howe, named for General William Howe, commander of the North American British forces.

The fort was surrounded by a palisade of massive, pointed wooden logs. A blockhouse sat on the west side with a barracks and residences in the center. The Royal Fencible Americans, Studholme’s regiment, manned the blockhouse on the eastern side. The coastal end of the Appalachian Mountains formed a part of the fortifications. Fort Howe provided security, and doled out food during starvation conditions, for the area.

Even the famous—or infamous—Benedict Arnold, traitor to some, hero to others, lived at the fort in the later 1780s. General Arnold had started out on the American side, but then, feeling underappreciated, and underpaid, he joined the British forces.

A fire destroyed Fort Howe in 1819. Two hundred years later I stood on the isolated hill where a plaque commemorates the fort. A reconstructed Block House is the only evidence a great fort once existed here.

Park CanadianBrides-NewBrunswick-small

I incorporate life at the fort in my novel, On a Stormy Primeval Shore:

In 1784, Englishwoman Amelia Latimer sails to the new colony of New Brunswick in faraway Canada. She’s to marry a man chosen by her soldier father. Amelia is repulsed by her betrothed, and refuses to marry him. She is attracted to a handsome Acadian trader, Gilbert, a man beneath her in status. Gilbert must fight the incursion of English Loyalists from the American war to hold onto his land and heritage. Will he and Amelia find peace when events seek to destroy their love and lives.

Diane Parkinson (Diane Scott Lewis) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, joined the Navy at nineteen and has written and edited freelance since high school. She writes book reviews for the Historical Novels Review and worked as a historical editor for The Wild Rose Press. She’s had several historical novels published. Diane lives with her husband in Western Pennsylvania.

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Blog Cabinet of Curiosities

The Ancient Secrets of Welsh Gold #history #Wales

Gill jean smWelcome to author Jean Gill to inspire us with the ancient secrets of Welsh gold.

The Ancient Secrets of Welsh Gold

In 1824, a gold treasure hoard came to light, found in the South Wales estate of Dolaucothi. The exquisite jewellery included wheel designs on chains and snake bracelets, and was dated as 1st-2nd Century, Anglo-Roman. This led to exploration of a location that had been ignored – or shunned – for centuries, yet which held 2,000 plus years of extraordinary history.

Roman gold treasures have been found elsewhere in Britain but not beside the goldmine they came from. Dolaucothi is Wales’ – and Britain’s – only goldmine that was worked in Roman times and probably earlier. Early mining was easy, using panning and open cast methods. Then, tunnelling and deep mining followed, using the Roman engineering skills with aqueducts to flush out gold, then wheels to extract water in lower tunnel levels. Welsh gold went to the Lyons mint in Gaul to make Roman coins.

Gill welsh gold dragon

In 1153, my fictional troubadour heroes found themselves in the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, South Wales, which was then ruled by two brothers, Lords Rhys and Maredudd. These nomadic warrior-rulers lived in the woods during the worst attacks from the Norman marcher-lords. They must have known every inch of their homeland and they must have known of the mines.

Yet there seems to be no word of Welsh gold in medieval records. Why didn’t the men of Deheubarth seek wealth there? Lack of mining skill? Lack of interest in gold? Or superstitious beliefs about the mines?

Beside the mines is a standing stone called Pumpsaint (Five saints) with hollows in the stone where four of the saints lay their heads while the fifth went to join King Arthur. All of them await the day they rise to fight again with the once and future king. Then there is the ghost of Gweno, the girl punished for her curiosity in exploring the mines and doomed to frighten others.

Gill snake & necklace Gill snake braceletI found it easy to imagine that the spirit of such a place demanded respect in medieval times and deterred looters by its very atmosphere. One person’s treasure-hunting is another person’s sacrilege, and the spirits of our ancestors haunt our imaginations in different ways; who hasn’t felt ‘bad vibes’?

Maybe, somebody in 1153 did find part of that treasure hoard.

 

Song_hereafter_eBcov-197x300Open at either end, each finished with a snake’s head, the bracelet was beautiful – and worth a fortune. Estela slipped her wrist into it, moved the bracelet up her arm, where it rested as if made specially for her. The diamond-shaped heads were cross-hatched in likeness of snakeskin and the small tongues had the hint of a fork, but not enough to weaken the gold.

‘It’s so beautiful.’ Estela felt like a high priestess of some ancient cult with the double-headed snake coiled round her arm. Surely such a talisman would bring magic to its bearer. She brought her arm up close to study the snake heads more closely and caught the bracelet on her cloak brooch, pricking herself against the pin.

(Extract from Song Hereafter)

Maybe, in 1153, somebody did explore the goldmines.

Dragonetz looked over the rocks beside him, down into the river valley where the mist snaked thickly, and over to the other side where the hills rose from the mist like an island, floating. He walked down, towards the caves, the tunnels and the ghosts.

The patterns of the terrain, bumpy, with trenches, told of some form of quarrying. Gemstones? wondered Dragonetz, cursing his ignorance. The signs were all here, if only he could read them.

Maybe the river was important, as it had been to his papermaking, but there was no mill here, just water and, if the square coverstone was any sign, the movement of water. Dragonetz followed the workings in the land, towards the dark holes that led into the earth.

The rainwater lay in the trenches and trickled its way like a liquid tree in ever lengthening branches. While avoiding one such pool, Dragonetz was distracted by a small pile of gravel thrown up from the churning mud, held fast by something more solid. He crouched and saw something glinting through the gravel. Not that foolish notion again he chid himself, but he scraped the gravel aside all the same, to see what lodged beneath.

What he found took his breath away.

(Extract from Song Hereafter)

Maybe, some secrets could never be told.

Whatever happened in the 12th Century remains a work of fiction and what we do know is that the late 19th Century saw the mines worked again. Gold was also discovered in North Wales, where it is still extracted today, although with difficulty and in small quantities. The Dolaucothi mines closed down in 1938, to open again years later as a top National Trust tourist attraction.

If you take the guided tour, listen carefully. You might hear the ghosts of Dragonetz and Estela, the troubadours, amid the hubbub of 2,000 years’ history. Look carefully; craftsmen skilled enough to make that jewellery must have had a workshop, and there would have been a settlement nearby, but nobody has found them yet.  Welsh gold remains rare, precious and prized by modern royalty.

Song Hereafter is available as a paperback and an e-book.

Find Jean on Twitter , via her website, where you can sign up for Jean’s Newsletter for exclusive news and offers, with a free book as a welcome, or find her on her Troubadours Facebook page.

Credits: Photo of the dragon pendant in Welsh gold by Jean Gill, photos of the 1st-2nd C Gallo-Roman gold snake bracelet and necklace from the Dolaucothi hoard, courtesy of the British Museum.

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Launch Day for Hostage to the Revolution by Diane Scott Lewis #18thC

I’m delighted to welcoDianeParkinson1_zpsdcc1a823me Diane Scott Lewis today as she launches her latest book. Diane and I met a few years ago at the Historical Novel Conference in St Petersburg, Florida.

Here’s Diane to talk about how she was inspired to write Hostage to the Revolution.

A few years back I visited Cornwall, England, and toured a Cornish history museum: the Wayside Folk Museum (now closed, unfortunately). The history fascinated me, the struggles of the people on this rugged coast; the tin mining and fishing that sustained them. The museum showcased a miller’s cottage, with cooking and farming implements used in the eighteenth century and earlier centuries. Displays explained farming, mining and fishing in Cornwall. The museum was located in the village of Zennor out on Cornwall’s peninsula that ends in the Atlantic Ocean at Lizard Point.

Megalithic burial chambers are nearby, and the writer D. H. Lawrence once lived in the area.1200px-Zennor_from_trewey_hill_cornwall

Zennor, a cluster of stone cottages, is situated on the rocky cliffs that form Cornwall’s windswept coast.

A story formed in my mind to capture this country, a part of England yet separate in culture. I pictured two sisters, one who ran a tavern, the other a wild girl who brings a penniless refugee to work at the tavern. The refugee would be French and a former Countess, to make her fall from grace that much sharper. The young Frenchwoman, Bettina, who fled from the French Revolution in 1790 under suspicious circumstances, took center stage. Through her I showed the history and culture of the Cornish. Their superstitions and pragmatic, Celtic character. I could demonstrate the lives of fisherman, miners, and the handling of shipwrecks. She confronted prejudice, fell in love with an enigmatic man who might have murdered his feckless wife, and faced brutal revolutionaries who tracked her down, demanding something stolen by her now dead father. Determined to survive and thrive, Bettina becomes one of the “ordinary” people; she learned to cook, sew, and sidestep drunken louts, while she feared more retribution and wondered what happened to her family. The two sisters, so different, Cornish born and bred, also add verve, humor and pathos to the novel.

HostagetotheRevolutionCoverI researched the eighteenth century thoroughly at the Library of Congress, library loans, plus read the Poldark series by Winston Graham, from which I gleaned the flavor of the times. Like Graham I’d set my story on Cornwall’s north coast, and wanted my tale to be realistic: rough and earthy. All this was covered in my first novel, Escape the Revolution.

That novel grew so long, I had to cut the last third, thus Hostage to the Revolution was born, to finish Bettina’s trials and triumphs. After tragic circumstances in the first book, Bettina travels to New Orleans to search for her mother. In sultry New Orleans she forms a new life until her past creeps back in an attempt to destroy it. She is thrown back into a France torn apart by war. Hostage to the Revolution releases today, July 19th.

Congratulations to Diane. To find out more about Diane and her books, please visit her website

Pictures from the author or wikipedia.

Buy the book US  UK

 

 

 

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A German powder compact causes trouble in #WW2

Today I welcome author Clare Flynn, who I met at the Historical Novel Conference where we were both helping out stuffing goody bags for all the delegates. Clare is going to talk about how one particular object speaks to the themes in her new WW2 novel, The Chalky Sea.

The German Powder Compact

The Chalky Sea MEDIUM WEBThe Chalky Sea, my fifth novel, takes place between the summer of 1940 and the end of the war in 1945. The main character, Gwen Collingwood, is a married thirty-something woman whose husband has headed off to war to a destination unknown (he is in what we now know as Special Operations). For Gwen, an unhappy and unfulfilled woman, who appears emotionally cold, the war represents a form of liberation. Refusing to be evacuated from her small seaside town, even after it becomes a frequent target for the Luftwaffe, Gwen, like many of her contemporaries, finds working for the war effort gives her a new sense of purpose.

You asked me to talk about a real historical object that I found inspiring or related to my book. I’m going to pick a powder compact. I’ve chosen that because one scene in the book revolves around it – and because this object, once ubiquitous, is rarely seen these days other than in the handbags of Vintage enthusiasts or on the shelves of collectors. Powder compacts, at their height of popularity in the 30s, 40s and 50s, declined from the 1960s as heavily powdered faces fell out of fashion.

With rationing and shortages, make-up was not freely available as the war progressed. Women were encouraged instead to eke out their supplies. As one cosmetics advertisement said at the time:

“No lipstick – ourMTI2MjU4Njc2ODU5MjAzNTU0s or anyone else’s – will win the war. But it symbolises one of the reasons why we are fighting.”

Any self-respecting middle-class woman would have had a powder compact, often an ornate one – not in throwaway plastic, but a jewelled or engraved permanent container, intended to be refilled when the powder itself ran out. Compacts were much more than functional objects – they were fashion accessories.

In The Chalky Sea, there is a scene early in the war, between Gwen and her friend, Daphne Pringle, in the ladies room of a local hotel at a benefit to raise money to buy a Spitfire. Daphne claims to have forgotten her face powder, so asks to borrow Gwen’s. The compact is an unusual one, gold and monogrammed with Gwen’s initials, a gift from her husband before they married. The eagle-eyed Daphne examines the object and notices there is an inscription in German and immediately makes the assumption that Gwen must be German and has been concealing that fact. The explanation that Gwen and her husband met in Germany in the 1920s and Roger had a line from Goethe “Glücklich allen, Ist die Seele, die libel” inscribed as a romantic gesture, is greeted with skepticism by Daphne. For her, anything associated with Germany is automatically cause for suspicion – even the woman she regards as her best friend.

Mercury DIGITAL CAMERA

Her voice was frosty. ‘I had no idea you were German.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Then why do you have a powder compact with a German inscription on it?

‘It was a gift from Roger.’

‘From Roger?’ Daphne’s hand went to her mouth. ‘Good Lord, is he German?’

‘Neither of us is German. We happened to meet there. In ’23. I was at finishing school in Switzerland and Roger was working for The Reparations Commission. We met at a party at the British embassy in Berlin. I was a friend of the daughter of one of the attachés there.’

‘You speak German?’

‘Yes.’ Gwen felt herself bristling.

‘I see.’ Daphne’s voice was frosty.

‘As far as I’m aware, Daphne, it’s not a crime. I speak French as well.’

The relationship between Daphne and Gwen doesn’t survive the war, and is emblematic of how people change during the intensity of sustained conflict. Behaviour and attitudes, that might be overlooked in peacetime or never surface at all, come to the forefront and relationships are put to the test. Gwen forms a new friendship with a working class woman, Pauline, to whom in peacetime she would have been unlikely to give the time of day.

So, the powder compact for me is emblematic of the times and of Gwen and Roger’s relationship, a relationship which Gwen stifled in its infancy, a victim of her own past and her own doubts and fears. Had the war not happened, Gwen might well have stayed friends with Daphne, and continued to drift in what was then a passionless marriage, without confronting her own buried emotions and desires.

The German powder compact also opens a door for Gwen, by revealing her knowledge of German, which leads to a new role for her in the war effort.

The Chalky Sea is available as a paperback and a Kindle e-book. http://mybook.to/chalkysea

ImageClare’s website www.clareflynn.co.uk

Amazon author page http://author.to/clareflynn

Facebook www.facebook.com/authorclareflynn

Twitter www.twitter.com/clarefly

 

You can download a free copy of Clare’s short story collection, A Fine Pair of Shoes and Other Stories via her website.

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Blog Reviews

Recommended Regency Historical Fiction – The House in Quill Court

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Multi-award winning author Charlotte Betts is renowned for winning the Historical Romance category in the Romantic Novelists Association Awards, not once but twice. Having just finished The House in Quill Court I think that the romance label does her a disfavour, because readers  are expecting only a romance, and her books are always so much more. This one is no exception, and takes us into the seamy underbelly of the London of stolen babies, prostitution, and extortion. Those expecting a sweet romance to be the core of the novel will find that it is still there, but that they are confronted with much more depth than they expected, and plenty to think about.

Venetia Lovell discovers after her father dies that he has had a secret life – and another family. When the two families are brought together there is friction aplenty, not least from handsome Jack Chamberlaine, who takes some time to appreciate that Venetia has skills that can turn around their interior decorating business. Regency furnishings and design form the background to Venetia’s world, but the story also focuses on the family’s maid, Kitty, who soon becomes embroiled in something much darker and more sinister. The fate of women like Kitty is explored with eyes wide-open, and adds a contrast to the ‘above stairs’ life. The descriptions of polite drawing rooms in 1813 are pitched against the seedy brothels and thieves’ dens that form the hidden side of London. At this time, there was no Police Force, and the streets were controlled by powerful ‘mafia-like’ gangs, who demanded money for protection, or sought a cut of the takings from any business. Venetia’s business falls prey to one of these men, but she is determined to ake a stand against them. Betts cleverly interwines the two stories of the maid and the mistress into a nail-biting page-turner of a book. Very highly recommended.

Like the darker side of Regency London? Try this post on a tour of Regency prisons.

Categories
Blog Writing Craft

Historical Fiction – deadly sin no 7 – mistaking it for a genre

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The gothic splendour of Kenilworth Castle

Like most readers of historical fiction, I have my favourite eras. I love the seventeenth century, the Tudors and the medieval period, with the occasional foray into Victoriana, WWII and Greek myth. So I am unlikely to purchase anything set in the Napoleonic era,  Roman times, or the Dark Ages – that is, unless you work extra-hard to persuade me!

Also, I have a penchant for dark gothic stories set in castles or old houses (you can blame an early passion for ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Rebecca’ for that!) so a historical romance would have to be quite gritty for me to want to read it.

So – I’m a fussy reader – like nearly everyone else. This is a problem for historical fiction writers who want readers to find their books. We have to not only find those readers interested in history, but also those limited few with an enthusiasm for our particular era and tastes.

But more importantly than this, there are different types of stories even within this narrow readership. Some readers are looking for concept-driven stories – books for the book club market often naturally fall into this category. Some literary historical novels are driven by the psychology of the characters, and some, such as historical mysteries are all about the intricacies of the plot. Some readers enjoy epic novels with a wide sweep, some enjoy books focused on one historical personage, such as Anne Boleyn. ‘Wolf Hall’ is not the same as ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, is not the same as Sansom’s ‘Dissolution’.

So, deadly sin no 7 is thinking that all readers of historical fiction are the same. They are not, and paying attention to what the reader expects is courteous. It is a question of tone, and working out where your novel falls on the spectrum. A historical thriller might contain explicit sex and gore which would be inappropriate for a novel of manners set in the time of Jane Austen. Your novel may be concept-driven, plot-driven or character-driven, in differing combinations. Each historical novel is individual, and creates its own atmosphere and reality.

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Picture from Gina’s Library – click to check out her blog which features historical fiction

The thing that all historical fiction readers require though is genuine immersion in the past, and a momentum that will carry them through the story. So the key to understanding your reader and your tone is to look at other popular writers who have written the kind of book you are writing. Analyse the other author’s successful book in detail. What creates the tension and momentum? How much description? How much inner dialogue? How fast does the book move?

Check out another author’s amazon reviews for what makes that book a success. Here’s an example of an ordinary reader’s amazon review from Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with A Pearl Earring:

Girl with a Pearl Earring‘This book appears so simple on the outside, it’s only after you finish it that you realise how complex and rewarding it is. On reflection, a plot that centres around the creation of one painting could easily be very weak, but told through the eyes of a 16 year old maid – wise beyond her years as it turns out – it’s a charming slice of 17th century life in Holland. It plods along a bit in the middle and loses its grip on the reader somewhat, and don’t expect fireworks, shocks, plot twists, etc because there are none; just a slow, tantalising build up of sexual tension between the artist and his subject, and nervous tension between every other member of the household – servants and masters alike. All I want to do now is see the painting for real so that I can look into the girl’s eyes …’

This tells you a lot about the appeal of this particular book – complexity of the relationships, the tension between the characters. No fireworks.  If you were writing literary historical fiction, this gives you a fair idea of your reader and what they might enjoy. The key to reader satisfaction is to both think of your book as unique, and yet also to be scrupulous in assessing how your novel fits in its tiny niche within the broad scope of historical fiction.

You might also like:

Deadly Sin 1 – Melodrama

Deadly Sin 2  – Purple Prose

Deadly Sin 3 – Stuck in the Past

Deadly Sin 4 – Lost or Glossary?

Deadly Sin 5 – The Length of Time

Deadly Sin 6 – The Aura of an Era

Categories
Blog

70th Anniversary of Brief Encounter

This year marks 70 years since Brief Encounter was made in 1945. It was one of my mother’s favourite films, a real weepie, and one which seemed to touch the heart of a nation. Just why, is explored in this lovely documentary on Radio 4 which I listened to earlier in the week.

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One of the reasons I am celebrating the anniversary of the release of the film is because I have published a book which features the filming of Brief Encounter in 1945.  The site of the wartime filming on Carnforth station is close to my home, and the Heritage Centre there has a wealth of information about the film and its stars. At the moment to celebrate the anniversary, the Heritage Centre has been featuring a free season of David Lean’s films. Lean’s many credits include quintessentially classic cinema experiences  – from Dr Zhivago to The Bridge over the River Kwai, from A Passage to India to Hobson’s Choice. And of course Brief Encounter.

Brief Encounter

From Filmsite

Brief Encounter (1946) is director David Lean’s brilliantly-crafted, classic British masterpiece. It is one of the greatest romantic tearjerkers/weepers of all time, with a very downbeat ending. Lean’s film is a simple but realistically-honest, unsentimental, self-told social melodrama of the quiet desperation involved in an illicit, extra-marital love affair between two married, middle-class individuals over seven weekly meetings, mostly against the backdrop of a railway station. The romantic couple includes a wife/mother (stage actress Celia Johnson) looking for escape from her humdrum life and sterile marriage, and a dashing doctor (Trevor Howard in his third film). (Characteristics of film noir also abound within the film – unglamorous locations, rain-slicked streets, dimly-lit interiors and dark train passageways in a tale of doomed, unfulfilled and frustrated love.) 

The Guardian says attempts to parody Brief Encounter have failed:

Brief Encounter has survived such threats, because it is so well made, because Laura’s voiceover narration is truly anguished and dreamy, because the music suckers all of us, and because Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are perfect.

The Radio 4 feature says that the timing of it, when so many men were returning from war, made the last few lines, ‘Thank you for coming back to me,’ particularly poignant. Do take a listen to the programme, it’s only half an hour but very informative if you love the film.

In my novel Past Encounters, written under the pseudonym of Davina Blake, I explore and echo the same themes as in the film. In my book, my female character, Rhoda, has her own interior monologues. Peter, her fiance, is told with more distance as he fights for his survival in a German POW camp. Both endure emotional and physical hardships during their separation during the long years of WWII. Like the film I was looking for a certain restraint in the writing.

You can catch Brief Encounter at special screenings during this, its 70th year, and even go to a tea dance after seeing the film at various venues throughout the country.

And if you are interested in my novel, here it is. Past Encounters is the winner of a BRAG medallion for excellence in independent fiction.

PAST-ENCOUNTERS BRAG MEDALLION

About ‘Past Encounters’

From the moment Rhoda Middleton opens one of her husband’s letters and finds it is from another woman, she is convinced he is having an affair. But when Rhoda tracks her down, she discovers the mysterious woman is not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend, Archie Foster. There is only one problem – Rhoda has never even heard of Archie Foster.

Devastated by this betrayal of trust, Rhoda tries to find out how and why her husband, Peter, has kept this friendship hidden for so long. Her search leads her back to 1945, but as she gradually uncovers Peter’s wartime secrets she must wrestle with painful memories of her own. For if they are ever to understand each other, Rhoda too must escape the ghosts of the past.

Taking us on a journey from the atmospheric filming of Brief Encounter, to the extraordinary Great March of prisoners of war through snow-bound Germany, this is a novel of friendship, hope, and how in the end, it is the small things that enable love to survive.