Categories
Blog

The Road to Liberation – Excerpt from ‘Stolen Childhood’ #WW2 #WWII

Road to LiberationTo mark 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WW2, I’m delighted to host an excerpt from Marion Kummerow’s book, Stolen Childhood, from the collection, The Road to Liberation.

Enjoy!

Marion Kummerow, “Stolen Childhood”

“Watch me and learn,” Laszlo whispered to Mindel, as they were hiding outside the back door of the kitchen barracks. 

“What are you going to do?” Mindel whispered back, goosebumps rising on her skin. She was scared someone might see them and Laszlo looked as if he were up to no good, but she wasn’t going to let him see her fear. The other children in the group had argued she was too little to hang out with them, but he’d stuck up for her.

She looked up at him with raw adulation. He seemed so grown-up and was so courageous, he was her champion and she’d do whatever he wanted. For the past days she’d followed him around, always eager to please him and make him proud of her. She’d prove the other children wrong and show them she wasn’t too little.

Laszlo peeked around the corner of the building and then pulled her over until she could see as well. “That bucket is my goal.”

Mindel looked at the woman in the kitchen who was pulling potatoes from a large gunny sack and peeling them into a bucket – the same bucket Laszlo had pointed to. 

“Those are potato peels,” she whispered back. 

“And they taste really good. I’m going to get us some.”

“But that’s stealing,” Mindel said, appalled at his heinous plan.

“So what?” 

She stared at him, her mind wandering back to her parents’ farm. One time, her mother had made a birthday cake for Israel, but everyone had only been allowed a small slice before she’d covered it and put it away for the next day. Mindel and Aron had waited until her mother walked out to milk the cows, snuck into the kitchen pantry and each grabbed a huge slice into their hands.

Out of fear of being caught red-handed, they’d crouched in the pantry and stuffed the cake into their mouths as fast as they could. Once the deed was accomplished, they snuck out and into the garden, pretending nothing had happened. 

But the moment her mother saw them, her lovely face turned red and she called them out on stealing the cake. Even today, Mindel had no idea how her mother had found out, since they’d been so careful. 

It had been a horrible moment when her mother had taken Mindel’s sticky hands, turned them with the palm upward and hit her with a wooden spoon. Aron hadn’t fared much better either, and both had been sent to their bedroom without dinner that day. 

Mindel had never again stolen even a morsel of food from the pantry. 

“Please, don’t. You’ll get in trouble. They’ll beat you,” she pleaded with Laszlo.

“Only if I get caught. And I’d rather take a beating than starve to death.”

Mindel heard his words and the truth behind them, but she wasn’t sure she agreed. In the camp people got beaten all the time for tiny misdeeds and it wasn’t with a wooden spoon, but with truncheons and whips. She’d even seen people fall down and never get up again after a beating. She didn’t want that to happen to Laszlo. He was her friend. 

“See that little cubbyhole by the shelves?” Laszlo asked.

She craned her head until she saw it, and nodded. 

“You’re fast and small, so you sneak inside and hide there. I’ll stand guard out here. Once the woman turns her back to you, grab as much from the bucket as you can and run back here to me. I’ll create a distraction if I need to.”

All the blood drained from her head and she suddenly felt dizzy. “You want me to steal the potato skins?”

“It’s called organizing food, not stealing. If you pass this test, I’ll make you a member of our gang.”

Mindel swallowed. She so badly wanted to be part of the gang. To belong to someone. And she was hungry. Very hungry. But stealing was wrong. Her mother would be so disappointed. 

Laszlo saw her wavering and insisted, “I dare you. You can’t be with us if you’re a chickenshit.”

She hated this word. Aron had always name-called her this and worse when she hadn’t obeyed his stupid rules. She squared her shoulders and said, “I’ll do it, because I’m brave.” 

Quivering with fear, she bit her lip, thinking of a way to get out of this dare. She repeated Laszlo’s words, telling herself it wasn’t really stealing – because the SS men were so mean and didn’t give them enough. But not even that helped to calm her nerves. 

Laszlo nudged her forward. “Ready? Then go.” 

Mindel nodded. Gathering up all her courage she crept forward, intent on pretending this was simply a game of hide and seek. Back on the farm she’d been a master, hiding in the smallest crevices without making a sound. Most of the time, her brothers would walk right by her, never knowing that she was merely inches away from them.

Suddenly, excitement pushed her fear away. The kitchen worker and those stupid SS guards would never know she was even there, and Laszlo would praise her master skills at playing hide and seek. As an added benefit she’d return with a handful of potato skins for their group of children. She gave a slow smile, encouraging herself, before she squinted her eyes, focusing on the task at hand. Silence was the most important factor, because adults tended to go more by ear than by sight where children were concerned. 

She crept toward the door and waited until the woman wielding the potato peeler turned her back, then Mindel quickly slipped into the kitchen and pressed herself into the small hiding place. Barely breathing, she watched and waited until the woman picked up the tray of peeled potatoes and walked over to the stove. 

Mindel wasted no time. She rushed forward, plunged her hands into the bucket, grabbed two handfuls of potato peels and ran for the doorway where Laszlo was waiting for her. She ducked out of the kitchen just as the sounds of the woman’s feet returned. Clutching her bounty to her chest, she ran with Laszlo toward another building where they’d left the other kids. 

“Good job,” Laszlo said once they were sitting behind the hut, breathing hard.

Mindel smiled broadly at him and presented her spoils. “I did it.”

“Yes, you did it.” Laszlo was eyeing the potato peels and Mindel held out her hands toward him. 

“Eat some.”

“You stole them, you get first dibs.”

Mindel put the food on a not-so-dirty patch of ground and ate two peels. They were slightly bitter and smelled like dirt, but tasted much better than the horrible gruel they were given for soup. Then she divided the bulk into five equal parts for each of the children in the group: Laszlo, Ruth, Fabian, Clara and herself.

“Here,” she invited them.

Almost reverently the children each took their share and chewed the unexpected treat. Once they finished eating, Laszlo grinned. “See, I told you she’s not too small.”

Fabian pouted, but Clara said, “You were right. Now let’s make her a member of the gang.”

After Laszlo nodded his approval, Ruth produced a strip of washed-out gray-brown yarn from her pocket, tied it around Mindel’s left wrist and said rather ceremoniously, “Welcome to our gang!”

Everyone shook her hand and Mindel felt herself grow a few inches with pride. The other children had accepted her as part of their group. She wasn’t alone anymore.

Later at night, she climbed into her bunk, surprised that it was empty. Apparently the two adults who’d slept there last night had found a better place and had taken the blankets with them, leaving her without one and without the warmth of two more bodies by her side. 

She shivered at the thought of the upcoming night, because even though the days could be quite warm, the nights were still cold – although not as horrid as they’d been during the harsh winter. 

The memory of herself cuddling with Rachel to keep warm under the threadbare blanket brought tears into her eyes and she took out Paula, kissed her dirty face, and cried as silently as she could because she didn’t want to hear the adults curse her for waking them up.

A small hand reached for her and she started. It was too dark to see who it was, but when she heard a familiar voice whisper, “Don’t cry. I’ll stay with you,” she relaxed.

“Thanks.” She smiled through her tears and eagerly nodded despite the fact that he could not see her and moved back to allow Laszlo to climb onto her bunk. 

He brought a blanket with him, covered them both with it and they huddled together. She instantly felt warmer, clutching onto his arm with one hand. 

“I will protect you,” he said.

Road to Liberation

READ ON! Buy Links: Amazon US Amazon UK Amazon CA

THE ROAD TO LIBERATION

Six riveting stories dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.

From USA Today, international bestselling and award-winning authors comes a collection filled with courage, betrayal, hardships and, ultimately, victory over some of the most oppressive rulers the world has ever encountered.

By 1944, the Axis powers are fiercely holding on to their quickly shrinking territories.

The stakes are high—on both sides:

Liberators and oppressors face off in the final battles between good and evil. Only personal bravery and self-sacrifice will tip the scales when the world needs it most.

Read about a small child finding unexpected friends amidst the cruelty of the concentration camps, an Auschwitz survivor working to capture a senior member of the SS, the revolt of a domestic servant hunted by the enemy, a young Jewish girl in a desperate plan to escape the Gestapo, the chaos that confused underground resistance fighters in the Soviet Union, and the difficult lives of a British family made up of displaced children..

2020 marks 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WWII. These books will transport you across countries and continents during the final days, revealing the high price of freedom—and why it is still so necessary to “never forget”.

Stolen Childhood by Marion Kummerow

The Aftermath by Ellie Midwood

When’s Mummy coming? by Rachel Wesson

Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods by Marina Osipova

Liberation Berlin by JJ Toner

Magda’s Mark by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Categories
Blog Reviews

5 Great WWII Historicals for Young Adults

 

World War II stories may hold a special appeal because this was a conflict that young people got swept up in — as refugees, Resistance fighters and youth soldiers — as dire circumstances forced them to behave like adults

So says Kristin Hannah, best-selling author of The Nightingale in this article in the New York Times. It gives three great examples of WWII books for young people, but here are my personal five favourites.

Prisoner of Night and Fog by AnnWare Blankman

How would it feel to be related to Hitler? For young Gretchen Muller, that’s her reality, and when she makes friends with a Jewish boy, that can only lead to trouble. Forced into choosing sides, she goes with her heart, only to find herself in deadly danger. Especially as her brother has just joined the Hitler Youth. A fast-paced, edge of your seat adventure, with a little romance for good measure.

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette GreeneWar 3

When all-American girl Patty Bergen meets a German Prisoner of war in her father’s shop she does not expect to make a new friend. Of course it is not a friend her parents would ever approve of, so it must be kept secret. Patty’s ally is her black family servant, Ruth, who is more like a parent to her than her real family. This novel is a study of racism, bigotry and growing up – all seen through the eyes of ever-curious Patty. I loved Patty’s voice in this novel, and the way her innocent eyes are gradually opened to the reality of the bigotry around her.

War Code_Name_Verity_-_Electric_Monkey_coverCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

As the name might suggest, there’s a lot about truth and lies in this book. It centres around Verity herself, a nameless WWII spy who we think is gladly betraying her country to the Gestapo in order to survive. The novel begins as a confession. But in an unexpected twist it also turns out to be as much about Maddie: her best friend, a female flyer who dropped her into occupied France. Gripping, and intellectually stimulating, this is one of my top reads.

War 4My Family for The War by Anne C Voorhoeve

Translated from the German, this is the story of Ziska who is put on the Kindertransport to come to England to escape the Nazi persecution of her family. Taken in by strangers , she has to become part of her new family, who start to become as real to her as her distant parents. Against the backdrop of war-torn London, Frances, as she is now known, struggles with questions of identity, family, and love.

War 5Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

This Newbery-award winning book is the story of a ten-year-old Danish girl who courageously helps to save the family of her Jewish friend. Lois Lowry was apparently inspired by the letter of a young Dane, who, on the eve of his execution, reminded young and old to remember; and from that remembering “to create an ideal of human decency.” Although for younger children, I found this to be a mesmerising and poignant read.

And … if you are an adult, and like me, love books set in WWII, you can get a free copy of my WWII book Past Encounters, by emailing me or signing up for my newsletter.

Categories
Blog

Savaged Lands by Lana Kortchik #WWII

Kortchik

The plight of the people of Kiev in WWII was a subject that I knew very little about, so this book helped me understand a little more of the history of this city which is now the capital of Ukraine. This story tells of a romance between a Hungarian soldier, Mark, forced to work for the Nazis, and his relationship with Natasha, a Russian girl, and her family during the enforced occupation of Kiev. At this time  the German machine crushed the Russian people who were systematically starved, or executed, or sent to work camps. Mark’s intervention saved their lives, whilst also putting himself and the family at more risk. Lana Kortchik explores the feelings of those caught in a war zone – their allegiances, the desperate decisions they make to help each other and their neighbours, and the sheer randomness of survival. A powerful and hard-hitting novel, it tackles the themes of loyalty and compassion, and emphasizes the hard choices that need to be made in wartime.

I wrote to Lana to ask her to give us some more background to this fascinating novel.

What made you want to write about wartime Kiev?

I spent three years living in Kiev as a child and my happiest childhood memories are those of Ukraine. When the time came to choose the setting for my novel, I knew it had to be Kiev because the city holds such a special place in my heart. And it had to be Kiev during war because I’ve always been fascinated with war stories. I think the topic of war has a particular significance for any Russian. My grandparents have lived through that period, and, being very close to them, I grew up listening to their wartime stories. Researching the occupation of Kiev and reading about all the places I love during war was very intense and I hope this intensity is reflected in the novel

I’d never heard of the part played by the Hungarian Army in the Nazi occupation. Please tell us a little more about it.

During World War II, Hungary was allied to Germany, having signed the Tripartite Pact. When Operation Barbarossa – German invasion of the Soviet Union – began on 22 June 1941, Hitler expected Hungary to join the attack but the Hungarian government resisted. On June 26 the Hungarian town of Kassa got bombed and the Soviets were blamed for the bombing. Hungary was compelled to declare war against the Soviet Union. Whether it was indeed the Soviets or whether it was Hitler himself who has orchestrated the attack to push Hungary into war is still disputed.

Culturally and sociologically, there was little in common between Hungarians and Germans. In fact, Hungary had a much stronger kinship with Ukraine in terms of lifestyle and culture. An average Hungarian soldier on the Eastern Front didn’t feel any sympathy or loyalty for Hitler. For them, it was merely a decision made by politicians.

At the end of June 1941 Budapest sent forty four thousand soldiers to the Eastern Front. In Kiev, Hungarian troops guarded bridges and other strategic objects, worked as drivers and mechanics. They didn’t take part in atrocities against the Soviet population, nor were they seen as equals by the Germans. For example, they were not allowed to visit German-only restaurants or shops. There were many cases of assault against the Hungarians by the Nazis and because of that, Hungarian soldiers were not hated by the local population, who often encouraged them to desert and turn against Hitler. Some Hungarians did that and paid for it with their lives. In November and December 1941 Hungarian soldiers were recalled back to Hungary. After the war had ended, the politicians who made the decision to fight on Hitler’s side were perceived as war criminals for dragging the country into war.

One of the sisters, Lisa, is forced to leave and work for the Germans, and the reader has mixed feelings about this because of Lisa’s relationship with Natasha, which causes both of them great heartache. What would have been the future for Lisa and girls like her after the war?

Over the course of the war more than three million people had been transported to Germany from the Eastern Front, most of them Ukrainians. Forty thousand people a month were forced to Germany for work, not just from Kiev, but from Kharkov, Crimea, Chernihiv and other Ukrainian towns and villages. The Eastern workers, mostly women and children, lived in camps under strict discipline and worked twelve hours a day six days a week in factories all over Germany and in private enterprises. After the war had ended, many of them returned to the Soviet Union, only to be treated as traitors for collaboration with and working for the enemy. Some were transported to forced labour camps in Siberia by the Bolsheviks, while others were looked upon as second class citizens for the rest of their lives, with jobs and education denied to them. They had a special stamp in their passports, which separated them from the rest of society and caused them to live a life of abuse and suspicion.

The novel is in essence a Romance. How easy was it to make Mark a convincing hero? 

To make a Hungarian soldier fighting on Hitler’s side a convincing hero, he had to be a soldier of Russian descent. Mark doesn’t want to be in occupied Ukraine any more than an average Hungarian soldier but for him it’s twice as difficult. After all, he grew up in a Russian family and is heartbroken by Hitler’s atrocities on Soviet soil. He sees the places where his grandparents had lived, places he had heard about as a child and always wanted to visit, and they are devastated by war. He sees the Russians, people like him, suffer tremendously under Hitler’s regime. Mark and Natasha are trapped in an impossible situation and try to do all in their power to find a way out.

Many thanks to Lana for her interview.

You can find the book here in the UK, or here in the US

Lana’s Website

 

 

Categories
Blog

We’ll Meet Again by Hilary Green

 

There have been a slew of new releases set during WWII to coincide with the various anniversaries and landmark moments in our 20th century history, and its easy to miss some of the novels released a while ago that are still well worth reading.  I came across Hilary through the Historical Writers Association, checked out her website, and was tempted by We’ll Meet Again, a drama and romance.

The novel has an engaging protagonist – Frankie, a young woman of Italian descent, who, desperate to escape the dead end job prospects in Liverpool, finds herself being trained as a morse code operator and eventually a spy. This is a novel that builds in excitement to a nail-biting climax in Nazi-occupied Italy. What makes the novel a delight is the beautifully drawn friendships and allegiances that we share with Frankie during her training and beyond, for example the snob whose brittle exterior masks a deep insecurity, the stoic friend who risks her life to help the Resistance in France. There is also a believable and tender romance.

This was easy entertainment and ideal reading during my cosy nights before the fire over the Christmas break. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I will be buying more of Hilary Green’s books in the future.

More about women’s roles in WWII communications Heroes, Heroines and History Blog

You might also like my post on

The 70th Anniversary of the Film Brief Encounter

 

Categories
Blog

Books to invest in for Christmas Reading – mulled wine optional.

murder affairExcellent murder mystery with larger than life characters and a tone in which you can tell the author is enjoying the telling of the tale. John Lovat, the bastard brother of one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers and always second fiddle to his snooty brother, is employed to solve the mystery of the death of a Portuguese nobleman, and to hush up any scandal that might affect the court.

The author has researched the times thoroughly, with detailed knowledge of London streets, the theatres, the waterways and the politics of the day including the taking of slaves and the ruthlessness of piracy on the high seas. There are plenty of false leads and a surprising denouement. All in all an excellent read.

 

 

 

 

51eMB7tPzVL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_The House of York is loosely based on events during the era of the Wars of the Roses. It includes part of the plot of the Princes in the Tower (albeit updated) and this adds extra interest for history buffs.

The events are told from several points of view, mostly unreliable (!) and this family saga is part thriller, part crime, part intrigue, with a good dollop of psychology thrown in. This makes it sound complex, and it is, but it is also a seamless and entertaining read. The voices are clearly delineated, and each character convincing. Like the best historical sagas, Terry Tyler’s books are about power. Who owns it, who wants it, and the lengths people will go to to get it. Jealousy, back-stabbing, manipulation are all a part of the game. The ending leaves enough intrigue for the reader to wait anxiously for the next instalment.

 

 

 

51dYTFSb0SL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_A Dangerous Mourning is the second book in the William Monk Series, set just after the Crimean war, and full of Victorian atmosphere – the foggy Thames, and the complexity of the Victorian legal system. Both these outside forces are mirrored by Monk’s mind – his amnesia and how he copes with it, alongside his determination to be better than Mr. Runcorn, his superior, who would be happy to get rid of him from the Force.

The plot revolves around the murder of Octavia Moidore, a wealthy aristocrat’s daughter, who has been stabbed to death in her bed. Of course in those days there was no fingerprinting, no forensics, and the police force is full of ineptitude. Some of the time Monk is outwitting the system itself, as well as the perpetrator of the crime. Gripping, atmospheric stuff, with a great courtroom drama ending.

 

 

 

51fq0hMAISL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Letters to the Lost is a double romance set during World War Two and today. The plot is built around an empty house in which Jess finds herself after she escapes her violent boyfriend, Dodge. The letters she discovers in the abandoned house describe a sweeping love story that went wrong. At the same time, the airman of the letters is trying to find his long lost sweetheart and hopes she is still alive. With the help of her friend Will, Jess begins to unravel the mystery behind Dan and Stella’s wartime story, and in doing so finds a love of her own. Our hopes for a happy ending propel the two narratives along, and anyone looking for an exceptionally well-written romance with true heart and poignancy will love this.

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.

BriefEncounter

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.

Categories
Blog

Fetch Nurse Connie by Jean Fullerton

As I’m a blogger, I received a copy of ‘Fetch Nurse Connie’  from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Fetch Nurse Connie - Cover 18th Feb th Jan 2015..doc

 

Anyone interested in the post-world war two period will just love this. Full of great little details that really bring the past to life, this is a page-turning saga in which we meet memorable characters, and learn a lot about nursing in 1945. Connie Byrne is a determined, staunch and upright young woman facing a demanding job, and a difficult relationship with a fiance who has returned from the war with a shock in store for her. Charlie is convincingly plausible as the unreliable and self-seeking fiance, with looks to melt your heart, and Connie’s nursing friends are real individuals not just cardboard cut-outs. Connie’s journey up the ladder of the nursing profession is a difficult one, but the book does not shy away from the sexism of the times, and from the harsh realities of life in the East End of London for poorer communities.
The interest in this novel is in immersing yourself in another time and period, and in the pre-NHS nursing system, all lovingly evoked by the author.
Jean’s Blog gives lots of interesting information about her research process.

‘In order to get the detail right I have collected over the years a number of nursing text books of the period. These include nursing and midwifery dictionaries, child health books, contraceptive manuals, nurses’ exam crib sheets, 1940/50s editions of the Nursing Mirror and midwifery text books. These are all invaluable but the pride and joy of my collection is my 1947 edition of Irwin and Merry District Nursing manual. ‘  Read More
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

Categories
Blog

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.

Amazon UK

Amazon US

www.davinablake.com

twitter: @davinajblake

blog: www.davinablake.blogspot.com

Categories
Blog

Unravelled by M.K.Tod

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 11.12.37 AM

 

My grandmother died on the way to her second wedding.

I had often thought this dramatic curtain on life would make a good story and one day, sitting in a Hong Kong apartment with no job and no one to talk to, I decided to write about her life. I had moved to Hong Kong with my husband and while he travelled almost every week to various cities across Asia, I began what I thought of as a way to amuse myself, using some notes my mother had written about her family history.

The first step was research. To create a story based on the lives of my grandparents, I would have to understand WWI, the Depression and WWII. Not being a student of history, I felt the need to begin at the beginning. What caused WWI? Who were the players? What did soldiers experience? What happened on the home front?

Happily, the Internet offered reams and reams of information on military and political events as well as maps and photos and stories of individual experiences of war. I found soldiers’ diaries lovingly transcribed by relatives to honor long ago sacrifice. I found regiments maintaining information about those who served in WWI, the weapons used and uniforms worn, the rations eaten and songs sung. A world of chaos and bungling and death emerged and I became utterly captivated.

But a novel requires drama: a plot with twists and turns, characters going through change, tension and conflict. My grandparents had led a relatively ordinary life. Clearly, I would have to embellish.

Back in Toronto in the summer of 2006, my mother provided further ingredients for the story by telling me that my grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge in April of 1917 and went on to be part of the Army of Occupation in Germany after WWI ended. She spoke of my great-grandparents and what she knew of her parents’ wedding, a few memories of the Depression and more substantial memories of living through WWII. She gave me a box of old photos and newspaper clippings and my grandfather’s scrapbooks. She also relayed the story of my grandfather’s involvement with Camp X, a place not far from Toronto where espionage agents were trained in WWII. My grandfather and espionage – who would have imagined?

The plot started to take shape. A wartime romance, a lover left behind, a soldier plagued with nightmares. “Wait a minute,” I told myself. “That’s far too trite, too predictable.” An affair. Yes, I needed an affair. But what other drama would fill a novel that ends when a woman is seventy-five? I tried various scenarios, solicited input, tried more scenarios. Version one quickly became version eight or nine—I’ve lost count—as I adjusted scenes and added more depth to the story.

The main characters were relatively easy to portray since they were modeled after my grandparents who lived until I was in my twenties. I happily added others to flesh out the story and they came alive too as I borrowed attributes or personality traits from familiar people or invented a combination to suit my purposes. My characters were like friends and over time I knew how they would react to the challenges I threw their way.

A long time has past since I began writing Unravelled. The story looks nothing like my early versions. And instead of ending with my grandmother’s death, it ends in 1944 a few months after the D-Day invasion of Europe.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History.

@MKTodAuthor

https://www.facebook.com/MKTodAuthor