What an excellent series is the BBC programme The Blitz; the Bombs that changed Britain. I often find that there are programmes which feed into my writing. Last year, when I was writing Ranter’s Wharf, the was a programme about poverty through the decades of the 19thC. So thank you BBC for your excellent history programmes.
The Blitz looks at specific bombs in specific cities and tells the story of their (sorry about the pun) impact. I have watched the ones about Hull and Clydebank and they are both heart-rending and offer an insight into their longer-term consequences. Both cities suffered immense losses of population and housing stock and both were bombed in the same week in March 1941.
So here I am, writing about a specific bomb that dropped on Bursar Street, Cleethorpes in the same week in March 1941 and then this programme appears on TV! Often the bombs that fell on Grimsby / Cleethorpes were left over from Hull and dropped on the way back. Hull was the bigger prize. Grimsby was mainly a fishing port. Although the trawlermen played their part in both world wars.
My Swedish grandfather skipper (whom I never met) captained a minesweeper off Aberdeen in WW1. My great-grandfather skipper was blown up by a mine in 1919 after serving through the war. Sailors from Grimsby took their small boats to Dunkirk and helped to rescue troops from the beaches.
There were raids on Grimsby but they were not catastrophic as the Clydesbank one was. Just 12% of its housing was left undamaged after two nights raid. Virtually the whole population had to self-evacuate but then the men returned to be at work on Monday. Unimaginable and heroic.
I rarely read a book twice. I know I should but there are so many books, too many for one short lifetime. If my book club selects a book I have already read, I usually wing it. But this time, they chose an author I had recommended and, in my view, the book which has
stayed with me longest, On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry. The other reason I have read it is that I vowed to have two days away from a screen because I have a problem with my right eye. Suddenly, I am faced with ridiculous thoughts – what if I can’t read anymore – or write? How would I cope with losing that? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
To return to the book. All of Barry’s books are connected in some way. Characters reappear, sometimes out of the blue, but On Canaan’s Side is really a sequel to Barry’s WW1 novel, A Long, Long, Way From Here. Lilly, the sister of soldier, Willie, becomes engaged to Tadg, a soldier buddy, who comes to tell the family how Willie’s died. In the complicated politics of Ireland after the war, Lilly and Tadg have to flee Ireland for America.
I don’t like to give away more of the story than that. Suffice to say, Lilly’s life is hard and full of loss but she never gives up. This story reveals what war does to women and to men. But there are more wars than the physical ones; civil rights and the how powerful men treat powerless women, also come into play. This very understated book lays bare the huge questions and issues which affect the lives of ordinary people. It does it with language, so full of poetry and imagery that it makes the heart stop and pause. It does it with an intimacy of a life, lived in the service of others, with little thought for herself. So much so that you feel that the writer speaks only to you. You leave it feeling as though you understand the world better, although that understanding makes you feel raw while at the same time, blessed.
This book goes into my top ten.
There’s always such a lot of discussion on accuracy in historical novels. Readers will always find fault with some aspect even for respected best-selling authors. I recently listened to a very amusing talk by a well-known crime writer on letters he had received, calling him to account for what the reader perceived as wrong or offering to help him get it right next time. And yet, cinema-goers rarely display the same critical level of awareness about film. I’m thinking of Braveheart and U-571 which do their best to rewrite history. Surely a film reaches more people than most books and how many people go away with false information from a film thinking it’s true? They tend to criticize continuity errors more than the accuracy of the subject matter, it seems to me.
I recently read a book, Villa Mimosa, which I got free. I read it as a lighthearted spoof about the war in 1944 in the Pas De Calais. I doubt that anyone would consider it bearing any relation to the truth and yes there may have been historical inaccuracies, even faults with the French language but I enjoyed reading it as entertainment. It was
well-written, had good characters and made me smile. You can read my review on Amazon.
I beat myself up about getting historical facts wrong but it is bound to happen. We novelists do not purport to be non-fiction writers and research historians. We aim to tell a story set in a particular time, bringing a flavour of the times to the book without overpowering the reader with a long list of facts. The story and the characters are what drives the book. If it makes the reader think and draw comparisons, so much the better.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to live in a town under siege from bombs? You see these images on the television of Syria and the Yemen where people are living in not much more than rubble. How does anyone survive, keep going, stay sane? I am writing today about a bombing raid in WW2 which seems tame in comparison with what you see now.
It was our parents
and grandparents who lived through it but did they mention their terror.? No, I probably heard more about the difficulties of rationing than I ever did about aeroplanes coming over and shooting at them or bombing them. And yet, it happened, regularly. How does the mind cope with that amount of constant fear? Do you try to ignore it? Think it will never happen to you? If you have children, you probably have to try and keep cheerful, make light of it, while you are sitting in a dark shelter, knowing that at any minute, you could be dead or horribly injured, or worse, your child dead and you left alive.
Perhaps you develop some mechanism to cope with it. Or is it the stoical, stiff upper lip, while deep inside your bowels turn to water and you feel constantly nauseous with fear. I rather dread asking my remaining aunts about it. I don’t want to upset them. Perhaps it was all so long ago, they have forgotten what it felt like.
For my sins but really being a willing member of the wonderful CHINDI network of Independent Authors, I have said I would arrange organise a ghost tour for the LOCA, the Littlehampton Arts Festival next July. I am hoping to receive lots of ghostly short stories which we can use to plan the tour and also create a book for participants. With this in mind, yesterday evening, I went on a ghost tour of Chichester with a ramblers’ group, organised by CHINDI member, Julia Macfarlane, and very enjoyable it was. I visited parts of Chichester I had never been to and will now visit again, saw artwork on walls (like miniature Banksy’s), how had I missed them? Instead of rushing in and doing shopping, next time I will take the time to look at my surroundings. When you pause and look up, you are reminded what a beautiful city it is. Roman walls and the most wonderful Georgian buildings sit side by side and so many ghostly tales, true and created by CHINDI and Bognor Write groups. It is something to live up to. I have scheduled a trip to Littlehampton on Monday to start researching and visit the haunted Dolphin Hotel. Watch this space.
If you want to know about the Chichester Ghost Tour booklet. Here is the link.
I fear I am failing at this. Oh yes, I make my lists and religiously cross things off but I tend to
do the easy ones first. Doesn’t everyone? If I am in a writing mood, everything else goes to pot and this week writing has come before hoeing up the weeds in the drive. Well, that can be done anytime. What about dealing with the Amazon tax form update? It can stay on the list. Now organising venues for the Littlehampton Festival for CHINDI events. That’s urgent, I must make a start this week. Tomorrow, I keep promising myself. Our super blogger, Books in my handbag, wants extracts from me to help publicise my books, another urgent one because I said I would get round to it by Wednesday. And that’s today, whoops! Visiting mother, cooking dinners and doing the laundry can’t be ignored but housework? No, not unless visitors are arriving within the next 24 hours.
Then there’s the reading – three new books on my desk to help with research. Plus the books I have promised people I will review and sometimes wish I hadn’t been so accommodating when I begin.
The social media marketing is fitted into odd seconds when I feel guilty enough. That reminds me I have missed #TheAuthorHour on Twitter again.
How did I ever find time to go to work? Everyone who is retired says that, but it’s true. Are you organised? Do you have a set time to write or wait for the mood to strike?
The third book in my Australian trilogy needs a title. I am a year off finishing it so you might think it’s early days but I want to create a Pinterest Board for it. My working title has been Sadie because she is my protagonist. But threaded through the story are rivers starting with the Canning near Perth Australia; the Yarra (or to give it its full title Yarra Yarra (meaning ever-flowing river); The great Murray River, The Torrens in Adelaide and last but not least, the Humber. My feeling is that I should try and include Yarra in the title so that it attracts my Australian readers. So, I would like your opinion on the following suggestions.
- Dreaming of Yarra (or Yarra Yarra)
- Yarra Holds my Heart
- Ever flows the Yarra
- Other suggestions welcome