My Review of Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn by Thorne Moore #TuesdayBookBlog #Histfiction

long shadows

 

I gave Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn 5*

Book Description:

Llys y Garn is a rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion with vestiges of older glories.

It lies in the isolated parish of Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire. It is the house of the parish, even in its decline, deeply conscious of its importance, its pedigree and its permanence. It stubbornly remains though the lives of former inhabitants have long since passed away. Only the rooks are left to bear witness to the often desperate march of history.

Throne Moore’s Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn comprises a trio of historical novellas that let us into secrets known only to these melancholy birds.

The Good Servant is the story of Nelly Skeel, loveless housekeeper at Llys y Garn at the end of the 19th century, whose only focus of affection is her master’s despised nephew. But for Cyril Lawson she will do anything, whatever the cost.

The Witch tells of Elizabeth Powell, born as Charles II is restored to the English throne, in a world of changing political allegiances, where religious bigotry and superstition linger on. Her love is not for her family, her duty, her God or her future husband, but for the house where she was born. For that she would sell her soul.

The Dragon Slayer tells of Angharad ferch Owain in the early decades of the 14th century. Angharad is an expendable asset in her father’s machinations to recover old rights and narrow claims, but she dreams of bigger things and a world without the roaring of men. A world that might spare her from the seemingly inevitable fate of all women.

In these three tales the rooks of Llys y Garn have watched centuries of human tribulation – but just how much has really changed? If you enjoyed the kaleidoscopic sweep of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas you will appreciate Long Shadows.

My Review:

I have long been an admirer of Thorne Moore’s work and have not been disappointed with these three novellas in  Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn

The first, The Good Servant is told from the point of view of the housekeeper, Nelly Skeel; the protagonist, living at the end of the nineteenth century.  Well rounded and well portrayed in her actions, there is a vulnerability about this character; as the reader I found myself both can empathising and sympathising  with her and yet being exasperated. Yet should I? She is of her time and  of a certain status in her world.

And, so, on to The Witch. This story, set in the seventeenth century,  takes the reader through the early years of Elizabeth Powell to her adult life. Told mainly from the protagonist’s point of view with the occasional insight to one or two of the  other characters from a third person narrator, the emphasis is on the restrictions of the religion at that time. and the class struggles; land versus money. I liked Elizabeth, which is something I cannot say about Anthony, her brother. Always there is hope that all will be well but there is an all encompassing darkness to her story…

The Dragon Slayer is the story of Angharad ferch Owain, living during the fourteenth  century. Also told from the protagonist’s point of view we read of her fear of her father, of her future. This protagonist I liked the most. The ending is satisfying. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. As with the first two novellas, this tale is dark with themes of the women being mere chattels to be bargained with, used for the progression in society of their families.

I enjoyed the way the women were portrayed as having a strength and internal rebellion. But yet there was always the conflicts of status and money, of land and possessions, of greed and thwarted love. Of patriarchy.

In all three novellas, both the internal and spoken dialogue the author has the tone and subtle dialect that I imagine Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire to have been in those eras.

And, in all, the descriptions of the buildings, of Llys y Garn and of the ever-changing Welsh countryside are evocative and easily imagined.

Just a comment about the style of the book:  

The intriguing Prelude, giving the history of the “rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion” that is Llys y Garn,  is fascinating.  And I loved the short explanations of the after-years of novella. And  then we have the Interludes; told in a conversational tone these are filled both with historical details and those pertinent to the story,. Finally, the Epilogue, giving the continuing, ever-evolving history of Llys y Garn through the following centuries. 

It is apparent that the author has researched thoroughly for each of these stories; the themes of Welsh legends, myths, superstitions  and tales are woven throughout the history of the decades.  

Watch out for the ravens

This is a collection of novellas I can thoroughly recommend to any reader, especially those who enjoys historical literature.

Links to buy:

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2rDFQj7

Amazon.com: https://amzn.to/2Iap5Hr

About the author:

Thorne Moore

Thorne was born in Luton and graduated from Aberystwyth University (history) and from the Open University (Law). She set up a restaurant with her sister but now spends her time writing and making miniature furniture for collectors. She lives in Pembrokeshire, which forms a background for much of her writing, as does Luton. She writes psychological mysteries, or “domestic noir,” and her first novel, A Time For Silence, was published by Honno in 2012. Motherlove and The Unravelling followed, also published by Honno. She has also brought out a book of short stories, Moments of Consequence. Her last novel, Shadows, was published by Endeavour in 2017. She’s a member of the Crime Writers Association.

Praise for Thorne Moore and her novels:

“Thorne Moore is a huge talent. Her writing is intensely unsettling and memorable” – SALLY SPEDDING, AUTHOR

“Totally had me hooked from page one… Highly recommended if you love a good psychological thriller” – BROOK COTTAGE BOOKS

“I devoured this book. Beautifully written, frighteningly real” – CHILL WITH A BOOK

“A compelling blend of mystery and family drama with a gothic twist… The author’s ability to create an atmosphere is exceptional” – JUDITH BARROW, AUTHOR

“Beautifully told, this really did have me captivated” – CLEOPATRA LOVES BOOKS

“Moore has created a figure who reaches out across the decades and grabs our sympathy… Her character transforms the novel” – BOOKERTALK

 

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My Review of Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

fredsfuneral

I received this book as a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team (#RBRT) in return for an honest review.

 I gave Fred’s Funeral by Sandy Day 5* out of 5*

Book Description:

Fred Sadler has just died of old age. It’s 1986, seventy years after he marched off to WWI, and the ghost of Fred Sadler hovers near the ceiling of the nursing home. To Fred’s dismay, the arrangement of his funeral falls to his prudish sister-in-law, Viola. As she dominates the remembrance of Fred, he agonizes over his inability to set the record straight.

Was old Uncle Fred really suffering from shell shock? Why was he locked up most of his life in the Whitby Hospital for the Insane? Could his family not have done more for him?

Fred’s memories of his life as a child, his family’s hotel, the War, and the mental hospital, clash with Viola’s version of events as the family gathers on a rainy October night to pay their respects.

My Review:

 I think the book description, with all the open questions, reveals all that is needed to say about the story to draw any reader in.

I loved this novella. Although inspired by letters written by the author’s Great Uncle Fred, and written from a third person point of view, it’s Sandy Day’s light touch in her writing style that brings out the poignancy of what is essentially a ghost story.

I actually found it strangely frustrating that Fred Sadler is unable to make his relatives understand that it was his experiences in the First World War that permanently damaged him and led to his erratic lifestyle afterwards .

And it reminded me that ultimately we are all seen by others from their own perspectives. Bearing in mind that this is essentially a true story, (and not knowing if Viola’s viewpoint of him has, in truth, been gleaned from those letters of his) this disturbed and upset me for Fred.

 Which, I suppose, shows how strong is the portrayal of the protagonist – ghost or not.

 The juxtaposition of memories and present day actions, recollections and interpretations of Fred’s life through the contents of his battered old suitcase ,as the family study and comment over them, saddened me.

 This is a reflective and insightful story that will stay with me for quite a while.

 And, my goodness, the cover!  The young soldier, veiled by the handwriting, standing upright and proud in his uniform, as yet unaware of what faced him. Powerful image.

 And what I would give to be able to read those letters.

I realise this is quite a short review for me but I hope it’s enough to show how strongly I recommend Fred’s Funeral to any readers. A novella not to be missed.

Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2sHbv6Z

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2FhHjlP

 

About the Author

sandy day

 

Sandy Day is the author of Fred’s Funeral and Chatterbox, Poems. She graduated from Glendon College, York University, with a degree in English Literature sometime in the last century. Sandy spends her summers in Jackson’s Point, Ontario on the shore of Lake Simcoe. She winters nearby in Sutton by the Black River. Sandy is a trained facilitator for the Toronto Writers Collective’s creative writing workshops. She is a developmental editor and book coach.

Find Sandy on Twitter@sandeetweets

 

 

The Anti-Suffragist movement #suffrage #women #MondayBlogs

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Researching the life of  Millicent Fawcett , founder of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, I was shocked to read that there was an Anti-Suffragist movement:

Women and men  were opposed the suffrage movement for a variety of reasons and by various means. Numerous opinion polls throughout the suffrage campaign continued to find the majority of women not wanting a vote. Some women’s commitment to this belief led to their active involvement in anti-suffrage campaigning. Others were hampered by their belief in women’s separate sphere of influence from a direct involvement in a political campaign and were relatively passive in support of their cause.

The bedrock of the anti-suffrage movement was an appeal to women’s femininity and the ‘natural order’. Suffragettes supposedly fell foul of the ‘norm’ and engaged in ‘unladylike’ and public activities. They were presented as women who had failed to reach the ultimate female goal in life of marriage and motherhood. They were depicted as bitter spinsters and caricatured as masculine, plain and ‘unnatural’. Their presence also apparently ‘feminized’ men, too. To the Anti-Suffragist movement the suffragette represented a figure outside of the order of society; they supposedly lacked ‘womanliness’; were seen to be sexually repressed; and were even against ‘God’s order’.

They resisted any proposal to admit women to the parliamentary franchise and to Parliament but still wanted women to be represented on committees concerned with the domestic and social affairs of the community.

Many anti-suffragists spoke in public about their role in society, wrote articles in newspapers and campaigned for those causes which they thought suitable for women.

In 1912 Violet Markham wrote:

We believe that men and women are different – not similar – beings, with talents that are complementary, not identical, and that they therefore ought to have different shares in the management of the State, that they severally compose. We do not depreciate by one jot or tittle women’s work and mission. We are concerned to find proper channels of expression for that work. We seek a fruitful diversity of political function, not a stultifying uniformity

Anti-suffragists saw women’s role as concentrating on womanly duty, a maternal role and the exercise influence and reform through other means – through the example of her behaviour, service and gentle influence on men for the good.

Yet some prominent anti-suffragist writers included women committed to the extension of women’s rights in other areas like Elizabeth Wordsworth, Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, the Oxford women’s college or Florence Bell, playwright and friend and collaborator with suffragist and social campaigner Elizabeth Robins. Often anti-suffrage campaigners combined an involvement in social action with their anti-suffrage views, their actions based on a belief in women’s distinctive role in doing good works and helping the disadvantaged.

                                                                    *

The move for women to have the vote had really started in 1897 when Millicent Fawcett  founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage.

 Millicent Fawcett believed in peaceful protest. She felt that any violence or trouble would persuade men that women could not be trusted to have the right to vote. Her game plan was patience and logical arguments. Fawcett argued that women could hold responsible posts in society such as sitting on school boards yet were not trusted to vote; she argued that if parliament made laws and if women had to obey those laws, then women should be part of the process of making those laws; she argued that as women had to pay taxes as men, they should have the same rights as men

And one of her most powerful arguments was that wealthy mistresses of large manors and estates employed gardeners, workmen and labourers who could vote……..but the women could not regardless of their wealth…..

Dame Millicett’s legacy continues today through the women’s rights charity, the Fawcett Society.

Welcoming the announcement, chief executive Sam Smethers called it a, “fitting tribute. Her contribution was great but she has been overlooked and unrecognised until now. By honouring her we also honour the wider suffrage movement.”

The Fawcett Society@fawcettsociety is the UK’s leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights.

The Fawcett Society’s story begins with  Millicent Fawcett , suffragist and women’s rights campaigner who made it her lifetime’s work to secure women the right to vote.

At the age of 19, she organised signatures for the first petition for women’s suffrage, though she was too young to sign it herself. She became President of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (the NUWSS) from 1907-19. With 50,000 members it was the largest organisation agitating for female suffrage at the time. Her powerful and peaceful mass campaign was instrumental in securing the first extension of voting rights for women in 1918.

Millicent worked alongside the Suffragettes, who employed different, and more militant tactics in their campaign. From the beginning,  Millicent took an interest in women’s empowerment in its broadest sense; the suffragette colours were green, white and violet which stood for Give Women Votes. The suffragist colours, by contrast, reflected their broader movement: green, white and red or Give Women Rights.

In 1913 she was awarded a brooch engraved with “For Steadfastness and Courage”, which The Fawcett Society till has today.  Millicent Fawcett died in 1929, a year after women were finally given equal voting rights. Her work has continued ever since, with The London Society for Women’s Suffrage renamed as The Fawcett Society in her honour in 1953.

2018 marks 100 years since women first secured the right to vote, and  Millicent Fawcett will be making history again. She’ll become the first woman commemorated with a statue in Parliament Square– a landmark moment for the wider suffrage movement, and for women everywhere.

She went on to lead the constitutional suffrage campaign and made this cause her lifetime’s work, securing equal voting rights 62 years later. Today The Fawcett Society continues her legacy of fighting sexism and gender inequality, the belief being that no one should be prevented from reaching their full potential because of their gender.

The Fawcett Society campaigns to:

Close the gender pay gap. Secure equal power. Challenge attitudes and change minds. Defend women’s rights post-Brexit. There must be no turning the clock back.

THEIR VISION: A society in which the choices you can make and the control you have over your life are no longer determined by your gender.

THEIR MISSION: We publish compelling research to educate, inform and lead the debate. We bring together politicians, academics, grassroots activists and wider civil society to develop innovative, practical solutions

They campaign with women and men to make change happen.

 

My Review of BURKE IN THE LAND OF SILVER by Tom Williams #TuesdayBookBlog

Williams 55

Book Description

James Burke never set out to be a spy. But with Napoleon rampaging through Europe, the War Office needs agents and Burke isn’t given a choice. It’s no business for a gentleman, and disguising himself as a Buenos Aires leather merchant is a new low. His mission, though, means fighting alongside men who see the collapse of the old order giving them a chance to break free of Spanish colonial rule.

He falls in love with the country – and with the beautiful Ana. Burke wants both to forward British interests and to free Argentina from Spain. But his new found selflessness comes up against the realities of international politics. When the British invade, his attempts to parley between the rebels and their new rulers leave everybody suspicious of him.

Despised by the British, imprisoned by the Spanish and with Ana leaving him for the rebel leader, it takes all Burke’s resolve and cunning to escape. Only after adventuring through the throne rooms and bedrooms of the Spanish court will he finally come back to Buenos Aires, to see Ana again and avenge himself on the man who betrayed him.

 

My Review: I gave Burke in the Land of Silver 3* out of 5*

Burke in the Land of Silver is an historical novel set mainly during the Napoleonic wars and in Argentina  It is obvious from the start that the author, Tom Williams, has researched extensively both the era, the customs of the countries that the protagonist, James Burke (a spy for the English) is purported to hail from, and the historical facts that are the background of the novel..

The plot is sometimes convoluted and quite slow but interesting.

And the details and descriptions that give the settings a good sense of place kept me reading.

 Told in the first person point of view from the perspective of James Burke (who, apparently actually existed), I enjoyed reading his thoughts on the world and the people he encountered. And I did like the sardonic tone of much of his internal dialogue. But I didn’t feel that I ever really got to know, or even like him much, and this detracted from my enjoyment of the story.

I also struggled with some of the minor characters, though I quite liked the way William, ex soldier and now servant to Burke emulated the way Burke assumed different roles in the plot. And the portrayal of O’Gorman was cleverly written; an astute merchant who was also rather a buffoon, I thought. But the love angle of the protagonist with O’Gorman’s wife, Ana, felt laborious and artificial in the beginning and lacking in really true attraction between them.

The dialogue is well written and differentiates the characters though; a great plus from my point of view.

Burke in the Land of Silver was drawn to my attention following reviews I’d read and I acquired it through Kindle Unlimited.On reflection I’d say I probably expected a more character driven story-line and was disappointed in this. But I did admire the author’s style of bringing to life the densely layered historical facts and so think this book would appeal to readers who enjoy both action adventure stories and historical fiction. 

Buying links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2DXfH4u

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2rtyCkT

 

About the author:

Tom Williams

Have you ever noticed how many authors are described as ‘reclusive’? I have a lot of sympathy for them. My feeling is that authors generally like to hide at home with their laptops or their quill pens and write stuff. If they enjoyed being in the public eye, they’d be stand-up comics or pop stars.

Nowadays, though, writers are told that their audiences want to be able to relate to them as people. I’m not entirely sure about that. If you knew me, you might not want to relate to me at all. But here in hyperspace I apparently have to tell you that I’m young and good looking and live somewhere exciting with a beautiful partner, a son who is a brain surgeon and a daughter who is a swimwear model. Then you’ll buy my book.

Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. I’m older than you can possibly imagine. (Certainly older than I ever imagined until I suddenly woke up and realised that age had snuck up on me.) I live in Richmond, which is nice and on the outskirts of London which is a truly amazing city to live in. My wife is beautiful but, more importantly, she’s a lawyer, which is handy because a household with a writer in it always needs someone who can earn decent money. My son has left home and we never got round to the daughter.

We did have a ferret, which I thought would be an appropriately writer sort of thing to have around but he recently got even older than me (in ferret years) and died. I’d try to say something snappy and amusing about that but we loved that ferret and snappy and amusing doesn’t quite cut it.

I street skate and ski and can dance a mean Argentine tango. I’ve spent a lot of my life writing very boring things for money (unless you’re in Customer Care, in which case ‘Dealing With Customer Complaints’ is really, really interesting). Now I’m writing for fun. OK, ‘The White Rajah’ isn’t exactly a bundle of laughs but it has pirates and battles and an evil villain and it’s a lot more fun than a review of the impact of legal advice on debt management. (Yes, in my time I’ve written some very, very boring things. Unless you’re interested in debt management, in which case I’m told my words are pure gold.)

If you all buy my book, I’ll be able to finish the next ones and I’ll never have to work for the insurance industry again and that will be a good thing, yes? So you’ll not only get to read a brilliant novel but your karmic balance will move rapidly into credit.

Can I go back to being reclusive now?

The Circumstantial Enemy: An astounding, based-on-true-events WW2 thriller by John R.Bell #RBRT #TuesdayBookBlog

 

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I received this book from the author as member of Rosie Amber’s review team #RBRT in return for a fair and honest review.

I gave The Circumstantial Enemy 4* out of 5*

Book Description;

On the wrong side of war, there is more than one enemy…

When Croatia becomes a Nazi puppet state in 1941, carefree young pilot Tony Babic finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Unbeknownst to Tony, his sweetheart Katarina and best friend Goran have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome are soon to discover that love and friendship will not circumvent this war’s ideals.

Downed by the Allies in the Adriatic Sea, Tony survives a harrowing convalescence in deplorable Italian hospitals and North African detention stockades. His next destination is Camp Graham in Illinois, one of four hundred prisoner of war camps on American soil.

But with the demise of the Third Reich, repatriation presents a new challenge. What kind of life awaits Tony under communist rule? Will he be persecuted as an enemy of the state for taking the side of Hitler? And then there is Katarina; in letters she confesses her love, but not her deceit… Does her heart still belong to him?

Based on a true story, John Richard Bell’s The Circumstantial Enemy is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust and revenge. Rich in incident with interludes of rollicking humour, it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love and forgiveness.

My Review:

The Circumstantial Enemy drew me in from the first page; Bell has a writing style that has great depth, tells a story that has so many sub-plots, mixes facts with fiction, yet is easy to read

This book is based on real events that happened during World War II and it is obvious the author has also researched extensively. The plot reads authentically with many twists and unexpected events. Set between 1941-1952 , It’s a cross-genre story of history, politics, war  and romance: a story that exposes the devastation and horror of war, the reactions of human beings to the stress and trauma of enforced separation from family and friends, of enduring love against all the odds. The pace is swift and encompasses the difficult period when Yugoslavia was divided into Serbia and Croatia,  moving to Italy, the stockades in North African,  American prisoner of war camps and on to post war Europe.

Yet all is not doom and gloom; there are touches of humour here and there, showing the resilience of the human condition.

The characters  are well portrayed with authentic and individualistic dialogue, particularly that of the protagonist,  Tony Babic, shown in so many layers through both his actions and internal  dialogue as the story progresses. As the story moved forward I felt, as a reader, that I almost knew what his responses would be to everything he faced. This is a strong protagonist, embodied by self-respect, honour, courage; a man who faces life with stubborn perseverance even in his darkest moments. And the minor characters, being well drawn and believable, give excellent support within the plot.

The descriptions of each of the settings are extremely well written and give a great sense of place.

If I had any reservations about this debut novel it would be that sometimes, just sometimes, a point is belaboured, slowing the action down. But, as I say, it is a small irritation compared with the enjoyment I had reading The Circumstantial Enemy.

 Striking cover as well!

I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with wars as the background and a touch of romance and  I look forward to reading John R Bell’s next novel.

Links to buy:

 Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2AEWJfXhttp://amzn.to/2AEWJfX

 Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2CR1x7K

About the Author:

 

John Richard Bell

 

John Richard Bell was born in Chigwell, UK and now resides in Vancouver, Canada.

Before becoming an author of business books and historical fiction, John Bell was a CEO, global strategy consultant, and a director of several private, public, and not-for-profit organizations. A prolific blogger, John’s musings on strategy, leadership, and branding have appeared in various journals such as Fortune, Forbes and ceoafterlife.com.

John’s novel, The Circumstantial Enemy, chronicles the trials and capers of Tony Babic, a young pilot who finds himself forcibly aligned with Hitler’s Luftwaffe in 1941. Unbeknownst to Tony, his sweetheart Katarina and best friend Goran have taken the side of the opposing communist partisans. The threesome soon discover that love and friendship can not circumvent this ideals of this war. Like many of the adventure novels of Wilbur Smith and Bryce Courtenay, The Circumstantial Enemy is an energetic journey to freedom through minefields of hatred, betrayal, lust, and revenge. Rich in incident and rollicking humor, it’s a story about the strength of the human spirit, and the power of friendship, love, and forgiveness.

John’s business book, ‘Do Less Better – The Power of Strategic Sacrifice in a Complex World’, was released by Palgrave Macmillan USA in 2015. This book helps leaders recognize the complexity within their businesses and suggests how they can simplify and streamline through specialization and sacrifice. For leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs who need help embracing the practices that foster agility, foresight, and resilience, ‘Do Less Better’ provides a tool-kit of road-tested strategies.

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A Hundred Tiny Threads: Wales Book of the Month January 2018 #Welshpublishers @WelshBooks @honno

I am so proud that  A Hundred Tiny Threads is The Welsh Books Council  BOOK OF THE MONTH in January 2018

The title,  A Hundred Tiny Threads,  is taken from a quote by Simone Signoret (the French actress of cinema and a writer in her later years. She died of cancer in 1985 at the age of 60. The full quote is, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. “

A Hundred Tiny Threads  is the story of the parents of protagonist in the Howarth  trilogy, Mary Howarth. I thought I’d finished with the characters when the last book ended. But something niggled away at me until I realised that until their story was told; their lives explained, the narration was incomplete. The story takes place during a time of social and political upheaval, between the years 1911 and 1922. It’s set in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Ireland at the time of the Suffragettes, the  first World War and the Uprising in Ireland.

I knew the years I wanted to cover so one of the obvious difficulties was the timeline. I needed to make sure that those characters, already existing in the trilogy, fitted correctly into those decades. And the two main characters, Winifred Duffy and Bill Howarth, are already fully formed, rounded characters in the previous books so I wanted to show how the era they had grown up in; the environment, the events, the conditions, had shaped them, moulded them into the characters they’d become.

I actually wasn’t going to write a trilogy. The first of the three books is called Pattern of Shadows

I’ve often told the story about how I discovered that the first German POW camp in the UK was a disused cotton mill in Lancashire. And how, because of my memories; of the noise, the colours of the cloth, the smell of grease and cotton when my mother worked as a winder in such a mill, I wondered what it would be like for those prisoners.  I imagined their misery, loneliness and anger. And I wanted to write a story about that. But research in a local history library; finding sources of personal accounts of those times, from ex-prisoners, the locals and the guards of the camp, proved that it wasn’t quite as bad as I had imagined. There were times of hope, of love even. So then I knew I needed to write the novel around a family who lived in the town where the camp was situated. Who were involved in some way with the prisoners.

The trouble was that once the story was told there were threads that needed picking up for the sequel, Changing Patterns

And after that book was completed I realised that there would be repercussions from the actions of the characters in the first two stories that would affect the next generations. And so I wrote Living in the Shadows

 

 

It’s been hard to let go of some of the characters, especially the protagonist, Mary. But in a way I’m still staying in their world. When I’d sent A Hundred Tiny Threads to  Honno , my publishers, for the final time, I wrote and Indie published an anthology of eight short stories called Secrets.

These are the stories of some of the minor characters in the trilogy. At least three of these are crying out for their life stories to be told. I’ve already started on two of the characters: Hannah Booth, the sour mother- in- law of Mary’s sister, Ellen, who appears in Pattern of Shadows, and on Edith Jagger’s tale; the woman who becomes the gossipy and sharp-tongued next-door neighbour of the protagonist, Winifred, in the prequel and previously in the trilogy.

As is often the case, how we finish up in life is shaped by our past.  And both women have a dark secret.

Perhaps, all along, I knew I was not going to walk away from these characters. Perhaps they knew they wouldn’t let me.

Please click  The Welsh Books Council for A Hundred Tiny Threads: Wales Book of the Month for January 2018.

double a hundred one

Click here  for my trilogy and prequel available from Honno.

Gwasg Honno Press

All my books are available from:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2klIJzN

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2CdPuNv

Stan Green’s Secret #WW1 #shortstories #RemembranceDay

 

‘How old are you, son?’

 Stan straightened his spine and stretched his shoulders back, looking beyond the man to the recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener, on the wall.  ‘Eighteen, sir.’

‘Hmm. Date of birth?’ The captain studied Stan.

‘October 3rd, 1896, sir.’

‘Okay, lad, you’re in. Report to the sergeant over there.’ He dismissed Stan by shouting, ‘Next!’

 Stan grinned and gave the thumbs up to his mate, Ernest Sharp who stood, behind him. He turned and marched as best he could to the other side of the room to the serveant.

‘If that’s the best you can do as a march lad, I’ve got some work cut out for me.’ But the recruiting sergeant, tall and moustached, gave Stan a grin. ‘Welcome to the East Lancashire Regiment. ‘He winked. ‘We’re doin’ well; you’re the tenth recruit today, so that’s ten half-crowns we’ve earned. We’ll be ‘aving a few pints on you lot tonight.’

 

‘What do you mean, you’ve joined the army. You’re fourteen.’ Stan’s mother stared at him. Drying her soapy hands on her pinny she moved away from the sink full of washing. ‘Emmanuel, tell him. Tell him he can’t; he’s not old enough.’

Stan’s father didn’t move from behind his newspaper. ‘If the lad wants to serve his king and country, Mother, there’s nothing we can do.’

‘Nothing.’ Stan’s mother screeched the word. ‘Nothing? He’s a boy, for God’s sake.’

‘No blaspheming, Mother.’  Now Emmanuel Green did lower his paper.  ‘There’s nothing we can do if he’s already signed up.’

‘We could tell them his real—’

‘I want to go, Mother. I will go.’ Stan didn’t want to hurt her by telling her he needed to get away from home; from his sanctimonious father and a mother who almost smothered him with her love.

‘Ernie’s signed up as well, Mam. We’ll watch out for one another.’ He held out his hand to her but, with a wail and throwing her pinny over her head, Gertrude Green rushed from the kitchen.

‘Ignore your mother; she’s being hysterical as usual.’ His father pointed at Stan with the stem of his pipe. ‘She knows nothing of a man’s duty or the work he has to do. I was in the mill at twelve, myself. Just wish I wasn’t too old to join up but it’s up to you stand in for the family now. Make sure you don’t let us down.’

 Stan waited to see if there was anything else he would say but Emmanuel shook the newspaper straight and disappeared behind it again.

 

Stan sat on the edge of his narrow bed. He’d packed his clothes, his notebook and his copy of Robinson Crusoe and was waiting for Ernie to call for him to join the others down at the railway station. Glancing around the small bedroom he wondered when he’d see it again. He doubted he would come home after his training at Tidworth, or even ever. He was sick of this place; of his father, his five sisters, even his mother who he knew was probably the only one in the family who truly loved him.

 The lid of his toy box in the corner of the room was open; the wooden rifle he used to play with was sticking out. Soon he’d be carrying a real rifle. Soon he’d be trained to defend his country holding it; to kill with it. The last thought made him shiver involuntarily and for a moment, only a moment though, he wondered if he’d done the right thing.

 The clatter of the doorknocker stopped his thoughts. He stood, dropping the note he’d written to his mother on the bed. It was short because he hadn’t known what to say. He read the words again “Don’t worry, Mam. I’ll be careful.” He’d hesitated, wondering if he should tell her he loved her but they didn’t say things like that in his family and it sounded soppy, so he just put a cross for a kiss after his name. Stopping at the door to his room he looked around. It wouldn’t be kept as his room, he knew that. As soon as his sisters realised he’d gone, they be fighting over who could move in. He listened outside his parents’ room; his mother was still crying. He couldn’t go in and, without stopping to say anything to his father he opened the door and stepped onto the pavement.

 ‘Come on, Ernie, me old pal,’ he said, flinging his arm over his friend’s shoulder and hitching his bag under his arm. ‘Let go and see the world.’

 

Stan and Ernie slumped next to each other in the trench. The noise of artillery and grenades above them made Stan’s ears ring

       ‘They’re getting nearer, Stan.’ Ernie’s voice wavered. ‘I can’t stand much more of its.’ He put the palms of his hands over his ears.  ‘Have you thought any more about what the Sarge said yesterday? That, if we own up to being fourteen—’

      ‘Fifteen,’ Stan interrupted. ‘We’re fifteen now.’

      ‘Still underage.’ Ernie plucked at Stan’s sleeve. ‘And the Sarge said all of us who’re under nineteen would be allowed to go home to England if we wanted.’

      ‘Well I don’t.’ Stan was curt.

      ‘We’ve done our duty, Stan; we’ve been in this hell for a year now. Please, Stan.’ The tears made rivulets in the dirt on Ernie’s face.’

      Stop it!’ Stan lurched onto his knees to block his friend off from the rest of the soldiers further along the trench. ‘Stop it, for God’s sake, Ern. D’you want that lot to think you’re a coward?’

      ‘I’ve not felt right since that German sniper got Watson in the head. I can’t get his screams out of my head now. And we left him there—’

      ‘We had no choice; they knew where we were by then, we couldn’t hang around. They’d have come for us.’ Stan sat back next to Ernie and rubbed at the barrel of his rifle with his sleeve. ‘We need to get these cleaned up,’ he nodded at both his and Ernie’s rifles, ‘Before the Sarge comes along.’

       ‘Shall we tell him we want to go back—?’

      ‘No!’ You go if you want. I’m staying.’ Stan ached in every bone of his body, his skin was red-raw from scratching at the lice and he couldn’t remember when he was last dry. But he couldn’t go back home. He didn’t know what he’d do when it was all over but he’d never go back to that house.

 

‘Come on, you lot, we’re moving up.’ Stan watched Sergeant Mills kick the boots of those soldiers who were sleeping as he stumbled through the mud of the trench towards him.

      ‘Ernie, wake up. We’re off again.’

      His friend didn’t speak. Holding on to the side of the trench he struggled to his feet and pushed himself upright.

      Keep your bloody head down.’ The sergeant thumped Ernie’s shoulder. ‘Bloody idiot. Do you want to lose it?’ He stood at the front of the line. ‘We’re moving up to our sector. Stick close to me and keep your gobs shut. We don’t want the soddin’ Krauts doing what they did last week, do we?’

       ‘Oh God.’

      When Stan looked into his mate’s eyes they were unfocussed. He hadn’t been the same since the Germans had raided their trench, armed with knives and clubs two nights ago and taken the division by surprise.

      ‘Buck up, Ern,’ he muttered.  ‘Stick close.’ But he knew he shared the same nightmares. There had been no escape in the assault and fourteen of the men around them had died before they’d even managed to retaliate. It was the noise that haunted him most; the sound of the clubs on skulls, knives through flesh, the screams and moans of the dying.

 

       ‘Come on, shift.’ The sergeant glared at the men fumbling into line, fastening their helmets, fixing bayonets to their rifles. ‘Ready?’          

      ‘Ready, Sarge.’ Stan tried to sound confident raising his voice above the mumbles around him; hoping Sergeant Mills hadn’t seen Ernie’s bewilderment.

 The grenade landed feet in front of the sergeant.  

      The explosion blew three of the men in front of Stan off their feet. Stan wiped his arm across his face to clear his eyes. Looking down at his sleeve he saw the blood and torn tissue mixed with the mud. He swallowed the bile that rose instantly in his throat

      Sergeant Mills seemed to be propped up against the side of the trench at least ten yards in front of them, both legs missing.  As Stan watched the body slid down the wall and fell, face upwards into the mud. Bloody parts of the three soldiers were scattered around the trench. The head of one, Cuthbert Grimes, Stan noted numbly, lay in front of his boots, the skin peppered with shrapnel.

      ‘Our Father who art in Heaven… our Father who art in Heaven… our Father…’

      Behind him Ernie’s voice grew higher. Other voices joined in with him.

      ‘Shut it. Shut up.’ Stan whirled round to face those behind him. They blundered away from him.   He didn’t see the cloud of the yellow gas seeping along the trench. In an instant the gas tore into Stan’s lungs and scorching his eyes. Choking he followed the rest of his division, crawling on hands and knees through the mud.

       Ernie, move. Quick!’ He faltered, rubbing frantically at his eyes, blinded. It was the last thing he remembered.

     

Stan’s throat burned from the stream of vile – smelling liquid that poured out of him, He was barely aware of the soothing words and the gentle touch on his back. When the agony finally stopped he slowly sat up, scared it would start again.

      ‘Okay, now?’ The nurse came into view; a kindly concerned expression on the smiling face of a woman about his mam’s age.

      He nodded, tentative with any movement in case it started again. ‘Where am I?’

      ‘In the hospital at the Base Camp.’

      ‘Ernie?’ he said. ‘My mate, Ernie?’ he looked around the long ward, past beds of injured men. ‘He here as well?’

      ‘I’m sorry; I don’t know where your friend is.’

      ‘How long have I been here?’ He closed his eyes against the harshness of the whiteness of his surroundings.

      ‘A month or so. You’ve been gassed and you’ve been in shock.’

      The tears came easily. Humiliated, Stan leant back, felt the hardness of the bed rail against his head.

      ‘You need more iodine on those cuts on your face. I’ll be back in a minute.’ The nurse walked away, carrying the sick bowl.

     

‘He’s had his sentences confirmed. His execution; it’ll happen tomorrow. They say the chaplain’s with him now.’

      Stan stared at the man shifting uncomfortably on the chair next to his bed. ‘They can’t do that, Harry, he’s only fifteen.’

      ‘They don’t care.’ Harry leant forward, resting his forearms on his thighs. He lowered his voice. ‘They say Ernie ran away; finished up at a farmhouse. Stupid sod told the farmer’s wife he was going back to England.’ He shook his head.  ‘They’re setting up a firing squad for him…’ He looked up at the ward door. ‘Look out.’ Harry rose quickly, stood to attention and saluted.

       Stan raised his hand to his forehead in a similar gesture

       ‘Green.’ The officer stopped at the foot of Stan’s bed. ‘Firing squad 0600 hours. Tomorrow. Report to—’

      ‘I’ve been gassed, sir. I can’t—’

      ‘It’s an order, Green. Are you refusing to obey an order?’ The officer raised his eyebrows, his lips tightened. He tapped his fingers on the bed rail.

      ‘No, sir. It’s just that Ernie– Sharpe’s a mate…’

       ‘He’s a coward. He was charged with fleeing in the face of the enemy. He’s had a fair trial. The man—’

      ‘He’s fifteen,’ Stan interrupted, trying to shut out the words. ‘A lad…’ He heard the sudden intake of breath from Harry.

      The officer stopped tapping his fingers. He fixed Stan with a glare.

      ‘Sir,’ Stan added. ‘He’s only fifteen – sir.’

      ‘He signed on as eighteen; the Army took him in good faith. But he’s a coward, he deserted his post.’ The officer turned away. ‘0600 hours at the cells. Tomorrow.’

 

‘Eyes front!’

      Stan lined up with the other five soldiers on either side of him, facing the wall and the firing post. He couldn’t stop shaking. Out of the corner of his eye he sensed movement at the door leading to the cells.

      When the hooded and bound figure was dragged, legs trailing, into his sight by two burly soldiers he almost cried out. He tried to blot out the sight as his friend was tied to the post. Slumping away from the post despite the ties Ernie whimpered when the captain fastened the white square to his jacket.

       The chaplain was muttering words Stan couldn’t hear. He took in a long shuddering breath.

      Ernie lifted his head, tilted his chin upwards as though trying to see under the hood, even though it was fastened around his neck.

      ‘Stan?’ he cried. ‘Stan? Are you there?’

      Stan turned to the sergeant in silent appeal but, ignoring Stan and with a gesture, the man indicated for the squad to pick up the Lee Enfield rifles placed in front of them.

      ‘Stan?’

      ‘Fire!’

      Ernie’s cry was cut off in the volley of shots.

      The soldier next to Stan pushed him to turn away from the body and when the sergeant ordered, ‘Quick march,’ the man gave him another shove.

       ‘Keep going, lad.’ Stan heard the hissed whisper. ‘Keep it together ‘til you get back to the ward.’

      The men marched into the building, without inspecting their weapons, without turning a head.  Stan didn’t see the concerned looks of the nurses and the other patients in the ward. It was only when he crawled into his bed that he realised that tears were streaming down his face.

 

 Stan held the creased photograph of Ernie’s sister between his fingers.  His hand hovered over the door before he rapped on the wood with his knuckles.

      It was Ernie’s sister who opened it, her eyelids swollen and pink.  She buckled at the knees when she saw Stan. He only just managed to catch hold of her and clutched her to him.

       ‘Stan! Oh, Stan.’ She clung to him. ‘Our Ernie…’

      ‘I know, Betty.’ He lifted her in his arms and carried her into the house, setting her down on the sofa in the parlour.  ‘I know.’ He sat next to her, closing his eyes against the scalding tears. His chest hurt.

      ‘How?’ She held his face between her palms. The scent of lavender from her skin was the sweetest thing he could remember.

       ‘The War Office wrote to say he was suffering from shock but then we heard he was he was passed fit,’ she sobbed. ‘They wouldn’t tell us what happened; why he’d been sent back to fight.’ She pulled back to study his face. ‘You know, Stan. You must know? Mother and me, we need to know as well.’

      ‘Ernie was brave to the last, Betty. I promise. He was a brave soldier to the last’. The words were thick in his throat. ‘The last thing he said to me was that you and his mother should carry on as if he was at home.’ Stan swallowed the lie. ‘And that he’ll always love you both.’

      “We got a letter from him last week.’ Betty fumbled into her cardigan pocket and handed the note to Stan. It was worn and creased as though it had been read many time. There were only a few words scrawled across it. Stan only saw the last lines.

“We were told we could come home because we were underage. But Stan and me had a long discussion and we decided to stay.”

 Then his friend’s last words

“We were in the trenches. I was so cold I went out and took shelter in a farmhouse. They took me to prison so I will have to go in front of the court. I’m in a bit of trouble now, Mam.  I will try my best to get out of it, so don’t worry.”

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