Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Christmas Truce

I found this poignant letter during Christmas 1914-18 research at
"Dear Miss Fuller and other assistants of the little tea shop. Just a few lines to let you know how we are all keeping. The 6th have been in the trenches twice. A good few of them had to go to hospital through the cold and exposure. They are hardly fit for this work. We were in the trenches on Christmas Day. We spent a merrier day than we expected. There was a truce to bury our dead. We had a short service over the graves, conducted by our minister and the German one. They read the 23rd Psalm and had a short prayer. I don't think I will ever forget the Christmas Day I spent in the trenches. After the service we were speaking to the Germans and getting souvenirs from them. Fancy shaking hands with the enemy! I suppose you will hardly believe this, but it is the truth. I often think about the little tea shop and wonder how you are getting on. Long may the lum reek at the little tea-shop."

Sunday, 12 December 2010


How do you describe an emotion in writing? This is often a question a writer is asked. Quite out of the blue, my friend, an avid reader of celebrity mags, phoned me to say that to her surprise she was enjoying EAST END ANGEL, which she’d rashly bought at ASDA. We dug a little deeper and this is what she came up with. “It’s the emotions I like,’ she told me. “Anyone who has experienced them would know how Pearl (leading lady) feels. I kept going hot and cold and thinking, she’s just getting in deeper and deeper. Why doesn’t she stop? At the same time, I didn’t want her to.”

After we’d spoken I went back through Pearl’s journey, replaying the guilt and shame of the things she had done in the past, then the fear of her husband finding out. How would she keep the past a secret? She goes to all sorts of lengths, as all our heroines do if they are desperately in love (or lust). This made a very strong story-line and one which my friend pointed out, enjoying the conflict in relationships that are at the crux of all satisfying stories – and hot magazine articles! So I thought back to my own first encounter of reading fear, shame, guilt and doomed love. I came up with Dickens, a past-master of all these emotions, his writing interwoven with manipulation, deception, cowardice and courage, the darker side of life, but with a resolution that leaves a part of you impressed forever. So it seems a perfect ending to this year to find myself reading GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Dickens’ own secretly-guarded emotions seem even more alive for me now than when I first read the book decades ago. I’m now giving GE to my friend and have a pretty good idea that HELLO! could well be put aside for the holiday.