Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Downton Abbey and In the Bleak Midwinter

Lesley Nicol and Sophie McShera, who play the splendid Mrs Patmore and daffy maid, Daisy, are part of a sub-plot in the much-mooted and popular costume drama, Downton Abbey, showing currently on ITV. A young nephew of Mrs Patmore's has been recorded as dead without much other information given to the grieving relatives. This theme is also the mainstay of my own novel, IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER, published October 13th   and my most challenging work so far. This hard-core theme deals with the repercussions of a young man, shot for cowardice by his own side, rather than dying a hero on the front line. In Mrs Patmore's words, what could be worse than death? Without a doubt, it was cowardice. A white feather was given to individuals who were thought to have reneged on their duty or failed to turn up for certain death at the army recruiting office. Similarly, when the troops found themselves waging battle with the enemy whilst experiencing shell-shock, effects from the mustard gas, and horrific injuries that made them vulnerable victims of warfare, such was the feeling between 1914 - 1918, that many young men were shot or imprisoned by their own ranks. Very often too, they were only boys of fifteen and sixteen, having disguised their ages to answer the call of their country. Downton Abbey has included this as a sub-plot involving Mrs Patmore, the cook, but in my own story, I bring the injustice, fear and desperation of my heroine's brother Frank, into the heart of the novel. His imprisonment for cowardice provokes  my heroine, Birdie Connor, into challenging the British judicial system. Not a common thing to do in those days, even for an aristocratic family, as we see in the TV drama. Birdie is an East Ender and working class. At twenty-one she's on the brink of marriage to her sweetheart and a happy future after the war. She risks all this in her fight to prove Frank's innocence. She absolutely refuses to be beaten by her own fears and the pulling together of ranks in Whitehall. My story was drawn from what happened in real life to my grandfather, an infantry man in the First World War, lashed to the gun wheel, flogged mercilessly and accused of desertion. He survived miraculously, but many like him didn't. I dedicated this book to the Buffs, my father-in-law's brave regiment. I hope that Downton Abbey reminds us of how proud we should be of any man attempting to fight for his country - for just "showing up" to put his life on the line, as so many of our troops have done and are still doing in contemporary times and indeed, over the long, and hard-won decades of history.     

Friday, 16 September 2011

The House of Women: new review

Anne Whitfield, Knox Robinson, 2011, £12.99, pb, 381pp, 9780956790187
The House of Women is a poignant, very readable novel of life in Victorian England, which is set in Leeds at the height of the Victorian era in 1870. The moving story follows the life of Grace Woodruff, the eldest of seven daughters, who has to assume responsibility for her sisters and their vast estate.

Grace has put aside her own broken heart, as she is rejected by her first love, in order to keep the family together. Her mother has withdrawn to her rooms, and Grace becomes the buffer between her sisters and their violent, tyrannical father. Grace struggles to keep the family together through a compelling story which is woven with violence, alcoholism and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, rejection, illness and impoverishment.

Although there is betrayal, hatred and lies, there is also love. The rich, colourful, complex characters bring this family saga to life. It is beautifully written with a very strong heroine who, even when the rest of the family are pulling her in many ways, tries to stay strong, although there is the odd slip along the way. As the story unfolds we meet an admirer for Grace, the butler, and a shift foreman is also smitten with her. Grace really wants to have her own family, and when the possibility of love comes along, Grace must decide if she should give up the responsibility of the House of Women and take her own chance of happiness.

The challenges Grace faces with twists and turns along the way make this book a great read. It has the reader hooked from page one, keeps the reader guessing and is difficult to put down once started. An excellent book, highly recommended.

Barbara Goldie 
Historical Novels Review (August, 2011)

Purchase from Amazon USA
Purchase from Amazon UK

Saturday, 10 September 2011

How and what do we write? Most of us reply in generic terms initially, for instance, non-fiction, fiction, historical, novels, sagas, family dramas, crime, thrillers, fantasy, sci-fi and lately with ebooks, there is a great deal of genre mixing, something traditional publishers once discouraged. But now, if it’s a good story and the book will sell well, who cares quite so much about its label? As we’ve moved along the technical route, people have shorter spans of attention and want to get to the nitty-gritty as fast as possible. People want page-turners and we need to make our novels exciting from the very start. I write with an emphasis on dialogue as that's the way my brain works. My East End “inner” voice springs from my childhood, growing up amongst colourful, no-holds-barred, dynamic, lyrical, unforgettable cockneys who to this day, live in my mind as fiercely as they did when I was a child and a teenager. And so, once I am in the vortex of writing, I hear nothing but their voices and I know it’s my job to record them as honestly as I possibly can. Perhaps the voices do come from a collective unconscious linked to my own emotional focus. But whatever it is, the words flow onto the keyboard. Not that I haven’t given the plotting a great deal of thought beforehand. But, for me, the real writing comes in the voices and those special words that come in the guise of characters, those chosen words that sometimes reflect the entire story. For instance, does anyone remember the film, WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND with Alan Bates and Hayley Mills? Bates (the man) is found sheltering in the barn by a young girl who gets the fright of her life as he appears. Do you recall the two words he utters that dominate the rest of the movie? In fact, they ARE the movie. Such a classic! Such a gift to us, as writers! Go to Utube for a flashback!