It’s great that the new book is out there. It’s been a long time coming! Part of it takes place in World War Two so it’s lucky that I’ve always loved the research, sometimes to the extent that it eclipses time to write.
I’d always been aware of GIs being billeted in Dorset and Devon in the lead up to D-Day. I’ve walked past the commemorative plaque in Lyme Regis hundreds of times.
Yanks was a wonderful film, with a very young Richard Gere, and there was an episode of Foyle’s War which stuck in the memory. I began reading Facebook pages set up for the commemorations for D-Day and was fascinated by the stories there. Lots of ex-GIs, and their descendants, posted to say thank you for the warm welcome and hospitality shown – both then and now. There were tales of hasty marriages between local girls and GIs, of babies being born. The story of the GIs being invited to Christmas lunch but being too embarrassed to share the locals’ meagre rations is true and one I’ve adapted to include in the book.
As a story set in 2019 and the 1940s began to evolve, and one I wanted to tell, I began to read copiously, watched the fascinating information films aimed at US soldiers and pored over photographs. Then Covid happened and, to be honest, it became a joy to write about a pre-pandemic Berecombe. Some parallels between what we were going through, and the World War Two period emerged: restrictions on civil liberties, food shortages, limits on travel, but in all reality, there was little comparison.
I’ll concentrate on the research needed for the modern part of the book in another blog.
As I read, things stuck in the mind. The story of the woman innocently sitting reading on a seafront bench and strafed by a lone German plane is true and happened in Swanage. The tale of the house receiving a direct hit with only the maid surviving is also true and happened in my hometown. To this day, the house hasn’t been rebuilt and the site is now part of a small park.
I was lucky to come across a local historian and read these. Lots of great images and detail included and pertinent to the area where the book is set. As local museums were closed due to Covid, they were a great alternative.
I talked to my Mum a lot. Although she was a small child during the war, she can remember lots about it. She also has wartime cookbooks which were great fun to look through. We had a great brainstorming session when she helped come up with the titles. Thanks Mum! I also had to ‘research’ making cider cake recipes. Such hardship! The recipe I decided on should be included in the book, but if not, I can post it on here. It’s delicious.
I taught World War Two as a history topic so had a good grounding of knowledge but still had to research some specifics. Sometimes, until you begin writing the book you don’t know what you need to know. If you see what I mean. I’d kept a book from my teaching days which was helpful, and I re-watched the C4 series on YouTube. History aimed at children is often a great research tool. Sometimes you need social history; what people wore, what they ate, how they spoke. You certainly don’t need historical theory.
Although not interested in any actual battles I had to force myself to do the research as characters are involved in two of the most major. I tried to watch the film Dunkirk, I really did. I’m sure it’s excellent but I can’t bear to watch war films. I had the same visceral reaction to Saving Private Ryan. Reading about D-Day and Dunkirk, instead, was difficult, but I could cope better.
Pinterest was a good source for pictures, but I sometimes strayed into seeing images which were a horrific reminder of the realities of war. It was also a reminder that I needed to do justice to those who had suffered and were portrayed via my fictional characters. You can check out my Pinterest Boards which I create for every book I write.
This book is packed full of useful images. Well worth checking the series out.
Compared to the industrial heartlands, London and the port cities, my part of the Devon/Dorset border got off fairly lightly. However, there was always the risk of a bomber randomly dropping its load on the return from Plymouth, Exeter was badly bombed during the so-called Baedeker Raids and those on the south coast suffered the mental torment of being first in the firing line if invaded.
For those on the home front, stress came from the never-ending daily grind of getting through everyday life with rationing, unreliable transport and loved ones away in the fighting. It’s appropriate for a book which features a Living Memories Exhibition that I read a book full of them. Lots reported that the GIs brought a very welcome glamour and excitement to a grey, war-weary Britain. To young Ruby, just beginning her life, Chet must have been impossible to resist.
I loved immersing myself in World War Two for a while. I’ve done my best to portray the time accurately and hope you think so too. However, I was extremely glad to emerge, blinking, into 2020, even if it was to a global pandemic!