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DUNKIRK

dunkirk promo pic

Today, as I know that many of my blog followers are interested in the events of World War Two, I am writing about Dunkirk, and to bring you news about a fabulous offer:

The DUNKIRK WEEK WWII EPIC BOOK SALE which starts today, 21 July, for one week only (21 – 27 July).

To celebrate the opening of Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk this Friday, more than 50 authors of the Facebook Second World War Club have joined together to offer you their WWII novel at a reduced price, most at 99¢/99p.

The novels range from military war tales, home front drama and sagas, harrowing accounts of the Holocaust, gripping spy thrillers, moving wartime romances, and much, much more.

lav rd headline

UK Edition

It is a great opportunity to stock up your Kindle with a fantastic range of wartime novels, and if you don’t already have my novel LAVENDER ROAD, this is your chance to pick it up at the bargain price of 99p (UK edition), 99¢ (USA edition)! So do share the news with your friends, the offer closes 27 July.

LAVENDER ROAD final 1

USA Edition

For me, Dunkirk a particularly fascinating wartime event. Instead of remembering the poor military planning, horrific defeat and catastrophic losses of both men and equipment as British and French troops rapidly became encircled by advancing Nazi battalions on mainland Europe, the word ‘Dunkirk’ (in British minds at least) generally conjures up the dramatic rescue of the survivors by a fleet of naval and small private vessels, and has entered the collective consciousness as an amazing example of British resilience, courage and resolve.

It was indeed an extraordinary and magnificent effort. On the first day of the evacuation, only 7,669 men were evacuated, but by the end of the week, a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats.

The drama of the Dunkirk rescue, and the heroic involvement of so many civilians who risked their lives to pilot their tiny craft over the English Channel has inevitably made it the subject of numerous films and books.

It gave me, in LAVENDER ROAD, the opportunity to have one of my minor male characters to show unexpected grit and resolve, not to mention courage. When the novel opens Alan Nelson had been turned down by the military for a trivial medical reason. As a result he had lost his confidence and the respect of his wife, and had become a figure of fun for one or two local boys who felt he should be doing something for the war effort, instead of tinkering about on little canal boat he kept on the river in London.

But when the call for boats comes, Alan Nelson rises to the occasion.

Here is the scene from LAVENDER ROAD when his wife, Pam, first finds out what he has done.

For the hundredth time, Pam glanced irritably at the clock.

Where on earth was Alan? She needed his help in dealing with Sheila over the road. The news from Dunkirk was appalling. German planes were machine-gunning the exposed men on the beaches. German artillery was pounding the small town and the adjacent sand dunes where the shattered forces waited for their chance of rescue. Mercifully the brave rearguard of the Allied troops was still valiantly holding off the German tanks. But that small fragment of good news didn’t help Sheila Whitehead. Sheila was convinced her Jo was trapped on a Dunkirk beach, dying or about to die. She wouldn’t or couldn’t stop crying. She wouldn’t or couldn’t listen to reason.

In desperation Pam had called the doctor. But when he had eventually come, he had been typically unhelpful, saying carelessly that everyone was living through difficult times. There was nothing he could do.

If only Alan had been there. Doctors always took more notice of men. And, give him his due, Alan had a good way with people like that. Quiet but firm.

Pam checked the clock again. Where was blasted Alan? She had promised to go over to Sheila’s again in a few minutes and she didn’t think she could face it alone.

When she heard the knock on the door she dimly assumed it must be Sheila and was astonished to find young Mick Carter standing awkwardly on the step.

He looked odd. Flushed and unusually scruffy even for him. He was breathing hard.

Pam wondered for a second if he was ill but then she realized he had been running.

‘What?’ she asked harshly as the hairs on her arm began to prickle. ‘What is it? What do you want?’

‘I-it’s your husband, Mrs Nelson,’ he stammered out. ‘It’s Mr Nelson.’

Pam’s mouth dried as she stared into the dirty, freckled face of Alan’s former tormentor. ‘What about him? What’s happened to him? What have you done to him?’

‘I haven’t done nothing,’ Mick said, momentarily aggrieved. ‘He’s done it. He’s gone, and he wouldn’t take me with him.’

Pam swallowed and tried to breathe normally. ‘What do you mean he’s gone? Gone where?’

Mick shuffled his feet. ‘Gone to France.’

‘To France?’ Pam repeated blankly. ‘To France?’

Mick nodded. ‘On his boat. To rescue them soldiers what are trapped. He heard it on the radio they needed help getting them off, smaller boats and that.’

For a second Pam stared at him in disbelief. She couldn’t take it in. Alan. Alan gone to France. To Dunkirk. In his little boat. The Merry Robin. He had never taken it further than Henley before. And that was years ago. One summer holiday for a week. Soon after they were married. It had been a kind of honeymoon. They’d made love every night in that little cabin.

Even as she quickly blocked that thought from her mind, it occurred to her that Mick Carter, of all people, was an unlikely recipient of Alan’s plans. ‘How do you know this?’ she snapped at him.

Mick shuffled his feet. ‘I was on the boat,’ he admitted.

Pam stared. ‘On Alan’s boat?’ She felt her mind spin. Trying to breathe slowly, she steadied herself on the door frame. ‘What were you doing on Alan’s boat?’

‘Mam threw me out the other night and I hadn’t got anywhere else to go. It was cold.’ He bit his lip. ‘I had to sleep somewhere, didn’t I?’ He shrugged bravely even as his chin wobbled. ‘Anyway I was still there this afternoon when Mr Nelson turned up.’

Pam was just trying to absorb the fact that Mick had been sleeping on Alan’s boat when to her utter astonishment, the boy burst into tears.

‘He wouldn’t take me,’ he sobbed. ‘I wanted to go, Mrs Nelson. I could of helped. But he said I was too young.’ He sniffed violently as the tears dripped unhindered off his nose and plopped on to the path. ‘He said there would be much more useful things I could do for the war than getting myself killed crossing the Channel. But I don’t know what they are, Mrs Nelson, them useful things. Nobody wants me to do anything.’

Pam was hardly listening. ‘Alan said that?’ she said tremulously, as tears threatened her own eyes.

Mick nodded and scrubbed at his eyes. ‘And now the boat’s gone, I’ve nowhere to go. I don’t know what to do, Mrs Nelson. I can’t go home because my mam won’t have me.’

Pam found she was shaking all over. ‘You’d better come in,’ she said. ‘You’d better come in. I think we both need a cup of tea.’

Those of you who have read LAVENDER ROAD will know whether Alan comes back safely or not. For those of you who haven’t, I won’t spoil the story!

There will be plenty of other stories in the film, and of course in the other fabulous books in the special DUNKIRK offer. So don’t miss the opportunity to treat yourself to a few Kindle bargains.

HAPPY READING!

All best wishes, Helen

 

The special 99¢ one week only US Amazon.com kindle version of LAVENDER ROAD can be found here.

For UK, Europe and Commonwealth the 99p (or equivalent) deal can be found here.

And click here to see all the other books in the DUNKIRK EPIC BOOK SALE, 21 – 27 July …

As part of the DUNKIRK Promo there are also some great giveaway prizes, including the Grand Prize of a paperback copy of Joshua Levine’s Dunkirk: The History Behind the Motion Picture. No purchases are necessary to enter the draw.
We’re also bringing you:

1. A two-part blog series about Dunkirk. You can read these excellent blog posts by two of our authors, Suzy Henderson (The Beauty Shop) and Jeremy Strozer (Threads of War), here: https://lowfellwritersplace.blogspot.co.uk/

2. Readings by The Book Speaks podcast of excerpts from All My Love, Detrick by Roberta Kagan plus another novel, both of which are part of the Dunkirk Week Book Sale: https://thebookspeakspodcast.wordpress.com/

3. Our authors’ pick of the Top 40 WWII Movies: http://alexakang.com/40-recommended-wwii-films-english/

 

OTHER NEWS:

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, Helen’s latest novel in the LAVENDER ROAD series is now out in hardback and eBook versions (US edition / UK edition). The paperback edition will be published in October.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET final 2

USA edition

The Other Side of the Street HB

UK edition

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WW2 in pictures

babies in shelter

Underground maternity unit – note babies on shelf!

During my research for my second world war Lavender Road novels I’ve come across some extraordinary photos. I sometimes share these on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, but I realised I haven’t shared many of them with my Blog readers yet.

Some of them relate directly to my novels, some of them don’t. But they all give a flavour of that incredible time when people (and animals) in Britain were struggling to survive under extremely difficult and dangerous circumstances.

Here are just a few …

 

war carrots on sticks

Tough times for children too

 

farringdon market V1

Keep calm and carry on

 

bombed library

Keep reading ….

 

ats with princess

Do you recognise the ATS girl centre back (the only one sitting on a chair)? Yes, it’s Princess Elizabeth – our current Queen!

 

balham tube station bus

The Balham Bomb, 1940

 

wvs rifle practise

WVS rifle drill

 

eton ww2

Eton rifle drill!

 

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Nurses disembarking in Normandy soon after D’Day

 

wartime pet

Battersea Dogs Home trying to rehouse dogs orphaned in the bombing

 

dog and soldiers

Awww!

 

This is just a small selection – more to follow in due course …

 

 

Helen Carey’s new novel LONDON CALLING is now available at Amazon and in all good bookshops.

Remembrance

poppy planesLast year I had terrible trouble with my poppy. The first one’s stalk broke within ten minutes. I replaced it with a stick-on one which disappeared before I had even got home. The third one fell to bits as I put on my coat after lunch in a tapas bar. As I scrabbled under the tables to retrieve the various bits, the red flower, the flimsy leaf and the black centre button, I heard someone mutter, ‘Why do you bother?’

Straightening up I glanced at him wondering whether he meant why did I bother rescue the poppy pieces, or why did I bother wear one at all. I was tempted to say that I bothered because, whatever the rights and wrongs of it, young men like him had died fighting in wars. But my friends were waiting at the door and I didn’t want to get into a big discussion (and judging by the look of him it wouldn’t have been a fruitful discussion anyway). So I just smiled apologetically and left. Later of course I wished I had said something.

Several years ago we spent a week in Sicily with some friends. Before setting off we happened to visit my elderly aunt who reminded me that her brother Basil (my uncle) had died during the invasion of Sicily in 1943 and was buried in Siracusa.  ‘It would be so lovely if you could go and put some flowers on his grave,’ she said and we promised that we would if we could.

Unfortunately when we arrived in Sicily we discovered that we were staying right at the other end of the island. ‘It’s too far,’ we said to each other. ‘It would take hours to drive all over there.’ And we tried to settle down to enjoy the holiday.

But we felt guilty – after all my uncle had sacrificed his life and we wouldn’t sacrifice one day of our holiday. So we decided to go.

It took us seven hours solid driving to get from from Capo San Vito to Siracusa. (Sicily is somewhat. bigger than it looks on the map.)

We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon, bought two bunches of flowers and made our war to the cemetery.

We were unprepared for the emotion that hit us. Lines and lines of small white headstones, each engraved with a young man’s name. We found my uncle’s grave quite easily, it was in the front row. Capt Basil Beazley, 29 years old.

The glider assault had been a disaster. They were launched from too far out to sea and the winds were too strong. Most landed in the water, some even crashed into Mount Etna. Many, like my uncle died soon after landing attempting to defend positions with inadequate support.  Military planning at its worst. Those young men must have known their chances were slim, but they did it anyway.

Seven hours later we arrived back at the villa in the pitch dark. For some reason I wasn’t on the car insurance so my husband had had to drive the whole way. Did you have a good day?’ Our friends asked as we staggered in.

We looked at each other. ‘Oh yes,’ I said. ‘We drove for seven hours, cried for twenty minutes and then drove seven hours back again.’ But it was worth it.

We had picked up some pebbles and a bit of dry earth from the grave and when we gave these to my aunt a few weeks later she cried too. ‘I still miss him so much,’ she said.

That’s why I rescued my poppy.

It was this experience that made me write LONDON CALLING, my next novel, which will be published by Headline in February next year. Catch up on the series at http://viewBook.at/B0066DLQGM

Wildlife in war

While I have been researching the novel I am writing now, the fourth in my Lavender Road series, among the trauma of WW2, I have discovered one small, unexpected, beneficial aspect of war. (And I am not just talking about winning and ridding the world of the Nazi/fascist cruelty of Adolf Hitler and Mussolini.)housemartins

It is an odd fact that, even as people are fighting wars, the natural world gets on with its own routines and migrations. During WW2 there was a cessation of shooting wild birds in Europe. The inhabitants of Italy, Greece, Malta and the other Mediterranean islands were too busy shooting each other, or their enemies, to carry out their traditional, brainless slaughter of migrating birds. As a result, the populations of song birds, swallows and swifts etc., increased considerably, (only, sadly, to be targeted once again the minute the war was over.)

I found other odd side benefits too. In prisoner of war camps across Europe, British POW amateur ornithologists kept meticulous records of birds passing by, creating a comprehensive log of species, some of which were previously unrecorded.

While fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Malaya, a British SOE agent, Freddie Spencer Chapman, recorded the wildlife he encountered with scientific dedication.

In London, for years after the WW2, the broken, damaged buildings and undeveloped over grown bomb sites provided homes for a plethora of birds and insects. Nobody was too bothered about appearances at that time. Certainly not to the extent of knocking off under-eaves house martins nests because they made a bit of mess on the walls, as so often happens now.

When we visited the Falkland Islands a few years ago we were interested to see how the failure to clear the mines off the beaches there has had a beneficial effect on sea bird populations. Protected from human interference, too light to set off mines, their numbers have increased steadily.

Most modern warfare seems to be more detrimental. The on-going unrest in Africa, Afghanistan and the Middle East has devastated wildlife habitats. Oil waste from damaged vehicles has contaminated land and natural water sources. Deforestation and pollution are rife, and conservation largely impossible.

But on the other hand, there are reports that, like the migrating birds of WW2, and perhaps due to people being too busy shooting each other to bother with slaughtering other species, the survival rate of Asiatic black bears, grey wolves, leopard cats and porcupine in certain areas of Afghanistan has improved.

I am (clearly) no expert. But while I can understand the inevitable effects of warfare on wildlife, I do wish that, where war or privation isn’t to blame, people would try to give wildlife a chance, whether it be welcoming a martin’s nest under their eaves, leaving a gap in a converted barn roof for an owl, cutting down on the use of slug pellets, or signing a petition to stop the relentless slaughter of migrating birds over the Mediterranean.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

This is just a quick message to wish a Happy Christmas to all you lovely followers of my blog.Sampler_3

I have been hard at work over the last couple of months writing the fourth novel in my LAVENDER ROAD series. I feel as though I have been living in 1942 so it comes as quite a surprise to find myself about to celebrate Christmas 2013!

And what a difference. In London in 1942 there were no whole, fresh turkeys or chickens to be had for love or money (or food ration book tokens!) And of course there were no frozen ones either in those days. The best most people could manage for their festive lunch was a chicken and dumpling pie. Sugar, suet and dried fruit was in short supply too so Christmas puddings were either very small or non existent. The toy shops were pretty much bare of everything except cardboard models and most fathers found themselves making toys and/or dolls from salvaged bits and pieces for their kids. One old lady I spoke to told me of a treasured necklace she had been given by her fiancé made from cherry stones!

Crackers and paper hats were often made out of newspaper. And if you fancied a festive tipple, the likelihood was that your local pub would have asked you to bring your own glass! It was easier to buy Wellington boots than shoes and, because of the difficulty in finding them, women no longer had to wear hats in church.

The British government encouraged people to give each other War Bond savings vouchers as gifts, and the Red Cross encouraged people to ‘Adopt a Prisoner of War’ (rather in the same way as people sponsor endangered wild animals nowadays!)

At Christmas 2013, millions will have been been spent in the UK on pet food alone. In 1942 it was illegal to put breadcrumbs out for the birds.

So there you go – enjoy the festivities, and remember to relish your freedom and your food and your gifts – and don’t forget to raise a glass to all the stalwart souls (like my characters in LAVENDER ROAD) of 1939 – 1945 who made it all possible!

Researching WW2 – treasuring those memories

However you define the term ‘historical novel’, there can be few things more daunting than being asked to write about events which you yourself don’t remember, but which other people do. This was the position I was put in when Rosemary Cheetham at Orion commissioned me to write a series of London based street sagas set during the Second World War. 

When my agent set up a meeting to discuss the project, Rosemary’s first words were, ‘Oh dear, I didn’t realise you were so young.’ Obviously this was a matter of opinion! Nevertheless the implication was that she had hoped for someone with at very least a few childhood recollections of cowering under a Morrison shelter in the corner of the kitchen while V2s whistled overhead. 

Clearly this was not the case with me but I was reluctant to be defeated at the first post by the trifling problem of my age: ‘Goodness,’ I said. ‘There’s so much material available about the Second World War. I can easily research it.’ 

It sounded easy enough. But what I hadn’t quite appreciated was exactly how much material there was. 

That was over ten years ago. Now, as I start researching the fourth in the Lavender Road series, on top of the published (and unpublished) histories, diaries and letters,  the museums, the themed ‘attractions’, the official reports, the local history libraries, the films, film footage and endless BBC documentaries, there is also the internet with a million WW2 sites and a plethora of WW2 online enthusiasts. 

But what there aren’t so many of now, sadly, are real live people who remember those eventful years.  And it was people’s memories that I found the most interesting element of my research last time around. Yes, historical records are great, but nothing compares with someone telling you at first hand what it was like to be caught in Balham tube station when a bomb severed the water main, or to crawl through the cellars of a collapsed building searching for a trapped child, or to take a tiny riverboat over to rescue soldiers marooned at Dunkirk, or to be parachuted into occupied France. And it’s not just the big events, it’s the small memories too, Americans soldiers sticking their chewing gum on the door of a hospital ward while they visited injured colleagues. a precious pound of sugar carried in a tin helmet, the terror of a war office telegram, the delight in a fresh egg. 

Yesterday I interviewed a ninety year old doctor who had been present in the laboratory where they developed the first penicillin cultures. He told me that they had to use bedpans to grow the cultures in, they simply didn’t have anything else suitable. Later on he casually let slip that in 1941 his ship was torpedoed at night crossing the Atlantic and he spent several hours tossing about in the dark on a makeshift raft in his dressing gown and slippers, waiting to be rescued. 

 That is one of the odd things about the war years, people who lived through it often look back as though it was all quite ordinary. But it wasn’t, it was extraordinary and it forced people to show extraordinary amounts of courage and resilience. That’s what makes it such a fascinating period to write about. At the very least it is a way of preserving some of those precious personal memories.

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