Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Crimson Field

The Crimson Field is the new period drama set to grace our TV screens on Sunday evenings. Set during the Great War, it follows the lives of three girls who have volunteered to serve in a field hospital in Northern France. I've been looking forward to seeing this and can't wait for Sunday. This year as you know is the 100th year since the Great War began.

The drama, by Sarah Phelps, presents one of the untold stories of the war. From a field hospital in France, the Army doctors, nurses and volunteers work to heal the physical and psychological wounds of the soldiers. Shell shock was indeed recognised and diagnosed, but for those who could not escape its grip, it could be damning. It's the psychological scars that were perhaps considered controversial at the time, because for many such men, they would be labelled as having 'lack of moral fibre.' Some men were put on trial for military crimes such as desertion and cowardice, with a number paying the ultimate price -death by firing squad. Such mental effects were simply not understood at the time or were quickly dismissed, especially when men were desperately needed to fight. In 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, it was estimated that around 40% of the casualties were suffering the effects of shell shock.

The Author, Pat Barker addresses the psychological effects of warfare in her books, 'The Regeneration Trilogy,' which introduces the reader to the real life poets and soldiers of the Great War, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves. Barker recreates the Great War period and portrays the effects of war and the resultant psychological destruction in such a fascinating and illuminating way. War is certainly not glorious and its ugliness is portrayed in places in all its goriness. These books are definitely worth reading if you have any interest at all in the Great War. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

When Help Arrives Out Of The Blue.

Wow! Finally, my eureka moment. Having just unearthed another author (the renowned Helen Dunmore) whose writing has captivated me, I have experienced an epiphany.
The LieHaving been struggling with the beginning of my novel for months now, I think I may have finally settled the matter once and for all. I've edited myself into a corner, shuffled chapters endlessly and written new beginnings, all to no avail. All in the quest of creating that enthralling first chapter, with the intention of grabbing the reader ruthlessly and retaining their attention for the duration of the entire book.

Cue the author, Helen Dunmore. I've never read any of her books before simply because I've never noticed them. I have heard her name mentioned, but I've always had plenty of titles queuing up and I never seem to have time to read all of them.

Her latest novel, The Lie, set during and after the Great War has just caught my attention. Some might call it coincidence whilst others would say it's meant to be, but for whatever reason this has cropped up just when I needed it and I'm grateful. I happened to read the first page today and immediately knew how my own novel should begin. Such a little thing and yet at times it's been rather like an insurmountable obstacle. My youngest son would declare in astonishment that I'm a cheat. However, I'm not copying anything at all - not a line, word or even an idea. What this book has given me is a vision of what I can do with my own work - which incidentally is so different in comparison to Dunmore's subject matter and thus it would be truly impossible to copy her work.

But taking inspiration and learning from the work of others is what writers do all the time. As Aaron Sorkin once said, 'Good writers borrow from other writers. Great writers steal from them outright.' And so it is from Helen Dunmore that I take my inspiration from.

Having just bought this for Kindle, I'll post a review later, but if any of you are interested in the Great War then this would appear to be a most deserved read.

From the Back Cover

Cornwall, 1920

A young man stands looking out to sea.

Behind him the horror of the trenches, and the most intense relationship of his life,

Ahead of him the terrible unforeseen consequences of a lie.

About the Author

Helen Dunmore is an acclaimed bestselling author who has published nine novels, including Zennor in Darkness, which won the McKitterick Prize; A Spell of Winter, which won the inaugural Orange Prize; The Siege, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award and for the Orange Prize; Mourning RubyHouse of Orphans and Counting the Stars. Her 2010 novel The Betrayal was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. In 2012 she published the novella The Greatcoat under the Hammer imprint at Cornerstone. She is also a poet, children's novelist and short-story writer. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and her work is translated into more than thirty languages.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Blog Tour: The Eagle's Last Flight by Author Ron Standerfer


The Eagle's Last Flight
by Ron Standerfer

Ron Standerfer was born and raised in Belleville, Illinois, a town across the Mississippi river from St. Louis, Missouri. While attending the University of Illinois he took his first airplane ride in a World War II-Vintage B-25 bomber assigned to the local ROTC detachment. It was a defining moment in his life. Weeks later, he left college to enlist in the Air Force's aviation cadet program. He graduated from flight training at the age of twenty and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

Another defining moment occurred early in his career. In August 1957, he participated in an atomic test at Yucca Flat, Nevada. Standing on an observation platform eight miles from ground zero, he watched the detonation of an atomic bomb code named Smoky. The test yielded an unexpected 44 kilotons---more than twice the size of the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. He never forgot Smoky, and the memory of that experience weighed heavily on his mind when he wrote The Eagle's Last Flight, a semi-autobiographical novel about his life as an Air Force fighter pilot during the Cold War.

Ron's twenty seven-year Air Force career spanned the Cold War years between 1954 and 1981. During that time, he flew a variety of high performance fighters including the F-100, F-102, F-105, F-4 and A-7. He flew over 200 combat missions during the Vietnam conflict and was awarded two Silver Stars, thirteen Air Medals and the Purple Heart. The latter was received after he was shot down over Tchepone, Laos in 1969. He retired from the Air Force just as the Cold War ended as a full Colonel after tours in the Pentagon and Tactical Air Command headquarters in Virginia.

He continued to pursue his passion for aviation after retiring. He was a marketing director for Falcon Jet Corporation, a subsidiary of the French aerospace manufacturer Dassault Aviation. In that capacity, he was responsible for launching the marketing campaign for the Falcon 900, a long-range business jet. Later, he was an owner of an aircraft charter and management company in Elmira, NY and also a marketing consultant.

Ron is a prolific writer and journalist. He appeared on WOR TV in New York City during the first days of the Persian Gulf War, providing real time analysis of the air war as it progressed. His book reviews and syndicated news articles are published regularly in the online and print news media, as well as in military journals.

These days Ron and his wife Marzenna, the daughter of a distinguished theatrical family in Poland, spend their time in their homes in Gulf Stream, Florida and Warsaw.

Author Links

About The Book
Book Genre: Fiction, Military History/Aviation
Publisher:The Pelican Communications Group (A proud Indie publisher)
Release Date: September 9, 2013
Buy Link(s):

Book Description:
Skip O’Neill lies dying of leukemia in a New York hospital, determined to live until the new millennium. His wasted body shows scant evidence of the man he once was—an Air Force fighter pilot and decorated combat veteran. 

O’Neill’s first assignment as a young lieutenant places him among hard drinking World War II—and Korean War—era fighter pilots who quickly teach him their ways. He almost washes out of pilot training but is persistent and manages to graduate. In Vietnam, he proves to be a skillful and courageous pilot who faces dangers of all kinds with equanimity. But the greatest—and most deadly danger—materializes years after O’Neill volunteers to be an observer at an atomic test site.

In the end, O’Neill decides that when his time comes, he will dash at it fearlessly. He anticipates being greeted by departed friends—but what awaits him is something totally unexpected.

Skip never forgot his experience at Camp Desert Rock. Years later, he
ran into
a Marine at the officers club who had participated in one of the
tests and the two of them compared notes about what they had
‘‘It was the damnedest thing,’’ the Marine said, ‘‘There
we were, almost at ground zero. I mean we were sitting in trenches,
three miles away. Three miles! Not on some piddley-assed platform
eight miles away, like those Air Force and Navy pussies.’’
Skip let that comment pass, based on his longstanding belief that
arguing with a Marine who has been drinking, was not a smart thing to
‘‘And get this…right after the blast we were supposed to leap
out of the trenches so we could be moved up to a point three hundred
yards away.’’
‘‘Three hundred yards?’’ Skip exclaimed. ‘‘Why so close,
for God’s sake?’’ ‘‘Why? To set up a mock defensive
perimeter against anyone who theoretically
might have survived the attack.’’
‘‘Yeah right…like anybody would.’’
‘‘Exactly. When we moved into position, there was nothing to see,
much less to defend against. I mean nothing, just a few piles of
molten metal here and there. And, oh yeah, the charred flesh of sheep
that were used in the test.’’
‘‘Yeah, sheep. There I was with my men, tromping around in this
fallout shit…you know…that white ash that crunches under your
‘‘Fallout at three hundred yards, that stuff had to be big time
radioactive.’’ ‘‘Right, but of course I wasn’t afraid,
because afterwards we were gonna get
brushed off with brooms and hosed down. I mean, brooms, man. How dumb
could we have been?’’
‘‘Anyway,’’ he continued, ‘‘about the same time, this guy
shows up over the top of the hill, all dressed out in some kind of
shiny, silver, protective suit with a ventilator and face mask. When
he sees us, he comes roaring over, like someone lit a rocket in his
ass. What are you guys doing here? Where is your protective gear? He
yelled. All the time he’s talking, he’s pointing this Geiger
counter thing at us, which is going click, click, click.
I yelled back, we’re just doing some reconnoitering,
getting ready to kick some ass.
Well, you guys shouldn’t be here, he replied. Are you crazy?
Well, yeah. I told him. We are crazy. I mean…we’re Marines, which
is basi- cally the same thing…right?
It turns out this dude was some kind of technician from the Atomic
Energy Commission. They were the guys who were supposed to be running
the tests. And, get this…he didn’t even know the military was
operating that close to ground zero!’’
‘‘No way,’’ Skip said.
‘‘Yep, and when I got him settled down, I found out that he
wasn’t pissed at all. He was just scared…for us. That should have
been my first clue.’’
‘‘Don’t take this the wrong way,’’ Skip said, ‘‘but it
sounds to me like the gov- ernment was using you guys as guinea
‘‘Guinea pigs?’’ The Marine snorted derisively. ‘‘We
should have been so lucky. The laboratory animals they used in those
tests were washed down with soap and water afterwards, and their
health was carefully monitored. It’s been fif- teen years since
that test and nobody has asked me shit about my health. It’s like
it never happened!’’
‘‘Or like you guys were expendable, so it didn’t matter,’’
Skip offered
‘‘We were all expendable. You, me, and the 250,000
or so troops who partici- pated in all those years of testing. And
that, my friend, is the way it is.


Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Wartime Christmas

December 1940, and a child sleeps on in an air raid shelter, all decorated and ready for Christmas. A single stocking hangs by the side of the bed, packed with little presents or treats.

The video link below shows how Britain was preparing to spend Christmas, in 1940, the year of the Blitz.

 People spent Christmas in their shelters, in an attempt to keep themselves safe from the bombs. As a result, very short Christmas trees were in demand, on account of the reduced height inside the shelters.

Getting by on the family ration was undoubtedly a challenge for every person on a weekly basis, but when it came to Christmas it was even more so. Turkey was simply not affordable, at least not to the majority. Chicken was also expensive so many turned to home reared chickens or rabbits. The latter often became cherished family pets of children who would have been most reluctant to see them appear on the Christmas platter at lunch time. Home grown vegetables and home made chutney would also have been supplied. With the food shortage Britain rose to the challenge assisted by the Women's Land Army, to grow their own and to keep farming production going whilst the men went to war.

Gifts would also have presented a challenge for the majority of people. The motto, 'Make do and Mend' was used prolifically and that's exactly what people did. Everything possible was recycled - brown paper and string was scarce and used over and over on parcels. Toys were home made, such as wooden carved trains or boats or doll's house furniture. Mums knitted with whatever wool they could get hold of and made sweets for the children for special treats. The British public had been discouraged from buying gifts, and encouraged to give as much as possible to the war effort. Ten million pounds in war bonds were sold the week before Christmas 1940.

There would be no Christmas bells as this signified invasion. The BBC broadcast a Christmas service from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral. Both the German and British Governments postponed bombing raids from Christmas Eve until the 27th December. Two days later on the 29th there came one of the most ferocious bombing raids of the Blitz which created a fire so fierce that it became known as the Second Great Fire of London. As the city burned, the dome of St Paul's Cathedral was pictured rising above the flames.

One woman recorded in her diary at that time that a 'great red glow filled the sky' and that she had no need for a torch that night. To add to the chaos and devastation, a low tide in the Thames caused fire hydrants to run dry and rubble blocked roads prevented emergency services getting through.

Twenty nine incendiary bombs fell on and around St Paul's that night, one of which fell and lodged within the roof timbers. Molten lead then began to drip down into the nave below. As smoke from the fires outside began to engulf the cathedral, an American reporter broadcasting live announced that St Paul's was burning to the ground. However, two teams of specialist fire-watchers were immediately spurred into action, crawling across the wooden beams with hand pumps to extinguish the fire. At that moment the incendiary fell right through into the nave below, where it was easily extinguished. Perhaps a miracle on that night. As a result, St Paul's survived.

St Paul's was like the phoenix, rising from the fire, from the ashes. This picture became the transcendent image of the Blitz, and just as the cathedral had survived, so too did the British people vow to do the same.

By the end of 1940, twenty four thousand people had been killed by the Blitz and hundreds of thousands were homeless.
After all the wars that have been and after our own servicemen and women have sacrificed their own lives for their countries, we should remember this:

Merry Christmas to all.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Friday Celebrations - Celebrate the Small Things Blog Hop by VicLit

Friday has arrived once more - rather promptly. Time is literally flying and is winning in the race over my writing. That said, one of my reasons to celebrate and to be positive and thankful is that my manuscript is moving forwards. I always find the editing process laborious and recently discovered a flaw in the plot. Having previously thought I'd planned most meticulously, I was left feeling frustrated. Still, this week I've finished working through it and have finally moved on. So, onwards and upwards and I'm all set for a write in this weekend. Judging by the weather (typical Cumbrian drizzle), it might be the best place to be. Although I really do have a hankering to take a ride on the steamer boat on Lake Windermere and have my usual drink - hot chocolate. Nothing like it on a cool day, especially when it's drizzling. The way the mist hangs like curtains shrouding the mountains is spectacular. I wouldn't mind taking a ride on the steam train also which is located in the scenic Leven Valley at the southern tip of Windermere. It runs for 3.5 miles from Haverthwaite Station to Lakeside Station.

My second reason to celebrate is that my friend, M.C.V. Egan, author of The Bridge of Deaths, has invited me to be a guest on her blog for a week in November. This a place where discrepancies/inaccuracies or even blatant lies relating to history are discussed. Follow link:

So, to writers everywhere, have a great weekend and happy writing. For readers, happy reading. Go on, lose yourself in a good story. It really is a great way to relax and recharge your batteries. My latest read is Wolfsangel, by author Liza Perrat.

Seven decades after German troops march into her village, Céleste Roussel is still unable to assuage her guilt. 
1943. German soldiers occupy provincial Lucie-sur-Vionne, and as the villagers pursue treacherous schemes to deceive and swindle the enemy, Céleste embarks on her own perilous mission as her passion for a Reich officer flourishes. 
When her loved ones are deported to concentration camps, Céleste is drawn into the vortex of this monumental conflict, and the adventure and danger of French Resistance collaboration. 
As she confronts the harrowing truths of the Second World War’s darkest years, Céleste is forced to choose: pursue her love for the German officer, or answer General de Gaulle’s call to fight for France. 
Her fate suspended on the fraying thread of her will, Celeste gains strength from the angel talisman bequeathed to her through her lineage of healer kinswomen. But the decision she makes will shadow the remainder of her days. 
A woman’s unforgettable journey to help liberate Occupied France, Wolfsangel is a stirring portrayal of the courage and resilience of the human mind, body and spirit. 

For bloggers, if you wish to join up for the blog hop, follow the link below.