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Posts Tagged ‘The Crimson Field’

 


Juliet at Hintons

 

I have to confess I was a little nervous before my talk about the Women of WW1 at Conwy’s lovely new bookshop, ‘Hinton’s of Conwy’. I’ve been busy concentrating on writing up to now, but I’d learnt so much while I was researching for ‘We That are Left’ that I was eager to share it. So off I went, armed with my WW1 poppy seed cake (what else), telling myself that it was a lovely sunny evening and no one would turn up, having sloped off to the beach instead, and I’d just be sitting there with a few friends eating cake.

Hintons of Conwy

How wrong could I be! The quiet room beneath the bookshop was packed full when I finally stood up to speak. Which was great – but did give me a brief impulse to run away! Thankfully one of the advantages of my (very brief) career as a teacher is that there’s nothing quite as scary as 30 disengaged 13 year olds on a Friday afternoon.

It’s the funny thing about research. You do so much of it, and then have to throw it to the back of your mind and hope it comes through and you get the details right. When I started researching, I came across so many things that women did, many of which were famous at the time, but have now been forgotten. They are simply not part of the familiar narrative of the war.

After the first few minutes, passion took over, and it was a great experience to be able to share so many of the roles women played, both on the front line and at home and for which there had been no time or space in the novel. I’d no idea before I began my research that women drove Layout 1ambulances, set up soup kitchens on the front line, ran their own field hospitals, and picked up bodies from no man’s land between battles. It’s a different aspect of the war. At times it’s completely incongruous, and unthinkable in later conflicts, such as the Duchess of Sutherland handing in her card to German officers, and demanding answers about the conditions of British prisoners of war.

So thank you to everyone who turned up to listen. It was great to see a packed house, and to have such a fascinating discussion afterwards about the forgotten role of the brave and resourceful women of WW1.

I’m definitely fired up to do more!

 

Hintons

On the way back, I stopped at Llanfairfechan beach, to one of the most glorious sunsets I’ve ever seen. It was quiet and peaceful, with people just enjoying the evening. A great antidote to reliving the horrors of the First World War.

 

Lighthouse puffin island

And when I got home – well, I’d left ‘Eden’s Garden’ climbing the ranks as part of being the Kindle Daily Deal for that day. After the surprise of ‘We That are Left’ getting to number 4 in the kindle store a few weeks ago, I’d been determined not to get excited. This was an older book, one that had been in a promotion before.

And yet there it was, number 6 when I got home. Number 5 when I woke up the next morning.

Now that was a day to remember!

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Number 1 historical Full price June 2014

Eden's Garden 5 in Kindle Store June 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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So much has been written about The Great War, but it has only been recently that the full of the women who kept the country going at home, and worked to save lives both on the battlefields and behind enemy lines, has been rediscovered.

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If you are in Conwy on June 18th, I shall be at Hinton’s of Conwy from 7 – 9 talking about the women and civilians caught up in WW1, and the inspiration behind We That are Left. Entrance is free, and there will be refreshments, including cake inspired by the recipes of the time.

Places are limited, so please contact Jenny at ‘Hinton’s of Conwy’  Tel: 01492 582212  Email: jenny@hintsonsofconwy.co.uk

It will be great to see you!

 

 

And just because there are some things an author can never quite see enough of – here’s We That Are Left in its recent promotion, at number 4 in the Amazon Kindle store. I might just mention that, too … (still pinching myself)

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For today, May 31st, for one day only, the kindle edition of  We That are Left has been chosen as an Amazon Kindle Daily Deal.

This is so exciting!

We That are Left is the story of the women and the civilians in WW1, both at home and nearer the battlefields. It was finished with the help of a Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales, and published by Honno Press in February 2014,

We That are Left was the March Book of the Month for the Welsh Books Council, Waterstones Wales and the National Museums of Wales.

You can find the 99p Daily Deal offer HERE

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GWales Review of ‘We That are Left’

A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

 

In her new novel, Juliet Greenwood once again shows herself to be a fine historical writer with an ability to probe ordinary people’s responses to major global events and the cultural and social shifts they engender. Romance lies at the core of both We That Are Left and her previous novel, Eden’s Garden, making them perfect reads for relaxation, whether you’re curled up by the fire in winter, or basking in the warmth of the summer sun. But they also have a depth that gives them more substance than a conventional romance and makes them a more fulfilling read. With its Cornish setting, a small country manor reminiscent of Manderley, and a young wife struggling to understand an older husband who clearly harbours secrets, We That Are Left bears more than a hint of Daphne du Maurier, but with the added ingredient of twenty-first century hindsight.

The action opens on 1st August 1914, with rumours of impending war. A bi-plane flying in from France misses its route and has to make an emergency landing close to Hiram Hall, the lifetime home of Elin, who is now married to the gruff but generally kindly Major Hugo Helstone. To the amazement of Elin and her cousin Alice, who is staying with her, the pilot who steps from the bi-plane is a woman – none other than Lady Margaret Northholme, who is ‘famed for her exploits’ and has now won a bet by flying alone across the Channel and back. She brings news of evident preparations for war in France.

As the world moves inexorably towards the horrors of the First World War, friendship blossoms quickly between the young women, and Lady Margaret – or ‘Mouse’, as she’s affectionately known – introduces Elin and Alice to a group of young men and women who are kicking against convention and received gender roles. There are older people, too, who model different ways of being: Aunt Catrin, who has built an independent life for herself since losing her great love; Iris, who has faced the ignominy of divorce to free herself of an abusive husband; and Jack Treeve, the Boer War veteran turned conscientious objector. Greenwood’s characters are warm and alive, flawed yet forgivable. The only exception is the sinister Mr Connors, and he… Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out for yourself.

We That Are Left spans the four long, life-changing years of 1914-1918 and beyond, portraying the effects of the war not merely on the novel’s characters but on British society as a whole, capturing the final days of a passing era and way of life. It is beautifully written, wonderfully paced. There is romance, adventure and suspense. And there is, as in Eden’s Garden, quiet contemplation of the themes of grief, loss and loyalty, and of the way in which our past experiences shape our future selves. It is, quite simply, a riveting read.

Suzy Ceulan Hughes

 

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Birmingham Gazette 1915 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

 

Now who would have thought a lady would run off with the chauffeur? (Outside Downton Abbey, of course)

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So imagine my surprise when, among the digitised newspapers of the British Library Archive, while doing my research for We That Are Left) I found a lady who had done just that: left a live of misery with her husband to find true love and happiness with the chauffeur.

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Birmingham Gazette 1915 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

It’s an account of a divorce case held in 1915. There are only a few lines, but it hints at a fascinating story, and one that is rather sad on both sides. This was a time when a divorce was almost unthinkable (and practically impossible to get if you were a woman), and a scandal when it occurred. It was when sex and sexuality and relationships were not discussed, and certainly not abuse or neglect, or even simple incompatibility. So just the few lines of the case speak volumes:

Your treatment of me was unendurable and I could not keep up the farce of being your wife in name only…. I have never known until the present what the love of a good man means.’

The lady’s husband responded by begging her not to ruin his life, trying to find her, and then delaying the divorce for three years, effectively preventing it from being granted.

The details will never be known, only guessed at. But by the fact that the lady and the chauffeur had not been found suggests that this was true love, and I, for one, hope that somewhere far away they had a long and happy life together.

Chauffeur divorce Oct 1915

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – October 1915 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

 

Birmingham gazette 1915

Birmingham Gazette 1915 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

If you want to read more about my research using online newspapers, you can read my post on the Novelistas blog here

And if you want to find out more about the invaluable British Newspaper Archive, you can find out here

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“Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED”

Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

I’ve found it fascinating watching ‘The Crimson Field’, having researched the same period for ‘We That are Left’. I’ve liked the way the characters personal lives are woven in as an integral part of the story, both bringing them to life, and bringing alive a society that was so different from our own, and yet isstill (just about) within living memory. My dad was born during WW1, and his memories and attitudes were shaped by the experience of a society that had gone through that trauma. They were the attitudes I rebelled against (as you do) as a teenager, but are still there somewhere deep inside as a part of me.

War isn’t just about blood and guts and physical suffering, however terrible they are. The real tragedy, both then and now, is the lives on both sides torn apart, never to be the same again. And then there are the huge changes brought about in a society itself as a consequence of the wider tragedy. Edwardian Britain was changing rapidly before the war. Servants were already preferring to leave service for work in factories where they at least had some kind of life of their own, and women were battling for independence and the right to education and the vote, but it was the war that crystallised these changes, so that the world of 1918 could never go back to that last Edwardian summer of 1913.

Oriental poppy

I think my favourite character in ‘The Crimson Field’ has been Kitty, and I’m intrigued to know where they will take her next. It’s hard to remember sometimes that – even until comparatively recently – divorce was almost unthinkable. In Edwardian times it was almost impossible, especially if you were a woman.

This was a world of almost no contraception, and where women’s earning power was almost nothing, and respectability was everything. Add to that the fact that respectable young men and women were not permitted to alone if unmarried,  and  (especially if you were middle or upper class) very chaperoned. So there you were, around eighteen or so, expected to make the biggest decision of your life. One from which, for all intents and purposes, there was no way out. When I look back at myself at 18, the thought scares the living daylights out of me. For my working class grandmother, it would probably have been a question of making sure the young man she loved was responsible and wasn’t the sort to drink his wages away and make free with his fists. Hard to consider amongst all those raging hormones. And besides, people change. My grandfather didn’t drink, or use his fists, but he still left my grandmother in the most appalling position, one that led to her being determined her daughters (born in the 1920s) could earn a living, and has had ramifications down the family. But that’s another story…

For Kitty’s class, it was much the same. However brutal, abusive or manipulative your husband turned out to be, it was your duty to put up with it. Make it better. Keep the illusion that marriage was the happy bedrock of society, with the wise and protective man at its head, the supportive, meek little wife ready be there at the end of his day. One of the few ways of getting a divorce was proof of adultery (although women had to wait until 1923 before they could divorce an adulterous husband).

After the war, with wives and husbands changed beyond recognition by their experiences, many couples found they simply had nothing in common any more. And human beings being ingenious and generally cooperative, many couples all simply beat the system. The form was for the man to do the decent thing. Which meant being the cad and being seen in a hotel with a woman, along with a maid or porter who would testify that they had been in the same room together. Apparently it became such a farce there were even agencies who provided the room and the lady. Then all you had to do was sit there. Or, like Cousin Iris in ‘We That are Left’, while away the hours playing chess.

I’m sure there were many such genuine and rather sad cases as this one from the Liverpool Echo of a woman who had a baby while her husband was away in the war. Echoes of both the first and the second world wars, when the world was turned upside down and no one knew if the next moment might be their last.

(click on the images and they’ll take you to the original newspaper on the British Library Website)

(www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

Divorce 1918

Liverpool Echo, December 10th 1918 reproduced thanks to the British Library . Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED‘Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

But this one I love. She’s a barmaid who didn’t take to married life in 1904. In 1911, with no children and ‘not taking very kindly to household duties’ (clearly my kind of girl) she simply took matters into her own hands and did a moonlit flit while her husband was away on business, writing to him in 1911: ‘Don’t be foolish over this, because if I returned I would only have to tell you what I am telling you here. I am not returning. Please keep cool about it and say to yourself “she is not worth a thought”.’

And guess what? She sailed off to New York to become a nurse, last heard of in 1914. Divorced on the grounds of desertion from her marriage in 1915.

Now that’s a story for ‘The Crimson Field’!

Divorce 1 1915

Edinburgh Evening News, June 12th 1915. Reproduced thanks to the British Library.  Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED‘Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

All Images reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

 

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When I was first trying to get a feel for the world in 1914, I returned to the beautiful Glynllifon Estate, near Caernarfon. I hadn’t been there for years, and it was just as I remembered it, green and magical. The grounds had been created as a miniature world in themselves. There are woodland walks past rushing streams, a secret cave, and even a hermit’s grotto. It was easy to imagine the Victorian and Edwardian inhabitants of the grand house rambling through this secret, fantasy version of a wilderness, lying beneath the shadow of the vast, and in those days, dangerous and inaccessible wilderness, of the mountains of Snowdonia.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile I was catching up with the first episode of ‘The Crimson Field’ this week, I was reminded of Glynllifon. It was this protected, settled world that those three new VAD recruits, like so many of the young women on the front line, had left behind when they set off to face the horrors of the Great War. Okay, maybe not always so grand as Glynllifon, but the with the same opulence and order that had probably changed very little since medieval times. The same protected confidence that the world could be managed through money, status and force of will. The same pre-Raphaelite, daring-do, heroic idealism that had sent their brothers into the trenches to save the world.

The slate amphitheatre

Of course, there were other women, too. Many of them older women of intelligence, energy and ambition, who- like their Victorian mothers – were not content to stay idle and look decorous at dinner parties. These were the women who, behind closed doors and under the safe guise of ‘charity’, had set up, staffed and ran hospitals for the poor – fighting the legacy of extreme poverty and disease among so many of the inhabitants of a rich nation, that was only generally recognised when so many men were found to be unfit to fight.

It was this experience that took many of these women out to use their skills and experience on the front line, including setting up and running their own field hospitals, often in the face of prejudice and non-cooperation. When women first set up an women’s ambulance corps, they were simply laughed at.

 

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I was thinking of all those women, as I returned to the entrance of the Glynllifon estate, and how their lives were changed forever. The grand house is not a museum piece, the nearest you come to it is ‘Yr Iard’, the yard, which houses some of the tools belonging to the vast army of workers who built, maintained and fed this opulence. Theirs is also a story of lives changed forever.

It was this photograph, taken at harvest time 1913, that had me stopping in my tracks.

 

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The last harvest of a world that, on the day the photograph was taken, must have seemed to have lasted forever, and would never end. The last harvest of a lost world. There were terrible injustices and inequalities in that world, and, as a woman, I have no hankering to live there – particularly as my ancestors would have been in the yard rather than the house, and my life would most probably have been one of daily physical drudgery and perilous childbearing, accompanied by the pain of watching many of my children die. But it was – and still is – haunting to look into the eyes of a lost world. And to know, as none of them could have ever foreseen in their darkest nightmares, the fields where the men would be by the time of the next harvest, and the courage and resilience those girls would need to do – as women always do – to pick up the pieces and forge a new world, one that would never be the same again.

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