I encountered Chris Cherry via Facebook and when I realised he writes about a period of history that fascinates me and he donates money to the Royal British Legion from his books I was delighted when he agreed to be a guest on my blog. Today he’s talking about the human impact of the First World War.
Chris’s books are available on Amazon in both ebook and paperback, but if readers would like signed copies they can be found on Chris’s website. Mentioning lindasbookblog will get you 20% off too!
Love and War – Historical Novels
by Chris Cherry
Where to start? I think I need to start from the beginning – that is France in 1898. So a question – why France and why then?
My first understanding of the First World War was when All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque was put on to my school reading list. I had no understanding of the War, its origins, motives and legacy. I knew nothing of the trench, of the humour and of course, the suffering. I read the War poets – some had a political message, others simply told of a brutal reality though alliterative rhyme. Remember the haunting words of Wilfred Owen in Dulce et Decorum Est – “To hear, at every jolt…” How could one not be moved to know more, when John McRae pours out his love for his lost friend and comrade by the side of the Yser canal In Flanders Fields. So it was that one little boy was hooked, transfixed and transported to a time long ago, but not quite forgotten.
You see, it is a period that can still be touched to this day. A golden thread of family surviving through history. Each day a reader may send me a picture of their lost relative, perhaps killed or missing. Looking back at me from the sepia dignity of a tattered portrait print are their unmistakably shared family features – of course they are us. They had lives, loved and were loved as McRae goes on to say in his immortal poem. I want to tell their stories. I cannot be them, they had a personality all of their own. So I tell a greater truth through fiction.
It can be tempting to focus on the army in France or Flanders. Indeed, to many, the war itself was just that – mud and gore on the Western Front. But it was a truly World War, fought on land, sea and air across a great deal of Europe, Africa and Asia. Most certainly it touched lives across the globe, missing no-one in its path of desolation.
It is perhaps, all too easy to forget. I am not so focused on who was or is to blame, who to judge harshly and whose piety to extol. For me, it is simply a balancing act trying to treat history with remembrance and respect but yet to still to be able to tell a story, a fiction in context. I write dialogue for real people, imagining their true character and hope that whatever their motive and true nature, I neither dishonour, nor celebrate. I write characters that are evil, beyond redemption and who may have living family somewhere in this world. It is a challenge, as I have written in the voice of a soldier in the trenches, a young girl stolen from France and imprisoned in Germany and a Nazi, lost inside the madness of the time. Their language may not have been complex or cultured and for me it would be a mistake to write with a modern tongue or ear, with a modern sensitivity. For this, I may sometimes be criticised – and so be it. They lived then and not now, in our time. That time is theirs to keep.
For me, the true story is of the people. They are just like us, felt like us andsuffered as we would. I could talk about understanding the history, using my novels as an educational tool, perhaps even entertaining along the way. But, for me, it comes down to one thing. A family. A family needs love, care and an investment of time and emotion to nurture. Imagine that for a moment. Not all families survive. Some are lost to relationship breakdown, loss or other cause. Now imagine that a War emerges and strikes at the heart of your life. Now you may find yourself on the first page of my novel – where I find my own mind as I write.
I have seen so little written about the effects of War in other countries – imagine the battlefield in your own town. I once wrote a short story at school entitled “The Battle of The Ouse”, in which the trenches were not in France and Belgium, the East or Turkey, but in England and Scotland. Imagine opening your front door to a cemetery with ten thousand Unknown Soldiers and you can begin to feel it a little I am sure.
So, I set the Mad Game stories in France – which I hope offers a unique perspective on the War and its impact.
The Great War is surrounded by myths and misunderstanding; emotions on the subject still run high. Some may focus on the facts and figures and some on the stories. All of these standpoints hold a validity in the commemoration of the conflicts past. I try not to use my novels as a lectern or blackboard, but as a mirror on our own lives. How did Kurt lose his humanity so absolutely? How did a timid little girl survive the camps to grow up into a strong and fine woman? It is because they held on to something deep and precious – or lost it along the way.
The period holds a deep interest for me, the thread is the poppy and its symbolism to us all. For me it isn’t just this time of year – October and November, but all year. I visit the battlefields often, researching and learning, speaking to those that live there and documenting my feelings along the way. It is a pilgrimage, if that is not too emotive or presumptuous, my small way of showing respect and comradeship to those left behind.
So it was that The Mad Game series was written to benefit the Royal British Legion. I have spent many a day with veterans of both World Wars and tried to capture their stories and tell them on again to a new generation. The money that I raise is used to support those that are left and those of more modern times in need of comfort and financial or emotional support.
I am now working on a new series of novels – the Silent Brothers trilogy, still forming part of the Love and War theme. Meet on Waggon Road is nearing completion and will be the first book of the three. A Girl in the Shop Window will follow (named after a line I heard from a Normandy veteran in 2014) and the final book will be called Rest My Silent Brothers and this could be out before the end of 2016.
I’d like to thank Chris for taking the time to write such a though provoking guest post about a time in history we shouldn’t forget.