At the moment I am inundated with blog tours and blog appearance requests so I didn’t think I’d be able to read Under A Wartime Sky by Liz Trenow in time for my slot today. Instead I was thrilled to stay in with Liz to chat about the book and would like to thank Ellis Keene at Pan Macmillan for inviting me to do so. However, I know how much I enjoy Liz’s writing so I managed to squeeze in a read and review too!
I’ve previously interviewed Liz about her book The Silk Weaver in a post you can read here. Liz generously provided a wonderful guest post to go alongside my review of In Love and War and you can read that post here.
Staying in with Liz Trenow
Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag, Liz. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Thank you for inviting me! The chance to talk to readers feels even more important during these isolated days.
I know the feeling! Tell me, although I think I have a pretty good idea, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
Under a Wartime Sky, my latest, published just before lockdown. But that’s not the only reason I’ve chosen it. Exactly eighty years ago (on 10th July 1940) Britain found itself facing an unprecedented and existential threat. Not a virus, but a terrifying and sustained attack on our cities, factories and airfields by legions of German bombers, day after day, night after night. They were determined to break us, so that they could invade. It was the start of the Battle of Britain.
Fortunately for us, a group of brilliant scientists had created a remarkable invention which was installed at dozens of sites along our south and east coasts and staffed by hundreds of specially trained women operators. It was our top secret weapon, radar, which enabled us to ‘see’ German planes coming and alert our fighters so that they were in the air, ready to see them off.
Four gruelling and deadly months later, thanks to radar and the extraordinary bravery of our fighter pilots, we managed to defeat a German air force twice the size of ours. It changed the course of the war. My book celebrates the unlikely love story of two of those heroes and heroines of radar, whose remarkable genius and courage remains largely unsung, even today.
Oh that’s a perfect description of Under A Wartime Sky Liz. so enjoyed getting to know your characters and finding out the history behind the narrative too.
For those who haven’t yet read Under A Wartime Sky, what can they expect from an evening in with the book?
Love, life, excitement, tragedy and triumph (although maybe not in that order)! I wrote this book because I love the place where it is set – Bawdsey Manor on the coast of Suffolk – and its extraordinary history. I was intrigued by the idea of this small band of brilliant boffins working on their top secret project in a sprawling gothic mansion on the edge of the North Sea, and wondered what their neighbours, the ordinary folk of Felixstowe, would have made of it all. What would happen when they coincided? I wrote the book to find out, so please come with me on the journey!
I already have and I hope may more readers will too.
This is what other people have said:
‘Liz Trenow skilfully interlaces a love story between her two characters, Vic and Kath, each coming from different worlds but who share a dedication to this top secret project and ultimately to each other.’
‘Liz Trenow writes likes a painter, with broad strokes to set a scene, and then takes a small brush for the details, capturing the essence of the time, quite effortlessly.’
I couldn’t agree more Liz. So, what else have you brought along and why?
First is a photo of Bawdsey Manor, complete with radar mast, so you can see why I was so intrigued by the place – and also so fortunate to have been able to get the know it well when, in a crazy moment, some friends of ours decided to buy it from the Ministry of Defence and set up a school there!
Wow. No wonder your descriptions are so evocative!
Second is carrot cake (what meeting is ever worth it without cake!)
I’m not going to argue with that sentiment!
It was invented during wartime because carrots provided the sweetness people craved when sugar was rationed. My characters bond over this cake, but carrots also have a deeper symbolism in this book. So effective – and so top secret – was radar technology that the government decided to circulate ‘false news’ that the RAF’s success was due to feeding their pilots plenty of raw carrots, which promoted superior eyesight, especially at night. The myth was widely accepted among Britons and Germans alike, and perpetuated long after the war.
Although Under A Wartime Sky is historical Liz, a terrible threat and fake news seem all too relevant to today’s world don’t they? Thanks so much for staying in with me and chatting about your latest book.
Thanks so much for having me!
My pleasure. Before I share my review I’ll just give blog readers the information they need about Under A Wartime Sky:
Under A Wartime Sky
Bawdsey Manor holds a secret.
1936: the threat of war hangs over Europe. Churchill gathers the brightest minds in Britain at a grand house in Suffolk. Bound to complete secrecy, they work together on an invention that could mean victory for the Allies. Among them is Vic, a gifted but shy physicist who, for the first time, feels like he belongs.
Local girl Kathleen wants to do more than serving tea and biscuits to ‘do her bit’. So when the Bawdsey team begin to recruit women to operate their top secret system, she dedicates herself to this life-or-death work. Kath and Vic form an unlikely friendship as the skies over Britain fill with German bombers. Little does Kath know just whose life she will change forever, one fateful night . . .
Based on the real history of Bawdsey Manor, Under a Wartime Sky is a novel about courage, belonging and hope.
Published by Pan Macmillan on 20th February 2020, Under A Wartime Sky is available for purchase through the links here.
My Review of Under A Wartime Sky
There are secrets at Bawdsey Manor.
Under A Wartime Sky was a fabulous read. I found it completely compelling as it transported me back in time. Readers who want visceral horror or violent crime should look elsewhere, but those looking for an assiduously researched, beautifully written and totally engaging historical narrative, will be completely ensnared by Liz Trenow.
I found the settings and historical elements thrummed with detail so that Under A Wartime Sky transported me back in time completely, but to a slightly different milieu to so many WW2 books. The Bawdsey Manor developments are completely fascinating as they illustrate another reality of the era to the usual rationing and women in factories that so many books rely on.
I loved the way the plot is bound by two short, more modern, sections that give such a satisfying structure. The socio-economic picture painted by Liz Trenow’s writing is perfect. She really understands how people functioned and brings them to life so vividly.
Vic in particular is simply wonderful. No broad shouldered, flashing eyed smouldering cliché here, but a warm, genuine man whom I fell for completely. His sensitivity, his diffidence and his intelligence make him a character I believed in without question. I loved the balance between his story and Kath’s too. Although there is romantic attraction between them, realistic life intervenes so that I found their narrative all the more touching. There’s is a kind of universal tale that the era must have imposed on so many.
The plot of Under A Wartime Sky is satisfying too. As well as an entertaining story, it encompasses so many themes that resonate today, with sexuality, ambition, rivalry, family and love explored sensitively and maturely making for a depth and enjoyment I so appreciated.
If you’re looking for a book that is compassionate, compelling and totally authentic, look no further. Liz Trenow has woven all these components into a smashing narrative in Under A Wartime Sky and I really enjoyed it.
About Liz Trenow
Liz Trenow is the author of three previous historical novels: The Last Telegram, The Forgotten Seamstress and The Poppy Factory. Liz’s family have been silk weavers for nearly three hundred years, and she grew up in the house next to the mill in Suffolk, England, which still operates today, weaving for top-end fashion houses and royal commissions. This unique history inspired her first two novels, and this, her fourth novel.
Liz is a former journalist who spent fifteen years on regional and national newspapers, and on BBC radio and television news, before turning her hand to fiction. She lives in East Anglia, UK, with her artist husband, and they have two grown-up daughter.
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