Tuesday, September 25, 2012

TEARS ON THE WESTERN FRONT

My husband, who prefers to keep his cyber identity private so I shall call "D",  and I met in the Army Reserve (Officer Training...he lent me a pencil for my navigation exercise...etc. etc.). We both served in the Australian Army for just on twenty years each before a move to Singapore put an end to both our careers. One thing all those years instilled in us was a mutual interest in military history.


D’s grandfather fought with the Australian Army in World War One. He had been in the second wave at Gallipoli and the family had always assumed he had sustained his wound there.  Until D started researching his grandfather’s history, no one knew he had served in France. He would talk about Gallipoli but never the Western Front and it was on the Western Front, in the bitter fighting on the Somme he had been wounded in the left arm.


My own grandfather (on my mother's side) was a medic in the British Army and served, as far as we know, for most of the war in the Middle East. He joined up after his eldest brother had been killed near Basrah in modern Iraq. Many people may think the medics had a cushy job but quite often they put their own lives on the line to rescue the wounded and transport them back to the casualty clearing stations. Mercifully he survived unscathed but his experience may explain why he never settled to normal life in Yorkshire and accepted a posting in the civil service in Kenya (Colonial East Africa), taking his new bride with him,  a young lass who had never even been to London.

In 2005, D and I finally achieved a long held ambition to visit the Battlefields of World War One. We began in Ypres in Belgium, that beautiful medieval cloth town so comprehensively destroyed in the war.  Together we walked the city walls finding little war cemeteries along the way and joined the solemn crowds at the Menin Gate for the service of commemoration which is held every night.
The evening commemoration at the Menin Gate
We  hired a car and with a map in hand we drove out into the Ypres Salient. The flat Belgian countryside bears little resemblance to the nightmare pictures we had seen in the Museum in Ypres but among the green fields, there are countless cemeteries, with the white crosses in orderly lines looking,  as I described it in Gather the Bones, like a “harvest of death”.
The Allied Cemetery - Passchandaele (Polygon Wood)
From Belgium we drove down to France and Amiens. It is hard to imagine the horror that 1914-1918 visited on the soft green fields of the Picardy countryside.  The little villages have been rebuilt and farmers tend the fields just as they always did but the grand war memorials and scattered cemeteries once again bear the testament of those who died here. 

It was one of many tiny little villages on the road to Amiens that brought together both D's grandfather and my search for a missing relative - Pozieres.




It was here, at the battle for  Pozieres, that D’s grandfather had been shot in the arm, an injury which would trouble him for the whole of his life and it was here in the British cemetery that I fulfilled a promise made to my father ... to find the grave of his own father’s cousin, Captain Richard Conway Lowe MC. The War Graves Commission makes it an easy task to locate the one tombstone among the many and I had little trouble in finding it in the British Cemetery.

What I hadn’t been prepared for was the wave of emotion that surged through me as I stood looking down at the simple white grave stone.  All I knew about Richard Conway Lowe had been gleaned from a few family photographs of a rather solemn little boy with fair hair and glasses. Family history recounts he had been a good student at Winchester and Oxford and had been destined to go into the Church. I also knew he was 6’ 7”. He came from a respectable middle class family in Edgbaston near Birmingham and on the outbreak of war, he joined one of the local Warwickshire volunteer regiments.

I didn’t know he was only 22 years old when he died. He was the same age as my eldest son. As I laid the little poppy I had bought with me, I touched the gravestone and thought how many, many years it had been since anyone grieved at this graveside. The entire family line had effectively died out with this boy. I sat on the grass beside his headstone and the tears welled up. 


Laying a poppy on Richard's grave


Since returning from that trip to France, the wonder of the internet enabled me to trace the citation for his military cross. I wish my father were still alive to share it with.  It reads:
Military Cross for Officers

"Second Lieutenant Richard Conway Lowe., 1st/6th Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Territorial Force.
For conspicuous gallantry on 4th November, 1915, in France.
When directing a working party in front of the parapet, the Germans opened fire and wounded a man of the covering party. Second Lieutenant Lowe and a Serjeant rushed to his aid, and although the Serjeant was grazed by a bullet and Second Lieutenant Lowe shot in the thigh, the bullet being subsequently found in the wound, they carried the wounded man across the open and through the wire into a place of safety.
Second Lieutenant Lowe had previously been wounded, and had been brought to notice for excellent work at the front." (London Gazette Issue 29371 16 November 1916)

He received his medal personally at Buckingham Palace in January 1916 while home recovering from his wound. 

He was killed in action on August 18, 1916. The Germans had been in occupation of Pozieres since 1914 and in July 1916 the allies commenced one of the bloodiest battles on the Western Front...the recapture of Pozieres and to secure the high ground behind it. When I looked to see what action had taken place on that day,  "British advance from Pozieres to Somme; ground gained towards Ginchy and Guillemont."  Just another day on the Western Front.


The main street of Pozieres after the action of 1916
After his death his mother, Marie Lowe, worked tirelessly in organising women volunteers for the provision of laundry services to the hospitals in Birmingham coping with the needs of the wounded. By Dec 1917 over 4000 articles a week passed through the hands of the 70 VAD volunteers and 8 paid laundresses. The family history relates that his father, Conway, "never really recovered from the death of his elder son". He fell out with his business partners and "These two blows left Conway a broken man, and Marie had to become the decision maker and mainstay of the family."

The little boy who died a hero...
These few days spent in the company of the dead from a bloody war provided part of the inspiration for my new book, GATHER THE BONES. 

The following is a short extract, drawing on my own experience...
"...Helen stared out of the foggy car window as the countryside changed from pleasant fields and hamlets to an unrecognizable landscape of ruined villages, barely passable roads, devastated forests of tree stumps and a bleak landscape of churned fields. If she could have imagined the end of the world this is what it would have been like.


Many of the villages through which they passed had been completely destroyed leaving nothing more than piles of rubble where there had once been a bustling little town with bakers, butchers, churches and homes. Some new buildings had begun to rise from the ruins, but the deeper they drove into the Ypres Salient, the more dismal the landscape became. What had once been fields were now nothing more than wild earthworks from a painting of hell, dotted with small cemeteries of rows of white crosses, like a grim harvest of death..."

For more about the First World War and the inspiration for Gather the Bones, see my post on "A Michelin Guide to a Story Idea" first published on Historical Hearts.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Collaging A Story for "Organic Writers"

I first heard of "collaging" a story some years ago when a workshop at a Romance Writers of Australia Conference was held on the subject. Unfortunately I didn't attend it but I did see the participants, clutching their "collages" and flushed with excitement as they left the room.

"Collaging"? I recall, with something of a shudder, art classes at school where you had to stick bits and pieces cut from magazines on to paper and make some kind of artistic masterpiece. I am a Capricorn and a Lawyer, I don't do "artistic masterpieces" - I do well ordered, neat and logical masterpieces. I really didn't think collaging was for me.

Jenny Crusie is an exponent of Collaging  but like me was slow to realise its potential, particularly in the pre-writing phase. For Jenny's journey to collaging read her blog post.

I blogged recently on "visualising a story" (The Mind's Eye) and until I started writing GATHER THE BONES, I'd never been one for visual stimuli but there is definitely something about the hand/eye/brain connection, which is why some people still prefer to write their stories in long hand. As I can no longer read my own writing that is probably not a great option these days.

That is until I discovered Springpad. There are so many great options for writers now (I haven't even begun to expound on my adoration for Scrivener).  With Springpad I discovered not only a great way to store my online resource but I could actually convert that on to a virtual "cork board" and I created a "virtual collage".

Springpad collage for GATHER THE BONES

It's not much to look at but I did explain about the whole Capricorn/lawyer thing... And amazingly, even though I was well into the story by then, it really helped with some of the finer plot detailing. I found pictures of 1920s tennis parties and WW1 hospitals in old churches. What you won't see there are "pictures" of my hero and heroine. I still like to live with them in my imagination. (BTW you can store all your online research in your Scrivener file but the Springpad "board" is fantastic)

As for sticking actual pictures from magazines on to pieces of paper, I was still sceptical until I got to try it myself  on a Writers Retreat with my own writing group, the wonderful Saturday Ladies Bridge Club (yes there is a good reason for the name and no, it has nothing to do with cards).


I looked at my blank piece of paper and the piles of magazines and my mind went blank as the Capricorn/lawyer/pantser combo muscled its way to the front of my consciousness. What was I even going to collage about and then it struck me. I had a new story tugging at my sleeve so I picked up the scissors and glue and began to leaf through the magazines. OK my story is a regency and there was nothing regency about any of the magazines but amazingly words and images began to leap out at me.

The SLBC collaging madly
At the end of the session I sat back and looked at my piece of paper. It was no artistic masterpiece but, by jiminy, it looked like the bones of a story.  And here it is. Hopefully it won't mean anything to anybody except me!


I have it pinned up in my office and while I haven't progressed very far with the story itself, it is a wonderful "aide memoire".

I am a "pantser" (although I prefer the term "organic writer") and I was surprised at how going through the collaging exercise really helped me with the setting/characters and basic plot. It's certainly not the whole story but as a kick start to the creative process it has been invaluable and I would highly recommend it as a precursor to writing. All you need is a sheet of paper, some old magazines, some felt pens, glue and scissors. Lock the "editor" away and allow the "girls in the basement" out and you should have a fun AND productive couple of hours.



Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ms. Stuart has left her card...

Since GATHER THE BONES launched last week, I have been out and about on the blog circuit. While not officially a Blog Tour,  I have donned my best hat and gloves and with my new, embossed calling cards in my reticule I have paid calls at the following blogs.  So rather than post something new here, come and visit me at the following addresses:


Later this week I will be taking tea with Nicole Hurley-Moore

Thank you to all  my lovely hostesses :-)



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Meet Ms. Stuart...

I think I can say GATHER THE BONES has been thoroughly well launched.


I really was at a loss as to how to send off an ebook but the Facebook party turned out to be a huge success. In preparing for it, I threw together a couple of videos and thought I would share them on my blog page. They are a little rough and the wandering eyes are caused by trying to read from a computer screen behind my Mac notebook which I was using to record the video.

So excusing a rather untidy office and an even scruffier author...

The first is the "Welcome" video in which I talk about how I came to write GATHER THE BONES.


The second is a reading from the story:


TO READ AN EXCERPT (the Prologue and first chapter) click HERE.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

LAUNCH EVENT FOR GATHER THE BONES

Join me today over at my Facebook author page for my virtual launch party. There will be a copy of GATHER THE BONES to give away, along with other goodies. 

I am also visiting the Australian Romance Readers today where I am giving away a copy of the book.

Keep watching this blog and over the next few weeks there will be another opportunity to win a copy of GATHER THE BONES and other prizes as I visit other blogs. Details will be posted either here or on my Facebook author page.

I'm looking forward to making some new friends.

Alison




War leaves no one untouched 

The horrors of the Great War are not the only ghosts that haunt Helen Morrow and her late husband's  reclusive cousin, Paul. Unquiet spirits from another time and another conflict touch them. 

A coded diary gives them clues to the mysterious disappearance of Paul's great-grandmother in 1812, and the desperate voice of a young woman reaches out to them from the pages. Together Helen and Paul must search for answers, not only for the old mystery, but also the circumstances surrounding the death of Helen's husband at Passchandaele in 1917. 

As the mysteries entwine, their relationship is bound by the search for truth, in the present and the past. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Release Day - GATHER THE BONES

No new mother likes to be told their baby has funny ears or Aunt Georgina's nose and for an author, release day can be both exciting and frightening. You are sending your baby out for public scrutiny. Inevitably there will be those readers who don't connect with your writing and a writer has to learn to take the bad reviews with the good. We should be experts at rejection but we're not. We love our baby - even if it does have a huge nose and ears like Dumbo...

So after a long, long break, my baby is now out in the big, wide world.  Be gentle...

I am thrilled that award winning writer, Anna Campbell not only read the book but agreed to provide the cover quote. Thank you, Anna!


"GATHER THE BONES is breathtakingly romantic. This moving and dramatic love story will haunt you long after you turn the last page. Anna Campbell, author of SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROGUE’S BED"


For the time being it is only available as an ebook and can be found at AMAZON KINDLE, BARNES & NOBLE,  Lyrical Press and other reputable on line stores. With ebooks, the reviews and feedback at these sites is so important so please leave a review or rating. 

It is also up on Goodreads

Tomorrow is party day...I shall be hosting an online Launch Party at my Author Facebook page . There will be readings, giveaways and other fun...so watch this space.

In the meantime here is the Book Trailer for GATHER THE BONES (Or Gather the Bones - the movie)



The horrors of the Great War are not the only ghosts that haunt Helen Morrow and her late husband's reclusive cousin, Paul. 
Unquiet spirits from another time and another conflict touch them.
A coded diary gives them clues to the mysterious disappearance of Paul's great-grandmother in 1812, and the desperate voice of a young woman reaches  out to them from the pages. Together Helen and Paul must search for answers, not only for the old mystery, but also the circumstances surrounding the death of Helen's husband at Passchandaele in 1917.
As the mysteries entwine, their relationship is bound by the search for truth, in the present and the past.