The 100th anniversary of the end of WWI

Today marks 100 years since the end of WWI. What a horrifying and devastating war. Tragically, the terms of the armistice led to economic distress and resentment in Germany, which when combined with a toxic man like Hitler, who promised to tear up the Treaty of Versailles, led to WWII.

Each of my three published novels features the end of the war. Here’s an excerpt from my first novel Unravelled when Edward Jamieson is remembering his experience.

After Valenciennes, Germany was ready to surrender. On November eleventh, unaware of any official communiqué, Edward and his comrades instead became conscious of the absence of gunfire, a quiet filled with birdsong, the rustle of leaves and the creak of an unhinged shutter. Bells began to chime. Wild shouts filled the air as voice after voice swept the news along.

Clustered in front of their homes, in the fields and along the roadside, the French people seemed stunned at first. But soon Edward’s unit heard the sound of drums and the unmistakable rhythm of the Marseillaise. Responding to the call of their homeland, families began singing. Then a procession formed as a man with only one arm held the French flag high in the air, leading whoever would follow into town. Cafes and restaurants filled to capacity, windows and doors opened wide, the smell of food wafted into the streets as though the town itself brimmed with joy.

Gathering in the town square to hear Lieutenant Colonel Gill’s briefing, every soldier dreamed of home. The sun shone brilliantly. Gill’s voice rang out.

“Men, today marks the beginning of the future. You have fought tirelessly to secure freedom for family and friends, for our country and the Commonwealth. It is a momentous victory, which we have achieved together. You have given of yourselves unstintingly and courageously. You have seen your comrades suffer, seen death close at hand and yet, you have endured. It is a testament to your valour and commitment that Canada has contributed so magnificently to the outcome of this war. The war is over. Peace has been won. We have made the world safe for democracy and soon we’ll all go home to our families.”

Edward heard a rustle in the back of the ranks and then the applause and cheers began. On and on it went. Elated warriors filled the square with their shouts and four years of pent-up emotions released like floodgates opening on a narrow gorge.

Gill raised his hand and held it there for some time until the square was quiet again.

“Signals officers will be reviewing the needs of the army during occupation. We will assess each and every soldier and proceed in stages to return you all to Canada as soon as possible.” He stopped to look around the square as though he wanted to make eye contact with every soldier, one by one. “I am proud, so very proud, to have been your commanding officer for the past three years.”

Emotion thickened Gill’s gruff voice. He saluted his troops, holding his arm rigid for much longer than usual, then stepped down from the stage. Only a very few who were close enough saw the tears glimmering in his eyes.

The dead had lived on in Edward’s nightmares. He remembered feeling like an old man, withered and worn, wise in ways he wished he were not, aware of all that sucks humanity from the marrow of men.

The title UNRAVELLED says it all. Reading this again now, I’m filled with feelings of loss and the incredible damage to humanity that war brings about.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

Transported into a WWI Trench

Having written three novels featuring World War One, I’ve learned a lot about trenches. I’ve even been in one or two although of course, they’re now sanitized and bear no resemblance to the muck and horror soldiers would have experienced.

When I started out, I had only a vague sense of trenches as reinforced ditches deep enough to house groups of soldiers holding the line against the enemy. Writing realistic scenes involving skirmishes and battles meant that I had to know so much more. Novels, books, movies, photos, diagrams, websites, letters and diaries – these were my sources. How did soldiers go ‘over the top’? What happened during a gas attack? Where were reserve troops located? How did messages get to frontline commanders? Where did the men sleep? Did stretcher bearers take the wounded back through the trenches? How did those manning artillery make sure they didn’t hit their own men? And so on.

Here’s a diagram I found illustrating the the connections between different parts of the trench system and another showing the cross section of a frontline trench. [Source: History On The Net]

Of course, you can’t include all these details but as a writer you have to understand them well enough to transport your readers there. Here’s an example from my novel Unravelled: Edward is in Signals, the group responsible for communications. He and several fellow soldiers have been assigned to place microphones in no man’s land to assess enemy positions.

“A week later, in the pitch black of a half-snowing night, Edward and eleven others made their way from the tunnels via support and reserve trenches to the forward lines. Taking each step with care, they trudged through narrow, zigzagging paths, passing men snatching sleep, cooking, playing cards, cleaning equipment – the tasks of soldiers at rest.

As they turned a sharp corner, an explosion shook the section of trench not far behind them. The blast rattled Edward’s eardrums; screams of pain indicated the injuries suffered by men he had passed only minutes earlier. Whistles blew, summoning stretcher-bearers to carry what was left of the wounded away for treatment, and others to restore the trench. Edward knew the medics would waste little time on those who were beyond saving, just the barest of comfort, if that.

Battle savvy after months at the front, Edward steeled himself not to turn around, and instead put one foot in front of the other as he moved himself and over fifty pounds of equipment forward. He thought back to another night, sitting at a small wireless station, receiver in hand as an explosion ripped a section of the trench no more than thirty feet away. The blast crushed a nearby soldier as support beams, earth, and sandbags caved in. Numb to such destruction, he had continued his transmission without interruption. Edward shut the memory away and focused on the present. Distraction could be fatal.”

Doing research I found many other bits of information: a sketch of a German trench (you can find that in 10 Facts about WWI Trenches), a document outlining orders soldiers were to obey when on trench duty (you can find it here), Pierre Berton’s descriptions of trenches in his book titled Vimy. Berton wrote of others describing trenches as “this strange ribbon of deadly stealth”. He said that in reality there were little more than ditches.

It’s difficult to find the right words: horrific, disgusting, filthy, foul, noxious, hazardous, precarious, death traps, rat infested, slimy … I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

The Evolution of a novel (2)

We left East Rising Sun firmly tucked in the digital equivalent of a bottom drawer as I worked on a historical novel titled Lies Told in Silence.

The writing journey continued. In 2013 I self-published Unravelled and in 2014 Lies Told in Silence hit the shelves at Amazon and other online retailers. These generated modest success. I finished Time and Regret in late 2015, approached Lake Union Publishing with it and they published that dual-timeline novel in 2016. A joyful sense of accomplishment.

Lake Union had right-of-first-refusal for my next novel – Paris in Ruins – which I turned in to them in early 2017 and the world came crashing down when they rejected it. Joy to rejection in less than a year. I pitched several ideas and my editor said yes to East Rising Sun. Actually, she said ‘send us 50 pages and a detailed synopsis’.

Returning to a novel after a seven year absence is a challenge. Who are these characters? Why on earth did I write that chapter? What’s the story and where’s the plot? I’d learned a lot about writing and East Rising Sun definitely needed work.

So I conceived a new story with the same characters and a similar expat journey but added a twist involving a nasty father and a kidnapping, a scheming husband and a divorce, a shaky marriage, and a woman who became the confidant to each of the friends involved.

As you can imagine, all of this took several months. I now had an agent (fist pump) and she submitted the materials last August. Crossing my fingers and toes, I kept working on the story.

Less than a month later – quick turnaround in the publishing world – my agent informed me that Lake Union would prefer me to add a historical timeline to East Rising Sun since that would be more consistent with my brand! While I managed to keep my temper under control – my inner self was saying ‘what the fuck?’.

Sigh … back to the drawing board once more. Next instalment coming soon.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.