What struck me most profoundly when I first began researching World War One was the incredible slaughter involved. Yes folks, slaughter – according to Collins English Dictionary, the “indiscriminate killing of large numbers of people”. Wave after wave of soldiers sent ‘over the top’ to certain death. And if that wasn’t sufficient to make me reel with horror, add in the hellish conditions under which men lived for weeks, months and years, every day expecting to die some horrible death.
My grandfather was there. He was tall, dark haired, rather angular in limb and face. And he was smart, dedicated to his family, a man who believed in God and went to church every Sunday. Occasionally he was funny, although I remember him as a generally quiet man. The war took one of his lungs – a gas attack – and he died at the age of seventy-five.
My first novel, Unravelled, was based very loosely on his life and that of my grandmother. My second, Lies Told in Silence, told a parallel story of the fictional woman he met in France and is also rooted in World War One. In each novel I’ve attempted to help readers appreciate what that war was like for soldiers and civilians, men and women.
As children we find it hard to understand our parents, to empathize with their worries and cares. As grandchildren, it is even more difficult to understand the lives of someone fifty or sixty years older. But now, I feel a deep sense of connection to my grandfather and grandmother. Through research, travels, novels, conversations with my mother, and my grandfather’s and grandmother’s scrapbooks I now understand the circumstances of their upbringings, the strictures and taboos of the time, the aspirations they had, the way they lived, the clothes they wore, the role religion played in their lives. Through visits to memorials and museums, the diaries of men who fought in WWI, and the exploration of government and private websites dedicated to WWI, I understand the devastation my grandfather experienced on the battlefield and the lingering effects of the war on soul and psyche.
Time and Regret – my latest novel – is set partly in WWI and partly in the 1990s and I like to think of it as reflecting my own journey into the past.
While attempting to solve the mystery her grandfather has left for her, Grace Hansen, the heroine of Time and Regret, explores her grandfather’s past and the war he fought in. Through his diaries, conversations with her grandmother, and her journey to the battlefields and memorials in France, Grace comes to know a different man from the one she knew as a child.
I too know my grandfather as a different man than the Grandpa of my childhood, and I admire him more than ever.
PS – that’s him on the cover of Lies Told in Silence at the age of nineteen going off to war.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.