Non-literary Influences

This week’s Bookends, a feature in the New York Times Book Review, asks two authors to describe their non-literary influences. Thomas Mallon who writes historical fiction cites photos such as one of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination while James Parker says drummers, comedians and bakers. (An odd mix, don’t you think?)

LE James 1915My own non-literary influences are photos and music. For a number of years I have had two cork-boards next to my desk filled with photos taken during a trip to northern France and postcards I accumulated on that same trip – an iconic picture of five WWI soldiers silhouetted against a backdrop of skeletal trees and barbed wire, another of a trench filled with human detritus, one of the bombed-out remains of Ypres beside a present-day photo of Ypres restored and one of men going ‘over the top’ and out to battle. I have a picture of a soldier leaning against boxes of ammunition writing a letter, of three men wearing gas masks and a photograph of the main figure of the Vimy Ridge memorial, a woman with head bowed gazing at the tomb below. A particularly poignant photo is the one of my grandfather taken in 1915 just before he went overseas. The grave innocence of his face haunts me and is on the cover of Lies Told in Silence.

Whenever I needed – or need – to recapture the feelings associated with the insanity that was World War One or the bravery required to endure, I looked at these photos to recapture that feeling.

Music played a different role in my writing. While working on Unravelled I often played songs from the late 30s and early 40s as a way to imagine the feelings of those living through WWII. Some tunes are upbeat, others full of longing and regret. Simple lyrics for the most part, but through them, you hear the heartbeat of war and purpose – the defence of family and country and loved ones. A sweetheart missing at Christmas, a soldier hoping to reassure, a father wondering if his son will ever know him, a woman drowning her sorrows.

Photos and music – one author’s inspiration.

Unexpected Treasures

I’m becoming a firm believer in the adage that you never know what each day will bring – today was no exception. Since my mother is moving to a retirement residence, we are working to get her home ready for sale by decluttering drawers, closets and cupboards. Some of you will know that Unravelled, my debut novel, includes elements based on my grandparents’ lives and I was delighted to discover several unexpected treasures from their past as Mom and I worked away. Here’s one of them:

SS Troopers Stationary Box

SS Stationary Box SS SymbolSwastikaWhile my grandfather did not go overseas in WWII (he had been in France and Belgium during the first war), he was a Lt. Colonel in the Reserves and family history suggests that he had something to do with WWII espionage efforts. A friend sent him this SS Troopers Stationary Box with the following note:

Breda Holland, 24 Jul 45

Dear Les,

Thought you might like this SS troopers stationary box. I picked several up at the former SS HQ in Hamburg some time ago. Will also have a German field set as a souvenir for the mess, but may bring that myself. Hope to be home in a month or so.


Alex Genik

Secret Command Document2 Secret Command DocumentThe box measures roughly 6″ by 8″ and is 2″ high.

The note enclosed inside the stationary box was on light orange stationary which when unfolded revealed a standard form Geheime Kommandosache – or Secret Command Document. (You will notice that someone has typed an English translation below each of the section of this firm.)

How’s that for an unexpected treasure? More later.

Unravelled Blog Tour is at Fear Not the Darkness

Unravelled Blog TourSheilagh Lee over at Fear Not the Darkness has a review of Unravelled this morning and I’m delighted that she agreed to participate in the blog tour. She gives Unravelled 3 1/2 stars and has this to say:

“Anyone who enjoys character rich and historically accurate world war books will enjoy this novel. This manuscript shows the gritty underside of war and how it affects not only soldiers, but those left behind and how we struggle to make sense of it all, while still trying to maintain relationships in a crumbling world.”

There is also a giveaway copy on offer!

Thank you, Sheilagh.