Articles on this Page
- 04/23/15--16:30: _ISABEL DE WARENNE: ...
- 04/24/15--17:30: _WHATEVER HAPPENED T...
- 04/25/15--16:01: _"After Altamira, Al...
- 04/26/15--16:30: _A Brief History of ...
- 05/13/15--22:44: _Bluebells, Cocklesh...
- 05/14/15--17:30: _Settings
- 05/15/15--19:00: _The Vincent Van Gog...
- 05/16/15--22:00: _WRITING TIME? by Pe...
- 05/17/15--16:30: _Roundheads and Cava...
- 05/19/15--00:05: _'Amy, wonderful Amy...
- 05/19/15--16:30: _The Counter Armada ...
- 05/20/15--16:30: _Music while you wor...
- 05/21/15--16:30: _Josa Young's 'Sail ...
- 05/22/15--16:30: _How could YOU have ...
- 05/23/15--16:30: _RESEARCH BOOKS - Lu...
- 05/24/15--17:30: _ WHATEVER HAPPENED ...
- 05/25/15--16:01: _Celebrating Film, ...
- 05/26/15--16:30: _The Paraclete, by L...
- 05/27/15--16:30: _Plotting the Second...
- 05/28/15--16:01: _On The Trail Of Cle...
- 04/24/15--17:30: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE GNOMES? by Eleanor Updale
- 04/25/15--16:01: "After Altamira, All is Decadence" Carol Drinkwater
- 05/13/15--22:44: Bluebells, Cockleshells Catherine Johnson
- 05/14/15--17:30: Settings
- 05/15/15--19:00: The Vincent Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam: Sue Purkiss
- 05/16/15--22:00: WRITING TIME? by Penny Dolan
- 05/17/15--16:30: Roundheads and Cavaliers - Celia Rees
- 05/19/15--00:05: 'Amy, wonderful Amy...' - a homage to my aviatrix heroine
- 05/19/15--16:30: The Counter Armada and Historical Forgetfulness - by Ann Swinfen
- 05/20/15--16:30: Music while you work by Imogen Robertson
- 05/21/15--16:30: Josa Young's 'Sail Upon the Land' by Kate Lord Brown
- 05/22/15--16:30: How could YOU have stopped it? by Leslie Wilson
- 05/23/15--16:30: RESEARCH BOOKS - Lucky Dipping! By Elizabeth Chadwick
- 05/24/15--17:30: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ALUMINIUM KNICKERS? by Eleanor Updale
- 05/25/15--16:01: Celebrating Film, by Carol Drinkwater
- 05/26/15--16:30: The Paraclete, by Louisa Young
- 05/27/15--16:30: Plotting the Second World War, by Clare Mulley
- 05/28/15--16:01: On The Trail Of Cleopatra by Lucy Coats
I became interested in Isabel de Warenne because her second marriage was to Henry II's illegitimate half brother Hamelin, the latter of whom features as a strong secondary character in my Eleanor trilogy. As I wrote his story into the fabric of Henry and Eleanor's, it became obvious that his wife was a major part of that thread, and when I began digging, I came across some very useful details and plot opportunities.
Isabel de Warenne belonged to an illustrious line of Anglo Norman nobility with extensive lands in England and Normandy. Lewes Castle belonged to her family and they had the patronage of the Cluniac priory there founded by Isabel's grandfather. Castle Acre in Norfolk, Conisbrough Castle and Sandal in Northern England were also theirs. In Normandy the castles of Bellencombre and Mortemer were de Warenne strongholds. We don't know exactly when Isabel was born; dates are obscure, but a ball park of 1130 is not unreasonable to suggest. Her family were one of the first to adopt a distinctive personal blazon of blue and yellow chequers and were already using the chequered device on their seals by the mid 12th century.
|seal of John de Warenne, Isabel and Hamelin's grandson: 13th century|
Her father, William de Warenne joined the Second Crusade in 1146 and never returned. He was cut to pieces when the army of Louis VII of France was crossing the slopes of Mount Cadmos (now Mount Honaz) in Turkey and suffered a heavy mauling from the Saracens,
Isabel's widowed mother married again, to Patrick Earl of Salisbury. Isabel herself, now in her teens and a great marriage prize as the sole child of the Earl of Warenne, was married to William of Boulogne, the youngest son of King Stephen, who, was a child of about eleven years old. King Stephen at the time was at war with his cousin Matilda over the right to the English crown and Isabel would have grown to adulthood during a time fraught with anxiety and violence. The situation was eventually resolved when Stephen came to an agreement with Empress Matilda's son Henry, that the crown would pass to him when Stephen died. Stephen's sons would be required to step down from their claims to the throne. Stephen's older son Eustace, died during these negotiations (some say very fortuitously) thus removing one stumbling block from the agreement. During this delicate time of settling the matter of the succession, there seem to have been plots by both sides to be rid of the opposition. An assassination attempt on Henry II was foiled, and there may have been one on Isabel's young husband William, whose leg was broken in a fall from a horse.
Eventually, matters settled down. William abjured his right to the throne. Given a different set of circumstances, he may have become King, and Isabel would then have been queen of England, In the event, Stephen died and Isabel and William of Boulogne swore allegiance to the new king. Henry kept William on a tight leash and he was obviously watched just in case there was a chance that others would see him as a figurehead for rebellion. Did Isabel stay on her estates during the early years of Henry;s reign or play her part at court? We don't know, but she and her husband had no children and in my novel The Winter Crown I have thought it not inconceivable that some of her time was spent at court with the Queen to whom she could have imparted valuable information about the dealings of the English court prior to Henry's accession. She was also in the same position as Eleanor of having married a husband several years younger than herself.
Isabel and William were still childless in 1159 when he went on battle campaign with King Henry to Toulouse and died later that year of disease during the retreat. He was buried at the abbey of Montmorel in Poitou.
His death left Isabel an heiress of considerable wealth, still only in her twenties. In usual medieval fashion this state of affairs had to be remedied and Henry II thought she would be the perfect wife for his youngest brother, also called William like her first husband. What Isabel thought about this notion is not recorded, but if she had been at court in earlier years, she probably knew him and he her.
As it happened, the marriage never took place because Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury banned the match on the grounds that it was consanguineous. Usually when this happened - that the couple were too closely related within the proscribed degree - a dispensation could be obtained, but Becket, whose quarrel with Henry II was beginning to escalate made his position clear. There was to be no dispensation. Becket may have been making a stand because of Henry's dreadful behaviour in 1159/60 where he was behind the hauling of Isabel's sister in law Mary of Boulogne out of the convent where she had been a nun (an abbess no less) for ten years and forcing her to marry his nephew Matthew of Alsace.
There was nothing to be done. William went off empty handed to Normandy to visit his mother, and died soon afterwards - of a broken heart so the anti-Becket propagandists of the time were quick to say. However, no Angevin princeling ever died of such a complaint. One of the murderers of Becket, Richard Brito, had been one of William FitzEmpress's knights and as he struck his blow is supposed to have said 'And that is for the love of my lord William, brother of the King.' One suspects that as a household knight Brito would have been hoping for gifts of land and money from the largesse William would have access to by marrying Isabel. This now being denied to him, he was bound to be miffed!
Henry II was furious at being thwarted but there were always ways round. Becket had played the consanguinity card, but there was still another Angevin brother waiting in the wings - Hamelin, Henry's bastard half brother and he had no blood ties to Isabel that would prevent the marriage taking place. Thus Henry still managed to draw the de Warenne estates firmly into his own family enclave.
Hamelin and Isabel were married at Easter 1164. In March of that year a record appears in the pipe rolls for clothes for Isabel amounting to £41 10s 8d, presumably a wedding dress and trousseau. She was now the King's sister in law and also sister in law to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Did this bring the women closer to each other still? We don't know, but there is a later reason to think that the two branches of the family kept close company - some of the time at least. Isabel was no mere cipher and witnessed charters under her own seal during her widowhood and in her own court.
'coram Isabel comitissa Warennie domina nostra' heads one such charter. 'Before Isabel, our lady, Countess of Warenne' is the heading on one such charter.
|Example of 12th century silk textile from Sicily. Possibly Isabelle's wedding dress was|
made of fabric like this. She and Hamelin may have visited Sicily in 1176. V&A
In 1176, Hamelin escorted his niece Joanna, daughter of Henry II to Sicily for her marriage. We don't know if Isabel was with him, but Joanna would have had female attendants, so it's possible her aunt Isabel accompanied her, although again it is one of those grey areas where novelists have the leeway to explore the spaces between the lines.
Some time in the 1170's Hamelin set out to build a fine castle for himself and his countess at Conisborough in South Yorkshire. The keep, recently refurbished by England Heritage is well worth visiting and features Isabel's own chamber near the top of the keep. You can see a cutaway diagram of the keep at Conisbrough on the Castle's English Heritage website. with Isabelle's chamber near the top of the keep and Hamelin's below. There was also a chapel dedicated to St. Philip and St. James.
|Isabel's chamber, complete with fireplace|
|An artis's impression of the chamvber brightened up and lived in.|
|Access onto the battlements from the chamber|
The child was christened Richard and can be found in various charters and in Henry III's pipe rolls. He is variously known as Richard of Dover, Richard of Chillham, Richard Fitzroy, and Richard de Warenne. There may be a clue to his mother in that Richard named his own daughter Isabel, but at the same time it was his mother in law's name (and his grandmother's), so there are no guarantees, however, it may be a pointer.
Another link that Isabel may have had with Eleanor of Aquitaine is Old Sarum which in the 12th century housed a royal palace and a cathedral. (It was the original Salisbury. The town and cathedral we now know as Salisbury was relocated from Old Sarum in the first quarter of the 13th century). Eleanor was kept here under sometimes strict house arrest several times in her 16 year imprisonment by Henry II. Isabel may have visited her here, or have had some access to her because her own half-brother was the Earl of Salisbury and her mother the dowager countess, and family connections counted for much. Again, it's one of those things we can't say for certain but it's one of those areas where as the novelist I can explore the possibility as a story line and know I am not going wildly outside the parameters of what is known.
To complete Isabel's story, she died on July 12th 1203, a year after her husband Hamelin and 9 months before Eleanor herself died at Fontevraud Abbey. Isabel was buried at Lewes Priory beside Hamelin and although their graves have been lost over the centuries, their bones are still there somewhere and near each other.
Since William Marshal and his family are my specialist subject I was interested to discover that Isabel's mother Adela was William Marshal's aunt by marriage, and her son William, Isabel's half-brother, was the Marshal's cousin. There is a further link in that Hamelin and Isabel's son William, later married William Marshal's eldest daughter Mahelt when her first husband died in 1225.
When you begin looking, everything is connected to everything else!
Early Yorkshire Charters Volume 8 edited by William Farrer and Charles Travis Clay - Cambridge University Press
Noblewomen Aristocracy and Power in the 12th century Anglo Norman Realm by Susan M. Johns. Manchester University Press
Thomas Becket by John Guy - Penguin
Blog article by Elizabeth Chadwick Hamelin de Warenne
Online Dictionary of National Biography - article by Susan M. Johns
The Image of Aristocracy in Britain 1o00-1300 by David Crouch
Elizabeth Chadwick is a best selling, multi-award winning author of fiction set in the Middle Ages. She is currently completing The Autumn Throne, the 3rd book in trilogy of novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine - and featuring among its cast Isabel and Hamelin de Warrene and their children.
When I was a History student (in the 1970s and again at the turn of the century) one of the things I liked most was being buried in the library. In those days, part of the joy of historical research (and one of the main things we were being tested on) was slogging through cardboard indexes and untangling illegible handwriting. We were looking for something no one else knew about, or which had been routinely overlooked.
In those days, it was perfectly in order to spend several years doing a PhD. Some people never finished at all. In the great mahogany stacks there were old men who never spoke to anyone, but shuffled to the same seat every day to slog away at a great work no one would ever see. The true professionals sat in a strange huddled posture, their arms guarding their books and papers from the prying eyes of rival scholars, like children protecting their chips from hungry siblings.
|Not much changed for four hundred years|
My excitement was only slightly dimmed by the knowledge that I was the only person in the world who cared.
I was even a little sad at the thought that when my thesis was done, anyone with the detective power to trace a copy, and the muscular strength to lift it down from the shelf, would be able to find the location of 'my' documents in the bibliography.
|My idea of a fun place|
I was lucky enough to be taught by some truly wonderful scholars. They were all equally brilliant, but in academic esteem, some were more equal than others. Those whose books were commissioned by commercial publishers and sold in normal bookshops were condemned by the Gnomes as 'popular' historians. Their success in spreading their knowledge to people outside the magic academic circle was taken as proof of their intellectual inferiority. It's not surprising that the collective noun is a 'malice' of historians.
The popular historians got their own back in the late 20th and early 21st century, when well researched, beautifully produced history books temporarily became money-spinners, but that was also the time when the Gnomes' contempt for such authors reached its highest point.
When broadband came along, even popular historians were tested in their belief that their work - and, more importantly, their source material, - should be available to the masses. Many ancient documents are now online in facsimile form. You can zoom in and out of indistinct lettering until a meaning emerges. You can compare documents housed a world apart, wearing your pyjamas or over a cappuccino. And you can do all this without any entrance exams, just for fun.
|Try deciphering this by the light of a 40 watt bulb in a library|
Many professionals whose status depends on feats of memory are being undermined by our new world of information. Imagine how medics feel when patients arrive having correctly diagnosed their own illnesses online. It is becoming more difficult for them to appear omnipotent, or to bury their mistakes.
It is still (just) possible to do an historian's work in the old way. Some of the Gnomes are still there, bending over their books. Many more must have died of starvation in a world that only rewards published results. Others may have been driven out by the clicking keyboards of students using the library as a place to access the Internet while saving on heating bills at home.
I have said goodbye to my inner Edward Casaubon. But sometimes I secretly wish that I'd been born a little earlier, and could have carried on gnoming forever.
pictures :Wikimedia Commons. Library picture: Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons.
It has been reported in the press this week that a replica of the Grotte Chauvet has been created. It will be open to the public by the time you read this. The original, containing thousands of prehistoric animal and figure drawings, will no longer be accessible to visitors because our human presence is putting the artwork at risk. This is not a question of hooliganism or graffiti. It is simply the erosion caused by our attendance there, our exhalations near the paintings. A friend who is staying with us remarked that it was a great pity that one should buy a ticket to visit a copy, even one hailed as a near masterpiece. I disagreed with him, recalling one of the most memorable experiences of my travelling life: a visit to the caves of Altamira.
Altamira (a UNESCO World Heritage site), located a few kilometres from Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, northern Spain, was the first site with cave paintings to be discovered, in 1880. How the discovery came about was quite by chance and a rather lovely if sad story.
In 1875, a Spanish landowner, lawyer and amateur anthropologist, Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, learned that a stone mason, while quarrying locally, had unearthed some rather unusual caves. Don Marcelino went to take a look. He found a pencil-thin aperture. It had been revealed after millennia by the landslides caused by the mason’s gunpowder explosions. Don Marcelino slid through the opening and found himself within a series of labyrinthine caves, chambers and tunnels that measured in length some 270 metres, almost a quarter of a kilometre. This dark hidden space had not been visited for at least ten thousand years. Don Marcelino, even in the crepuscular light, noticed markings on many of the cave walls but he could not make out what they were.
Three years later while he was attending the Anthropological Sciences pavilion at the World Fair in Paris, he spotted a display of prehistoric tools. He learned that they had come from caves in France. This knowledge inspired him to return to the Cantabrian caves and begin excavations. Digging around outside, he unearthed bones, spears, shells and tools. He returned to the site on a regular basis and on one of these trips he took his eight-year-old daughter, Maria, with him. As the story goes, penetrating the caves, oil lamp in hand, the small child looked up at the very low ceiling and remarked, ‘Look, Daddy, at the painted bulls.’ In fact, the child was pointing at a series of paintings in red ochre of a herd of prehistoric bison.
I try to picture that moment. The moment when Don Marcelino was witnessing, confirming what he had found. The relevance of his discovery, the realisation that his work had not been in vain. This revelation was a moment he had been working towards for several years. Back then, one hundred and thirty years ago, cave art was a completely unknown archaeological science. De Sautola was the first to propose it. A pure, untouched paleolithic universe. He was standing in the midst of what had once been a prehistoric settlement or meeting place, where the hunters or their wives, their women perhaps, were artists, a community of artists who whiled away their time painting the world that existed for them beyond those caves where they lived or sheltered.
One of the sights that touched me deeply were the handprints. Those early artists have imprinted the cave walls and ceilings with impressions of their hands. Handprints. Their signatures, perhaps?
Don Marcelino published a small book on his findings, with copies of many of the illustrations he had seen at Altamira and other, lesser sites in the area. He was mocked. The scientific world did not take him seriously. The Church also declaimed him, vociferously so. They were keen to discredit such findings for fear the discoveries threatened the omnipotence of God or put the subject of evolution into the spotlight. Tragically, Don Marcelino Sanz de Sautola died in 1888, a disillusioned man. The brilliance of his investigative work and his findings were not recognised until 1902.
My reason for making the pilgrimage to Altamira was because I was searching for ancient olive stories. The birth of, the beginnings of agriculture. Olive pressing, the cultivation of olive groves, for my book The Olive Tree. Might these hunter-gatherers have lived on a diet of fruit, berries? Might they have pressed juices from these fruits? To create lighting, for food? Might there have been wild olive trees growing in the vicinity?
I had bought my ticket to visit the caves of Altamira online weeks in advance and had arranged my travel schedule to fit in around the date allocated to me. The guided visits are limited to ten persons and they are not very frequent. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that I would not be visiting the original caves but a neighbouring replica. I felt a little cheated (It was probably mentioned on the website where I purchased my ticket but the information was in Spanish and I must have missed it).
During the 1960s and 70s, the paintings were showing early signs of damage caused by the damp breath, exhalations of carbon dioxide from those flocking to visit the rupestral art. I was assured the neo-caves opened in 2001 would not disappoint.
And they did not. The reproduction has used identical colour pigments fashioned from the same powders as the originals. Every bump and incline, every rockface, nuance and contour has been represented down to the minutest detail.
I think we were nine in my group plus the guide. Everyone of us was moved to tears. I am not exaggerating. One couple, Japanese if I remember correctly, were on their knees in front of one of the images, weeping at the sheer beauty, the purity and exhilaration of the artwork. Picasso, who from his earliest days was fascinated by primitive art, visited these caves, the originals, before 1939, when he exiled himself for the rest of his life from Franco’s Spain.
His words when he exited las cuevas were: 'Beyond Altamira, all is decadence.'
I left the site in a state of euphoria, wandering the hillsides for hours looking at, into colours, at light, as though I had never seen grass or trees or cows before, reluctant to return to the town, to noise and modernity. I had seen the world anew. I did not find olive clues in the vicinity but the experience did put a new spin on my journey. The first time. Man’s very first experiences. It was as though my sight had been unshackled. My travels continued for another nine months or so. No other place I visited reached back in time as far as Altamira - how could it? - but when I sat beneath millennia old olive trees trying to imagine the people who had planted the trees, who harvested them and pressed their fruits, I frequently recalled the simplicity and purity of the artwork at Altamira. Once Upon a Time… when Man and Nature lived hand in hand.
Put a small black dot on each point you measure. Write down ALL the measurements. Clip the stick to length, so each end of the stick represent a temporo-mandibular joint. Measure the angle and distance to her eyes - draw the line. Mark where the eye will be.
And here are the surgeons at work. Bear in mind that they usually sculpt in flesh. Some of them did have to dash off occasionally for a little light operating in the course of the days, but they all without exception found it a very enlightening and useful course. As the Jordanian said, 'Few things in life sculpt its effect inside us, and this course is one of these things'.
|Guestling Woods East Sussex|
There were lots of skipping rhymes that involved the word Mississippi for no good reason. My generation was, I think, very in love with America.
by Marie-Louise Jensen
I love having a real place to set my books. It helps me see the story playing out if I know the place. I used real settings which I named in my first two books. A little tricky, because I was then bound to the real history of the place. I made freer with my Icelandic books. I knew the places, but I didn't name them. So I was free to visualise the bay and hillsides, but could play a little with them.
In Runaway, I needed a big stately home for my setting. I chose Dyrham Park, which was just the right era, built in the early Georgian period, but wary of my experience of using Farleigh Castle, I renamed it Deerhurst Park. Now I had all the freedom I could want, to explore the beautiful setting on visits and imagine it, but without tying myself to its actual history and the people who lived there.
|The interior of the museum|
|Montmarte: windmills and allotments|
|I've included this, but no reproduction remotely does justice to the original painting.|
Most of my writing is for children and when I’m asked "When's your novel set?", the easiest response is to name a historical period, such as The Victorian Age.
When I was a child, as a change from playing Cowboys and Indians, we would charge about the woods and fields being Roundheads and Cavaliers. I was always a Cavalier, a choice based entirely on feathered hats, swashbuckling outfits and Captain Marryat's The Children of the New Forest. A book I absolutely loved. I couldn't imagine a more wonderful life: living in the forest, hunting deer, feasting off venison and hiding from pesky Roundheads who were obviously The Enemy.
|Sir Thomas Fairfax and the General Council of the Army|
|Coat-of-Arms of the Aviz family|
|The English army on more successful campaign|
The fronticepiece from John Playford's
"Musicks recreation on the lyra viol"
"The mysterious death of a young mother damages the precious, protective bonds of family love" is the tagline for Josa Young's new novel, an ambitious multigenerational, multicultural exploration of the lives of four women in the twentieth and early twenty-first century. Young has said: "For me, writing fiction is instinctive, a rag bag plucked from life lived and books read, of memories, ideas, impressions and thoughts about love, relationships, parenting, society, class and history, goodness and the opposite". This gives some hint of the richness of this novel, and the themes that Young tackles with an unflinching eye with all the clarity of cut crystal.
Young's previous novel 'One Apple Tasted' was also set in India and the UK. This new story begins in India, at the ravishing home of dastardly Ronny, with poor Damson's ordeal. The narrative then flows seamlessly backwards and forwards through the generations. The novel may deal with tough topics, but Young writes with a deft, conversational style which brings the challenges each woman faces vibrantly to life. She has a great ear for upper-middle class dialogue, which feels charmingly authentic: "'Darling, I think we shouldn't risk a pregnancy. Do you mind?' He dealt with the French letter".
The relationships feel real, and the women are fully fledged individuals. For example, a wounded Sarah, stabbed by an SS officer says "Oh, it's nothing much, just a puncture ..."
Very much of the 'kind of women who built the Empire' ilk, Sarah's stiff upper lip only wobbles in the darkest moment any woman could face. Sarah kept the dagger she was stabbed with as a wartime trophy, and it reappears later in the book during this moment of unimaginable grief. Details such as this are extremely good in this novel, weaving between the times and linking the characters and events.
From the 1930s, with Sarah and Arthur's wartime love affair, to Melissa's battle with depression in the 60s, Damson's struggles in the 80s and on to Leeta's story, Young develops characters you can't help caring about. It's fascinating seeing the women grow through the life stages which face us all, and particularly learning how each deals with childbirth and motherhood.
Young said "Ideally, good writing should eliminate friction in the reader's mind", and this is the great strength of 'Sail' to me - it weaves the family history of Sarah, Melissa, Damson and Leeta together, seamlessly creating a rich tapestry from their lives. There have been comparisons to women writers of the C20 - Macaulay, Kennedy, Wesley, Howard, Pilcher. If you enjoy such multigenerational family stories set in the upper middle classes, this is one for you.
About the author: Josa Young was born on a chicken farm in Kent, England, the fourth of five children. With poet John Donne, pioneer photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, writer Virginia Woolf, and Archie Cameron, the last Jacobite, to be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn, in her family tree, she always expected to do something interesting.
At Cambridge University she studied English Literature, wrote abysmal, derivative short stories, went to lots of parties and danced on the Edinburgh stage in red camiknickers.
In her last year she was a finalist in the Vogue Talent Contest and worked for Vogue magazine after graduating. She has been a features writer and commissioning editor for Vogue, Country Living, Elle Decoration and The Times.
Her first novel, One Apple Tasted, was published in 2009 by Elliot & Thompson. Her second novel, Sail Upon the Land, was published in December 2014.
Sail Upon the Land is currently a bargain 99p http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sail-Upon-Land-Josa-Young-ebook/dp/B00OVJIUOY
|photo: German Federal Archive|
His first reaction was 'icy horror'. Then he sat down with his father to discuss it. 'We agreed that it had a good chance of doing a lot of damage, but not much chance of surviving very long.. Even with the Nazis, this government would not have a majority in the Reichstag.'
In fact, only three members of the cabinet were Nazis, and Hitler could be dismissed at any time by the Reich President. So though opponents of Hitler were dismayed, they could see reasons for optimism.
What I mean by that is that there is an emotionally-motivated tendency to simplistically divide people into goodies and baddies, even now. I am the last person to dismiss the reality of feeling when looking at the Nazi period and its crimes. My family was too deeply involved and scarred. At the same time, the desire to apportion blame (and therefore somehow to achieve the moral high ground onesself) can distort one's comprehension of those events - and even historians all too often exhibit this tendency.
Looking back now, it seems to me that the four weeks following the 30th January represented a tiny window of opportunity (maybe more of a cat-flap of opportunity) when Germany could have averted Nazi rule. The normal judicial processes were still technically intact; Hitler did not have a majority in the Reichstag, as Haffner and his father observed. Goering had yet to perfect the apparatus of repression, and leftist leaders were still (just) alive and free.
Nor did Hitler have the majority of Germans on his side. The Nazi share of the vote had actually fallen, from 37% to 33% in the November 1932 election. In fact, the Social Democrats and Communists together had 37% of the vote, and could easily have trumped the Nazis, if they could have worked together. But the Communists had their own aims and parliamentary democracy was not one of them.
To the right-wing, aristocratic and elitist parties, typified by the Reich President, the ageing Paul von Hindenburg, the Communists were a horror, and so they plumped for Hitler, believing they could neutralise him. It has to be said that, looking at the near future, civil war was a very alarming possibility; the Nazis and the Communists were already fighting it out on the streets, and so the right wing decided that to take the Nazi leader into the government, under their control (as they believed), was far the safest option.
|Sebastian Haffner: Wikimedia Commons|
This is not to say there weren't signs of what was to come. In what the Nazis called 'the national uprising' the storm troopers attacked their opponents, in particular the Left and Jews, and this began on the night of the 30th January, after the torchlight procession.
|Berndt Roesel, 1925|
The issue of legality is maybe why there was no effective resistance to Hitler during those weeks between the 30th of January and the Reichstag fire of the 27th of February, after which terror was unleashed. Hitler was in power as part of Parliamentary process; he had been appointed by the President. To take up arms against him, if you weren't an extremist, would have meant civil war. Ordinary, law-abiding people had had enough of the pitched battles on the streets, the attacks on passers-by, the smashed windows and flying bullets. The last thing they wanted was to escalate the disorder.
Also, nothing quite like Nazi rule had happened before - or not for a long time, at least.The monarchical Prussian/German state, whatever criticisms one may make of it, was largely a state of legality, and even the monarchs were subject to the law. Many Germans - including many Jewish Germans - felt that Hitler would be tamed, his excesses muted, by the responsibility of government and the sheer weight of state structures.
And during those all-too short four weeks between Hitler's rise to chancellorship and the Reichstag fire, people had their own lives to get on with, that tangle of private worries, personal exhaustion, busyness, confusion, and often powerlessness. They had no idea of how short the time was, perhaps never even knew what the opportunity was that they were losing.
I think history is the slow movement forwards of trillions of moments in the lives of the human race: babies are born, fed, cleaned up and winded, washing is done and hung out to dry; a million men and women come home from work, having spent a day servicing the machinery of a world that is maybe heading for disaster; documents are signed that will put thousands of people off their traditional lands (or expedite the deaths of six million Jews), and then the cleaners move in and exhaustedly mop up behind the 'important' people. . You remember something you need for tonight's dinner and get in the car, thus adding your mite to the carbon already in the atmosphere. Or, on a more cheerful note, you decide to walk or bike instead, and thus you don't.
The history of the world is the story of real life in all its mundanity and unclarity, when what is happening to you, what you hear on the news has happened to other people, has not yet got its name and been assigned a page in the history books. It is raw and new. I think novelists and biographers have a unique opportunity to portray this, since we write about how individual humans live history.It's certainly what I tried to do, when I was writing Last Train from Kummersdorf.
This is a first instalment; next month I'll be writing about what happened after the Reichstag fire.
When I began writing at the age of 15, I didn't have any research books on the Middle Ages, nor much of the wherewithal to buy them. I do remember my mum asking me what I wanted for Christmas and instead of clothes or make-up all the latest Cat Stevens LP, I said that I would like Sir Steven Runcima's History of the Crusades volumes one and two please. I think she was slightly taken aback, but that was what I received, and it was one of the best presents I'd ever had!
I would trawl various libraries and borrow every book they had covering the 12th and 13th centuries. I haunted library sales and saved my Saturday job money to buy research books (I did spend some of my small income on shoes and going out, but plenty of it went into books to inform my writing).
Down the decades I have continued to add to my library on a regular basis and now that writing is my full-time job, I always set aside a portion of my royalties to enhance my reference collection. Sometimes I have to save up for bookshelves too, or improvise ways of turning furniture into book storage. These chaps might be a bit kitsch but I like them and they've turned the top of a cupboard into yet more room for books.
With the Internet being so well established now, there is a wealth indeed sometimes what seems like a surfeit of information out there on any given subject. One needs a very good inbuilt crap detector to separate the wheat from the chaff. Obscure books that were once the musty preserve of library archives are now available to read online. There are articles by historians and experts. One can ask their advice on Facebook or Twitter and follow their blogs and websites. This is all absolutely wonderful, but still not quite a substitute for having one's own eclectic library of reference books to touch and browse. In my own collection there are retirees and old hands. There are sturdy and dependable everyday work horses. There are vibrant newcomers, special guests with necessary but short shelf lives, and glamorous coffee table types, perfect for snack browsing.
I buy my books both online and from high Street bookstores, museums, seminars, and conferences. I buy brand-new and second-hand. My period being mediaeval one, I have been in thrall to Oxbow Books and second-hand booksellers Bennet&Kerr whose catalogues I have been mining for useful tomes.
Sometimes I know exactly which book I want. On other occasions it's a case of 'that might come in handy at some point. It's a good price, so I'll have it.' The problem is when I get lots of books at a good price, I find that suddenly I've spent all my royalties! But still, buying books isn't a bad steppingstone on the road to impoverishment!
I thought I'd share some of last month's purchases here.
WHAT I'M READING AT THE MOMENT.
Fabulous to get this second hand; I've been after it for a while. It's Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium - or Courtiers' Trifles. Written at the time of Henry II, it's packed with gossip and information about the movers and shakers of the day. It's not always reliable, but it is wonderfully colourful. For example he tells us that Cistercian monks were obliged to wear breeches (underpants) in church when serving at the altar, but that they were not to wear them when going about their ordinary business, because it might increase the heat in that area and provoke lustful thoughts! He also tells us about Welsh clothing habits in the 12th century. He says that the Welsh wore short woollen cloaks and went barefoot and bare legged. He says the Welsh also don't eat bread, a detail confirmed by a 13th century chronicler during the campaign of 1265. Every page is laden with anecdotes and opinions from which the fabric of everyday life can be unrolled.
AND ON MY TBR
I have long wanted to read a biography of King Philip Augustus. He tends to be rather vilified in British history because he was the nemesis of the Angevin dynasty. I don't think I'll end up becoming a fan, but at the same time I want to understand him better and gain a more nuanced impression.
Here's another man I want to know about. The kingdom of Sicily had strong Angevin connections, and was one of those lands that was a highway between Europe, Byzantium and the Holy Land. Richard the Lionheart's sister Joanna was Queen of Sicily for a time. I'm looking forward to a spot of background reading.
Here's another background book. I already have several on the kingdom of Jerusalem and this area in the Middle Ages with concerns beyond just that of the crusades and military matters. This book covers the Holy City in the eyes of the chroniclers, visitors, pilgrims and prophets from biblical times to modern day, so will be a good overview one to read.
The Justiciar was the official that the King left in charge of the country when he had to be elsewhere. It was a highly organised and important judicial and official role, and the men who took it on had to be farsighted and wise. They were the King when the King wasn't there. I have a working knowledge of their role, but I'd like to know more and this book will prove very useful.
This one is for a project a little further down the line, and as such it's on the backburner TBR at the moment. It's one of those 'I'll grab this now while I have the opportunity, because I am going to need it later' sort of books.
Then there are the books that I pick up at conferences. I heard Daniel power of Swansea University speaking at the Mortimer Conference the other weekend, and was impressed enough to buy his book from the bookstall there. We have a mutual interest in the Marshals!
This is one of the coffee table sort of books I mentioned in the main text. It's not too heavy on the information, although it is good, and it has lots of pictures for browsing when the brain isn't able to process too much detailed information and wants to look at nice pictures!
MY MOST RECENT COMPLETED READ
The most recent research book I finished. Marc Morris' new biography of King John. I found this utterly fascinating. Morris is especially good on detailing John's financial genius in his ability to ruthlessly squeeze almost every last drop out of the people he ruled - the success of which in part led to Magna Carta. This is no revisionist biography that turns John into a lover of fluffy kittens sort of monarch. As far as Morris is concerned, the jury stands. King John was one of the worst kings England has ever had!
BEST OF THE BEST
Lastly, my best non-fiction read of the year so far is this one.
If you're going to read any of the available biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine, make sure you read this one too because it will open your eyes to just how much you're being sold a mythology.
I love looking at old magazines. They let slip huge amounts of unintended information about how the world used to be, and how people thought we would be living in the future.
Recently, I got hold of a publication called Everybody's for June 1945.
Quite a lot of things surprised me. There are some signs of post-war austerity (it's in a newspaper 'broadsheet' format and the paper isn't great) but it is far more lavishly illustrated than I expected. It's also a pretty demanding read. The print is small, and the articles are long. Although its imagined reader seems to be an 'ordinary' man or woman, they are assumed to be sufficiently interested in the arts, politics and culture to read articles of several thousand words on each. By the time you have ploughed through the lot, you feel as if you have read a book. It seems that our parents were right: before TV, attention spans were longer, and general knowledge more extensive.
Just a month after VE Day, all eyes were on the future, with a post-coalition General Election looming; world-beating talent blossoming in the theatre and opera house (There's a review of the first night of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, and of Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson at the Old Vic); and wonderful adverts (Mr and Mrs Futura on holiday in the Stratosphere). The overriding message is of hope.
|Alas, some of the hopes expressed in this article still haven't materialised yet!|
It's easy to scoff. But how could our mothers and grandmothers have guessed that the lightweight, easy-to-clean pots and pans they raved about would be a prime suspect for causing their dementia in years to come? In June 1945, with fewer aircraft to manufacture, their minds were on how aluminium could be turned to peacetime use.
|The Prefab at St Fagans, 2010, National Museum of Wales.|
Many of the predictions in the Everybody's article didn't come true. Or if they did, I haven't come across the products that were forecast. I don't know anyone with a light-weight, maintenance-free aluminium garden gate. I don't think I've sat at an aluminium table. I have never seen anybody wearing a metal cardigan like the one in the picture at the top of this article.
It's hard not to think of that wonderful Alec Guinness film The Man in the White Suit and to wonder whether the textile industry cheated us of our right to aluminium knickers. Maybe they turned out to be less gentle on the backside than expected. Or perhaps some of you are wearing them now, If you are, do let me know what I'm missing.
By the time you read this, the 68th Cannes Film Festival will have packed
I am writing this blog hours before l’ouverture du festival. Excitement is riding high as all has yet to be revealed. This year, the American filmmakers, the Coen Brothers, are jointly heading up the jury for the Official Competition Selection. They say they are delighted to be here, to be able to take the time to sit back and watch some movies! Last week in Paris, I went to see a re-run of their wonderfully anarchic film, The Big Lebowski. Their take on life and cinema should make for a fascinating and, hopefully, surprising choice of award-winning features.
Strolling the famous Croisette at this time of year, it is impossible not to pick up on the excitement, the anticipation, as Cannes readies itself to receive 25,000 visitors over the next two weeks. The festival always commences on a Wednesday evening and concludes ten days later on a Sunday night with an out-of-competition screening that follows the awards ceremony.
The restaurants have been glammed up, prices hiked, all shops have evening wear displayed in their windows; the beaches have been cleared of all flotsam and jetsam, decorated with potted palms and new sand trucked in. Meanwhile, on the city side of this glamorous promenade, the rental of a three-bedroom apartment with sea views will set you back somewhere in the region of 30,000 euros for the ten days! Don't worry, it usually includes daily cleaning services.
The Cannes Film Festival is seriously big business for those living and operating in this seaside resort and for those flying in with high hopes of selling their films, pitching their projects to distributors and investors or, for those chosen few, to bask in the glory of winning the Palme d’Or, the Golden Palm, the highest accolade of several festival prizes.
With all the razzamatazz going on, it is all too easy to forget the genesis of this exceptionally high-flying affair. Its original purpose is frequently overshadowed. So, I thought this May blog would be the perfect opportunity to recall how this festival came about, and why.
The Cannes Film Festival was inaugurated on 20th September 1946, but its inception goes back to the year before the outbreak of WW11.
During the 1930s, Venice had become a leading light in European cinema, mainly due to its successful film festival, which commenced in 1932. Here in France, Jean Zay, visionary Minister of National Education and Fine Arts from 1936 to 1939 (appointed by Léon Blum), decided that the time had come for the French to host an international cultural event to rival Venice. One of the reasons that Zay and other leading intellectuals in France were eager to set up a national festival of their own was because in September 1938, hours before the Venice awards were due to be announced, the jury members at the Mostra, under pressure from Hitler and Mussolini, changed their voted results in favour of a Nazi propaganda film.
Zay proposed that the first Cannes festival debut in September 1939. Each European country, including Germany and Italy, although both refused to participate, was invited to select one film to be screened in competition. Nine countries, I believe, sent films. Louis Lumière agreed to take on the role of President of the Jury.
On 31st May 1939, the City of Cannes and the French government signed the international Film Festival’s birth certificate, proposing that the festival run from 1st to 20th September of that year.
"The aim of the Festival is to encourage the development of the art of filmmaking in all its forms, while fostering and maintaining a spirit of collaboration among all filmmaking countries."
Much was readied for the inaugural event. The artist Jean-Gabriel Domergue designed the first official poster and festival-attendees began to arrive during the hot days of August. Sumptuous parties were thrown.
A cardboard replica of the Nôtre-Dame Cathedral in Paris was built on the beach as a promotion for William Dieterle’s Quasimodo. Hollywood stars such as Mae West arrived by boat from the United States. Cannes was gearing up for a prestigious affair.
However, the clouds of war were gathering over Europe. In the first instance, the festival was postponed for ten days, but as we know Germany marched into Poland on 1st September and on 3rd September, both France and Britain declared war on their enemy. The festival was cancelled. The only film screened was Quasimodo at an invitation-only soirée.
Mobilisation was underway. All festival attendees returned home.
It was not until 1946 - from 20th September to 5th October - that the inaugural event eventually took place in the old casino of Cannes. Tragically, Jean Zay did not live to see the birth of this now internationally renowned festival. He was assassinated by the Millice in 1944, condemned for being an active member of the resistance and a Jew. Zay is a national hero, but history was at risk of forgetting him. Until, in February 2014, François Hollande confirmed that the body of Jean Zay, along with three other courageous figures, including two women, from the Resistance, will be moved to the Panthéon in recognition of his invaluable contribution to France.
The choice of Cannes for the film festival rather than, let’s say, Paris is not so surprising, although for a few short weeks in May 1939, it was mooted that the event would be held in Biarritz, but, eventually, the Riviera won out. So why Cannes? Thirty kilometres east along the coast in the once Italian, ochre-toned city of Nice, lies the Victorine Studios, (still semi-active today but under new ownership and a different name). It was a part of the glamorous world of “French Hollywood” - a city on the sea making films. The studios had been the location for many silent films and when “talkies” came in, the Victorine adapted swiftly and became a profitable enterprise. This French Riviera coast was becoming synonymous with filmmaking. So, to locate a festival close by made perfect sense. Added to which, Jean Cocteau along with other writers and cineastes had plans to build another huge movie lot in Mougins, six kilometres inland of Cannes. The land was purchased, but due to the outbreak of war this dream never materialised.
(Is it just me or does this poster, the angle of the camera, the dominant black outfit, resemble a weapon of war?)
The Cannes International Film Festival was finally born in the heady atmosphere of victory in 1946, although the funds to pay for the event were hard to come by. The French State and the municipality of Cannes were strapped for cash and the money was raised through public subscriptions. The Cannes Festival was finally underway. It was the naissance of what has developed into a world-class event; a gathering of filmmakers from every country and every political and religious persuasion. It has become a place where filmmakers want to be, where they jostle to participate.
Still, although, the baby was born, it was not an easy growth and in both 1948 and 1950, the festival did not take place due to financial constraints.
Ironically, the early years introduced the world to Italian cinema, to neorealism and the masterpieces coming out of Italy.
In 1951, the Cannes festival was moved to the spring - which is where it has remained ever since - to avoid clashes with the autumn Venice festival. Now that both nations were at peace with one another, films and the survival of the art of cinema took first place.
From the 1950s onwards, Cannes went from strength to strength. During the Cold War, the United States helped to keep it operating and Hollywood stepped in in force.
In 1955, the Palme d’Or replaced the Grand Prix as the most coveted award, given to the best film in competition.
As the years rolled on, other selections were created in parallel to the Official Selection: Semaine Internationale de la Critique, Directors’ Fortnight, Cinefondation, to name but three.
1965 welcomed the first female president of the jury, Olivia de Havilland. Followed directly the following year by another stunning actress as president, Sophia Loren. Jeanne Moreau was not given this prestigious duty until 1975.
1968 was a memorable year for the festival and worth mentioning. The 21st film festival - 10th to 24th May - opened with a restored version of Gone With the Wind, directed by Viktor Fleming. On the morning of 18th May 1968, François Truffaut along with Louis Malle, a member of that year's jury, and fellow directors Claude Berri, Claude Lelouch, Roman Polanski, Jean-Luc Godard and others, took over the large screening room, the Grande Salle, in the Le Palais, interrupting a projection, to call for the festival's closure. It was, they said, an act of solidarity against the government and with the soixante-huitards, the students and labour movements striking throughout France, including cinema unions. They called for the festival to be shut down. Milos Forman whose brilliant film, The Fireman's Ball, was scheduled to be screened withdrew his work.
Godard is quoted as saying: ' There's not a single film that shows the problems that workers and students are going through. Not one. Whether made by Forman, by me, by Polanski or François. We've missed the boat! It's not a matter of continuing or not continuing to watch films. It's a matter of cinema showing solidarity with the student movement and the only practical way of doing this is to stop all the projections immediately.'
The spirit of the barricades prevailed and the remaining days of the festival were eventually cancelled.
I have been fortunate to have performed as an actress in several films that have been shown here in one selection or another. It is a thrilling experience. These days, when I drive down the hill as a spectator to watch a movie or two, I am sometimes a little saddened to see the insanity that has taken over the event. Its market can give the impression of a bazaar and a lot of hot air is overheard. Also, alongside the official entries, another event has been spawned: a very successful porn film festival. The legitimate and the porn never rub shoulders with one another, as far as I am aware, but I have noticed that some of the biggest, glitziest yachts are hired out for porn parties.
As I said, the Cannes Film Festival is big business and it turns the spotlight full on to this coast, upholding the glamorous image for the tourist trade. Yet, I see another side to the coin. One cannot help but notice that there are visitors, wanabees, hopefuls, trawling the streets with dreams that will never see the light of day, and for some of them it proves to be a cruel, cold sojourn in the sun.
Federico Fellini was a regular guest here accompanied his lovely actress-wife, Giulietta Masina. In 1960, he was honoured with the Palme d’Or for La Dolce Vita. When I am down in amongst the thick of this jamboree, I sometimes ask myself whether Fellini’s vision of the world with its Jungian influences and its multi-layered humorous and tragic aspects best suits the circus that is the twenty-first century film festival and market.
Yet, when one is clad in evening dress (de rigueur for the evening screenings), sitting beneath the stars late at night on a warm spring evening listening to nightingales singing, while enjoying an al fresco dinner with companions who are also in Cannes to celebrate film, there is a palpable sense of inspiration, of participation, of collective exhilaration. It is during those moments that I silently remind myself what it has cost the men and women who worked to bring this international celebration of the Seventh Art into being and I feel very proud and humbled to have been given the opportunity to have shared in just a few tiny moment's of its history.
I went to church at the weekend, itself almost a historical activity in England. It was a grey and beautiful Somerset church, which exquisite windows from about 1912, in a pre-Raphaelite style. There were eight in the congregation, including my friend and I who were mostly there because her mother, for sociable, widowed reasons, plays the organ. We sang Come Down Oh Love Divine, and giggled like schoolgirls at the bit about lowliness becoming our inner clothing, and o'er its own shortcomings weeping with loathing. The shortcomings of underwear!
The Vicar, Stephen, was kind, involved, and sad about the death of the wife of the vicar in the next Parish. His sermon, he said, was going to be personal. He told us he had visited his friend, the other vicar, and that the phrase which had stayed with him all through this grief-filled week was: 'I will not leave you comfortless'. He said he had tried and failed to find it in his Bible (I think the vicar doesn't google: it's John 14, 18, since you ask: the same chapter as my father's house having many mansions, and 'I am the way, the truth and the life'). But in looking for the phrase, he had come across the term Paraclete.
Of course he made a 'No, not parakeet' joke. Of course one would hear it as parakeet. My daughter, who's in the middle of her finals, did this morning when I said on the phone that if she needed me I would fly to her side like a Paraclete. The use of 'fly' was probably a distraction.
'Is it a kind of cleat for parachutists to attach their ropes to?' suggested Gavin, who's a sailor.
Nope. It is a Comforter. It is someone who when called will come to you, and speak for you. In Christianity it is mostly the Holy Ghost; in Islam both Jesus and Mohammed are Paracletes. The nearest it comes to being a bird is the Dove.
The word is from the Greek παράκλητος (paráklētos), which can mean one who comforts or consoles, one who encourages or uplifts, or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court. It is passive: 'called to one's side'. The Called One.
I got a bit teary at this stage. The Called One! The one you'd call. The friend you'd ring. Not in a phone-a-friend/Who-Wants-to-be-a-Millionaire way, but in the fly-to-your-side during finals, strap-your-ropes-to-me, will-not-leave-you-comfortless way.
We looked the word up over Sunday lunch, and used it all weekend. 'Be a Paraclete and pass my cup of tea would you?''You've always been my Paraclete, darling!' By Monday night somebody (it may have been me) had uttered the phrase 'Paraclete me, baby!' and we had discussed at length what a pleasure it was both to have a Paraclete to call on, and to be called on as a Paraclete. Because of the trust involved, the vulnerability and the honesty, it becomes something of an honour.
If you google Paraclete, you get a lot about the early Christian history and a fair amount, alas, about a brand of plate-carrying body armour, which is pretty . . . ironic? Doves and body armour?
Earlier this month I was delighted to speak at a commemorative day at Tempsford, in Bedfordshire, being held in recognition of the RAF Special Duties Squadrons that delivered SOE's special agents behind enemy lines from the village’s top-secret airfield during the Second World War.
|Memorial Plaque in Tempsford village church|
(courtesy of Martyn Cox, www.secret-WW@.net)
Among the guests was Doreen Jeanette Galvin, nee Grey, a former member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, better known as the WAAF. Doreen served as an Intelligence Officer at RAF Tempsford during the war. She now lives in Canada, and this was her first visit back to her wartime base. Finding a squashy sofa in the memorial hall, Doreen told me how moving it was to return to this tiny village, attend the service of remembrance, and see the beautiful memorial to both the female special agents who were dropped behind enemy lines, and the Special Duties pilots who flew them there.
What I was not expecting was for Doreen to tell me how she had plotted the Second World War. Not in an evil god-of-destruction way you understand, but as a WAAF processing data about aircraft movement provided by radar stations and observation posts, and plotting the changing positions of Allied and enemy planes on a map.
|Me with Doreen Galvin at Tempsford, May 2015|
(courtesy of Mary J Miles)
Doreen joined the WAAF in March 1941. Her family’s association with the British Air Force went back to the First World War, but it was not until the late autumn of 1940 that she decided to volunteer. The trigger was watching the Battle of Britain at close quarters from her south coast garden, which was on a steep hillside looking down to the sea. At one point the planes flew so low that she felt they might knock the television aerial off the roof of her house, and she threw herself into a ditch in the garden. When she looked up there were black crosses on each wing of a German fighter above her, which was followed by a Spitfire which shot it down into the sea. She knew then that she had to volunteer.
|Doreen in the WAAF|
(courtesy of Doreen Galvin & Martyn Cox, www.secret-ww2.net)
Doreen was then trained as a Photographic Interpretation officer at RAF Medmenham in Buckinghamshire. Here she worked with Constance Babington Smith, known to all as ‘Babs’, who was ‘charming, not gushing, but she knew what she was doing’, as well as Sarah Churchill, the red-haired daughter of the PM, among others. Their role was to examine photographs and identify tell-tale troop movements, the build up of fleets and tanks, the creation of fuel and ammunition dumps, the construction and development of weaponry and key sites for military production and other bombing targets. Once, when particularly sensitive photographs and maps had to be examined, Sarah Churchill was segregated in the bathroom, with a 3-ply plank across the huge claw-foot bathtub on which to spread the pictures. She did not know it at the time, but she was working on images of North Africa. ‘We always used to say,’ Doreen told me with a laugh, ‘that for us, North Africa started in the bathroom’.
Doreen during the Second World War
(courtesy of Doreen Galvin)
Finally Doreen was sent to RAF Tempsford to work as an Intelligence Officer, without yet knowing the operational nature of the secret little airfield. On arrival she was surprised to see the odd variety of aircraft of all vintages and sizes that operated from the airfield, including a number of old-fashioned Lysanders, affectionately called ‘Lizzies’, which she thought must have come from the previous war. The intelligence office seemed ‘very dull’, the maps ‘uninspiring’, and Tempsford struck Doreen altogether as ‘a mediocre station, full of left-overs, in a forgotten backwater’.
|A Lysander at Tempsford during the war,|
with officers from Special Duties squadron 161
(courtesy of Hugh Verity & Martyn Cox www.secret-ww2.net)
|Doreen at the Special Duties memorial plaque in Tempsford Church|
(courtesy of Martyn Cox, www.secret-WW@.net)
|Reverend Margaret Marshall with Doreen Galvin|
at Tempsford's memorial to the SOE women and Special Duties pilots
(courtesy of Clive Bassett)
Last Sunday, after the morning of talks, Doreen visited Tempsford’s old stone church again, this time for a service of remembrance conducted by the Reverend Margaret Marshall (how times have changed), before laying wreaths at the memorial opposite. For Doreen it had been a moving experience to return to the village where she had spent so much of her war, and to see that neither the special agents, nor the brave pilots who flew them behind enemy lines, have been forgotten. Not only are there beautiful memorials in the church and on the village green, but there are often events here which welcome everyone from family members who come to remember, to school children who may be hearing for the first time about the history of the village, the airfield, and the many brave people who once passed through.
|Aerial photograph of RAF Tempsford during the war|
(courtesy of The Bob Body Collection & Martyn Cox, www.secretWW2.net)
I am delighted that Doreen has written and self-published her memoirs, From Arts to Intelligence, available from Amazon in kindle and EPUB formats, and paperback.
|Photo credit: Peter van den Berg|
Lucy Coats has written over 30 children's books for all ages, and has also worked as an editor, journalist and bookseller. She has just published a YA novel, Cleo, a paranormal/historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra, as well as a new mythological middle-grade series Beasts of Olympus. Lucy lives with her husband and three out-of-control dogs in a house mostly furnished with too many books.
The Art of Researching a YA novel
I cannot imagine writing a book on any subject and NOT researching it. For me, research enables me to write from a position of knowledge. Even if I don't use much of the material I find (and I am always aware of the dreaded sin of 'info dumping'), the fact is that I need to know this stuff, even if my reader doesn't. I am always aware of the reader at my shoulder, especially my teenage reader. So what I put in has to be interesting, relevant, and germane to the story in some way. For a YA novel, a light touch with facts is essential.
With Cleo I gave myself a huge task from the outset. Writing a novel about a real historical personage is always tricky - and more so if it's a personage about whom everyone has their own view and opinion. When I decided to take on (arguably) the most famous woman in the ancient world - Cleopatra - for my first proper YA novel, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, research-wise. Not only did I choose to write about her undocumented younger life (before she slides into the historical records), but I also chose to mix history with fantasy, and bring in the Ancient Egyptian pantheon. I knew that the former gave me a certain amount of leeway - if I wanted to write a story within a 'hole in history' where the gods helped her to the pharaoh's throne, then I could do that without fear of being contradicted. But even if I had no historical 'facts' to go on, I was determined on one thing. This book would give my readers as proper a 'feel' of Ancient Egyptian life and customs as I could provide.
|Cartouche of Cleopatra's name in the House of Horus at Edfu - Wikimedia commons|
'Jewels glittered on the couches; the cups, tawny with jasper, loaded the tables, and sofas were bright with coverlets of diverse colors - most had been steeped in Tyrian dye and took their hue from repeated soakings, while others were embroidered with bright gold, and others blazed with scarlet.'
|An Egyptian Feast by Edwin Long - Wikimedia commons|
'For Caesar and Pompey had known [Cleopatra] when she was still a girl and inexperienced in affairs.'
When did Caesar and Pompey meet her? Did she accompany her father into exile in Rome - or did she perhaps join him there? I spent some time recently following a trail which theorised that she did, and put my own spin on it to suit the purpose of my story.
|Cleopatra making an offering to Isis (Louvre) - Wikimedia commons|
The Great Library was destroyed either during or soon after Cleopatra's reign, but I took the view that as an educated woman who spoke several languages, and studied mathematics and much else, she would have spent time there. So I had to find out how they stored the scrolls (in custom made cubbyholes), and who might have been working there in Cleo's time (I dug out Apollonius of Tyre, who appears briefly in the book as one of her ex-tutors).
Research is time-consuming, and mine has taken me from the bigger questions of geography and physical descriptions of journeys and modes of transport up and down the Nile through costume, jewellery, make-up, puffer-fish poison, embalming techniques, songs sung by ancient Nile boatmen, the ancient board game of senet, temple ceremonies, weapons, armour, soil types, flora, fauna and much more. Some totally fascinating facts have had to be discarded, unused, but that's all right. They will simply go into my vast store of 'useless knowledge', to be brought out at some opportune later moment.
|Senet pieces - Wikimedia Commons|
However much research I've done, though, however many dusty books I've read and scholarly articles I've trawled through, one thing had to come first. I had the opportunity to make Cleopatra come alive for a new generation, in a way that had not been tried before. Not everyone will agree with the way I've done it - my Cleo's 'voice', for instance, is quite modern in tone - but there is one thing I hope everyone who reads it will recognise. I've done my damnedest to get the backdrop to my story right! When I wrote the initial synopsis for the first book, this is what I said:
'I want my readers to smell the harshness of the hot, dusty winds of the simoom (the ‘poison wind’), to feel the way its gritty residue gets into clothes and nostrils, ears and eyes and to know that its touch is a curse of dryness, not a blessing of coolness in the fierce heat of a desert day.
I want them to be desperate for the soothing touch of blood-warm water mixed with camels’ milk and rosepetals on their skin—and want to try for themselves the only recipe that works for keeping a young princess-priestess’s complexion dewy and glowing. I want them to see the way sun turns blazing white against a blue sky in which Egyptian Vultures (Pharoah’s Chickens) soar on the thermals and wait for something to die down below.
I want them to look over the shoulder of the embalmer as he learns his trade on the linen-wrapped body of a young priestess—to smell the herbs he uses, to hear the sound of pestle and mortar grinding the sacred and secret preparations that preserve the shell of the body for the afterlife.
I want them to feel the way the stifling, incense-laden air in the dark corridors of the royal palace in Alexandria presses down on a person and makes everything slow and confusing—to blink with the shock of light reflecting off gold and lapis and a million jewels as they enter the blinding magnificence of the Great Throne Room.'
Only if I've actually succeeded in taking my teenage reader away from the 21st century for a while, and made her feel some of these things, will I know that I've done my job as a writer.