Today I am absolutely delighted to have Callie Langridge take over my blog to bring you a very special guest post. Callie has written a wonderful post on the inspiration for her fabulous novel, Keep You By My Side.
Before we get to the guest post, here is a bit more about Callie:
Callie was born and brought up in Berkshire. After a brief teenage spell in the depths of Lancashire, she moved back to London.
Having left school at 16, she studied drama before embarking on a career in marketing. This saw her work in music marketing in the heady days of Britpop in the nineties. She unleashed her creativity in the design of window displays and marketing campaigns for the leading music retailer. More recently she has followed her passion for history, working in marketing and communications for historical and cultural organisations.
On hitting her thirtieth birthday, she decided finally to pick up her pen and take the first of many creative writing courses. A few years later and she has had a number of short stories published and plays performed at theatres and venues across London. Her first novel ‘A Time to Change’ was published in September 2017.
Her second novel ‘Keep You By My Side’ will be published in October 2018.
Callie lives in London with her long-term partner, an ever-growing collection of antique curiosities, and more books than any person really needs.
‘The past is a dry and dusty place. Life is too short to look back and regret what we can’t change.’
At sixteen, Abi is convinced she knows everything about her family. Her mum, Rose, is strict because she mistakenly believes she can turn Abi into the perfect daughter. Abi’s nan, Gertie, couldn’t care less about her granddaughter’s messy hair and love of art rather than arithmetic and is always there with a positive word, a glass of homemade lemonade and a hug.
When Abi’s family is forced to relocate from London to Nan’s cottage perched high on a cliff in Dorset, Abi becomes an isolated misfit. She finds escape from the school bullies in a new and thrilling friendship with a local girl. But with three generations under one roof, long-kept secrets made in love begin to unravel: Gertie’s past in WWII Blitz-torn London and the fallout of her friendship with a young Canadian serviceman; Rose’s final holiday with her parents in Dorset in 1963 and an all-consuming romance just weeks before she heads off to university in Edinburgh.
Devastating revelations shake Abi to the core. Everything she believes about her life and family is turned on its head. She is forced to make the hardest decisions to save everyone she loves but not without sacrifice and making painful secrets of her own.
As the past and present lives of the three women unfold from the 1940s to the 1980s, we see how far people will go to protect the people they love.
D-Day 75 years on
Taking inspiration from Juno Beach
When any novelist writes about an historical event, one of the first things they will consider is how to bring that history to life on the page. Will the history be seen through the eyes of a participant? Through a correspondent? Perhaps at a slight distance by a bystander. Deciding this early is especially important when writing about an incredibly famous event. Anybody with the internet or a library card has access to the information available to the novelist. And it’s just not done to get key details wrong. Rightly, your readers will call you out on it.
For that reason, you can’t skimp on research. Especially when the internet, libraries, archives and bookshops are full of historical resources, source documents, archival material, academic journals, contemporary newspapers … the list goes on.
When I started to write KEEP YOU BY MY SIDE, I knew that the story began on D-Day. In terms of the journey in the novel, there is no mention of D-Day until the final third of the book. But I knew that’s where the story would begin.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good documentary. Give me Lucy Worsley or David Olusoga to take me through a time in history and I’m there, in front of the TV, with my coffee and digestives. I love it when experts introduce history to me and give me their take on events and the people involved. But when I’m writing, now that’s a different story altogether. I want raw information, not somebody’s interpretation.
The way I see it, the people involved in an historical event will not have known at the time that they were making history. I feel this is particularly the case in military action. The men and women who fight are following orders. They don’t have the bigger picture of how this battle fits in with strategic military objectives. They may get a sense of it because of the scale of what they are doing but that’s it – a sense.
I want first-hand accounts of the people who were there to inform my writing. I want their voices, with the surprise and awe and fear of witnessing monumental events unfold. I’m fortunate that over the last few decades, many have seen the value of recording the testimony of the men who experienced the Second World War. Because of its strategic importance in bringing the war to an end and the scale and number of nations involved, D-Day is one of the actions whose participants have recounted their experiences in verbatim accounts.
As a writer of historical novels, I need to know the facts. But more than that, I need to know how it FEELS to be there and what the people involved saw. I need to know how the living, breathing men experienced the horror that played out before them on D-Day. What did they see? How did they react? What were the lasting effects? This is what I am interested in. The human story. I want to explore what an ordinary person, like you or I, would do when catapulted into an extraordinary situation.
For KEEP YOU BY MY SIDE, I learned the facts about D-Day then put them to one side. It was then that the real research began. I read verbatim accounts, I listened to audio recordings of survivors, I watched videos of men in their sixth, seventh or eighth decade, recounting details of the events as lucidly and as graphically as if, at that very moment, they were not sitting in an armchair but were once again standing in a landing craft, being lowered from the side of a ship into the English Channel. I soaked up these voices and their accounts. On a visit to Canada, I went out into the countryside to soak up the culture and atmosphere. And from this came Aaron.
Aaron Ducksta is young. Only 19 years old. He was born and raised in rural Alberta, Canada with the Rocky Mountains as the backdrop to his life. Aaron loves his family and his Polish heritage. He rather wants to become a doctor but a big part of him wants to join his father to run the cattle farm. He loves to sit on the porch of the house his father and grandfather built and wants to marry his sweetheart, Maggie. But he feels that he must do his duty. He can’t ignore the war in Europe – his family’s ancestral homeland – and he enlists to do his bit. As so many young men from across the world did.
And that’s precisely what he is. A young man. Aaron is naïve, wide-eyed, full of the feeling that he is doing the right thing. He is an example of the young men from rural Canada who landed on Juno Beach on 6 June 1944. Those young men, little more than boys, experienced and saw things we don’t want to imagine, the smell of oil and of men being sick in the landing craft as they were buffeted on the waves of the English Channel; the desperate eyes of men clasping a talisman or keepsake, hoping beyond hope that the bullets splitting the air would miss them; the terror of wading into the sea, the full force of the opposing army on the hills overlooking the beach firing on them as they watched friends and comrades cut down while they had to push on.
Aaron is almost broken by his experiences. In KEEP YOU BY MY SIDE, I put this broken young man in the path of another broken person when he is sent to Blitz-torn London to recover from his wounds. The woman he meets is broken, but for very different reasons. And when they meet, they provide each other with a moment of solace, a moment of escape from the horrors of the war into which they are thrown. Because, after all, that is the stuff of life. The serendipitous encounters with another human that sooth and heal us.
Aaron Ducksta may be a fictionalised witness to D-Day, but to me, he embodies the experiences of the 14,000 Canadian servicemen, many of them young like him. He brings D-Day to life for us, in all its horror. He helps us feel what those men felt. And, we see that in the space of one day, he transforms from an innocent boy into a man. What happened to him that day will stay with him for the rest of his life.
As a writer, I hope I have done justice to the men who saw action on Juno Beach. I hope that when readers close my book, they will know something of how it felt to be a young man, far from home, whose life was shaped that cloudy day on a beach in Northern France.
I’ll leave the final words to Aaron; it seems to be a sentiment shared by many of the men like him:
‘I’m determined to be a good man and a good husband. More worthy men than I never came home, and it is my duty to live each day for them and for the lives they should have had.’