I think one of my most profound experiences recently has been learning about a young soldier caught in an IED explosion. He's lost not only his legs but hips. His torso is therefore truncated. His stomach has had to be reduced so that it can be accommodated, and so on, and so on... He is by no means alone in this type of injury, and every day must be a painful mountain for him, and his family, to climb. But as I say, he is NOT ALONE. There are so many recovering wounded, far more than you would dream. They need us all.
Make sure you get your entries to us in time. Apart from anything else, it is so good to read such wonderful work. Every one thus far has been excellent. Judging will be difficult.
Our LitFest on 18th April is sorted. As you know we have the delicious Katie Fforde, a patron of ours who is a Sunday Times No 1 bestselling author, and my lovely pal Rachel Cuperman, also a patron, and her writing partner Sally Griffiths who will talk about writing scripts for Midsomer Murders. We have Penny Deacon, one of the WforW grannies talking of the change from Mills and Boon to crime fiction, and a self-publishing panel including Amanda Hatter and Catriona Troth who will talk to us, and answer our questions. We have Felicity Trew of Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency to take the place of Sarah Taylor, who has personal commitments. Felicity will be with us all day, so what better place for you all to be than at Downley Community Centre, HP13 5TR, 10.00- 5.00(tickets in advance) networking and learning.
The food will be good too, and the wine, not to mention the cake and coffees, all included. Go to www.wordsforthewounded.co.uk for further details.
Remember every penny goes to those who have been wounded, like the young man I've just told you about.
ELIZABETH BUCHAN, another one of our patrons, has been shortlisted for the Epic Romantic Novel category of The Romantic Novel of Year Award 2015 with I Can't Begin to Tell You.
Elizabeth told Words for the Wounded about I Can't Begin to Tell You, some months ago, and I am now repeating her feature and send congratulations and fingers crossed, from us all.
Elizabeth won in 1994, with Consider the Lily. How wonderful it would be if she did it again.
I Can’t Begin to Tell You
By Elizabeth Buchan
Some years ago, I wrote a novel about a female SOE agent going into occupied France during the Second World War. It was a fascinating project to research and to write – and, as the family helpfully informed me, I became an obsessive. Soon after it was published, the phone went and a voice asked me if I was the author of Light of the Moon as she used to work for SOE’s F-section and she had liked the book?
We became friends and, over the years, Noreen Riols (who has recently published her own remarkable memoir, The Secret Ministry of Ag and Fish) and I often discussed various aspects of the SOE. Such is her generosity, she invited me down to Valençay to celebrate with French veterans and descendants of SOE agents the seventieth anniversary of the first parachutage into France. It was an extraordinary day. Princess Anne arrived in a helicopter, the town was en fete and the service conducted with banners and music at the memorial was poignant and unforgettable.
Over my writing life, I have found that I like to circle around a subject, often returning to it to write another novel from a different angle. I knew one day that I would return to the SOE. However, in the interim, many other writers have seized on SOE, particularly F-section. I needed to rethink and to find a fresh approach. Someone said: ‘why don’t you look at Denmark?’
I took their advice and found there was actually a new area in which to roam as the writer. Denmark had had a very unusual war – it had been annexed peacefully and the Reich had bestowed on it the status of a ‘model protectorate’. This remained - more or less - the case until August 1943 when the order went out to round up the Jews. From that moment, the situation in Denmark changed.
A novel is not a history. It is fiction and fiction tries to explore emotional truths and human behaviour. So what was I writing about? At the early stage, I thought it would be about the tensions and problems of someone taking a decision to enter this infant theatre of war – i.e. the covert and undercover. Why would they do it? How would they manage? The novel would also be about lies. An agent must live on many levels and not only has to construct a charade for the enemy but for friends, lovers, spouses and family.
I thought further around the subject. Do women make better spies and undercover agents? If so, why? Actually, if you are the right temperament both sexes are neck and neck on that. Where women had an advantage in the Second World War was the Germans weren’t expecting women to be spies or agents.
What else did women do? Some of the answers were also to be found in the SOE. There were women coders and decoders – such as my character, Ruby Ingram, brilliant mathematician and angry feminist. There were also the listeners, such as Mary Voss, the FANY, who listened out day and night for the call signs of the agents and, although they had no idea of their sex or their names, grew to know their agents simply by listening to their ‘handwriting’ or ‘fist’ as they tapped out their messages in Morse from whatever hiding places they could manage. Who was to say that the coders and listeners didn’t cherish and love these agents and strove always to protect them – even if it meant taking on the bosses?
Even in relatively peaceful Denmark, life was difficult and loyalties were conflicted and bought much suffering. Searching to find the plot of the novel, I read histories, memoirs, biographies and then finally … I stumbled across a biography of an English woman who worked for SOE during the war while her Danish husband tolerated the occupation. They lived in a house with a lake in front of it.