Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Circle of Life

Surely only a handful of summers have passed
Since I jumped the chalked squares
On the shiny black slugs of melting tarmac?
Long halcyon days filled with playgrounds and parks
In which hung a shimmering heat-haze
That levitated above the hot speckled concrete.
Holidays of sipping iced-lemonade, with skin tinged pink
From the rays which danced in the palest of blues.
Surely only a small bouquet of nights have passed,
Each nocturnal hour filled with soft scents of blossom,
Since I read of the Famous Five by the landing's pale glow.

And now my reflection is patterned with lines of middle age.
How did I sink like a painted pebble into these murkey depths?
Did I skim that stone before it sank?
Polish it against my hip before hurling it
Seawards; to bounce and pirouette upon the surface?
And why does my mother's face look back from the mirror?
Is it a trick of the light? Her tired eyes, her lips,
Puckered with a life of coversation.
A private prank played on me by shadows, as
The poised pencil that draws the circle of life,
Rises, tick by slow tock, to meet its starting point.

By Angela Barton

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

If I was to tell you that this book is about a family of misfits and their story mainly takes place in a car with a flatulent dog, you may think twice about buying it. If the story had been described to me in this way, I too may have passed it by as a holiday read. Oblivious to its contents and having loved Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind, I packed The One Plus One into my case, along with several other novels, and set off to the Greek Isles last week. Once I started this book, I became instantly absorbed with the storyline and its characters.

Jess Thomas is a flip-flop-wearing single mother who works several jobs to make ends meet. She has two children; a daughter called Tanzie who has a talent for mathematics and a make-up-wearing stepson called Nicky who's addicted to playing video games. Unfortunately, Nicky's eccentric appearance singles him out and he's picked on by bullies. Nicky’s story is perhaps the most heart-breaking. “You looked like a freak, you got battered," he says of his neighbourhood. Even away from home Nicky can't escape the bullies thanks to the Internet. He's quiet and reserved but he releases his anguish in a blog, as suggested by Ed. Ed Nichols is one of Jess' clients who she cleans for. He's a millionaire who's made his own fair share of mistakes and is about to lose everything.

When Tanzie is offered a chance to compete in a Mathematics Olympiad with a chance to receive 90 per cent funding to study at a top school, Jess, Nicky and Tanzie, along with their smelly dog, attempt to drive to Scotland from the south of London to the competition. Unfortunately Jess' ex-husband's car in untaxed and she doesn't have any insurance. Before long, she is stopped by the police and the car is towed away.
Ed Nicholls just happens to be driving past when he spots the family on the roadside with the police.

Here starts a touching, emotional, yet hilarious journey to Scotland, a journey that takes several days because Tanzie is sick if the car goes above 40 mph! After a few days travelling, magic begins to take place. This quirky, makeshift family grow closer and begin to save each other. Ed uses his technological know-how to teach Nicky how to fight back against the bullies and Jess persuades Ed to face his demons and visit his dying father.

The One Plus One is a beautifully written, poignant and utterly compelling novel. I laughed out loud on my sunbed and also wiped away a tear. It's a charming, life-affirming story that I found difficult to put down. Who'd have thought that I'd be totally absorbed in a story about travelling in the rain in England whilst lying on the beach in 30 degrees?

Jojo Moyes is a novelist and a journalist. She worked at the Independent for ten years before leaving to write full time. Her previous novels have all been critically acclaimed and include The Ship of Brides, Foreign Fruit, The Last Letter From Your Lover, Me Before You and The Girl you Left Behind. She lives in Essex with her husband and their three children.

Jojo Moyes

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Darkness Came

I entered many competitions at my previous writing group and looking out of the window at the remnants of Hurricane Bertha on this August Sunday morning, I was reminded of one particular competition. We were asked to write a one-page piece of creative writing and were all given the same title of, The Darkness Came. The competition came with a limited word count too! With rain obscuring the windows on this summer morning, it seemed appropriate to post my entry. I hope you like it.

Mauve clouds bruised bi-polar skies, now grumbling miserably having been bright and sunny an hour earlier. Bird song hushed as rain dimpled puddles. It wouldn’t be long now.
The captain shivered, fear unravelling in his veins like a skein of wool. Would the prophecy come true? He was prepared. He couldn’t take the chance.
“Hurry up,” he called to his sons. “Have you checked that the food supply is secured?”
“Twice,” his eldest replied.
“Good. Help me get everyone on board. We’re running out of time.”
Father and sons hurried the couples along, their feet click-clacking upon the deck. The captain looked skyward, his eyes widening as a dark curtain of rain raced closer, muting colours and beating a faster rhythm. Thunderous skies unleashed a deluge, staining stones a shade darker and painting a glistening patina on the wooden hull. Bubbling bulimic brooks spewed debris into the rising waters, as a silver-forked tongue licked the sky. The clouds grumbled in reply as the water began to take the weight of the giant hull, causing the boat to rock gently to and fro.
“Close the doors,” yelled the captain, his brow furrowed with anxiety. “Fasten the windows and secure all on board.”
The darkness came, dampening colour and form. The captain peered through the gloom at his cargo, as sounds echoed around the vast interior. Startled eyes stared back as hooves stamped, nostrils flared, wings flapped and paws scratched. The ark broke free.
“It begins,” cried Noah.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Five Facts About My Protagonist

Thank you Mariam Kobras for including me in this interesting idea. As all writers know, it's important to develop characters in order to make them believable; they need to have a back-story even if it's never mentioned your book. I actually have two protagonists because I'm writing a dual narrative spanning seventy-five years. The character I'm choosing is French and lives on a farm in a small rural village in the unoccupied zone during WW2.

1. She's a nineteen year old when her story begins and her name is Arlette Blaise.

2. Arlette falls in love with a new farm-hand, a Jewish doctor called Saul who's forbidden from practising by the Nazis.

3. Her dream is to teach but war in Europe prevents her from pursuing her wish.

4. Arlette is present during the nightmare of Oradour-sur-Glane in June 1944.

5. She bequeaths her farmhouse and its hidden secrets to her great-neice, Rachel Blaise, in 2014 - my second protagonist.

I pass this idea of five facts about your protagonist to five more writers - Annette Thomson, Kay Beer, Maria Smith, Rosemary Gemmell and Sara Sheikh .

Monday, 19 May 2014

Message From A Blue Jay written by Faye Rapoport DesPres

I'm delighted to introduce Faye, my online friend and fellow member of Writers' Coffee Bar on twitter. WCB is a virtual cocktail bar/sunny porch/coffee house - where a small group of writers share coffee and news or toast each other's successes with a glass full of bubbles. Today we're celebrating Faye's recent publication success and in this post I ask a few questions about her writing in general and her book, Message From A Blue Jay.

Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir in essays titled Message from a Blue Jay (Buddhapuss Ink, May 2014). Faye was born in New York City and raised in upstate New York, and she has also lived in Colorado, England, and Israel. Her personal essays, fiction, poetry, reviews, and interviews have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines including Ascent, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Fourth Genre, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, and the Writer's Chronicle. Faye earned her MFA from the Solstice Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College.

What made you choose the title of your book?
Message from a Blue Jay, the title of the book, is also the title of a chapter that was originally written as a stand-alone personal essay. For a number of reasons that I think become clear as you read the book, that one particular essay really captures one of the over-arching “themes” that I found myself exploring as I wrote these essays. Also, many of the chapters/essays in the book feature birds, or at least mention them, as well as other animals. I’ve always felt that the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it have some important messages to relay to us – if we’re willing to pay attention and listen.

Can you condense your book into a short paragraph for us?
That’s tough! I’ll give it a try. Just before I turned forty, I began to take stock of things and examine why, for many years, I hadn’t been able to stay in one place for very long or find what I considered real “happiness.” From that point, from that moment near the beginning of the book when I was sitting in the backyard of a rented house in Boulder, Colorado, thinking about life and staring at the sky, I began a journey that led backward and forward at the same time. I re-visited certain events in my life by examining them through my writing and traveling back to a number of places where I’d lived (including London, by the way). By doing this, by taking stock of the past and opening my eyes to the world around me, I was able to finally come to some conclusions about life that helped me move forward – not just my life, but life in general. Along the way I met and interacted with a number of interesting people who have roles in the book, including the man I married. I also came in contact with some amazing animals. I didn’t necessarily intend to take this journey; life just happened that way. The book is a combination of stories from that journey and reflections on the meaning I pulled out of them. It all happened during the transitional time many of us go through during what I call our “middle decade.” But I hope it’s a good read for anyone!

What phrase in your book are you most proud of?
There are a few, but the first one that comes to mind is this one, although it is more effective and makes more sense in context: “How I crave a sip of my own gentleness.”
What was the most difficult part about writing your book?
There were a lot of difficult parts! I worked on the essays that became chapters of this book for a long time, and it was challenging to get each one “right.” Maybe the most difficult part of completing this book was continuing to write and press forward in the face of the usual rejections writers face when submitting to literary journals (quite a few – but not all – of the chapters in the book were originally published in literary journals). I find that it’s hard to believe in yourself and your work in the face of rejection, and to keep writing. One of the best chapters in the book (at least I think it is, and many of my readers have agreed) was never accepted by a literary journal as a stand-alone piece, although it came close a few times. I decided to believe in it anyway.

What is a typical writing day for you? When and where do you write?
That has changed over time. Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of focusing solely on my creative writing – I wish I did! I am also a freelance writer and editor and an adjunct professor of English at Lasell College in the Boston area. During the writing of Message of a Blue Jay, before I started teaching, I often packed up my laptop and drove to a local coffee shop to do my freelance work and write in the mornings for about four hours. I also went through a phase where I woke up early and wrote from 5:00 to 7:00 in the morning every day. At that time, I wrote in the den of our house. This year, since finishing Blue Jay and another, very different fiction manuscript, life has been more difficult – my father is ill and I’ve been driving home to upstate New York (a two-plus hour ride from the Boston area, where I live) every other weekend to see him. I also had more teaching responsibilities during the spring semester that ended in early May. I still got up early and sat at my writing desk on most days, even if I only sat there long enough to edit a few sentences or a paragraph. On some days, though, I just had to give myself a break and focus on my other responsibilities. Now that the semester is over, I look forward to getting back to the desk more regularly and focusing on new writing projects.

What did you edit out of your book?
When I initially finished and sent out the manuscript, the chapters were ordered differently than they are in the published book, and a couple of essays were included that didn’t contribute to the narrative as well as the others. In fact, there wasn’t really a clear narrative at all; the book worked more as a collection of individual essays. Thanks to the advice of a couple of editors who read the manuscript, I re-ordered the essays so that they had more of a narrative arc with a clearer sense of revelation at the end – the book now works more as a story, or a “memoir-in-essays.” To do that, I had to edit some of the essays in a different way. I took out repetitive information (for example, introducing the same character twice in different chapters) and I also removed a couple of complete essays. I kept certain themes in mind as I chose what would stay and what would go. I then wrote and added some new work to round out the narrative and create something that worked much better as a whole.

What is your next writing project?
I just finished a very different book manuscript, much lighter fiction, for fun. Now I’m back at work on some new personal essays. I hope to slowly build another collection over the next few years (personal essays take time!) and to write more fiction in the meantime.
Thank you for these great questions, Ange, and for featuring Message from a Blue Jay on your blog. I really appreciate it, and I hope some of your readers will be inspired to check out the book!

This was the fifth stop on Faye Rapoport DesPres's Virtual Book Tour.
Don't miss the next stop on 5/21 at Perennial Pasttimes!
The publisher is offering a personalized, signed copy of Message from a Blue Jay plus swag to the winner of their Virtual Tour Giveaway.
We invite you to leave a comment below to enter.
For more chances to enter, please visit the Buddhapuss Ink or Message from a Blue Jay Facebook pages and click on the Giveaway Tab!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

If I could offer only one tip for aspiring writers, joining a writing group would be it!

The Space Where Writing Grows – Nottingham Writers’ Studio

Last year for a special wedding anniversary, my husband Paul gave me the best gift I’ve ever received – a writing room. This is my space - a place where I create my stories, where characters are conceived and storylines are unearthed; sometimes by me but usually by my characters. And although the concepts of my novels take root in my small garden room, the stories grow and mature thanks to the fiction group I attend at Nottingham Writers’ Studio.

Ten years ago when my children had reached their teens, my characters began to pester me, urging me to tell their stories. They disturbed my sleep with their incessant interruptions until I decided to take writing more seriously and do as they were telling me. Nowadays it’s not a matter of writing a book, looking for a publisher and bingo – you’re an author! Those days have long since vanished. Today, would-be writers must work hard to help themselves, both in developing their writing skills and by helping to publicise their writing.

No matter how easily imagination comes to someone, writing needs to be honed and polished, grammar needs to be correct, a story arc needs to flow through your story and an agent won’t even read a manuscript if the layout of your page isn’t correct. Over the years I’ve tried to accomplish these criteria in many and varied ways. I’ve visited Harper Collins in London where I took part in a master class in creative writing. I’ve listened to published authors speak at literary festivals and at Nottingham Writers’ Studio. I’ve spoken with Jonathon Lloyd of Curtis Brown Literary Agency about women’s fiction and listened to writers at annual London Book Fairs. I read ‘how-to’ books, started my own blog and joined twitter where I‘ve made friends with writers, book-lovers, agents and publishers. (And even met a few for coffee and cake). I read a lot and enter competitions, some of which give feed-back on my entries - and as my confidence grew I began to win competitions for prose, poetry and novel writing; proudly accepting trophies and a beautiful silver rose bowl.

If I had to choose one thing which has helped my efforts in becoming a writer, it would have to be joining Nottingham Writers’ Studio. The studio not only offers friendships with like-minded people, a peaceful space to work in, social evenings and now an annual literary event called Nottingham Festival of Words, it also offers workshops. I’ve attended several of these varying from learning how to increase my presence as a writer online, novel-building and authentic dialogue. I’m also a member of one of the studio’s fiction critique groups. These are smaller sub-groups who meet monthly to submit a chapter or piece of work to be critiqued by other members. As we keep the groups fairly small, our fiction group has six members, each person’s work regularly receives feedback. Every time I edit my work having listened to my fiction group’s comments, my writing feels more polished and much improved. I don’t change everything suggested because some interpretations are down to personal taste, but generally I agree with their positive criticisms.

The Baz Luhrmann song begins, ‘If I could only offer one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.’
If I could offer one tip to aspiring writers or established authors, joining a writing group would be it!

After all, where else would I find a group of people who understood why I could happily spend a whole day in Waterstones' or browsing amongst notebooks and pens for hours on end!

Monday, 21 April 2014

Pass the Baton

I’d like to thank twitter friend, Faye Rapoport DesPres, for passing the writing baton on to me. I happily agreed to take the baton from Faye because this ‘blog hop’ is designed to help writers get to know a little more about each other, introduce more readers to a variety of writers’ work and maybe pick up a few helpful tips. Please let me introduce you to Faye.

Currently living in the Boston area with her husband, Jean-Paul, and their four rescued cats, Faye has previously lived in England, Colorado, New York and Israel. Her debut book, Message From A Blue Jay, is to be published this spring by Buddhapuss Ink. Message From A Blue Jay is a beautifully-crafted memoir-in-essays and between the pages can be found a lone humpback whale, an amazing blue jay and tales from the streets of Jerusalem to the Tower of London. It tells of Faye’s passion for the natural world, of second chances at love, unexpected loss and the search for a place she can finally call home. Faye has spent most of her writing career as a journalist and business/non-profit writer. In 2010 she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College’s Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program, where she focused on creative nonfiction.

Early in her career, Faye worked as a writer for environmental organizations that focused on protecting wildlife and natural resources. In 1999, after switching to journalism, she won a Colorado Press Association award as a staff writer for a Denver weekly newspaper, where she wrote news stories, features, and interviews. Her website can be found at here.

Pass the baton questions for Angela Barton.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve nearly completed my third novel entitled, The Midday Moon. My book is a contemporary and historical dual narrative, the protagonists’ stories being told in both war-torn France and modern day France.

Arlette Blaise is nineteen when the Second World War reaches France. She lives with her father and brother in a farmhouse on top of Montverre Hill; her mother having died in childbirth with her third baby. She falls in love with her father’s Jewish farmhand, a doctor who is forbidden from practicing by the Nazis. As the war progresses and the Germans cross the demarcation line into the unoccupied zone, Arlette and Saul’s lives change irrevocably as Jews in the south are hunted down. The Gestapo become neighbours by moving into a local manoir - forcing Saul into hiding. Tragically Arlette is also present when the Germans massacre all but a handful of people in the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane. Shocking events occur at the farmhouse and remain a secret for seventy years. When Arlette leaves her run-down farmhouse to her great-niece, Rachel Blaise, in her will, Rachel makes horrific discoveries during the building’s renovations. Somehow Rachel must unravel her great-aunt Arlette’s secrets whilst coping with her own problems.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

The Midday Moon includes two genres; contemporary and historical fiction. Although my story and characters are entirely fictional, the theme of my story is factual; the war, the martyred village of Oradour and the persecution of Jews. I feel the weight of responsibility for accurate and non-glamorized storytelling in memory of the people who lost their lives during such a dreadful era of our history.
This is the first time I’ve written a historical story and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning and researching a subject I knew little about. We all know of the horrors of wars through books and films, but I’ve made a couple of harrowing visits to Oradour-sur-Glane for research purposes. I’ve written a post about my visit which can be found following on from this post.
I also alternate chapters between Arlette in the 1940s and Rachel in 2013/14. I found it interesting how my ‘voice’ naturally changed between the two eras, a fact I think helps to easily separate my protagonists’ different stories.

Why do you write what you do?

I’ve always told stories. Before technology (now that makes me sound old!) I was a great letter writer; in fact I still write long-hand letters to friends. These weren’t just newsy letters about work and family with information given factually. If I was describing going to town with my mum I’d be writing that my hands were dug deep in my coat pockets to keep the cold out, while my fingers played with the bobbly bits of material found inside pockets. Or I’d go into detail describing the cinnamon-spiced and syrupy smells coming from the Christmas market. Everything had to be described visually. I suppose I just love to paint a picture with words and as my three children grew older and I had more time on my hands, narratives started to build in my mind. My characters urged me to tell their stories and disturbed my sleep with their incessant interruptions.

In 2007 I started writing and haven’t stopped since! No matter how easily imagination comes to someone, it’s essential to follow the learning curve which is necessary when writing fiction. To accomplish this I joined writing groups, attended workshops, visited Harper Collins in London, listened to published authors speak at literary festivals, spoke with Jonathon Lloyd of Curtis Brown Literary Agency about women’s fiction, joined master classes at The London Book Fair, bought ‘how-to’ books and joined a fiction critique group at Nottingham Writers’ Studio. I also started my own blog and joined twitter where I made friend with other writers. Gradually my confidence grew the more I learned and I began to win competitions for prose, poetry and novel writing - proudly accepting trophies and a beautiful silver rose bowl.

How does your writing process work?

Describing it as a writing process makes it sound as if I organise my writing time, which is impossible! I’m a company director and also have a part-time job at the City Hospital in Nottingham. If that doesn’t keep me busy enough, I’m owned by two spaniels that need walking twice a day and sadly there’s no escaping the housework! Having said that, my wonderfully supportive husband, Paul, has built me a writing room in the garden and I escape to my sanctuary as often as possible. I try to write something every day, even if it’s a few hundred words - but I’m happier if I reach 1,000 or more.

I also keep in contact with hundreds of writers, publishers and agents on twitter under the twitter tag @angebarton. I would recommend any writer, new or established, joins twitter. I’ve made so many friends (and met up with several for coffee and cake) and I’ve learned so much from them. If I have a problem with the computer or can’t think of the right word, one sentence on twitter is all it takes to get my answer! As The Midday Moon is set in France, there are some colloquial phrases I needed to know which can’t be found in a French/English dictionary. French writers on twitter have helped me out with those too.
Another great tip is to read as many novels as you can about the genre you’re writing in. I’ve picked up invaluable pieces of information from other writers about World War Two.

I’m passing the baton on to Kay, a writer friend on twitter who tweets under the tag of @1_Lovelife. Here she tells us a little about herself.

I am a writer. It’s what I do from time to time. Recently I became distracted by a new project but the heavy work is finished so I’ve time to spare. The project that distracted me was a full refurbishment of a flat. A new kitchen, bathroom, heating system and a full re-decorate. It was an opportunity to explore my other creative talents. It’s almost done. Over the coming weeks I shall make cushion covers and attempt to recover a chair!

But when I’m not doing this I will write… I’m currently working on a short story. I’ve realized how much I’ve missed writing: developing an idea and building a character. Also, I’ve decided that I need to set myself some writing challenges to get my flabby writing muscle fired up!
Firstly: I’m going to join a new writing group!
Secondly: I’m going to write a blog article- twice a week.
Thirdly: I shall allow this process to evolve naturally.
From here on this re-boot challenge is about enjoying my writing. I’ve a best friend in America who I write to frequently and she loves my letters. Apparently they are hilarious, full of humour and candour. Let’s see if I can do this for my blog too… and I shall be kind to myself, if I get distracted.

Kay's blog can be found here.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Massacre At Oradour-sur-Glane

Human beings are capable of wondrous achievements and extraordinary kindness. We care. We love. We cure. We share. We protect. The vast majority of mankind possess a conscience; a voice inside each of us that tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. Occasionally however, either through weak self-preservation, fear or mental instability, people perpetrate such violence that it leaves the rest of us breathless at the magnitude of malevolence humans are capable of inflicting on others. One of these occasions was the atrocity committed by the Germans in the small French town of Oradour-sur-Glane on a sunny afternoon on 10th June 1944.

What visceral imaginings went through the Germans’ minds while on their way to the Oradour, we’ll never know. We can only speculate as to whether they noticed the abundance of flowers growing along the hedgerows or valued the beauty of the River Glane and the surrounding countryside. Sadly, speculation isn’t necessary for what happened when they arrived.

I've visited Oradour-sur-Glane twice to walk the roads of the once quaint town, to absorb the atmosphere and to witness first-hand the place that I’m writing about in my latest novel, A Hill In France. My story places a young farm girl called Arlette, in Oradour-sur-Glane on the day of the massacre. I couldn’t possibly write about such horror without visiting the martyred village myself. Charles de Gaulle declared that the ruins must stay as a permanent national monument to the townspeople’s suffering, so I found Oradour just as it had been left on the day of the genocide; frozen in time.

As you can imagine, I feel a weight of responsibility in writing about a fictional character living through a real atrocity; and rightly so. I want to honour the villagers' last hours with respect and honesty and it’s essential that I choose the right words and don't glamourize this horrendous crime. Below are photographs taken on my visits and a summarized account of what followed the Germans’ arrival. The facts are true and from first-hand accounts, as miraculously several villagers managed to escape that day.

At 2pm on Saturday 10th June 1944, German SS soldiers from 2nd Panzer Tank Division, drove into Oradour-sur-Glane. Being a Saturday, the village was busy with many visitors from outlying areas who were either shopping, visiting family and friends, keeping an appointment at the hairdressers or stopping for a drink after cycling the peaceful lanes. Fatefully, all the school children were attending school as a vaccination programme was taking place. Due to war rationing, it was also the day of tobacco distribution meaning that men from outlying villages had come to collect their rations.

The people of Oradour-sur-Glane felt safe from the horrors of the war and despite the obvious food and fuel restrictions they enjoyed a comfortable seclusion. They were therefore surprised to see lorries carrying 150-200 German soldiers enter the village. Soon people began to assemble in the main square from all directions as they were ordered at gun point to congregate in an area the locals called the fairground, due to an annual fair being held there. The elderly were hauled out of their homes, clients pushed out of the hairdressers with wet hair, men with half-shaved faces forced from the barbers and mothers pushing prams were directed towards the growing crowd in the centre of the town. The baker joined them - still covered in flour, school teachers holding children’s hands, the local priest and diners at restaurants. The carpenter was forced to leave his shop, also the cobbler, the village cart-wright, the blacksmith, the butcher and the confectioner. A sick school teacher was forced to join them still wearing her pyjamas.

The fairground

Standing in the fierce summer sunshine, hundreds of people packed the village square. Several women fainted overcome by heat and fear. The doctor arrived in his car having finished his morning rounds, was forced from his car and ordered to join the others. The Germans even scoured nearby fields for farmers working the land. A couple of cyclists enjoying a day out on the outskirts of Oradour were forced from their bikes – those same bikes are left rusting where they dismounted, to this day.

The women and children were separated from the men. The men were ordered at gun point towards several barns before the SS mounted machine guns at the barns’ entrances. A signal was given and the executioners in front of each barn, opened fire at the same time. To add to this horrific image, the Germans strafed their guns at the legs of the men, meaning that escape was impossible and death would be more gruesome. The Germans clambered over the injured men and boys, covering them with ladders, straw and cart slats which were then set alight.

One of the barns where the men were murdered

Meanwhile the women and children were being shepherded towards the church. Once crammed inside, the SS placed a device inside attached to a fuse. The Germans lit the fuse and ran to safety, bolting the doors behind them. The explosion killed many. Those who survived and tried to escape, some in flames, were shot. The Nazis re-entered the church, machine gun fire strafing back and forth. Soon the fire took hold and thick black smoke filled the main church and two side chapels. We know what happened inside this holy place because one woman survived by climbing out of a broken window behind the altar. A burnt out pram still lies in front of the altar, left as a memorial.

Oradour's church where the women and children died

The Germans finished their genocide by visiting each house individually to search for people hiding in terror. Bodies were found throughout the village still inside buildings and having been shot in the head. A mother, father and two children were found charred inside the baker’s oven. It defies belief that lives could end in this way. Hours later the soldiers left, having failed to destroy all the evidence. Save for the bodies that have been buried, Oradour-sur-Glane is left today as it was found.

My Visit

Walking into Oradour-sur-Glane, I was shocked by its unembellished rawness; as if I was entering a sacred place where everyone spoke in hushed whispers. The ruins have been left untouched because future generations would be incapable of absorbing the magnitude of what happened here on 10th June 1944 should it have been razed to the ground. Typescript alone isn’t enough to tell of the atrocity. Over the years the words would surely fade and corrode the story of Oradour as surely as the metal work left behind is rusting and crumbling today. Some things need to be seen and touched in order to truly feel the horror.

Nature now invades the ruins of the buildings and the everyday items left behind. Tiny purple flowers weave their way through rusting Singer sewing machines and cooking pots from the families' last meals are left next to fireplaces. Birds peck amongst old machinery and the grills of decaying log burners. I walked beneath telegraph poles and tram lines. Where once rattled tram carriages carrying chattering townspeople to and from Limoges, the wires now hang limply swaying in the breeze.

I followed the main road. Houses were charred black from fire. Modern plaques informed visitors what the buildings used to be. A café. A hairdressers. The post office. The doctor's surgery. A school.

The post office

Front gardens and pathways lead to shattered homes. Half demolished inner walls exposed the layout of rooms that had once been adorned with pictures and ornaments. Rubble was strewn everywhere and even decorative tiles still lay where they had fallen seventy years earlier. Weeds, grasses and flowers were interlaced between rusting bed frames that had fallen to ground level when the bedroom floors collapsed in the fires.

When I reached the village square and saw the doctor’s car parked close-by, the sight made me catch my breath. I’d read so much about what had happened that day and here I was, looking inside the doctor’s car parked on the edge of the fairground. It must have been a strange sight to see hundreds of his patients huddled together. The rusting shell of his Peugeot lists to one side, its tyres long since perished, its thin circular steering wheel in the position the doctor had parked it for the last time.

The doctor's car where he left it on the day of the massacre

The doctor's car

Homes surrounding the village green still show hints of their beauty. Ornate railings, carved window shutters and elaborate mirror surrounds now twisted and bent in the inferno. A mature tree stood in the centre of the green, its canopy offering a circle of shade to visitors. Some houses were less destroyed than others, giving more clues to their previous inhabitants. The metal skeletons of tables, chairs and bed frames, ornaments, Singer sewing machines, cooking implements, bicycles, mirror frames and cooking scales. Cars parked in garages.

I followed the old tram lines along more roads where upper floors of houses were castellated with jagged charred beams, tiles and exposed bricks. I could almost sense the horrifying randomness of suffering inflicted on these streets. I passed the bakers and gazed in silence at the rusting oven where a family was discovered. The butchers shop still had the skeletal remains of its awnings that protected its produce from the sunshine. Weighing scales were decaying next to decorated tiles, their colour still vibrant after seventy hot summers and bitter winters.

The butcher's shop

The butcher's weighing scales

Next I visited the barns where the men had been taken, their grey stone shells now overgrown with plants and flowers. Other visitors stood close by, everyone of us silent in thought.

I turned a corner and standing in a small dusty square, stood Oradour's church. A tall mature tree stood sentinel in front of it and I wondered as I walked beneath it, if the women sighed with momentary relief as they passed through its shade on that hot June day in 1944.

I needed to stop and wait beneath a rusting figure of Christ on the cross before walking up the steps into this holy place. The horrific images I’d read about had taken place a few feet in front of me. Here where I stood, mothers had pushed their babies in prams or guided their small children by their hands; generations of strong women taking their last footsteps. They’d stumbled over these steps as Germans aimed their guns.

I stepped inside. It was smaller than I’d imagined. My footsteps echoed in the silence only broken by birdsong due to the roof having long since been destroyed. My overall feeling was naturally a weight of intense sadness, but also a deep sense that I was intruding. So many final excruciating breaths were taken here; so much pain.

I was drawn inexorably towards the altar. A small mass of rusting tangled metal lay before it. As I got closer, I saw that it was the remains of a baby’s pram.

A marble memorial with the names of the local men who’d fought and died in WW1 hung on a wall, now peppered with bullets; their monument defiled in WW2.

The church bell lay on the floor having fallen from the tower in the inferno. It laid twisted and unrecognisable, testament to the intense heat.

The confessional box miraculously stood unscathed. The bodies of two suffocated small children had been discovered here wrapped in an embrace.

Oradour reminded me of a visit I made to Pompeii. Although the aftermath is similar to look at, what is most difficult to understand is that mankind's violence destroyed the village of Oradour, not nature's. But how do you end a blog post which tells of such human cruelty? I don't want to offer platitudes or repeat rhetoric from past articles. Like most traumatic events, people cope and pray in their own way. I've found a poem called, Chanson de la Caravane d'Oradour, by Louis Aragon dated 1949. Here's one verse. (apologies for lack of accents in appropriate places - blogspot didn't enable me to make them.)

Que nos caravanes s'avancent
Vers ce lieu marque par le sang
Une plaie au coeur de la France
Y rappelle a l'indifference
Le massacre des innocents

Translated as best I can
As our caravans advance
Towards this blood-stained place
A wound in the heart of France
Remember the indifference shown
As the innocents were massacred.

Louis Aragon

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Light Night at Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Light Night took place on Friday 28th February. The castle grounds heaved with hundreds of visitors who'd come to celebrate this year's event.

Many thanks to Debbie Moss who put together a programme for Nottingham Writers' Studio with the theme ‘War and Peace.’ The writers' studio was allocated a space in the atmospheric tunnel that leads from the courtyard into Nottingham Castle. War-time photographs were projected onto a screen at one end of tunnel, allowing visitors to watch the images whilst listening to poetry being read by Nottingham Writers' Studio members. The public were also invited to read poems and contribute to collaborative writing. Many children and their parents wrote words or sentences on the paper provided and these ideas will be used to write poetry which will be published in a few weeks time on Nottingham Writers' Studio website.

The tunnel which was lit with night lights for our readings.
Reading my poetry to a back-drop of war-time images.

Echoes After Dark was an atmospheric audio and visual experience in which projections of images from the city's archives were displayed on the castle walls. People paused to re-awaken past memories or to reflect on the haunting images. A moving reel of names of the soldiers who died for their country scrolled constantly throughout the night, highlighting the terrible loss of life.

Projections on the castle walls.

Eco-artist Sarah Turner worked with some of Nottingham's school children to create life-sized WW1 tank made entirely of re-cycled materials. When night fell, the tank was lit from within, creating a spectacular display.

There was also sing-a-long music to warm everyone up on the chilly winter's evening. A choir sang in the old bandstand and in the caves beneath the castle.

Nottingham Castle's caves.

Light Night also featured free activities and entertainment across Nottingham city centre, both inside and out. Galleries, churches and the city's cultural venues ran special night time programmes. Seely Primary School lit up the city’s statue of Robin Hood with special Light Night lanterns. There was an interactive pedal powered party with a shadow show, illuminated play bus and rickshaw rides. A procession with lanterns walked through St Ann’s and Sneinton with light sculptures illuminating the streets. In the Old Market Square, many locals and visitors played games whilst projections and light installations shone around them. It was a night for families - and remembering.

Two of my poems which I read on Light Night.

Dusk in Afghanistan

He looks for beauty in this brutal game
Amongst the bitter dust of Helmand;
And finds it in the sun’s splendour.
Its amber rays caressing the mountain range
As his army boots leave prints in the earth -
As barren as unanswered wishes.
He finds no flower to press against his face and smell
Memories of his wife’s perfume.
Waning daylight clings to rocks,
Holding back the invading night
Where silent terror lurks unseen.
And evil crouches, exhaling poison as it waits
Squabbling insects dance and torment,
Biting and sucking his pink-parched skin.
He thinks of England’s gentle rain
Dimpling puddles under pewter skies,
And sighs.
Dusk creeps onwards darkening his thoughts
As the Reaper hides nearby,
Planning a repulsive requiem
Whilst searching for the next soul
To steal from loved-ones across the sea,
The soldier wipes his furrowed brow
Wrinkled like the wind-blown dunes.
Eyes raised, he looks into the navy sky;
A shared constellation with home.
Moving onwards
Past peripheral shadows of outcrops,
Like broken teeth in a rotten mouth.
Tears roll down the hardest face each silent night
In this foreign land, where each man dreams
Of going home.

Sepia Memories

Touching your profile in sepia,
Tracing my finger
Around your smile.
Bundles of letters tied with ribbon,
Frayed and faded
It hugs your words.
A tear-stained message
Peppered with smudged pools
Of diluted ink,
Telling of your death in war.
Sixty years of tears,
Of believing you loved me.
That you held me in your heart
As you breathed your last.
Pages of memories
To read
And fold.
To mark for future return,
When dwelling and lingering
Stings like salt
Seeping into a suppurating wound.
And then, a voice whispers cruelly
Shredding those pages,
Tearing at the truth,
Erasing each word.
A chance remark reveals
You live!
You lied.
A hero in war; a coward in love.
I heard the angel who nursed you
Whilst I grieved,
Shared your three-score years,
Whilst I held in my arms
Your sepia bundle of words,
And the child you never knew.

Angela Barton

Saturday, 4 January 2014

My holiday reads and some photographs too!

It's said that if you're writing a novel of a certain genre, you should read as many books as you can of that particular style. I'm currently writing a book called The Midday Moon, a dual narrative set in Limoges, France. It's a story about two women who are related but have never met. Rachel Blaise inherits a farmhouse in Limoges in 2014, left by her great-aunt Arlette. She takes a sabbatical from nursing in London to project manage the renovation. However, she makes a shocking discovery on her first visit there and sets out to find out what tragic events led to that discovery. She finds the answers as she unearths the secrets of what happened to her great-aunt Arlette Blaise, during World War II.

I've already immersed myself in many books, both fiction and non-fiction relating to Vichy France, but decided to take the following novels on our special anniversary holiday to The Maldives, just before Christmas. Although I have a Kindle and read one Kindle book to every two 'real' books, I took my holiday reads in paperback so I could high-light dates, facts, time-lines and anything else which would add to my knowledge of what life was like during the war in France.

My first holiday read was Citadel, the final volume of Kate Mosse's Languedoc trilogy. Thankfully I started this book at the hotel at Gatwick airport, the day before we flew. It's 1,000 pages long and took almost a week to finish having squeezed it in between dolphin spotting, sunset fishing, kayaking, big game fishing and a trip to a genuine deserted island. The focus of this story is the second world war in France, but the story of resistance fighters in Carcassonne is interwoven with that of a fourth-century monk secreting a Gnostic text in the mountains, where it stays hidden for centuries. Kate Mosse delves into the stark and bloody years of Vichy France, subjecting her mainly female cast to terrible pain and anguish. She has an unwavering sincerity of tone which lasts throughout the book, her scenes are vivid and when you eventually master the myriad of names of her characters, it's an enthralling and sometimes brutal mystery which makes you want to keep reading in the shade rather than lying in the sun!

My second holiday read was Fair Stood the Wind for France by H.E. Bates. It's a comparatively slow-paced novel to begin with as a British crew crash-lands their Wellington bomber in France, following a raid in Italy. They discover a farmhouse whose occupants agree to shelter them. The pilot is badly injured and a romance gently unfolds between him and the daughter of the family who nurses him back to health. The other airmen make their own way out of France but as the Germans advance ever closer to the pilot's hiding place, he must escape before it's too late. The storyline's pace increases along with the reader's heart-beat! The final chapters are nail-biting and culminate with a series of events which shocked me and left me with my mouth gaping at the unexpected turn of events.

My third book choice was Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky. Irène started this book in 1941 where she began to write of the magnitude of what it was like for ordinary families to live through the German invasion in France. Her book falls into two parts; the first being the incredible depiction of Parisian families fleeing the Nazis and the second telling of the struggles which the inhabitants of a small rural community have to face daily, under German occupation. You'll need time and peace to read this novel as it's teeming with characters with French names, (obviously!). It's painful to read because the reader knows it's based on the truth and the incredible cruelty mankind is capable of; but even in such extreme circumstances, love finds a place. What made this novel even more poignant, is that Irène Némirovsky was torn away from her husband and daughters in 1942, and died in Auschwitch without ever finishing her book. It's breathtakingly heart-breaking to read her own story at the end of the book. Incredibly moving and can't be read without a box of tissues close by.

My final holiday read was The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak. The story is narrated by Death and is set in Nazi Germany, a place and time when the narrator notes he was extremely busy! It tells of a young girl's relationship with her foster parents, their neighbours and a young Jewish man who hides in her home during the escalation of World War II. I felt pretty shattered having read it. It was brutally beautiful, searingly painful, poignant, tender - wow, it was colossal. I gave it five stars on Goodreads and was literally dazed when I finally closed the back cover.

Despite the subject matter of my holiday reads being traumatic to say the least, I did have a wonderful holiday and also managed to write another 12,000 words of my novel. Here are a few photographs to prove that I had fun and enjoyed the hot sunshine in December!

Flying in a sea plane. Our first view of our island.

Dolphin spotting!

Our private beach.

Water bungalows. Ours was No.136.

Reading in the sun.

Our water bungalow's ocean view.

Every evening a beautiful sunset ended another perfect day.