This weekend, we four Libertà authors are reminiscing about things military.There’s something about a man in uniform, isn’t there? Even Lizzie Bennet was impressed (for a while) by George Wickham in his scarlet regimentals. But is it also true of contemporary military men?
Many of my Regency heroes are ex-military. Like Major Hugo Stratton in Marrying the Major who is so dreadfully scarred that he avoids society because people stare at him.
Or Captain Ross Graham who flees to his native Scotland with a broken heart in Bride of the Solway.
Major Robert Anstruther in Star Crossed at Twilight is still serving, but he’s back home in Scotland on leave while he recovers from a severely wounded leg.
I do seem to make my heroes suffer, don’t I?
Still, I also promise a happy ending to each and every one of them. Eventually 😉
In terms of military exploits on the page, I find I’ve come up blank. So I’m going to cheat – just a little – and point you to a military scene that I did intend to include in His Forbidden Liaison, but which had to be edited out of the published story.
It’s a famous military scene from 1815, during The Hundred Days of the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon had landed in France and was making his way to Paris. Royalist troops were sent to stop him. I wrote an encounter where my hero, Jack, actually watched as Napoleon bared his breast and invited the French King’s troops to shoot him.
Instead, they cheered him and changed sides without a shot being fired.
Napoleon continued, in triumph, to Paris.
You can read the scene here. It’s quite short, I promise. And, apart from Jack, it features real soldiers rather than ones conjured up from my imagination. Is that a bonus? You decide.
Sarah/Melinda and Battles
Writing novels set mainly in the “Long Regency”, the shadow of war is never far away. Britain was fighting someone, somewhere in the world for most of the 18th century and into the 19th.
The closest to home were the Irish Rebellion (1798) and the wars fought against Spain – the Peninsular War – and France, culminating in Waterloo in 1815.
My latest wip even mentions that we were at war for a short time with Russia!
Most of my books are set in England, with an occasional mention of war, but I have ventured onto the battlefield of Waterloo a couple of times. Once was in A Maid of Honour, one of my early Melinda Hammond novels; the second was A Lady for Lord Randall for Harlequin.
Unlike Joanna’s real event, Lord Randall’s artillery troop is purely fictitious, although their exploits in the Battle of Waterloo are based on those of a real artilleryman, Captain Alexander Cavalié Mercer.
Having read and researched a great deal about Waterloo, and visited the battlefield more than once, I am aware just what a bloody conflict this was. This 2015 memorial to the British soldiers at Hougoumont is a very touching reminder.
The Hougoumont memorial taken during the 2015 Waterloo re-enactment. The memorial shows two life-size soldiers struggling to close the gates. It is part of the Project Hougoumont restoration.
Finally, there is a very special place in my heart for my World War II story, And The Stars Shine Down, which is a timeslip about a modern girl and a Spitfire pilot. A bit spooky, but something that was with me for years before I actually plucked up the courage to write it.
AND I have the flying jacket to go with it now!
Sophie and Uniforms
Right. I’d better confess. Men in uniform scare me stiff. Always have been. Even when Scottish Dancing – at which Scottish soldiers are brilliant and great partners. But a military-cut jacket, even a green NATO sweater with wool epaulettes, can give me that cold clutch in the stomach which is pure fear.
So, no military heroes from me. So far. But…
When I was a child I had a recurring dream that I ran in from the summer garden, because a soldier in a smart uniform – riding breeches and a hat with the skull and cross bones on it – was coming.
I hid behind my father’s green leather armchair in the empty sitting room. The soldier marched in through the back door and out of the front. I would wake up, drenched in sweat.
Years later I recognised that hat. And no, I’m not posting a picture, because it still gives me the chills. It was an SS cap.
And here’s the “But…” A World War II story has pursued me most of my life. And I am now writing it. The one thing I can’t do here is avoid the military. That includes my Spitfire pilot hero. Somehow, I’ve had to find both understanding of and empathy with a way of life that scared the shit out of me. How could a love story impinge on it in any way?
Jimmy Rawnsley’s classic Night Fighter tells how, in his own words, “A peace-loving engineer”, at one time “verging on conscientious objector” ended up “in the back seat of an RAF night fighter”. Ah, I thought. This chap I can relate to.
Then there was Terence Rattigan’s near-autobiographical play Flare Path, which took me into multiple responses to the pressures of combat – and to coming home after raids and dog fights in the sky, as the UK-based airmen did all the time. The love stories here tear at your heart. I completely believe in them – both how they work and when they don’t; and why.
David Niven’s wondrous The Moon’s A Balloon mostly avoids combat but, by golly, it’s good on surviving military life and hanging onto your sense of humour while you do so.
Some brilliant memoirs, some collected and published, some not, have helped enormously to understand exactly how the soldier’s or airman’s (or MI5 operative’s) days worked.
My own story (and it will probably be more than one book) goes from 1938 to 1945. It is clear that over that time there was a sea change in what ordinary people, like Rawnsley and his fellow heroes-in-training, thought and cared about. And what they didn’t.
So far, I haven’t found any of them worrying about their uniforms, though.
Liz and Conflict
I’m sneaking in at the end of this post because I write contemporary romance. It’s rare for my stories to touch war and I have no military connections other than my Welsh grandfather who served as a medic in WW1,
They also served
I come from a “home front” family. My father had polio as a child and was rejected by the Merchant Marine. So, aged 18, he rolled up his sleeves and spent the war working in a foundry.
His legs were thin, but he had arms like Popeye. He smoked a pipe, too! My mother’s war work was in the canteen and love blossomed!
My father-in-law was in the Territorials, but as a mining official was sent back to his colliery to keep the home fires burning. He ran the local Dad’s Army when he wasn’t underground and I still have his swagger stick.
If I tell you that he was working on the outskirts of Coventry, you will understand that was as tough a gig as it got. On one occasion he and his brother-in-law raced towards a parachute, descending out of a dark sky, only to discover as they got closer, that it was a landmine. Time for a swift retreat!
Children on the home front
My husband, who was at primary school during the war, used to tell tales of picking up shrapnel after air raids.
On one occasion, when an enemy plane had been shot down, the local policeman came to the school to ask the children to return all the bits – including the machine gun – so that they could put it back together and check the enemy’s latest advances.
He always felt a very personal connection to Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners.
The war and me
I was born after the war – just – but although I was brought up on wartime stories, I’ve never felt the urge to write about the period.
I have only touched wartime once, in Flirting With Italian, when the inciting incident was an old man’s story about the downing of his plane over Italy during WWII.
His rescue and love affair with the young Italian girl who risked her life to keep him hidden, and the curiosity of my heroine, would lead to the unravelling of life-changing secrets all those years later.
Have to say, I said out loud while reading Sophie’s contribution: ‘Bout bloody time!’ Otherwise, I’ve had very little to do with the military, either on the page or in real life. When I was a child, my father was in Flare Path and I was taken to see it – always had a fondness for it and Rattigan ever since, and I did use flash backs to WWII in a book, which promted a late friend of us all to tell me I should write a whole book. But I’m very glad to leave it to you all.
Yes, Lesley, we have all been waiting a long time for Sophie’s great epic. Good to know that it’s getting there.
I think it’s easier for Sarah and me to write military characters, Lesley, because of the distance in time. Until the advent of war correspondents, people back in UK didn’t have much idea of what war was really like. After Waterloo, they got Wellington’s despatches about heroism and sacrifice. Generally, the soldiers who had fought didn’t speak to civilians about the horrors they’d seen, so war remained a heroic adventure, helped by boys’ adventure stories — think of all those young men (boys?) who signed up immediately for WWI. Things changed after the trenches of WWI and now, with TV pictures, we know all too much about suffering in war and its general futility.
I agree with you about Sophie’s piece, Lesley – I hope she is busy writing away at her WWII book right now!
Love your jacket, Sarah!
Thanks Liz. It only gets an airing occasionally but every time I wear it I feel very snug. I can also feel stories wanting to be told. Probably just me.