Friday, 10 May 2019

Grandpa and WW1


I have just finished reading Vimy by Ted Barris, and his detailed and thoughtful description of what the soldiers endured brought back the little I know about my mother's father. Here is the only picture I have of him, and it was taken in Canada which is strange... 


The following story is based on research my sister and I have undertaken about our grandfather.
The setting of the interview with the writer is fictional.
I’d like to thank my sister for her assistance in providing information that helped me in writing this piece.

Some words are in italics - this is because I used this piece as my word challenge story - the Uxbridge Writers' Circle members' stories each incorporated these words. 

More Questions Than Answers

He wouldn’t talk to me. He wouldn’t tell me anything about the war. It wasn’t until a writer came to meet my grandfather, while he visited from England, that I was able to convince him to share some of his story. The writer interviewed veterans who had served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. For some inexplicable reason, my grandfather became enraptured by this stranger, but still didn’t give away much of his past.
            I waited for him to dismiss me from the room, but he appeared to be oblivious of my presence. I sat in a chair in the corner, a little behind him, and waited to soak up his secrets like a sponge.
The first question I had was what was he doing in Canada in 1916? He wasn’t asked so I didn’t find out and I still haven’t to this day.
The writer asked why he had joined the army. Yes, he’d heard some stories about the horrors of the war, but he had a duty to do his part. Couldn’t let those Germans take over the world.
I could imagine the twinkle in his grey eyes as he told the writer that he was part of the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles. His shoulders straightened when he said that he was a horseman first and foremost. He squared those shoulders when asked about his experience with horses, and explained that he was an expert in horse care, you see, as well as a proficient equestrian. Why, he’d been a jockey in Vancouver.
He lived in Courtenay, BC at the time of enlistment. No, he wasn’t a Canadian Citizen. He was born in Oxford, England.
I know he had a daughter in England and on his attestation paper he states he is married – to his first wife who I’d thought died years before. He lies about his age in order to be accepted into the BC Bantams as they were known. He was 43, but, on the form, he claims he’s 36. He was only five-feet tall, and hadn’t met height criteria to enlist, but the creation of the 143rd Battalion with their lower height requirements, provided the opportunity. He told the writer none of this, however.
He said that even though he was older than nearly all of the recruits, and short, he was fit and strong because of the physical work he did. He didn’t elaborate, but my mother said he worked at lumber camps primarily caring for the horses.
He folded his arms and said that the training camp was tough but fun too. And he was glad of all that he learned once he finally arrived in France. He knew how to lay railway tracks, dig trenches, excavate tunnels, load ammunition, carry heavy loads and cool the big artillery with water. He was disappointed that he ended up with the infantry. He missed working with horses. But the regular rum ration always felt good and gave him a boost.
The writer asked what he liked least about the war – was it the killing? He fidgeted and looked out of the window. I thought he would be too disturbed to answer, but he turned back to face the writer. No, it was seeing his mates trudging up the hill in muck and slime, as if they were under the spell of a pied piper, who led them to their death or worse. And trying not to look at these brave boys, as they lay in shell holes, blown to pieces. And hearing the injured cry out in pain, their screams piercing the roar and thunder of the guns.
Tears welled up in my eyes. I thought I’d choke. But the writer continued with no emotion in his voice. After all, he’d heard it all before.
Did he get injured? Yes. He got hit by mustard gas. A yellow-green cloud descended like an evil menace. He said he had to take off his fogged-up gas mask to load the big gun. He grabbed the arms of his chair and coughed. He mumbled something about pain, the sensation of burning as if his insides were suffering a sudden severe drought, and later enormous blisters on his arms and left side. But his eyes got better.
My mother had mentioned skin grafts when I asked about Grandpa’s paler patches of skin. He’d got burned, was all that she would say. I don’t know how extensive the skin grafts were and I’m not sure if I could tell them apart from scars left by the blisters, even if I’d had the opportunity to study them. I’ve found out that the gas would settle like an oily liquid, and seep through uniforms. Not usually fatal, but extremely painful and debilitating.
After he was injured, he returned to the South Camp at Seaford in England, but he wouldn’t say anything about where or how he was treated for his exposure to mustard gas. He jumped to 1919 when he was married for the second time, this time to a first cousin, Alice. I had been told that they were second cousins. I stifled a gasp. He and Alice were the parents of my mother.
The marriage certificate, a copy of which I saw later, stated that his profession was Sergeant, but there is no record of his promotion in the Canadian Expeditionary Force data base.
I was surprised that he shared his marriage to his first cousin with the stranger, but he made no mention of his daughter. I don’t know where his daughter was during his training in BC and in England, or during his deployment overseas, and his rehabilitation.
As if the sharing of his experience at the front had exhausted him, my grandfather wouldn’t give the writer any additional material for his book.
At the time, I’d done no research into my family history, and only knew what my mother had told me, which I’ve since learned is not accurate. Who told the untruths, I don’t know.
The writer used none of my grandfather’s story in his book, but in the meantime, my sister and I have done some research, which, so far, has raised more questions than answers.  He died at the incredible age of 84 without revealing any more of his past.


Friday, 26 April 2019

Sisters in Crime!


Although I've been a writer of cozy mysteries for a few years, I only recently heard of "Sisters in Crime".  So I thought I would share this discovery!

"Sisters in Crime" SinC is not what  you might assume it to be: it is an organization comprised of "authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers, and librarians bound by our passion for the mystery genre and our support of women who write crime fiction".

While the organization is based in the US, there is a Toronto Chapter that holds monthly meetings. I have been to two - and they were both worth the drive from Uxbridge to Yonge and Eglinton. In the most recent meeting, the panel members were Maureen Jennings (of Murdoch Mysteries fame) as well as Desmond Ryan, Lisa De Nikolitis, Mary Lou Dickinson and Sharon Crawford. In the earlier meeting I attended, Jack David, ECW Press, made a presentation providing useful insight into the publishing of mysteries/thrillers.

I participated in a SinC webinar, available free to members, the other day which was offered by Tiffany Yates Martin, FoxPrint Editorial - "The 10 Biggest Mistakes Writers Make". It covered plot versus story, character, suspense, tension, and much more. Tiffany stated that every single scene must move the story forward.

Also, SinC issue a great newsletter!

If you are a fellow author of mysteries (males are welcome as well, by the way) I recommend that  you consider membership in Sisters in Crime. While there is a fee for belonging to SinC National and for joining SinC Toronto Chapter SinC Toronto , my current assessment is that these are sound investments.
I'll keep you posted on how this works for me!

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Story: Set In Paris in World War II

I wrote this short story to read to the Uxbridge Writers' Circle for April's "Word Challenge". (The words I had to use are in italics). I based this story on historical facts - based on some research. (I find this subject truly troubling - I can't fathom what human beings did to each other during this war). 

Holding Her Head High


The hunger pains were like arrows that pierced her stomach, but Marie held her head high. The small brim of her hat rippled in the breeze and her grey dress fluttered about her legs. She chose not to look at any of the German flags that hung on, or flapped above, nearly every beautiful old stone building in Paris. And she’d grown accustomed to the presence of the rigid, expressionless Nazis who guarded the doorways to these familiar places.
            That didn’t mean she accepted the foreign occupation of her beloved country. To her mind, it wasn’t an occupation, it was a plunder and rape of France. But what pained her most of all was that this feeling was not universal. Many of her co-patriots assisted the Nazis. They squealed on their friends, neighbours and even their families. The Vichy Government believed that the Germans would be the victors in the war, and so did many of her friends. They thought it was prudent to be on the winning side, and that it was pointless to show any resistance. In fact, it would be dangerous to do so, they pointed out, since the Germans had become more and more brutal as the months and years passed.
            Marie had just heard, first thing that morning, that François, a fellow member of the resistance, had been shot. She’d found that out through the underground communication network – a complicated, crucial web of informers. François had been caught cutting telephone lines. He was only eighteen.
Although she was devastated by the murder of François, and her legs wobbled, Marie continued her walk, doing her best to act as if she was a nonchalant pedestrian, so as not to attract attention. She couldn’t let any of her feelings show.
            She’d recently made her dress out of a summer bedspread, using a small white linen tablecloth to make the collar and cuffs. She did all that she could to look chic. She wouldn’t allow herself to contribute in any way to the satisfaction of the Germans. No shampoo? Stuff your hair under a hat. Clothes worn-out or stolen? Make new ones from other things. Do not look shabby. Maintain your dignity. Don’t let them get you down.
            She swung her handbag a little as she walked past the café, which now had the atmosphere of a morgue – cold and lifeless. Two years ago, she’d had a glass of wine and shared a joke with her brother as they sat at one of the ornate metal tables outside. But he had been taken by the Nazis and was now a slave in Germany.
Her face must not betray her. She must complete her important mission. The two forged passports were hidden in the lining of her handbag, and the one-page news bulletin, cut into eight pieces, had been sewn into the hem of her dress.
            Two German officers marched towards her. They laughed and pointed at her. She averted her eyes, but one of the men grabbed her arm as she attempted to pass. She understood little German, but deciphered enough to realize that they promised her food in exchange for sex. She laughed, and said “non” three times. The officers became more belligerent and the grip on her arm tightened.
            A woman pushing a pram on the other side of the street, stopped, pulled out a MP-40 (stolen from the Nazis) from under the blankets and shot the Germans before they had a chance to register what happened.
            Marie ran – adrenalin gave her the strength and stamina to navigate the streets to safety. She didn’t hear what happened to the woman. Perhaps she’d been assigned by the resistance to protect her and what she carried.
            A couple of days later, the Gestapo murdered twenty innocent French people in reprisal. Marie’s outrage at the cruelty and brutality of the occupiers made her even more determined to make a difference. She wanted, ached, to be more than a courier. It was her duty to her brother, to her country and to François.
            The news bulletin that she had delivered to an underground printer, contained a short article on a couple of acts of sabotage that had created significant disruption in the manufacture of supplies for the Nazis. Sabotage. That’s what she wanted to do.
            Marie’s determination and stubbornness, as well as her courage, led her to being accepted into a small group that planned to sabotage strategic railway lines which the Nazis used to move supplies for the war. Under cover of darkness, Marie’s group removed the bolts which held track lengths together. Sometimes this would disrupt trains for a few hours, but sometimes it resulted in derailments and more serious set-backs for the enemy.
            Although her brother didn’t return from Germany, Marie survived the war. She was an unsung hero, as many French women were. Although she didn’t receive recognition for her work, she knew she’d done what she could. She held her head high until her death at eighty-nine years old.

Vicky Earle Copyright 2019

PS and check out a micro-story called "The Bridge": The Bridge

Friday, 1 March 2019

Spring Promotion of Meg Sheppard Mystery Series E-books!


For the month of March, the first two e-books in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series are available at reduced prices for those of you who haven't had a chance to read them yet.

Why?

Because I'm editing my third book in the series and I'm sure that once you've read the first two, you'll want to read the third!

Here are the links which will connect you to each book at your favourite e-book retailer:
What Happened to Frank? 
Over Frank's Dead Body

And please leave a review!

If you prefer the soft-cover version, they'll continue to be available at Blue Heron Books, Uxbridge Ontario until mid-April. Also, Books Galore in Port Perry has a couple of copies.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

First Draft of Third Book in Meg Sheppard Mystery Series!

Here are the first two paragraphs of the first draft of my third book in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series:
"The grass is growing at last and the horses are nibbling its fresh, brilliant-green blades. Just Eagle and Bullet are home at my farm. Rose and Speed are back at the racetrack where optimism and spirits run high as a new season of thoroughbred horse-racing begins. I miss them, but I'm looking forward to seeing them train and race. 
Instead of leaning on the oak-rail fence watching and listening, I could be packing to leave for a vacation with William. But we had our first passionate disagreement this morning and there's a residual shiver tingling along my spine: like an aftershock. He told me that he got a fantastic deal on a last-minute booking. He bought a short vacation at a resort in Cuba for both of us, as a surprise. But it was more like a bolt out of the blue for me. And the surprise for him is that I'm not going."
Wish me luck as I work on the slow and careful process of editing over 80,000 words! Don't feel sorry for me though - I enjoy all aspects of writing a novel, including editing!
And I love to write short stories. I have posted two more which I wrote to share at recent Uxbridge Writers' Circle uxbridgewriterscircle.blogspot.ca meetings. You can find them here:Short Stories
And if you still haven't read the first two books in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series, they are available at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge and at Books Galore in Port Perry, and as e-books at all your favourite e-book retailers!
Happy reading!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Ten-minute Writing Challenge!

Instead of using a picture for a prompt for the ten-minute writing challenge during our recent meeting of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle, I used the first sentence of "Irma Voth" by Miriam Toews (a great book!).. This is what I wrote:

Jorge said he wasn't coming back until I learned how to be a better wife. The Trouble was, I didn't know what that meant. I'd been raised by my Uncle Edwin, Earl of Cavendish, who had so many servants I didn't have to lift a finger.
Breakfast was served on silver platters and in heated silver dishes with ornate knobs, lined up neatly on the sideboard. I had no idea how the food was prepared.
My dresses were made for me. I knew you had to pin and then baste and then sew, but how - I had no clue.
Then came the war. And the London Blitz. The large mansion was many of the victims of incendiary bombs. Uncle Edwin believed that his home wasn't near any of the key targets, so we wouldn't get bombed. But we did.
The Germans bombed everything, it seemed to me. Devastation everywhere.
Uncle Edwin was sitting in his favourite armchair when the bombers came. I had gone to the air-raid shelter with the servants. Jorge was the chauffeur. We struck up a friendship which, a year later, led to marriage.
But the adjustment to living in a small, damp cottage, albeit in the beautiful Cotswolds, was too much. I had no clue how to be a housewife and look after the cottage, and feed my husband, and darn his socks.
So, I left before Jorge had the chance.
That's when I believe my life really began.

Vicky Earle Copyright 2019


Thursday, 13 December 2018

Meg Sheppard Series Now Available As E-books!

Both books in the Meg Sheppard Mystery Series are now available as e-books.

You can find them on Amazon Kindle, Apple i-books and Kobo, as well as others.


To make it easy, here are links that, when you click on them, will give you the icon for each book at your favourite e-book retailer.


For "What Happened to Frank?" (the first book in the series): Universal Link to Book 1

For "Over Frank's Dead Body" (the second book in the series): Universal Link to Book 2

Enjoy and please leave a review!

N.B. Both books are also available in soft-cover at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge; blueheronbooks.com; and at Books Galore in Port Perry; booksgaloreportperry.com
They make great gifts!!

Happy reading!