As a significant proportion of Barefoot on the Cobbles is set during the First World War, it needed to contain a scene from the Western Front. This was a challenge. I write by researching my characters’ geographical and emotional backgrounds, not in a vacuum. For the rest of the book, which all takes place in Devon, understanding the physical landscape, albeit with a twenty first century slant, was straightforward. Many of Barefoot’s main characters are female and although I am not a young female, I was once, so I can get inside their heads. I have never visited the battlefields, I have no experience of being on active service and I am not a young male. The thought of composing the battle scene was daunting.
I had already chosen the character, Abraham, that I would use for this part of the book and was interested to discover that he lost his life in one of the lesser known battles, a least from a British perspective (this particular battle has much higher prominence in Australian history). I had already formed an impression of Abraham’s personality but how would he respond to a war zone? I was unable to go to France while I was writing this novel but I read diaries, letters and memoirs written by those who took part in the battle. This gave me a much greater understanding of the landscape and help me to empathise with Abraham. I hope that I have created a believable character and a realistic environment. Despite having serious misgivings about my ability to think and therefore write, from the point of view of a First World War soldier, this is the chapter that I am most pleased with.
There are so many, oft used, words and phrases to describe the Western Front: horrific, damaged, muddy, bloody, terrifying, boring, a tragedy, ravaged; all those things. I think I will leave you with some words from chapter 8. ‘Across the plain where the purple clover once bloomed and the swallows used to dive, men prepared for death in a blood-stained ditch. The lurking mist that accompanied the persistent drizzle obscured the view but the deathly crumps of falling shells resounded as the wire-cutting party were sent into the abyss. From the vantage point of the higher ground, the Germans were set to defend the salient without thought for the cost in human pain.’
Barefoot on the Cobbles will be published on 17 November 2018. More information about the novel can be found here. Copies will be available at various events in the weeks following the launch or can be pre-ordered from Blue Poppy Publishing or the author.