My grandmother’s wartime memories

We were all drilled at school about the importance of primary sources when conducting historical research. There’s no better way of learning about history than from the accounts of people who lived through it – and so this blog post explores the wealth of knowledge that can be gained by talking to people we know about their experiences and memories.

My grandmother (known affectionately as Nana) has always loved to talk to me about her memories of the Second World War. As a child, I used to grow bored and restless as soon as she started on “one of her rambles” – but over the years, I’ve begun to appreciate just how much I can learn from hearing her tales of this incredibly difficult period which shaped her childhood.

Nana was five years old when war broke out in 1939; rationing, blackouts and air-rides are likely some of her first memories. I’m amazed she can still remember it all so vividly, but I’m so pleased that she does, because I love hearing about what life was like in the Welsh countryside during the war.

One might think that, living in North East Wales, Nana and her family would have escaped much of the impact of the war. However, her village  was in fact directly on the German bombers’ route to the city of Liverpool, which was a prime target. Air raids were therefore a common occurrence, with Nana and her family often having to shelter in the dead of the night. Apparently they never did have an Anderson shelter, though – Nana and her twin sisters would be put to bed under the large dining table! Luckily their house was never hit, but one bomb did land in a field nearby!

It wasn’t only during the night that they were faced with the dangers of the war – Nana vividly recalls standing on the school playground one morning, cheering on a British Spitfire as it engaged in a dogfight with a German plane in the skies overhead. War had an impact on mealtimes, too – I’m sure the lack of sweet treats as a child helped Nana to maintain such perfect teeth until well into old age! The family never went without, though, as her father kept an allotment, and jointly raised a pig with their neighbours which they eventually shared between them.

Possibly my favourite wartime story is the morning Nana woke up to find several members of her family from Liverpool lying asleep upon various pieces of furniture – even in the bathtub, if I recall it correctly! Their house had been bombed, leaving them with nowhere to live, so they had come to stay at Nana’s house for a while.

With Nana and her twin sisters, the house must have already been quite full, so I genuinely have no idea how they found room for the Liverpool crowd! It must have been pretty stressful for Nana’s parents – but as a young child, it would have been so much fun to have a houseful of family! It’s nice to think that there were some nice times during what must have been a dark few years.

Sadly I’m no longer able to have these kinds of conversations with Nana, as she suffers from dementia, so her attention span is not what it used to be. I really am so glad that I managed to learn as much as I could about her childhood while I had the chance.

So, what are you waiting for? Next time one of your older relatives starts rambling on about “the good old days”, try to actually listen to what they’re saying rather than yawning and rolling your eyes! You never know – they might have the inspiration for your next historical fiction story right in their head, just waiting to be shared!

 

Advertisements

Writing Research: Grosvenor Square

As part of this blog, I’ve decided it would be fun to share some of the facts I’ve come across whilst researching for my historical fiction novels on Wattpad. Researching can be both the most enjoyable and frustrating part about writing historical fiction – but whatever mood I’m in, it’s definitely necessary if I want to depict the Regency period as accurately as possible!

Part of my current novel, A Lady’s Fate, is set in London – a first for me, as I can’t say I knew much at all about London before moving here last September. Since coming to live here, though, I’d been ridiculously excited to explore a little, and find the perfect place for the characters in my novel to live.

The characters in question are an earl and his wife, so I knew it had to be somewhere glamorous – and I eventually settled on Grosvenor Square in Mayfair. An oval-shaped development of substantial townhouses encircling a private garden, this was one of the most sought-after postcodes of the Regency era – perfect for a family amongst the upper echelons of 19th century London society!

After looking into the area further, I was interested to discover that the development is owned by the Duke of Westminster, having been in the family since his ancestor Sir Richard Grosvenor obtained a licence for its development in the early 18th century. This is of particular interest to me as the Duke of Westminster has a country estate near to where I grew up, so I was even more enthusiastic about using this setting for my novel having learnt of this tie to my upbringing.

These seven-storey, redbrick houses would have offered ample living space for a well-to-do family – likely including a private ballroom, and plenty of room for numerous servants in the spacious attics. The square’s proximity to Hyde Park would also have been a selling point, as everyone worth knowing would have wanted to be seen strolling or riding there of an afternoon!

All in all, I thought Grosvenor Square would be a perfect location for my characters – and this was confirmed when I visited there a few weeks ago to get a feel for the place. Although quite a bit smaller than I had imagined, the enclosed gardens would certainly have created a sense of exclusivity back when they were only available for use by private residents. The houses, on the other hand, were far larger than I had expected – I can definitely see why this was such a desirable location to live!

I’ve really enjoyed sharing this snippet of writing research – look out for more posts like this in the future!

 

 

Review: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

I decided to start this blog off with a bang – so the first book I’m reviewing is Fall of Giants, Ken Follett’s epic 864-page first novel in The Century Trilogy. The story centres around the First World War, recounting the events of the war from multiple characters’ perspectives.

This story definitely works well told from multiple points of view. It follows a number of families from countries including Wales, Germany, Russia and America, giving us a wide perspective of the First World War. The narrators’ stories all intertwine at various points throughout the novel, which is done very cleverly, without seeming contrived, and I always admire authors who manage to successfully pull this off.

Not only are the characters from different countries, but they also span a variety of social classes, from aristocracy to working class. The social dynamic is one of the best aspects of the book; it’s really interesting to see how the war affected all classes of society in different, and sometimes unexpected ways.

The chapters which stood out for me were those describing battles on the front line – they were beautifully written, and so moving. These scenes in particular highlighted the high level of historical detail and accuracy present throughout the novel, which is one of the most important things for me in reading historical fiction.

My main criticism of the book is that the ending felt as though it dragged on – which, for a book already so long, felt a little unnecessary. One issue with having so many narrators is that each character’s story had to be tied up at the end of this novel, with lots of set-up for Winter of the World, the second novel of the trilogy, also included.

The final note I’d like to add is that I would 100% recommend downloading the audiobook for Fall of Giants, if audiobooks are something you enjoy. Hats off to narrator John Lee, who manages to authentically replicate the multitude of accents required for this story!

That’s all for my first review! If you decide to read Fall of Giants, do let me know – I’d love to hear what you thought.