Happy New Year
Posted by: RuthSaberton at 09:05, January 3 2018.
Happy New Year!
It’s 2018 already and here in Cornwall it’s a very wild start as Storm Eleanor batters the coastline. As I type this the wind is howling around the cottage and flinging fistfuls of rain at the windows. All very atmospheric stuff for a novelist.
I hit the ground running in 2018 by launching my new book, The Letter, at midnight. I had my own launch party at home and it was lovely to be chatting to readers as the new year began. One of the joys of the Internet is talking to people all around the world and some of us were already in 2018 while others were still looking forward to the celebrations.
2018 seemed a fitting year to launch The Letter as it is a book which I wrote as an homage to my Great-Aunt Ella and her finance, Arthur, who was lost in action during the First World War. The book unites them in my small way almost one hundred years after the Armistice.
This wasn’t a novel I ever expected to write. I was all set to begin my next Polwenna Bay book (and I was looking forward to it!) but one of the strange things about being an author is that books never do what they are supposed to and they all have their own timings.
My parents were having a bit of a clear out and my mother came across some old family documents and pictures. Among these were faded sepia pictures of my Great Aunt, Ella Hills, and her fiancé, Sidney Arthur Bacon. I was really struck by how young they both were and also how modern they looked. I only remembered Ella vaguely as a rather austere and, to my small child’s eyes, scary old lady. She lived alone and my granny once told me how Ella’s life had been spent hoping her young man might come back from the war. I didn’t understand at the time what this meant but my mother mentioned now that Sidney Arthur had been declared missing in action during the very last days of World War One. Like so many soldiers, his body was never found and there was no grave or funeral held for him. Ella had no solid proof that her fiancé had died and no closure.
Ella refused to believe that Sid was dead and hoped that he may have been in hospital suffering from memory loss or shell shock. Perhaps he had even been so dreadfully wounded that he didn’t want her to know he was still alive? She spent years of her life searching for him in France and Belgium and always hoping that she would find him in a hospital or sanatorium. She wrote endless letters to the Red Cross, her MP, and she never gave up hope. She never married or had a family of her own and she never loved another man. Like so many of her generation, the life Ella should have led ended on the battlefield. I was really moved by the tragedy of her life and her unwavering belief that Sid was still alive
Great-Aunt Ella longed to be a writer. Her letters and diary were all that remained of this dream and the 1914 Princess Mary tin, medals and faded pictures of her fiancé in uniform all she had left of Sid. There is no trace of her engagement ring. Theirs is a lost history and tragedy of young lives ruined by a conflict beyond their control – a sad story that was repeated millions and millions of times across Europe. Ella never did get to write her novel or tell her story and I felt that I had to do this for her. Through fiction I hope I have managed to keep my great aunt’s story remembered.
I couldn’t find out great deal about Sidney Arthur. He seems to have slipped from history but he must have been very special to have held Ella’s heart for an entire lifetime. I had little more to go on than a faded picture of a handsome boy in uniform and my imagination.
I often visit Cornish National Trust properties Lanhydrock and Cothele. These are both great country houses and estates from where young men – servants and heirs – left for the Front and ultimately gave their lives for their country. Both properties have fascinating exhibitions about the Great War and the impact it had on the way of life of those who lived there at the time. These exhibitions were spring boards for the character of Kit. At this point I was also re-reading Siegfried Sassoon’s memoirs and Owen’s poems and I began to imagine Kit Rivers as the heir to a big country estate. He was privileged like Sassoon, dreamed of being a poet as did Owen and, like Sidney Arthur, had a sweetheart he loved dearly.
You can find The Letter on Amazon by clicking on the picture of the book here. I hope you enjoy it. It means a lot to me.
Anyway, there’s an awful lot to be getting on with in 2018 and it’s going to be a very busy one. I’ve moved house and have settled in now and there’s no excuse not to be getting on with work and Polwenna Bay 6! Have a great new year and here’s to a happy, prosperous and peaceful 2018.