Hey all, you know how much I love novels that are “different.” By that, I mean novels that are out of the box, love stories and romances set in different time periods. I’ve just discovered a fantastic author who writes these types of novels, stories set in times you don’t often see in romances published these days. Please give a warm welcome to Alison Stuart. Today she’s telling us about her novel Gather The Bones and the inspiration behind it.
Searching for the Ghosts
One of the questions a writer is most often asked is: What was the inspiration for this story?
GATHER THE BONES came from a number of different sources. A medieval moated manor house in Warwickshire riddled with priest holes, a morbid interest in ghost stories, a desire to write a story with an Australian character (not a lot of them about in the seventeenth century which is the setting for most of my stories!) and an abiding interest in military history.
My husband and I met in the Australian Army Reserve and we both served in the Army for just on twenty years each before a move to Singapore put an end to both our careers. The Great War (or World War One) looms very large in the Australian psyche. In 1914 Australia, as a country, was only 13 years old, having achieved its independence from Britain in 1901. The total population was only 4 million but the ties with England were still strong and in England’s hour of need a generation of young Australian men answered the call. Over 400,000 thousand enlisted to serve in the AIF (the Australian Imperial Force) – 10% of its entire population. Of those 400,000 young men, 65% were casualties of the war either through death, wounds or illness. Nearly a whole generation of young men were lost.
In 2005, my husband and I finally achieved a long held ambition to visit the Battlefields of World War One. We began in Ypres in Belgium, so comprehensively destroyed in the war. Together we walked the city walls finding little war cemeteries along the way and joined the solemn crowds at the Menin Gate for the service of commemoration which is held every night.
We hired a car and with a map in hand we drove out into the Ypres Salient. The flat Belgian countryside bears little resemblance to the nightmare pictures we had seen in the Museum in Ypres but among the green fields, there are countless cemeteries, as I described it in GATHER THE BONES as a “harvest of death”.
From Belgium we drove down to France and Amiens. It was here, at Pozieres, that my husband’s grandfather (serving with the Australian forces) had been shot in the arm, an injury which would trouble him for the whole of his life and it was here in the British cemetery that I fulfilled a promise made to my father … to find the grave of his father’s cousin, Captain Richard Conway Lowe MC. The War Graves Commission makes it an easy task to locate the one tombstone among the many and I had little trouble in finding it.
What I hadn’t been prepared for was the wave of emotion that surged through me as I stood looking down at the simple white grave stone. All I knew about Richard Conway Lowe were a few family photographs of a rather solemn little boy with fair hair and glasses who had been a good student at Winchester and Oxford and was destined to go into the Church. I also knew he was 6’ 7”. I didn’t know he was only 22 years old when he died. He was the same age as my eldest son. I imagined my feelings if it had been my son and as I laid the little poppy I had bought with me, I touched the gravestone and thought how many, many years it had been since anyone grieved at this graveside. The entire family line had died out with this boy.
The citation for his military cross reads as follows:
Second Lieutenant Richard Conway Lowe., 1st/6th Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Territorial Force.
For conspicuous gallantry on 4th November, 1915, in France.
When directing a working party in front of the parapet, the Germans opened fire and wounded a man of the covering party. Second Lieutenant Lowe and a Serjeant rushed to his aid, and although the Serjeant was grazed by a bullet and Second Lieutenant Lowe shot in the thigh, the bullet being subsequently found in the wound, they carried the wounded man across the open and through the wire into a place of safety.
Second Lieutenant Lowe had previously been wounded, and had been brought to notice for excellent work at the front.
He received his medal personally at Buckingham Palace in January 1916 while home recovering from his wound. He was killed in action on August 18, 1916 and his family never recovered.
As I traipsed the battlefields of Flanders and the Somme, I became particularly interested in the effect that the war had on those who were left behind…the women and children and gradually the story of Helen Morrow, my Australian heroine and her dead husband’s cousin, Paul, the “one who came home” slowly grew.
And so GATHER THE BONES came to be written. Paul Morrow, bearing the guilt of his cousin’s death without knowing why and Helen seeking the answers to questions he can’t supply. Not one character in that book has not been touched by the war and wrapped into it is the story of another war and another pair of wounded lovers. A little mystery, history, romance…and ghosts!
GATHER THE BONES
In the shadow of the Great War, grieving widow, Helen Morrow and her husband’s cousin, the wounded and reclusive Paul, are haunted not only by the horrors of the trenches but ghosts from another time and another conflict.
As the desperate voice of the young woman reaches out to them from the pages of a coded diary, Paul and Helen are bound together in their search for answers, not only to the old mystery but also the circumstances surrounding the death of Helen’s husband at Passchandaele in 1917.
As the two stories become entwined, Paul and Helen will not find peace until the mysteries are solved.
Alison Stuart is an award winning Australian writer of historicals with heart. Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or waywards ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes. She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town. She loves to hear from her readers and can be found at her website, facebook, twitter and Goodreads. Her latest book, GATHER THE BONES, is a “Downton Abbeyesque” haunting love story set in 1923.