Monday, April 6, 2015

My New Blog

Please visit my new blog, The Muskoka Novels, where I will be posting weekly photos, historical tidbits, and musings about writing.
Lake Rosseau, Muskoka

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Stepping Back in Time

Edwardian summer life in the legendary lake district of Muskoka - photo by Frank Micklethwaite
For those new to this blog, please look at my 2014 postings for historical tidbits and photos about the Age of Elegance and various aspects of the Great War. We start with  Diamonds in the Wilderness”, one of many posts illustrating the genteel life of lakeside summers for affluent Edwardians, move on to “From Parlour to War”, “The Glamorous Birdmen”, “Sex andthe Soldier”, and others.

Britain's top WW1 Ace, Canadian Billy Bishop

My “Muskoka Novels” The Summer Before the Storm and Elusive Dawn immerse readers in that era.  You can read some of the reviews in this sidebar and see more online at  The Muskoka Novels, where books can also be purchased.

Book 3, Under the Moon, deals with the aftermath - people rebuilding their lives within a drastically changed society. I'm currently working on Book 4, which continues to follow the families through WW2, mostly through the eyes of women.

So I will now be posting occasionally on my new Muskoka Novels blog  - coming soon!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Testament of Youth

Vera Brittain's moving and powerful memoir about the Great War  - Testament of Youth - was an important part of my research for the first two Muskoka Novels.  A movie based on that book is being released in Britain this week. I can hardly wait to see it!

It seems that the director took the same approach as I did in The Summer Before the Storm – beginning with  the genteel age of elegance and innocence, and then plunging the characters into the brutal war that decimated a generation of young people and forever changed those who survived.

Here is an interesting clip about the movie. Notice at about 2:50 minutes in that the director actually talks about “the summer before the storm”.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Truce - 1914

When tens of thousands of young British and Commonwealth men went off to war so eagerly and naively in the summer of 1914, it was generally thought that they would be home by Christmas. But by then the troops on the Western Front were well entrenched along a mostly static line that would witness a brutal war of attrition during the next four years.

One of the absurdities of war is that the people who are expected to kill one another have no personal enmity towards one another. This became particularly clear on Christmas, 1914, when there was a spontaneous cessation of hostilities between British and German troops in the front lines. The Germans were decorating their trenches with small Christmas trees and singing carols. The British “retaliated” with English carols, and soon the men were shouting greetings to each other. Many met in No Man's Land (the area between the opposing front lines) where small gifts like chocolate or buttons were exchanged, and pictures of sweethearts were shown. In some places, the opposing troops played soccer, and drank together. It became known as the "Christmas Truce", and was dramatized in the 2005 Oscar-nominated French film entitled "Joyeux Noel". The commanders, of course, didn’t like this fraternization with the enemy, and tried to ensure that it never happened again.

See the trailer for "Joyeux Noel".  Also moving and powerful is this Sainsbury ad.

Christmas is a time to truly reflect and heed Longfellow’s words, sung for generations: “peace on earth, good will to men”.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Doctor, Soldier, Poet

My family and I visited Ypres (now Ieper) in Belgium a few years ago when I was doing research on my first Muskoka Novel, The Summer Before The Storm, set during WW1. The first thing that struck me, besides the fact that the city has been beautifully restored from the rubble of war, was that Lt. Col. John McCrae’s famous poem, “In Flanders Fields” – penned on the battlefields nearby - was plastered everywhere about the town, even in our hotel lobby. The WW1 museum, housed in the rebuilt Cloth Hall, is called “In Flanders Fields”. How surprised I was when I boasted to the owner of the English bookstore that I lived in John McCrae’s hometown, only to have him casually reply, “Oh, you’re from Guelph, Ontario.”

I know that the small museum in Guelph honouring John McCrae regularly has visitors from Europe, so their respect for this famous doctor-poet is more than lip service for tourists.
The author paying homage at John McCrae's grave in Wimereux, France
 I found humanist John McCrae a fascinating person, and couldn’t resist having some of my characters work with him in France in Elusive Dawn. Two of them attend his funeral. Here are excerpts from a letter one writes about it.

We attended [McCrae’s] poignant funeral in Wimereux along with so many others, including lots of brass hats, which speaks of the esteem in which the Col. was held. What was almost hardest to bear was to see the Colonel’s horse, Bonfire, following the flag-draped coffin, with the Colonel’s riding boots reversed in the stirrups. I’ve never seen a sadder animal, for surely he must have known that his beloved master was gone. I cried hardest then… Among the many flowers was a wreath of artificial poppies that the officers from the Colonel’s hospital had managed to procure from Paris. I do think that the Colonel’s most famous poem resonates with everyone, for it seems as if a veil of sorrow has descended on all the staff and patients here. His words will live on and touch many more lives – children yet unborn. That is a noble legacy, is it not?