Saturday, 30 August 2014

We're going to need a bigger cabinet by Mary Hoffman

On the 30th of each month, when it's not the last day (i.e. in January, March, May, July, August, October and December) a History Girl puts up an extra post about something she would like to put in our virtual Cabinet of Curiosities. This month it's my turn and I'm afraid I'm going to be greedy.

You see, I want the Bayeux Tapestry.

I have already written about it on my Book Maven blog. And Adèle Geras has written her own post here on the History Girls.

You will have to bear with us. We both saw it this summer and it makes a huge impact. But because it is 70 metres long and difficult to stuff into our cabinet, I'm going to concentrate on the Alderney Finale, a brilliant initiative carried out on the Channel Island to complete the Tapestry, which is missing its final panels.

It was the brainchild of Librarian Kate Russell and artist Pauline Black and was unveiled in April of last year. This summer it has been on display in the Bayeux Tapestry Museum and in fact tomorrow is the last chance to see it there. Then it will return to Alderney.

From the 1st February 2012 when Kate and Pauline applied the first stitches 400 people have had a hand in working on the Finale, including Prince Charles and and Duchess of Cornwall.

There are Four scenes. In Scene one, the victorious William of Normandy has a celebration dinner with his half brothers Odo, who is thought to have commissioned the Tapestry, and Robert. The remnants of the Battle of Hastings are shown: corpses, severed limbs, grieving widows. After the battle is when William gets his nickname of "the Conqueror" though this is not shown here. (Formerly he was known as William the Bastard - no comment on his nature, just that his parents were not married).

Scene two shows William at Berkhampstead, charmingly rendered in Latin as "Bercheha(m)steda," accepting the surrender of English nobles, including the Archbishop of York.

Scene three is the climax of the piece and surely a subject very likely to have been in one of the lost panels: the Coronation of William at Westminster. It is Christmas Day 1066.

Scene four is a little tailpiece showing the beginnings of the White Tower at the Tower of London, built with Caen stone, from Normandy, that shines out to this day.

The Latin inscriptions are by Robin Whicker in forms appropriate to the 1070s. And the style and design is satisfyingly close to the original Altogether an inspired piece of work. You can see lots more pictures on Flickr.

Just as in the 11th century work, there are other scenes enacted and symbols added in the strip that goes along the bottom. A big favourite is the one showing the donkey, toad and puffin, representing Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney itself, all encircled by the tail of the lion of England.

Well worth constructing a bigger cabinet, especially since anything is possible in cyberspace.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Why writing history is like science fiction by Debbie taylor

Our August guest is Debbie Taylor, whose life seems to provide enough material for a whole bookshop of novels. Welcome to the History Girls, Debbie!

Debbie Taylor is Editorial Director of Mslexia, which she founded in 1999. She has written for Oxfam, UNICEF, Anti-Slavery, WHO and others about women and social issues. Her books include My Children, My Gold (Virago), a nonfiction travelogue about single mothers, and The Fourth Queen (Penguin), a novel set in a harem in 18th Century Morocco. Her latest novel, Herring Girl (Oneworld), a paranormal historical thriller set on the banks of the Tyne, came out this month.

We historical girls often like to wax lyrical about the amount of research we do to source the details of the era and characters we're writing about to recreate an authentic period atmosphere.

Sarah Waters immerses herself in the literature of the time, reading letters, newspapers and magazines, as well as novels of all kinds – and latterly, I assume, seeking out radio recordings and transcripts for her 20th Century historicals like The Paying Guests and The Little Stranger. Her policy of total immersion continues while she's actually writing, too, so that it becomes well-nigh impossible not to imbue her prose with the nuances of her chosen period.

Other historical novelists go even further. I'm reliably informed that you can take part in themed weekend extravaganzas, attiring yourself in period clothing and eating and drinking as people did at a particular time in history. (I once suggested this as a joke in a talk to the Historical Novelists' Association, only to be told in no uncertain terms that it was already de rigueur for some hard-core novelistas)

Then there's the method used by Rose Tremain, which is basically to write the book first, making up the historical details as she goes along – and do the research later to correct anything she's got wrong.

Which is the opposite method to that used by Margaret Atwood, who collects boxes and boxes of information on every aspect of her work-in-progress (aided by several research assistants) and plots all her characters' timelines on an elaborate grid, before she starts writing. This is partly because she finds real life far stranger than fiction – indeed she boasts that every bizarre, brutal or arcane event or practice in her novels has actually occurred somewhere at some time in the world – and partly because she lives in fear of some old timer popping up at a reading to correct a detail she's got wrong about butter-churning in the 1920s.

Much of my own 'historical' knowledge comes not from reading about fishing communities in the 1890s or listening to old recordings of Tyneside voices – though of course I did all of that for my novel Herring Girl (published by Oneworld and out now!). Most of my sense of what life might have been like in 19th Century Northumberland comes from living amongst people in third world countries when I worked as a development journalist. I've slept four to a bed, for example, been bitten by fleas, ticks and mites, gulped down water from sources I didn't dare enquire about, and witnessed traditional healers in the throes of a spirit possession. I know first-hand how to resurface a mud wall, wash head to toe without taking off my clothes, and go to the loo in public – in daylight in an open field, as well as in a bucket inside with an entire family watching.
Debbie's house in Botswana
However we go about it, all historical novelists are striving for some kind of authenticity. But I want to argue that, no matter authentic we are trying to be, what we actually end up producing is more akin to science fiction than history. Because we are not simply relating the facts about people's lives in the past, we are trying to project ourselves – and our readers – backwards in time to imagine what it was actually like to live those lives.

And however much we research our subject matter, however many old letters we read or museums we visit, we can never be sure that we have got it absolutely right. All we can do is use the incomplete information we have to hypothesise what it might have been like in 18th Century Morocco, say (as I did in The Fourth Queen), or 11th Century England (as Paul Kingsnorth does in The Wake). Which is exactly what science fiction authors do.

Starting with a series of assumptions – melting ice caps, mass infertility, alien entities – they painstakingly construct a viable and believable alternative world, along with the viable and believable human (or humanoid) beliefs and experiences that would result.

Indeed many novels in the fantasy genre are set in a sort of hybrid world, part historical part paranormal part science fiction. The recent emergence of the steampunk genre, which marries science fiction plotlines with a sort of grungy late 19th Century milieu, makes this connection even more obvious. Which is why it's not surprising that Margaret Atwood, for all her enthusiastic amassing of contemporary and historic fact, bestrides the fictional world so comfortably between the past and the future. And who knows, perhaps Hilary Mantel's next novel might be set on a far planet in the 23rd Century. I don't know about you, but I can't wait.

Resurfacing a courtyard in Zimbabwe

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The History Girls: Hide & Seek, by Clare Mulley

The History Girls: Hide & Seek, by Clare Mulley: This month The Folio Society republished one of the great memoirs of the Second World War; Xan Fielding’s Hide & Seek . Described by Ant...

Hide & Seek, by Clare Mulley

This month The Folio Society republished one of the great memoirs of the Second World War; Xan Fielding’s Hide & Seek. Described by Antony Beevor as, ‘one of the great modern books not just of the Cretan resistance; it is one of the great books of the Second World War’, Hide & Seek recounts with powerful immediacy, humour and unsparing honesty the drama, tedium, exhilaration and anguish of organising reconnaissance and resistance behind enemy lines on Crete.

The Folio Society's new edition of
Xan Fielding's Hide & Seek,
courtesy of The Folio Society.

I first read Hide & Seek when I was researching my biography of Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, the first woman to work for Britain as a special agent during the war. Christine had saved Xan’s life, at huge personal risk, in the summer 1944 while they were both serving in occupied France. Xan never forgot his debt, and dedicated Hide & Seek to Christine’s memory, so I was thrilled when Folio asked me to write the introduction for their new edition of the book. I now had the chance to look more deeply into the other side of the story, reading around Xan’s life and talking to many people who knew him.

In my experience the people connected with an extraordinary character, such as Christine Granville or Xan Fielding, have been unfailingly generous with their time, papers, photos and stories. Xan had many remarkable friends, from Paddy Leigh Fermor and Bill Stanley Moss, both of whom also served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Crete, to Laurence Durrell, Evelyn Waugh, Henry Millar, Dirk Bogarde and Lucien Freud. Friends, children, and children-of-friends, kindly shared stories with me over sandwiches, or over the internet.

Anecdotes covered everything from Freud’s dead monkey, which was apparently usually kept in his fridge but eventually decomposed when left forgotten in his studio, to Daphne Fielding’s budgerigar, the only creature allowed near Xan’s Remington typewriter, as it ‘delighted in the ping of the bell at the end of each line which heralded an exciting struggle to maintain balance as the roller rotated and carriage whizzed back’. I learnt of revealing private dedications hidden penned inside personal copies of Hide & Seek, and discovered the wonderful advert Xan placed in The Times, when he was seeking work in 1950: ‘Tough but sensitive ex-classical scholar, ex-secret agent, ex-guerrilla leader, 31, recently reduced to penury through incompatibility with post-war world… Would do anything unreasonable and unexpected if sufficiently rewarding and legitimate’. There are, of course, many wonderful stories, and you can read more of them in my introduction to the Folio edition of Hide & Seek.

Paddy Leigh Fermor with Xan Fielding
courtesy of The National Library of Scotland

Besides the stories of this remarkable group of friends I also found - and this is a first – the editorial issues fascinating! I wanted to see the manuscript that Folio was using so that I could page reference my quotes, but here was another issue... Hide & Seek was first published in 1954. Xan wrote from his wartime notebooks - a collection only missing the one volume inconsiderately eaten by Cretan pigs in 1942 - and the book is refreshingly immediate. But in the 1980s he had sat down with Paddy to amend the manuscript for a new Greek-language edition. They removed a few offensive phrases that had not dated well, and modified some of the less flattering character portraits, but Xan did not seem happy with the process.

With admirable diligence Folio tracked down Paddy and Xan’s revisions and set to work deciding which version of the manuscript to print. In the end, being, their editor told me, ‘very conscious of… the risk of tearing the fabric of the text’, they made very few editorial interventions to the original manuscript. As a result, in this edition Xan again speaks his mind freely, vividly expressing his not-uncritical love for the place and people of Crete, as well as the fierce anger he felt at much of the conduct of the war.

Reproduction SOE map of Crete, annotated by Paddy Leigh Fermor
and included in the new Folio edition of Hide & Seek,
courtesy of The Folio Society

Hide & Seek is not the only one of Xan’s books to have been republished recently, nor is The Folio Society the only publisher interested in this rich seam of war memoir. Paul Dry Books republished this and his other Cretan book, The Stronghold, last year, as well as, in 2010, Bill Stanley Moss’s Ill Met By Moonlit, the account of his and Paddy’s kidnapping of the German General of the island that was later made into a film starring Dirk Bogarde. (Xan had been otherwise engaged, and also too dark-skinned to pass as the requisite ‘Aryan’ German officer, so did not take part in that exploit, but some years later he did serve as advisor during filming, lending his own clothes to Bogarde to give an air of authenticity. Striding around in chinos and espadrilles, apparently Xan was amused to overhear Bogarde’s dresser describe him as still looking, ‘like a fucking little killer’.) Moss’s other book, A War of Shadows, was also republished, by Bene Factum Publishing, earlier this year, and Paddy Leigh Fermor's previously unpublished account of the kidnapping, 'Abducting a General' will soon be published by John Murray, while Bloomsbury has just signed up a new account of the same incident by Rick Stroud. Both Paddy and Bill Stanley Moss also knew Christine Granville in war-time Egypt, and Bill and his Polish wife, Zofia Tarnowska, later named their daughter Christine in her honour.

When I write a biography I am always sadly aware of all the fabulous stories that I cannot include, and the incidental but remarkable characters that there is no room to develop although they are often fully deserving of biographies of their own. So I am delighted to have been able to contribute to this Folio edition of Hide & Seek, and even more so that Folio has also added lots of new photos, a pull-out reproduction of his and Paddy's SOE map of Crete, along with some of Xan's previously unpublished correspondence, making it a really terrific new edition.

It turns out that manuscripts also have lives of their own, with hidden stories, strategic translations and freshly edited republications and, as with people, it is only a matter of judgment which versions are the most authentic, which voice most true, and which should be remembered or retold.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Books are a problem, by Louisa Young (note the importance of a comma . . . )

Todays blog is short; forgive me.
Also, it is a question, and a request.

I am due to deliver a novel in October.

For perhaps four years I have been reading books about the time (1930s), setting (Italy), characters (Jewish Romans), theme (how was fascism for you, if you were both Jewish and fascist? - or, more broadly, how is it for you when you are one thing and also another, and one thing turns against the other?). 

You'd think I'd have read quite a lot, and you'd be right. Our illustrious leader Mary Hoffman provided me with a splendid reading list earlier this summer - already way too late, in the grand scheme of things, for a book which is already up to 90000 words - and it is keeping me busy. And yet yesterday I popped into Daunt's and bought Antonio Pennacchi's The Mussolini Canal (550 pages), Memoirs of a Fortunate Jew by Dan Vittorio Segre, and Susan Zucotti's The Italians and the Holocaust . . .  

I suppose it's procrastination. Distraction? Desperation?

Is it?



Dear ladies, I can't write more. I have a book to write and, more fool me, books to read. Help!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Scarlet Beauties as ancient as Olive Drupes by Carol Drinkwater

Flowering Pomegranate tree in our garden in the South of France
Various parts of a Pomegranate

Tangerines remind me of childhood Christmases. Can you recall that tangy aroma once you’d pierced the skin with your thumb, peeled it away and the juice began to spray out like an ignited sparkler? Dates were rare in my childhood home. Amber-coloured like big sad eyes, dry and sugary, they arrived in elongated oval boxes, shaped as though to contain school pencils. Each lid had a coloured illustration of a one-humped camel, head held high, clopping over sand.
“It’s a desert the camel is crossing,” explained my father who had spent his war with the RAF gang show entertaining the troops in Africa and the Middle East. He regularly recounted tales to me of Arabian nights, magic and mischief in hot climates and he frequently imitated haunting nocturnal sounds of the desert. His stories, true or exaggerated, gave me a hunger for travel, a desire to uncover the roots of where these exotic foods we ate on special occasions were originally sourced. I longed to hitch a ride with one of those caravans.

It is not surprising then that once I had settled in the south of France on our olive farm, I set off on a seventeen-month journey in search of the history of the olive tree and the early cultivation of its stoned fruit. It is also not surprising that during those months on the road, other flavours, foods, fruits began to excite my interest as well. One was the delectable pomegranate.

When I was in Malta, I stayed in the home of a fascinating couple who were singlehandedly at that stage attempting to ‘re-green’ their island, to reintroduce their neighbours to Malta’s once renowned olive culture by planting saplings grafted with cuttings from a tiny grove of giant Roman trees still flourishing in the twenty-first century on a southern tip of the island.

One morning when I went into breakfast, I spotted on their table a locally-fired pottery dish piled high with pomegranates. Such beautiful fruits, I remarked. Sammy, my host, immediately chose the ripest, skilfully opened up its leathery shell, allowing the juice to bleed on to his plate. He handed it across to me to enjoy. Its seeds and sweet, sweet juice clung to my chin.

I knew that, along with olives and grapes, it was a biblical crop and that it was a fruit much prized in antiquity. I had come across artifacts designed with it at the hauntingly beautiful Ras Shamra, ancient Ugarit, on the Syrian coast near Latakia, but I had not known that camel trails traversing Africa invariably carried pomegranates. In arid climes, the fruit was an essential source of liquid; it was deemed to be a super-food (I doubt anyone back then used my host’s modern description!). Along with the olive, this unusual fruit’s complex history was drawing my attention. Like the olive, it has an honoured place in the religious beliefs of the three western monotheisms. It is mentioned in the Quran, the Torah, the Old Testament, Babylonian texts, Greek mythology, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and has been used many times as a Christian image of fertility and eternity (see Celia Rees’ HG post on the Madonna del Parto ). It also found its place in Egyptian mythology. Pomegranates were cultivated in Egypt before Moses was born. Look at this exquisite silver pomegranate vase from 1323 B.C found in the tomb of Tutankhamen.

There are some who believe that this may be the fruit that grew on the tree of life while other religious academics have claimed it was the pomegranate and not the humble apple that tempted Eve on the tree of knowledge.

Although one single fruit can produce anything up to 2,000 seeds, Jewish tradition teaches 613 seeds, one for each mitzvot or commandment in the Torah. Designs of the fruit were woven in blue and purple fabric into the hems of the High Priests’ robes. Brass pomegranates were also found as border designs on the capitols of two pillars of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is traditional to eat the fruit at Rosh Hashanah. It represents wisdom and knowledge to the Jews.

In The Odyssey, Homer describes them growing in Corfu, in the fertile gardens at King Alcinous’ palace (Alcinous was leader of the Phaeacians. His people settled in Scherie, modern Corfu, possibly arriving from Sicily).

Sicilian fruit
The Romans imported their pomegranates from Libya, which was also one of their most lucrative olive-producing regions.

Although not a symbol of peace, it is revered as a divine gift by Middle Eastern nations who today are fighting one other; its roots lie with the roots of so many of those divided peoples.

The pomegranate is, as was the olive tree originally, a small drought-resistant plant that botanists would more accurately describe as a large shrub. The difference is that the olive is not deciduous. In the Middle East, both of these fruit-bearing trees can be traced back to 4,000 BC.

Its name, Pomegranate originates from Medieval Latin, pomum granatum, meaning ‘seeded apple’. In Herbrew, it is rimmon.

Since millennia, it has been cultivated in Persia – modern-day Iran, as well as Iraq, Israel, Syria, Mesopotamia: the cradle of the Olive Route. It was traded by commercial travellers along the Silk Road and found its way to China. Today in Southeast Asia, it is a highly-prized fruit, a symbol of abundance.

I asked three Chinese students staying with us what the pomegranate meant to them. One, from the south, recounted a lovely story, perhaps a stanza from a Chinese poem? When a lover declares his affections to the woman of his dreams, if she in return is equally attracted, she wears a robe the colour of a pomegranate and allows her suitor to rest his head between her knees.
I suspect that the robes were the scarlet of the flowers rather than the more discreet red of the fruit’s thick skin.

fruit blossom
In Greece, the fruit played an important role in the nation’s classical mythology. It was the fruit of the dead, the underworld... The goddess Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and forced to live in his underworld. Her mother, Demeter, goddess of the harvests, mourned her daughter’s loss and caused all green things to cease to grow. Zeus stepped in and commanded Hades to return the girl, lest the earth grow arid and die. Hades, smart fellow that he was, knowing that no food was to be consumed in the underworld, tricked Persephone into consuming six pomegranate seeds (to quench her thirst from the hot fires perhaps?). The result was that she was condemned to spend six months of every year with Hades underground. Here was the ancient Greeks’ explanation of winter, of the change in the seasons.

Persephone  - Empress of Hades
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Today, in Greece, a porcelain fruit is frequently offered to those moving house. Sometimes, an actual fruit is thrown to the ground. As it splits open, the juice seeps out and blesses the new home and its inhabitants.

Granada, Spanish for pomegranate, named one of its most magnificent Andalucian cities after it. It is the symbol of the city. Every street sign has the fruit painted above it. Federico Garcia Lorca, poet, native of Granada, victim of the Spanish Civil War, executed beneath an olive tree, wrote of the pomegranate:
‘The fruit is hard and skull-like on the outside, but on the inside it contains the blood of the wounded earth.’

Coat of Arms of Granada

Pomegranates were possibly introduced to Spain by the Moors after their arrival in 711 AD. However, I like to fancy that it was earlier, that they were transported to the peninsula’s southern shores by the Phoenicians who sailed the knowledge of olive cultivation from the coast of what today is Lebanon, all around the Mediterranean. Then, passing beyond the Pillars of Hercules, they founded their trading post of Gadir along the way, (modern-day Cadiz), before pushing the learned world, its knowledge of botany, maps and exploration further, out into the Atlantic Sea. The Phoenicians were not conquerors; they were traders and they took their business to the coastal cities of Essaouira in Morocco and Portugal in the north. Some say they crossed the Atlantic waters and were the first discoverers of the Americas, but there is no solid evidence, so far, of that.
Whether the pomegranate first reached the Untied States earlier I do not know but it was certainly brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadores. Trees growing wild were found as far afield as US Georgia in the eighteenth century...

I could go on. I haven’t touched upon the fruit’s medicinal or cosmetic properties. What excites me is nature’s role in our evolution, our human history, our diet. It is an interactive story. The seeds of history growing wild, nurtured initially by one or several tribes until the knowledge spreads, until we begin to trade, to battle for land to grow our produce, to cultivate, to protect our knowledge and our crops.
Who knows -  The Pomegranate Route could be my next travel book!

I will finish with a word from Shakespeare, spoken by the young Juliet...

Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree.
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

and these more erotic lines from the Song of Solomon:

'I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of pomegranates.'

I have never tasted pomegranate wine, but I certainly intend to now.

Carol Drinkwater

Monday, 25 August 2014

TESTAMENTS OF VERA by Eleanor Updale

This month I was given the highly enjoyable task of talking about Vera Brittain’s great book Testament of Youth at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  Don’t worry,  I’m not going to reprise my entire talk here, but I thought I might share some thoughts with you.
Like many other people, I was first alerted to Testament of Youth in 1979, when the BBC produced a superb (and surprisingly loyal) television adaptation, with Cheryl Campbell playing Vera.

In case you don’t know the book, Testament of Youth is autobiographical, but it reads with the verve of a novel.  At its heart is the journey from the idealism of the early days of the First World War through the heartbreak of losing friends and the horror and drudgery of work as a VAD nurse, to Vera’s espousal of the pacifist convictions which she held for the rest of her life.
The book was published in 1933, and was an instant best seller - as is clear from the cover of my copy, an edition published two years later.  I love the classic yellow Gollancz cover.

 I think that’s one of the most intriguing publisher’s blurbs I’ve ever seen:  One of the two most famous autobiographies?  Which was the other?  And what comic scene at the Gollancz office resulted in that wording?
I suppose it’s likely to have been another book published by Gollancz, which narrows things down a bit. My money is on Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, which also came out in 1933.

But Victor Gollancz may have been showing generosity to some other publishing house (Goodbye to All That?) or even looking abroad (Mein Kampf?).  If any of you have ideas, do let me know. 

To get a better feeling for Brittain, I looked at many of her other books too.  She wrote novels (some of them transparently based on her own life) but was best known for her polemics and memoirs.  

Brittain must be an early example of the cultivation of an author as a brand, with new titles harking back to her first big success.  During her lifetime, and after her death in 1970, the names of her books, and posthumous compilations of their source material, involved various permutations of the the words ‘Testament', ‘Chronicle;, and ‘Youth'.
For example, Testament of a Peace Lover (letters written in the Second World War) came out in 1988, eighteen years after Vera’s death,  Her collected Journalism from the 20s to the 60s was given the title Testament of a Generation. Vera’s own wartime diary, on which Testament of Youth was based, was not available to the general public until 1981, when it was published under the title Chronicle of Youth.  
Testament of Youth's searing account of the deaths of Vera's brother Edward, her fiancé Roland Leighton and their close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow was partly responsible for the popular concept of a ‘lost generation’ which has been so widely questioned recently. All those men were born in 1895, two years after Vera, who saw them through a youthful prism of devotion and loss.  Their letters to each other  were published in 1998, twenty-eight years after Vera’s own death, under the title Letters From a Lost Generation

It’s worth following Vera’s story beyond the end of Testament of Youth. Her account of her friendship with the novelist, Winifred Holtby (continued in Testament of Experience and Testament of Friendship) gives compelling insight into the lives of the women who served in and survived the war.  It’s also an intriguing picture of one particular household - with much of Vera’s self-styled ‘semi detached’ marriage to her academic husband ‘G’ Catlin conducted with Winifred on hand under the marital roof.
But it’s the collections of journalism  and political polemic that say most about Vera Brittain the feminist and pacifist.  A particularly remarkable book - published in 1942, with a striking cover designed by Arthur Wragg - is Humiliation with Honour.  

It’s a collection of letters Vera wrote to her children, John and Shirley (later Shirley Williams) about why she was sticking to her pacifist principles despite the rise of the Nazis, and the public vilification she was experiencing because of that stance.

Vera Brittain was, of course remarkable among the women of her generation. You can see that just by looking at the photographs in some of the books, where she is often alone in groups of men agitating for political reform or international peace. But away from the public realm, she was not alone in her in her refusal to be cowed by the conventional treatment of women in her time.  Many who shared her approach to life, and read her books, were working and/or raising families across the land.  Their daughters were the generation of women by whom many of us were taught - a generation which, to my mind, was unfairly underestimated by the feminists of the late 20th century.  The image of the submissive, air-headed household drudge was not always accurate. Many of the women who found themselves teaching in the1960s would today be running companies, or ruling the country.  We were very lucky to have them as teachers, wherever we went to school.  That’s a subject I may return to in another blog, soon.

PS A note for those who remember my earlier post about Catherine Sinclair.
I did go to her memorial on the 150th anniversary of her death.  It was a very rainy day. I laid some flowers, and my fellow author, Vivian French placed a little doll there, in honour of her books for children.