Setting out to discover The Goose Road

In my edition of Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, his powerful World War 1 novel centred on the first, disastrous day of the Battle of the Somme, Mr Faulks says the original inspiration for his story dated back to his schooldays, when he’d read out at Assembly all the names of the old boys who had died in the fighting.

In the preface to my edition, he says, “It was a tiny school, but the list was so long that I was excused lessons the next day with a sore throat.” His curiosity was piqued by this terrible list, along with his history teacher’s reluctance to talk about the war.

Unlike Faulks, my schoolgirl brushes with the First World War convinced me for decades that I knew as much as I’d ever want to know about the horrors of that conflict: the nightmare gas attacks, the mutilated, dismembered bodies, lions led by donkeys, the pity of war…

Even at the London School of Economics, where I studied 20th century history as part of my international relations degree, I shied from courses that covered the 1914-1918 war years. Politics, I felt back then, ended when the fighting began and resumed when it ended. And I was only interested in politics.

It wasn’t until 2013, on the eve of the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, that chance changed my mind.

In the summer of that year, Andersen Press announced a short story competition for students on the writing for young people MA which I was attending at Bath Spa University. The rules were simple: write a story set during WW1 with a girl protagonist. The prize: publication.

I jumped at the chance, partly out of journalistic impatience – a short story would demand a concentrated effort over weeks (months at most) and not the wearisome years it takes to complete a novel – but also because my imagination had been fired by seeing the National Theatre’s brilliant production of War Horse the previous Christmas.

Most important of all, this was a real subject, one that demanded research. Travel. Facts. I’m not a big fan of sitting around, fishing in the well of the subconscious for story ideas. I look outward for inspiration, not inward.

But my subconscious was at work whether I knew it or not. Something intuitive and deep-rooted stirred as the Andersen editor talked us through the competition. It brought to mind one image of WW1 in particular, a photograph I’d seen years before on a television documentary.

The photograph showed hundreds of farmyard geese waiting in a French railway marshalling yard, and was being used to illustrate how Spanish Influenza – the terrible bird ’flu pandemic which swept the world in waves in 1918 and 1919, killing tens of millions of people – arrived in France in the winter of 1916/1917, and also how it spread via soldiers returning home by railways and ships.

I now believe that picture provided me with what Skellig author David Almond calls ‘the freedom of knowing your limitations,’ an idea he came across through the American author, Flannery O’Connor.

In an interview, he explained: ‘For me, it was a matter of accepting certain things about myself that were going to be the things that gave me my true voice and my true subject … like the fact that I’d been brought up as a Catholic; that I’d been brought up living in the North East. I spent a long time trying to struggle against those things and cast them out from my work. It was only when I got to the point of realizing that that wasn’t working, and just sighing and saying, ‘Oh yes, that’s what I am’ and accepting those things, that they actually brought a great deal of richness and imagery to my work.’

That WW1 photograph gave me France, a country where I’d lived and worked as a Reuter’s foreign correspondent and always love to revisit. It gave me geese: mysterious birds linked to witchcraft and early Celtic mythology. It gave me railways and the steam trains that had taken my grandfather to the battlefields of the Dardanelles in 1916. Andersen Press demanded a wartime heroine. I had my creative limitations.

Armed with the complete poems of Wilfred Owen, the SatNav coordinates of a French rural museum which kept a flock of Toulouse geese, and a growing conviction that I’d remained wilfully ignorant of what had happened between 1914 and 1918 long enough, I set off to discover the story that would win me the Andersen Press competition, as The Marshalling of Angelique’s Geese (War Girls, 2014), and five years later would be published by Walker Books as a full length novel for teens as The Goose Road.

This article first appeared on YouTuber and reviewer Alex Pattinson’s website http://alexsfictionaddiction.tumblr.com Her review of The Goose Road is: here

 

 

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them”

At the start of the centenary of the 1914-18 war I had a notion that we would by now, as a nation, have found some sort of collective closure on the individual suffering of the dead of the Great War, and be ready to move on, to toss their bones in the air as it were, and free the spirits of the fallen to join with our distant ancestors.

As a writer, I agreed with Pat Barker’s comment that World War I had “come to stand in for other wars … it’s come to stand for the pain of all wars.” Our stories might be about that particular conflict, but the larger subject was war itself.

Researching and writing my own First World War novel, The Goose Road, dented that conviction. Wherever I looked, the power of individual suffering endured and the personal stories were endlessly shocking, intimate and enthralling.

I fell under their spell time and again while listening to the first-hand accounts of veterans of the Western Front, their scratchy voices forever locked in a sound archive, or when reading a collection of letters home, or interviews granted to earlier researchers. I’d suddenly be caught unawares by a moment of humanity or courage, or dark gallows’ humour.

Occasionally an old soldier would admit to cruelty. More often they shared memories of the drudgery of the trenches, punctuated by terror. To walk those trenches – or at least one of the few fragments that remain, in Beaumont Hamel, say, zig-zagging through a meadow – is to walk in a haunted place.

Near Verdun, there’s a hill called Mort Homme. The name isn’t connected to the 1914-18 war, although the WW1 artillery battles fought there between the French and the Germans were so fierce that engineers found afterward that meters of the entire hilltop had been blown off. Local farmers still aren’t allowed to plough its soil because of the human remains.

When researching closer to home I found that WW1 objects as well as places had the power to take my breath away. Once I was in the Royal Artillery Museum in Woolwich Arsenal, investigating a particular week in October 1916 and a specific section of the Western Front near the occupied French town of Peronne. The archivist bought me out a trolley laden with original material from that time and that place, on top of which was a small moleskin notebook, written in pencil by an English major, the pages still stained with the mud of the Somme. I sat and stared at it for ages, feeling as if the battle itself was within touching distance.

Just before I returned for the second of four research visits to France, my mother died unexpectedly. It was a release: she’d been ill for a long time. Among the heirlooms she left to me was a forget-me-not locket with a photograph of her father, Frederick Clarke, in his WW1 uniform. A stern old lady stares out of the locket’s other frame – my great-grandmother, Selena, I believe.

Mum also left me a heart-shaped locket, which I think must have belonged to Selena as it contained the pictures of two uniformed soldiers, her sons. One is Frederick, who served in the 10th (Irish) Division as a medical clerk and stretcher bearer in the Dardanelles in 1916 and later in Salonika. The other is Frederick’s older brother, Thomas Clarke, a private in the 19th King’s Liverpool Regiment, killed in action on the Somme, on July 30th, 1916.

I’d never seen Thomas Clarke’s picture before I inherited this locket. Mum thought he’d died near Ypres, and as far as I know, until my husband tracked down his regiment’s military records, no one in the family knew the details of his last day. The official War Diary and Intelligence Summary of that engagement is chilling:

“29/7/16 battle position in the MALTZ HORN TRENCH.

30/7/16 BATTLE began. Zero hour 4.45 am. The Battalion reached its objective, but suffered heavy losses, and had to evacuate its position owing to no reinforcements. At 12 noon the roll call was 7 officers and 43 men.

Total casualties were: Lieutenant-Colonel G. Rollo wounded.

KILLED. [Six officers named]

WOUNDED. [One officer named.]

WOUNDED AND MISSING. [Three officers named.]

Total casualties in Other Ranks: 425, of which 76 were killed, 172 wounded, 177 missing.”

Barry Cuttell’s account of that morning in 148 Days on the Somme is more detailed: “Morning mist prevented communication by visual signals, and almost all underground cables had been damaged. The only way of relaying messages to divisional headquarters was by runner, which would be a dangerous task once the fog had lifted as the runners had to cross the open ground between Guillemont and Trone’s Wood, over which German machine guns … enjoyed an excellent field of fire.

“While waiting for zero hour, 19/King’s Liverpool were subject to High Explosives and gas (shelling) … The 19/King’s in the centre was also badly hit by enemy fire, only a few men reaching the road. A little further north, a company of the 19/King’s succeeded in getting forward towards the south-eastern entry to Guillemont.” But later that morning, “Under the impression they were cut off, the 19/King’s withdrew from the edge of Guillemont.”

Thus out of 486 soldiers of the 19th King’s Liverpool Regiment who advanced at dawn on that summer’s morning, north and east from the Maltz Horn Trench towards the German artillery and machine guns, only fifty remained standing seven hours later. The rest were wounded, dead or “missing”, that is, their bodies were either too badly mutilated for individual identification or otherwise unrecoverable from the battlefield.

The rolling fields where Thomas Clarke fell were bronzed with ripening wheat when I saw them, flanked by the once devastated trees of Trone’s Wood. My husband, a former Royal Marine, returned there on July 30th, 2016, to pay our respects, both on the battlefield and at his graveside in the Bernafay Wood cemetery. Perhaps his locket – the brother to the forget-me-not one I inherited – is buried there with him.

This article first appeared on The History Girls on March 18th, 2018. See the original post here including comments and photographs.

UPDATE: The Goose Road launch articles & interviews

Today’s the last day of The Goose Road giveaways over on Twitter so I thought I’d pull together (one final time) all the links to the launch interviews and guest articles published in the past few weeks, in which I think I’ve said pretty much all that’s worth saying about writing the book.

There is one article outstanding: the acknowledgements, which are lengthy and will appear in due course, because I’d rather say something meaningful about the contribution of people I want to thank, rather than list names and gush generically about them, which won’t mean anything to anyone else.

Meanwhile, here’s what’s to be found online already:

Articles

Books as emotional stepping stones to World War One on ABBA

WW1 research and remembrance on The History Girls

Myths, mistakes and other inner debates about the title The Goose Road on JoshAndABook

Why is it still so hard to hear female voices from World War One?  SarahLikesBooks

Why I love (some) historical fiction. Ramblingmads

Tips on getting published.  TheBumblingBlogger

5 best bits about being a debut author – and the 5 worst on Michelle Toy’s Tales of Yesterday.

“Inspirations that led me along The Goose Road” is on a Tumblr account that inserts the entire thing directly onto WordPress (!) so I won’t post the link here. It’s locatable via Alex’s Fiction Addiction and is also pasted in full in this earlier blog.

Interviews with:

Kerry Drewery on  Author Allsorts

Louise Twist on  Books For Boys

Carly Chambers on fictionfascination.co.uk

Torchlight Anthology here.

Author interviews by me & lots more articles about the craft of creative writing, hazards of a writing life, the First World War and more can be found via the Practical Writing Tips search box on the Welcome page of this website.

 

Giveaway update

THANK YOU to everyone online who’s tweeted, liked, shared or reviewed The Goose Road over this launch fortnight. It means the world. Truly. Today is the last day for Faye Roger’s giveaway. Thank you so much to her, Jemima Osborne and Louise Twist for all their support: your competitions have been amazing successes in spreading the word. Good news, too: the marvellous Michelle Toy has FIVE copies to giveaway. Hurrah! Massive thanks to her and Walker Books for being so generous with these prizes. Here’s where you can find online competitions to win a free copy of the book:

Rhoda Keller here.

Alex Pattinson via http://alexsfictionaddiction.tumblr.com Details nestled at the base of my post about the inspirations behind The Goose Road

Faye Rogers retweet her giveaway tweet and follow her on @daydreamin_star

Alyce Hunt retweet her giveaway tweet and follow her on @everythingalyce

Emma Stickley details at the end of the fourth extract  here.

Michelle Toy follow @ChelleyToy & RT her (currently pinned) tweet about my final article in the blog tour: the 5 best bits about being a debut author – and the 5 worst!

Finally a huge THANK YOU to @TorchlightMAWYP for including The Goose Road in their giveaway bundle of stories from fellow alumna of Bath Spa University’s MA in writing for young people. I’m SO proud to be in such great company, and extremely impressed by the quality of your work in the Torchlight’s anthology. I hope your launch is a massive success as well, and leads to great things for you all.

 

 

Myths, mistakes & other inner debates about naming The Goose Road

Journalist me: why did you choose The Goose Road as the title for your book?

Author me: I wrote the story under the working title of The Butterfly’s Wing, which is a metaphor I borrowed from the founder of modern chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, who once asked, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” in order to explore the mathematics of how microscopic disturbances in complex systems like the weather have immense knock-on effects.

In my original story, the actions of my protagonist, Angelique Lacroix, caused terrible, unintended consequences, but my editor at Walker felt that was too cruel to her as a character, and too shocking to the readers, so I let this element of the plot sink beneath the surface in later edits. That meant The Butterfly’s Wing didn’t work as a title anymore.

So your editor told you to change both the book and the title?

She asked me to change them, yes. But that’s one of the great things about working with an editor: they see things in your story that you don’t. They also understand the readership with their readers far better than a debut author. Also, I absolutely agreed with her that there’s no point whatsoever in having a title you have to explain to the reader. That defeats the whole point of a metaphor.

Where did The Goose Road come from, then?

I’d read a lot of First World War fiction and poetry while researching the background to the story. The Western Front in 1916 was a terrible place to be. The full weight of industrial-scale artillery shell production was crashing down on soldiers of both sides. So for the new title I went back to the soldier-poets for inspiration.

In 2014, the Imperial War Museums had published a wonderful collection called First World War Poems from the Front, edited by Paul O’Prey. I drew up a long list of possible titles from imagery in these poems.

Read the rest of the original guest blog via this link: Myths, mistakes & other inner debates about naming The Goose Road

The Goose Road launch tour – Week 2

The Goose Road sets out on its second and final week touring bookish websites in a far, far better place than I could ever have imagined a week ago.

At the time of writing, it’s holding Amazon’s No1 Bestseller slot for European historical YA fiction, having jumped there on Saturday – just two full days into publication – and pretty much held there, with one or two wobbles, ever since. Fan. Tas. Tic.

The Goose Road is also the proud possessor of that rarest of beasts for a debut: a review in a national daily newspaper.

The Telegraph called it “a gem” amid the many First World War titles being released in time for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the 1914-18 Great War.

Reviewer Emily Bearn left me speechless – for an hour at least.

Seriously, though. I’m immensely proud to have produced a work of fiction, on a subject I think is terribly important, which is being well received by adult, teen and young reviewers alike.

For the views of young readers, do have a look at this from Love Reading 4 Kids’ featured books of the month. Hurrah!

To crown this wonderful first week, Michelle Toy announced The Goose Road would also be her Debut of the Month for the British Book Challenge she runs on her respected book site, Tales from Yesterday, which is a particular accolade in the hotly-contested month of April.

So…

Week 2

This is what’s in store:

  • More giveaways. We’ve got five going at the moment. See the Week 1 post for a full list of links
  • An article about The Goose Road and why I chose it as a title
  • Two author interviews
  • More guest blogs.

I’ll update this post with links as and when they go live.

Meanwhile, enjoy London Book Fair week, and Happy Reading!

 

PS Here – finally – is that picture I’ve been blathering about for days. That me and Jane, owner of our local independent Habour Bookshop, celebrating the arrival of The Goose Road on her shelves.

Jane & I first met at our children’s school’s Christmas fair, staffing the second-hand book stall. So for all I’m shouting about Amazon, please, please support your local bookshop!

Harbour Bookshop.jpg

The Goose Road launch tour – Week 1!

Wow! What a week. Publication day came and went amid a blizzard of Tweets and Likes and Shares, and fish & chips with friends, flowers from my fab agent, and a great sense of something big reaching completion. But then…

The weekend arrived and things really took off. The Goose Road hit AMAZON’S NO.1 BESTSELLER slot in its main marketplace (it’s still holding on in there at the time of writing. Ye-ha!) Then I learnt The Telegraph newspaper was running a wonderful review in their Saturday edition. A rare and special thing.

And the reviews kept coming, and at last I started to feel the love that I’d poured into Angelique and her life returning from readers. That’s an amazing feeling.

I also saw my book in real life at our wonderful local indie bookshop, The Harbour Bookshop, in Kingsbridge, Devon. I’ll manage to upload the picture of owner Jane and me grinning like idiots one day. Meanwhile it’s on my Instagram feed.

As there’s been so much going on in the first week of the launch tour – with lots more to come in the second – I’m updating this post regularly to keep track of what’s where online, including the FIVE giveaways of free copies of The Goose Road which are currently running.

This is where we are on Monday, April 9th.

Day One

Jemima Osborne published the opening extract, her generous review and the first giveaway competition on her blog drinkingbooks.wordpress.com. That giveaway runs until April 10th. Find it here.

Day Two

Sarah Barnard also reviewed The Goose Road and ran my first tour article, asking why girls’ voices are still so hard to hear from World War One. This is her website sarahlikesbooks.wordpress.com and the launch blog is here

Day Three

Madeline Fenner hosted the tour on the eve of publication, with an article about why I love historical fiction both as a reader and a writer.

Here it is.

Day Four: Publication Day!

Rhoda Keller kindly published the second extract alongside her lovely review and the next giveaway, UK only, running until April 12th on http://www.strupag.com/

My big Book Birthday interview with fab fellow author Kerry Drewery (of Cell7 fame) came out the same day on Author Allsorts here

Day Five

YouTuber and reviewer Alex Pattinson had wonderfully kind things to say about Angelique’s journey on April 6th on both her YouTube and Tumblr review sites, and added my article about the inspirations behind the book. Locatable via: http://alexsfictionaddiction.tumblr.com

Her review is: here

Her BookTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/c/AlexsFictionAddiction

This is a link to my article about the inspirations behind The Goose Road, but I’m not sure if WordPress and Tumblr are talking to each other via this blog. [Alternatively, the whole thing is here! I must get the hang of WordPress one day!]

Day Six

The next generation of talented & professional writers for young people to graduate from the MA at Bath Spa included a signed copy of The Goose Road in a promotional giveaway, show-casing the work of alumni. They’re show-casing their own work as Torchlight. Here is the link to their webpage

The giveaway is on Twitter: retweet to enter the giveaway and follow:

@TorchlightMAWYP

Day Seven

Faye Rogers launched the FIFTH giveaway on Twitter first thing Sunday morning, and added a brand new, never seen before extract. It follows on from Chapter 1, my featured blog above this one. Read on here.

To enter Faye’s giveaway (still UK only, I’m afraid) RT her giveaway tweet and follow her handle (and mine if you fancy!) Hers is @daydreamin_star .

Sunday also saw uber-book blogger Michelle Toy, of Tales of Yesterday fame, announcing that The Goose Road was her selection for Debut of the Month – always a fantastic accolade but a particular honour in April with such a strong field of contenders. Super proud to have been chosen, Chelley. Thank you very much.

Watch out for Book Challenge reviews on her site.

Week 2

Arriving soon on joshandabook.co.uk  will be my article “Myths, Mistakes and other inner debates about naming The Goose Road”, a rather rambling version of the story behind the decisions I made when choosing a title and the meanings behind it.

Plus more interviews and articles, and giveaways! What a week to coincide with London Book Fair.

Heart-felt thanks to everyone who made this tour happen: Walker Books and Jo Hardacre, and all the wonderful bloggers, reviewers, fellow writers, bookshops, teachers and readers who are taking the time to share their thoughts.

It means the world. Truly.

Happy reading!