This week I received a forwarded email from Corazon (my ebook publisher) to inform me that Amazon had decided to offer Turn of the Tide as a monthly deal for October. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant until I posted a question on FB. Clare Flynn was one of the folk who responded – and when I discovered her book, The Chalky Sea, also the first in a series, was on offer too, I was delighted to welcome Clare onto my blog to explain why she chose to write about WW2. Over to you, Clare.
Why I decided to write about WW2
I used to say I’d never write about war. The idea didn’t appeal, and I doubted I had anything to add to the huge body of existing WW2 fiction.
Then in 2016 I moved to Eastbourne, after twenty years in London. Knowing nothing about the history of Eastbourne, it was a surprise to discover it was the most heavily bombed town in SE England. 199 people were killed in sustained bombing raids on Eastbourne between July 1940, a month before the London Blitz began, until March 1944.
The first raids were probably to ‘soften up’ the town ahead of Hitler’s planned invasion, Operation Sea Lion, on the Sussex coast. When that was called off Eastbourne saw no respite. It was subject to “tip and run” raids, where bombers flew under the radar then, as they reached the coast, soared over Beachy Head, banked and swooped on the town before nipping back across the Channel.
In July 1941 Eastbourne had its first influx of Canadian soldiers. Volunteers, they were eager for action, but had spent the first years of the war in reserve, doing exercises and manoeuvres and seeing nothing of the enemy. Their arrival was not announced officially, but within a week the local newspaper was already referring to “our guests”.
This concentration of Canadian soldiers was another reason for Eastbourne being a target, especially in the run-up to the catastrophic Dieppe raid. Intelligence may have been leaked to the Germans about the forthcoming attack, as the residential area where numerous Canadians were billeted was heavily bombed.
The Canadians must have been frustrated by their lack of combat. Instead they scaled the cliffs, practised on the firing ranges on the Downs, and undertook large scale manoeuvres and tank movements. They made use of the leisure activities including dances at the Winter Garden. The town produced 150 war brides.
My interest was heightened when I discovered many Canadians were billeted in the area where I live, Meads – with an officers’ mess in a house in my road and gatherings around the piano in the local pubs, The Ship and The Pilot.
The idea of setting a book here became irresistible. Within two months of arriving, I began The Chalky Sea. It’s set mostly in Eastbourne, as well as the Aldershot garrison and Ontario, Canada.
The Chalky Sea is the story of Gwen an Eastbourne woman, alone and refusing to evacuate the town after the departure of her officer husband to war; and Jim, a young Canadian farmer, who joins up to escape a broken heart. The book follows their individual journeys and examines the impact of war on them and how it changes them profoundly.
My home is above the town with views of the Downs and the sea. Each morning in the kitchen making tea, I imagined Gwen looking out at the ever-changing chalky sea. Instead of tankers and container ships in the Channel, she would have looked out for those low-flying planes. Instead of a lawn, the garden would have been a vegetable patch, along with an Anderson shelter.
Wherever I went in the town, I pictured it in the 1940s. The famous Carpet Gardens on the promenade became vegetable plots, the pier was cut in half and mined to impede German landing-craft, and the beaches were covered in barbed wire and tank-traps.
I wrote The Chalky Sea, as a standalone book – but many questions about what befell Gwen and Jim after the war, so I wrote a sequel, The Alien Corn, set in Canada and on the Italian front. This year The Frozen River followed. Writing about World War 2 has proved fascinating so I’m working on an unrelated novel set in 1938/39. This time the sea and the merchant navy are at the core – and I’ll take the characters on into the war itself in a subsequent book.
The Chalky Sea is available on Amazon (UK, USA and Europe) for 99p (99c) throughout October.
Clare Flynn is the British author of eight historical novels. Her books deal with displacement – both physical and emotional and have a strong sense of time and place. They draw on her extensive travels and experience living in many different places.