The potential for drowning in the wave of research

Following on from my previous post, another area which seems to fascinate people is how I approach researching different aspects of World War II for Under the Yew Tree and the sequel, Oak Before Ash.

I’ve always had a fascination for ancestry and I am proud that my grandparents and great grandparents ‘worked the land’ in Hampshire and West Sussex.  I also harbour a life-long interest in the Second World War – especially in the regional importance West Sussex had during this period. This interest was possibly ignited by my father’s stories about being in the Home Guard and when he  was on the ‘night watch’ he apparently kept a machine gun under his bed! A far cry from the innocence of Dad’s Army, as I’ve researched more for Under the Yew Tree, I’ve often wondered if my father was in more than just the Home Guard…

For both Under the Yew Tree and, now, for Oak Before Ash, I’ve read numerous books and articles on WWII; the politics, the economics; the communities. My bookshelves are groaning under the weight! With Oak Before Ash, in particular, I’m researching and learning more about how the French Resistance operated in France – and from Tangmere in West Sussex, as well as Churchill’s ‘Secret Army’ which many don’t know about, even now. What strikes me more than anything in my research, is how advanced we were in technology and espionage at the time and also, how horribly close we were to German Occupation.

It is very easy to drown in research and be distracted; especially when the subject is so inspiring for you as a writer, so it is easy to fall into the trap of not writing anything! I suppose I’m lucky in that I find my research keeps moving and keeps me moving forwards: one thing leads to another question, which leads to an idea, which leads to writing and back to research for fact checking. I think the trick of not driving yourself off course, is to find your thread and commit to it. Of course, you will be influenced by new information but, if you feel something works in your plot, then use it. It’s called ‘artistic license’!

As far as Oak Before Ash goes, I’m making good progress, but I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, so you’ll need to ‘watch this space’ for more…

 

I’m humbled by the Foreword…

I am indebted to my friend Edward Couzens-Lake, writer and broadcaster, who has been kind enough to pen the Foreword to my first novel, Under the Yew Tree.

His words have touched me and I’m pleased to be able to share a few of them here, before my book is available, when of course you can enjoy the Foreword in its entirety!

“In Under the Yew Tree, John Charles Hall envisages how a Nazi controlled Europe would have impacted on the day to day lives of a small rural farming community. Not London, Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow. And no visions of Nazi motorcades streaming down Pall Mall or vivid descriptions of how the great and the good of our Cities fell.  He looks much, much deeper than that, telling the story of enemy occupation as it affected the lives of ordinary people living everyday lives in a small West Sussex village, one that is more used to living in the benign shadow of the South Downs rather the sound of the jackboot.  People whose lives were utterly turned upside down, and who knew that their lives would never be the same again.

This is a story about how they met their fate, how they coped, how they tried to carry on their day to day lives.  And, slowly but inevitably and against odds that far exceeded the impossible, began to fight back.

The story is compelling because it is about people who had no right to anything other than to accept their fate and to remember England as it once was but which had now changed forever.  Yet fight back they did.  And this is their story.

John would, I am sure, have fought alongside them.  And with great gusto and a sense of what he was doing was the right thing.  Like his characters, John is a countryman. His love and appreciation of the Sussex countryside shines throughout this book.  He’ll take you there; you’ll share the same sights, sounds and smells as his characters; you’ll feel their pain, their fear and their hope.  This is a book you won’t just read, this is a book you will feel.  You’ll walk in Joseph’s footsteps.  Every inch of the way.  And you won’t want to put the book down until you see where, ultimately, they take him.  So, turn the page and start your journey with him now.”

Thank you so much for your support, Edward.

Under the Yew Tree – my inspiration

Having been born and lived all my life in and around the villages of the South Downs and the West Sussex Coastal Plain, I have a great love and understanding of these rural communities, and I have often wondered what might have happened had they been invaded and occupied during the Second World War. 

How would the British have coped, had the Germans invaded? Would we have lived in harmony with our ‘captors’, or fought with a similar resistance to the French? Where would our ‘Vichy Government’ have been located?

Any invasion by the Germans at the time would likely have come directly from France or The Netherlands and I was fascinated to understand how this might have impacted on the landscape of Sussex. Rich in wartime history as training grounds, aviation hubs and research facilities, Sussex is even now nationally vital for agriculture and horticulture, so how would these close-knit farming communities have coped?

Would they have pulled together should the invasion and occupation have happened? Or would they have worked against each other?Would everyone have resisted or would we have succumbed easily to our occupiers?