Like many others I re-read Jane Austen often. Recently I read Persuasion again but found it rather annoying! However, for those who love Pride and Prejudice there is a treat in store. Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn’ is written from the POV of the Bennett’s servants and there are brilliant surprises as well as some delicious writing.
The Second World War Arctic Convoys
In World War 2, Roosevelt and Churchill desperately needed to prevent Russia from allying with Germany. If it did so, they knew the western allies would lose the war.
In return for Russia’s alliance with the West, Stalin demanded vast amounts of food and arms for his starving and ill-equipped people. Germany and its allies blocked the land routes, so the only way to get supplies to Russia was by sea. And the only ports available were within the Arctic Circle, Murmansk and Archangel—with all of Hitler’s sea and air power poised to prevent them from reaching Russia.
So how did Britain and the US get supplies to Russia?
Merchant ships gathered in a deep-water anchorage in the west of Scotland called Loch Ewe. Protected by escorts of heavily armed British warships they joined up with American and other allies merchant ships in Iceland, and headed, nervously, towards Russia’s only two northern open water ports.
On the way, the Luftwaffe, based in occupied Norway, would bomb the ships from the air, U Boat submarines lurking beneath the waves of the White Sea would attack with torpedoes and their fast and mighty warships could outgun the Western allies.
We think these days that communication is so simple! Hard to remember that there was no internet, no satellites, and radar was a new technology. Radio silence was kept, to obscure the convoy’s position. Ship to ship communication was by visual signal only.
The weather was a worse enemy. In summer there was 24-hour daylight—enemy aircraft, ships and submarines worked round the clock too. Summer convoys became so dangerous they had to be discontinued. In winter there was 24-hour darkness, the sea froze and the ice sheet grew rapidly from north to south. This meant that convoys had to sail much further south and were then squeezed between the ice and the land mass to the south. Much easier for the Germans to find and attack them.
Winter storms were indescribable. The winter water temperature often dropped to minus 2 degrees Celsius, air temperature down to minus 22 degrees Celsius, without taking wind into account. Waves were sometimes 40 to 50 feet high, visibility was nil in driving snow and spray, ships came near the vertical both going up and coming down the waves, they crashed and bounced and wallowed and capsized. Capsizing was one of the greatest dangers due to the weight of ice which accumulated above decks from the water flooding the superstructure of ships. Ice accumulated on guns, turrets and shells; masts, rigging, funnels, pipes and guard rails; on containers, aircraft, tanks and munitions stacked on decks, the decks themselves were like ice rinks, doors sealed themselves, ropes, anchors, fenders became as hard as iron and as immovable. Clothes were inadequate—no ski jackets or cold weather gear as we know it. Crews had to spend hours on deck, tossed about like dolls, chipping at the ice and throwing it overboard, just so that the ship would not turn turtle. Fuel and oil coagulated in the low temperatures. Unimaginable conditions. Unimaginably brave men.
The convoys drained the British war effort. Every escorting warship was a ship which could have been fighting elsewhere on the war front. Churchill became extremely unpopular for supplying Russia.
In total, 104 Allied merchant ships and 22 warships were sunk on the Arctic convoys. 829 merchant mariners and 1,944 navy personnel were killed. Killed by guns, torpedoes, sinking, drowning, fire, hypothermia, inhalation of oil and Russian hospitals.
What happened when ships arrived in Russia?
Both Archangel in the White Sea and Murmansk in the Kola Inlet were very basic fishing ports. Wooden quays, virtually no lifting gear, wooden sheds, no hotels or shops of any kind. The officials were deeply suspicious of the capitalists bringing ships and goods into their country. These ports were so far from central government that orders seldom got to them. There was no infrastructure or telephones and in winter, they were totally isolated. Murmansk was very close to German airfields in Norway and many ships were bombed lying alongside. Ships companies were not allowed ashore—there was nothing to go ashore for! They were not allowed to use their own boats, even to visit their own ships. Russian guards were posted at every gangplank, bureaucracy was rampant and corrupt, and few Russians were able to speak English or to read or write.
Goods were mainly unloaded by hand by what appeared to be slave labour—serfs—and seldom found their way to the right destination, food supplies for the starving citizens often lying rotting on the quays. Tanks, guns, crated aircraft, munitions—no-one seemed to know who or where they were destined for, nor did anyone seem to care. Many sailors arrived with terrible injuries after German attacks, but the ‘hospital’ was so basic, with no hygiene, facilities or medications, that many died needlessly in ghastly conditions. Western medical supplies were turned away. Many of the RAF planes which should have been protecting Murmansk and attacking German airfields were grounded, but the spare parts brought on the convoys were not allowed to be delivered and were impounded or stolen along with vast amounts of vital war supplies. The bureaucracy surrounding every movement of every man and every ship, every container and every item transported was such that sometimes it took weeks or months to offload vital supplies for the Russian front line, trapping the escorts in port. Ships were prevented from refuelling or taking on water or food supplies, their crews virtually starving, despite bringing hundreds of tons of foodstuffs into the country. Stalin might have been an official ally, but for the Arctic convoys, Russia certainly didn’t behave like one.
The story of The Road to Russia and the sacrifice and bravery of those seamen remained almost unknown under The Official Secrets Act. Until 1999 there was no memorial, and no medal was awarded until 2013.
The latest pierced artery is a block of ten ISBNs. But the comfort is that they cost a bit less than two ISBNs which would have been £89 each. Ouch. And if I had been persuaded to buy the matching Bar Codes, that would have been another £120.
As I have published only one novel and am about to publish the second with no original intention of writing a third, ten ISBNs seems rather excessive. The husband was unhelpful and said I’d just have to keep on tightening the tourniquet.
What with the cover design, three structural edits, line and copy edits and formatting, to name but a few of the deep financial wounds, it is a wonder that any author makes money at all.
I know, I know. All you have to do is sell your book.
It’s quite alarming how the World Wide Web Works. This interview was recently requested out of the blue, and more eerily was sent to an old email address and domain which hasn’t existed for over a year. It arrived in my normal inbox. A kind of ouija, message from The Beyond. The Other Side (of the Atlantic).
I was reading John Doppler’s (Alliance of Independent Authors) post on book titles this morning and realised I had never checked whether Come In From The Cold had been used before. Happily not, as the book cover has been designed and paid for!
Then checked my next book’s title which I think is just PERFECT. ‘Colour Blind’ which is about a girl going blind from Retinal Dystrophy who smells in colour (Associative Synesthesia) and whose career and business is to do with colour. I was in a complete panic! However, that appears not have been used either, but I now feel I’d better get on with both books before someone else has the same idea.
My second novel, Come In From The Cold, is on its way. Slowly. I am quite a fast writer now (only 3 years on this one, compared with 25 years for Dolphin Days.)
It’s the editing that takes the time …… and the husband, of course.
On March 26, 2019, I featured on Suzanne Adair’s Relevant History Guest Post. The posts are all about the interesting pieces of history that you were never taught in history class. So to read horrific things about the Arctic Convoys to Russia in World War 2, visit her blog (www.SuzanneAdair.net/blog).
Here is a little synopsis for ‘Come In From The Cold’, which is set mainly in Wester Ross in Scotland. Those of you who know that we have a cottage here will understand how the local history has intrigued and motivated me to discover more.
During World War 2, John Elliott, an RNR officer on convoys to Russia from Scotland, is billeted on nineteen-year-old Mhairi. After his children die in a bombing raid, John is killed on convoy, leaving his wife pregnant. Mhairi is also pregnant, but by John or by the rape of dangerous and manipulative Archie? Mhairi is suspected, but not convicted, of Archie’s murder.
After the birth of her son, the condemnation of the community and her violent father’s return from war combine to drive her to a new life and loveless marriage.
In 2012, Annie Devereux, divorced and humiliated as a barren wife, retreats to Scotland to research John Elliott, her step-grandfather. Meeting David, a widowed father, and grandson of Mhairi, friendship and attraction develop as they search for answers, including the answer to a death seventy years previous. Past and present secrets combine to threaten them both.
I was recently interviewed about how I write, and although I didn’t expect to be quoted, let alone have my comments published in full, it was. How flattering is that, except that I am rather ashamed to admit to my chaotic writing habits.
You can see the interview here
But this is the result of my odd writing habits.
Out of the corner of my eye I see a rapidly moving furry object loping down the lawn (not a lawn, a large area of sphagnum moss). I hurl the laptop over, followed by the file and a spray of loose chapter paper, ungum myself from pillows, sheet, blankets and eiderdown (duvets are another subject) grab the tablet, find Camera, wait for focus.
Pine marten has obviously gone long since.
I shriek for husband, rush to sitting room, and there in the far distance is a dark speck loping up the track, then turning sharp left into the heather to disappear on the moor. Again.
I know that no-one is going to believe that we have our very own pine marten with a regular morning commute across our peat bog unless he is captured on camera. Even the husband looks doubtful.
‘Are you sure it wasn’t a cat?’ he says. As if there was a cat within twenty miles of remote bothy.
‘I’ve heard pine martens have a habit of coming down chimneys and wreaking havoc inside.’ I say. ‘Are you sure there’s a cowl on the chimney?’
I catch him later standing in the bog in the snow and inspecting the chimney.
My lovely book group is full of poets. As we nestle down in the pub, taking up large amounts of space and taking in large amounts of alcohol, I am aware that writing novels is not conducive to sharing production on a monthly basis, unlike those poets who wrote an entire oeuvre this morning. And those oeuvres are sad, or hilarious, or clever or just plain dotty, but they are complete.
‘Where was I?’ I say, having lost the post-it note which said ‘Read (past, not present, tense) to book group up to here’. There is then a confused babble of inaccurate memory, and I am truly embarrassed at having to recap my love story to those who were not there last month, and to the ones who weren’t there two months ago. Anyway, I can only read at most one quarter of a chapter if I am not to hog the time which must be divided between eleven aspiring scribblers. Yes, poetry is the way forward.
I think I never did blog that my one and only oeuvre was published in December. I’m supposed to market this thing, so it’s called
DOLPHIN DAYS and it’s by CHARLOTTE MILNE
How many more sales will that bring me? By the way, friends and family, thank you for buying or downloading. And thank you, thank you for reviewing. And thank you, thank you, thank you for 4 stars not 5. 5 stars for a debut novel? They can only be from faithful kind friends or family.
It was the evening that the definitive, complete, no more fiddling, final, edited version of Dolphin Days was to be uploaded to Amazon Kindle. We had celebrated with a superb bottle of Chateau Lynch Bages and a shared rib-eye steak (which Sir cooks to bleeding perfection). Oh dear, should have known this was a precursor to disaster. Sir takes the last enormous glass of claret towards the coffee table to watch the 10 o’clock news, waves a congratulatory arm to the fairly sober wife at the laptop, and trips. About a pint (magic glasses) of rich red claret describes a graceful Dolphin shaped arc over the sitting room. This is the moment when you press STOP, then REWIND.
Really, the brain is extraordinary and surely no computer could calculate in a fraction of a second:
a) how many rolls of kitchen towel there are in the flat and where,
b) How much the pair of pale blue and turquoise faux silk curtains cost 5 years ago and what they might cost now.
c) Could we cut the carpet 6 feet in and replace it. Oh no. Matching that particular beige would be impossible. How about a pale turquoise carpet? I’ve always wanted one. And just the sitting room, or the entire flat?
d) Instructions for Sir. Kitchen towel. Large bowl of warm water, pile of tea towels, all towels that aren’t white. WHITE WINE. Salt. Bicarbonate of Soda.
e) Where did I find the tips for removing red wine stains from carpet the last time this happened?
f) Why is Sir lying flat on his face flapping like a fish out of water and not getting the WHITE WINE to pour on the red wine? Because he has fallen over and is jammed between the coffee table (which is a large and heavy chest packed with games for the grandchildren) and the sofa.
g) Why is there MORE red wine soaking the carpet under his nose? Because his nose is bleeding like a full bottle of claret lying on it’s side with no cork, and OMG, what is his daily Warfarin dose?
h) Instructions for Sir. Keep tea towel firmly gripped to nose. Do not bleed.
There is a hiatus while I blot, dilute, blot, dilute, blot. Unjam husband from between chest and sofa and get him vertical. Scream for WHITE WINE. He brings large green box with a tap while holding tea towel to nose. I pour contents liberally over the faux silk curtains and about 2 square metres of carpet before looking at the now empty box and reading PERRY.
Do I know Perry? Did I buy it? Is it white wine? Does it take the stain out? No to all of that, but I do know who DID buy it, thinking it was white wine.
More hiatus while I dilute, blot, dilute, blot. We have now run out of all towels, coloured, white or paper, and the bath is full of damp, pinky/Perryish terry.
By Sunday the book is still not uploaded, we have no curtains on the windows as they are laid out damply on the kitchen floor with claret/water/Perry marks all over them. The carpet underlay has stained in an enormous dark brown ring surrounding blood and red wine and we are due to fly to Scotland early tomorrow for three weeks.