Updated: May 15, 2020
The research for my novel is ongoing and extensive, especially so because it is set within a well-documented historical event. I cannot, in any way, shape or form, mess it up. I have a stack of non-fiction books detailing both world wars, and about life in the first half of the 20th Century, and I can often be found wandering the house with at least two of them in my hands, looking for a peaceful spot to sit and indulge.
Regardless of anything else I am reading, it is a necessity that I also have a good novel on the go, and so, any spare minute I can squeeze out of my day is filled with reading of some kind. Due to these extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves living in - and the immediate halt of the music industry that used to fill my hours - I am thankful to have a little more time; and during this gift of time I have discovered two wonderful novels, which - without the intention of using them for research - have been hugely influential to my work.
The first is called The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott, and the second is The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. One is set just after the First World War, and the other is set during and after the second, and it just so happens that my novel - although mostly involved with the Second World War - does encounter both.
Before I briefly discuss each one in turn, what I love about both is how the stories are driven by engaging characters who quickly become people you know well, and care about deeply. So much so, that the reader is more concerned about their personal endeavours - their hopes and intentions - than their surroundings. The wars, although prominent, seem irrelevant as the personal lives of the characters take control. They are both beautiful, bittersweet stories – my favourite kind.
The Photographer of the Lost is set in the aftermath of the First World War, when soldiers are trying to piece their lives back together, and loved ones of the lost are struggling to come to terms with the devastation to their lives. The story follows a photographer, named Harry, who is hired to travel to the old war zones in France and take photographic evidence of graves for loved ones back home. His story is closely interwoven with that of his brother’s wife, Edie, who is trying to trace the last movements of her husband during the war. As the story unfolds between Harry and Edie, the reader is completely immersed in the heartache and passion of love and loss on an incomprehensible scale. This, unbelievably, is Caroline Scott’s debut novel, and it reads with the confidence of a writer with many more in its wake.
The Night Watch is entirely character driven and transports the reader immediately into the lives of Kay, Helen, Duncan, and Viv as they each struggle to come to terms with life in London after the Second World War. The story starts at the end, in 1947, and ends at the beginning in 1941, and is expertly woven into a tale that gradually reveals answers to the many questions the reader is inclined to ask along the way. Not all of the four protagonist’s paths cross in an expected manner; there are fragile links that hang between them, and this fragility gives it the feel of being utterly real, and not a contrived tale where the characters are being guided to a satisfying conclusion. I’m not saying that it’s not a satisfying read, I’m trying to express that it reads like real life; it is raw and unhinged. Sarah Waters is one of the best story tellers I have ever encountered. The Night's Watch is the third of her novels that I have read and I am in awe of her talent.
Both of these books tell engaging stories that are entwined with a war-torn country. They are beautiful, powerful and genius in their entirety, and have influenced my writing immensely.