I am excited and at the same time, intrepid about the release of my latest book.
So, what’s it about you may well ask?
Well in summary, it charts the movement of a family across Europe as they try to escape from war but who inadvertently keep getting caught up in it. They start off in Poland, settle in France, then some of the men go to fight in Spain, then France, Africa, Italy, France again and eventually Germany. Then after the war end up in Pontypridd. Meanwhile the women of the family try and maintain some semblance of normality in the wake of disappearances, food shortages and the oppression of living in an occupied country.
The central character and narrator of the story is a character called Monica Devilliers. Her story begins by charting the unique set of circumstances that led to the family ending up in France in the first place. It introduces the reader to each member of her family of larger-than-life characters and the part they played within the family and her upbringing. It also covers what it was like day to day, living under occupation for a family of ordinary working-class people. All of whom were quite resourceful.
Her father and uncle managed to get out of France, and both fought in the Polish Free Army. A perspective of World War II which is rarely told so the book also deals with what they had to face and the impact it had on the war and more significantly on them as individuals. We also get to relive what it was like for a 10-year-old girl to come to Britain for the first time after the war and somehow make a new life for herself in the mining communities around Pontypridd and Caerphilly in South Wales, and how she used her academic capabilities to escape everything that entrapped her.
So why the intrepidation?
Well as much as this might sound like a whim of fantasy, the fact is, this is a true story and 90% of what you read in this book, no matter how spectacular, actually happened. The other reason for the sleepless nights, is that unlike my folklore and history books where I am recording the fruits of research, on this occasion I have some skin in the game. Because the life of Monica is based on the memoirs of my own mother. And the revelations in this book lay bare to the world not just a lot of interesting and amusing stories but also a lot of skeletons and scandals.
So why have I written about them?
Good question. And I need to pause for a moment before answering. There is an oft quoted maxim that runs at the heart of the answer. And that is; if every time you read about history you feel pride then you are not reading a very thorough history. In fact, it sounds like you might be reading propaganda. Yes, history contains lots of victories, successes and heroes. But they are all equally balanced by pain and disgrace and other things that are not quite so positive.Every family tries to hold up a veneer of respectability. But the truth is every family has its fair shares of alcoholics, depressives, criminals, and vagabonds. And I really mean EVERY family. So why would it come as a surprise to anyone that mine does too?
Having said that, I have changed every body’s name in this book so none of the characters share the name of who they are based on. I also may have merged a few relatives into one or attributed what happened to one person to another. Basically, because as much as I wanted to tell this story, I do not want to embarrass or humiliate any relatives or their descendants. And for that reason I moved a few villages to neighbouring villages too. Just to make sure.
If you want to know more about the book, and the stories, people, and history in it, I am holding a public event where I will discuss all and take questions from the audience. It will be held in Cowbridge Town Hall on Saturday 7th October 2023 starting at 6pm. Tickets are £5 each but that includes entry, a glass of wine and a buffet so pretty good value I’m sure you’ll agree. Tickets are available here.
The book is now available to buy here, and at Amazon and all good bookshops.