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Historical Fiction Short stories

The Unofficial Truce of Christmas 1914

World War I soldiers - National Archives
World War I soldiers – National Archives

As Christmas approaches, we’re moving to the end of the Historical Writers Forum December Blog Hop. This has included a lot of fascinating posts by fellow historical fiction writers on the theme of Christmas in past times.

Today, it’s my turn, and I’m focusing on one of the strangest happenings during World War I.

“There, the night before we had been having a terrific battle and the morning after, there we were smoking their cigarettes and they smoking ours.” This was the slightly bemused verdict of a British Tommy on one of the most extraordinary and poignant events of World War I: the Christmas truce of 1914. Up and down the lines on the Western Front, men from both sides clambered from their trenches and laid aside their countries’ differences for a short time.

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Cornflowers and Poppies: Symbols of World War I

A not infrequent occasion when my French life blog coincides with my writing blog. I’m currently writing Book 2 of the Alouette Trilogy, Intermezzo, which is set during World War I. This post looks at the French symbol of WWI, the cornflower, or bleuet.

Life on La Lune

Symbol of Flanders fields

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11th
November, the day the Armistice came into force in 1918. Tomorrow is a public
holiday in France, and remembrance ceremonies will take place at war memorials throughout
the country. Wearing a poppy is common in the UK, symbolising the blood that
flowed and the flowers that grew “in Flanders fields”. The French equivalent, le
bleuet
, or cornflower, is less well known.

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Author interviews Historical Fiction

Meet the Ocelots: Lorenzo from ‘The Ghostly Father’

Today it’s my turn to interview another Ocelot Press author’s character. And I’m so pleased that it’s Fra’ Lorenzo, the gentle friar from Sue Barnard’s The Ghostly Father. Here he is above in a lovely drawing by Sue’s friend, Kay Sluterbeck.

Sue’s novel is an alternative version of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. Like many people, she wasn’t happy with the ending, so she decided to write her own. Fra’ Lorenzo, otherwise known as Friar Laurence in the Bard’s play, becomes a Franciscan friar, which allows him to pursue his interest in medicine. But he harbours a secret and some lifelong regrets. Let’s hear what he has to say about them.

Also, The Ghostly Father is on offer at a reduced price this week. AND Sue is offering a prize of another of her books. Read on to find out more.

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Author interviews Historical Fiction

Meet Frédéric from ‘Overture’

Charming, witty, handsome. All of those adjectives fit Frédéric. But he also harbours a secret that he wants to keep from his family at all costs. He’s not the protagonist in Overture: that’s Marie-Thérèse, who has a burning ambition to become a singer. For the daughter of a modest farming family in rural France in the 1890s/1900s, that’s a dream which isn’t at all easy to fulfil. But Frédéric plays a crucial role in her life.

Today, he’s being interviewed by fellow Ocelot Press author, Cathie Dunn, on her website. Find out what makes Frédéric tick, what his childhood was like, his likes and dislikes and maybe a clue or two about his secret.

Here’s the start of the interview. Click the link to read the rest.

Bonjour, Frédéric. How lovely to meet you! I have heard many great things about you from Marie-Thérèse. Please make yourself comfortable. May I offer you a refreshment?

Frédéric: Thank you, Madame, or may I call you Cathie? You wouldn’t by any chance have a glass of champagne? I do find it lightens one’s mood, don’t you?

You are so right, and yes, please call me Cathie. There we are. You are a man of the world, and you’ve travelled far and wide. What do you make of my salon?

Frédéric: Delightful. A very restful but refined ambience.

Oh, thank you. You’re very kind. Now, to yourself. What triggered your love of music?

Frédéric: My parents engaged a piano teacher for my sisters so that they could learn an accomplishment suitable for young ladies. I was very taken with the sound of the piano, although the keyboard didn’t always sing under my sisters’ fingers! I pestered my parents to let me take lessons, too. I also took singing lessons, but I will never be more than competent in that line.

Do you play any instruments?

Frédéric: The piano, as I mentioned before. I was fortunate enough to inherit a rather wonderful Erard baby grand from my grandfather. It now has pride of place in my Paris apartment.

I can imagine. What a beautiful piece to inherit. But tell me, what took you to Berthe’s restaurant that first evening you heard Marie-Thérèse sing? You are not from Aveyron, so wasn’t your visit somewhat unusual?

Read the rest of Cathie’s interview.

And, to mark this event, Overture is on sale on Amazon Kindle for 99p/99c. That’s a whopping reduction from the full price. Get your copy here.

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman, Cathie Dunn 2019. All rights reserved.

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Meet the Ocelots: Overture

Last in our series of posts setting up our characters who are going to be interviewed from next week! Read about Frédéric in Overture today.

Ocelot Press

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Meet the Ocelots series of posts. I’m completing the line-up this week by telling you a little about my novel, Overture, and about my character Frédéric Grandcourt, who’s the subject of an interview next week in our character interview blog hop. Look out for further news on that.

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Events Historical Fiction Ocelot Press

Meet the Ocelots this Week!

As a prelude to our character interview blog hop, starting next week, 5 of the Ocelot Press authors – including me! – are each taking over the Ocelot blog for a day. We’ll each talk about the background to the book in which the character features. Details in this post.

Ocelot Press

We can’t believe it’s already 18 months since Ocelot Press went live. Over the next few weeks we’ll be celebrating with a series of blog posts and character interviews and there’ll be a chance to buy some of our e-books for discounted prices. So definitely watch this space.

For starters, this coming week, each of us will take over the Ocelot blog for a day to bring you information on the background, setting and salient facts of one of our books. You’ll get an insider’s view of the story behind the book – and each of them makes fascinating reading.


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France Historical Fiction

Going to War in 1914: French People’s Reactions to Mobilisation

This weekend marks the outbreak of World War I, 105 years ago in 1914. On 2nd August the French government issued the general mobilisation order. The following day, Germany declared war on France. On 4th August, Britain in turn declared war on Germany. The stage was set for one of the bloodiest – and most futile – conflicts in history. To mark the occasion, I’m publishing below an excerpt from near the end of my latest novel, Overture, when the main characters hear the tocsin alerting the villagers to the general mobilisation.

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Historical Fiction

Marie-Thérèse’s Playlist from ‘Overture’

The Opéra Comique in Paris, where Marie-Thérèse hears her idol Emma Calvé (a real-life opera singer) for the first time

Overture, my latest novel, is all about music: a young woman’s struggle against her humble origins and lack of formal training to become a professional singer. I am very fond of listening to, playing and singing music, and so it was a treat for me to write a book in which music is a key theme.

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France Historical Fiction

The Pneumatic Postal Service of Paris

Telegram sent by pneumatic tube, Wikimedia Commons

I love all the research that goes with writing historical novels, because you find out so many fascinating things. The small details are often crucial in conveying the period feel. But a lot of this research has to be discarded and can’t be used in the book, so I like to give a little flavour of it in these posts.

We all know that “un pneu” means a tyre in French. Did you know that it also came to be used to mean a telegram sent along tubes by pneumatic means?

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Historical Fiction

Marie-Thérèse Spills the Beans!

My main character from Overture, Marie-Thérèse Vernhes, has been let loose on her own to talk with Stephanie Churchill on her blog today. Find out what motivates her, how she pursues her ambitions to become an opera singer – and what irritates her about me!

Marie-Thérèse talks about the contrasts between life in rural France and Paris at the turn of the 20th century, the difficulties of breaking out of the traditional mould and her love of singing and music.