Eleven o’clock on the eleventh day of the eleventh month

 

Poppies

“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”

Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front

“We stood around for a bit, smoking and taking the occasional pull from the bottle. A couple of their men spoke English but no one said much. We were just a group of lads hanging about. We could have been anywhere. That’s what struck me. These Fritzes were ordinary people with parents, sisters, brothers, wives, sweethearts back home. Just like us. Exchange uniforms and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference. And yet up till now we’d been trying to thump each other into the ground. It made me think.”

‘Bertie’s Buttons’, short story in French Collection: Twelve Short Stories

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2018, all rights reserved.

D-Day: the Beginning of the End

Oradour - tramway station 2

Oradour-sur-Glane, one of the casualties of German retaliation following D-Day

Today marks the anniversary of D-Day, 6th June 1944, the Allied invasion of German-occupied France. Down here in SW France, the weather is equally damp today, but perhaps not quite as cold and windy as it was on that significant day back in 1944. The decision to go or not to go that Eisenhower had to make must rank as one of the most difficult in history. Continue reading

True Inspiration for Fiction #5: the Ghosts of World War I

Armistice Day 2

At 11 am on this day in 1918, the guns fell silent on the Western Front. Ninety-nine years later, none of the combatants in that terrible war is alive, but the memories still echo down the years. In France, where I live, the smallest village has its war memorial. Often, several men with the same surname appear in the list: death cut a swathe through many families. Few were unaffected. Continue reading

True Inspiration for Fiction #3: Plague!

Villefranche Rue de la République

Villefranche-de-Rouergue: view of the Collégiale (cathedral) looming over streets barely changed since the 14th century (minus the cars, of course)

The plague first made an appearance in 1347-48, when a catastrophic and unstoppable pandemic swept through Western Europe. In four years, the population of 14th-century Europe plunged by an estimated 33-50% and its civilisation changed forever. The figures are debated, but as many as 150 million people may have died worldwide. The disease spread across France from the Port of Marseille and few places were unaffected. Continue reading

Book Cover Design: the Story of French Collection

French Collection Cover LARGE EBOOK

 

When people buy a book, their choice depends on many factors: recommendation, a favourite author, a catchy title, a genre they like and so on. The cover also has a big influence on book buying. For that reason, instead of exercising my minimal (no, zero) design skills on my forthcoming collection of short stories set in France, I commissioned a cover designer. Continue reading

True Inspiration for Fiction #2: Edgar Degas’ Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando

Edgar_Degas,_Miss_La_La_at_the_Cirque_Fernando,_1879

Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando by Edgar Degas – National Gallery, London, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Works of art can provide endless inspiration for fiction. The paintings alone, with everything they convey, would be muse enough. But sometimes the story behind the painting is just as enthralling. I have always loved Edgar Degas’ paintings and I was fascinated to learn the origins of ‘Miss La La at the Cirque Fernando’, which hangs in the National Gallery in London. Continue reading

True Inspiration for Fiction #1: the Christmas Truce 1914

World War I soldiers - National Archives

World War I soldiers – National Archives

“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 stepped from their trenches and laid aside their countries’ differences for a short time. Continue reading