WW2 Romance from Clare Flynn

I’m not sure how it happened, but suddenly Canadian guys in European wars are a hot commodity. First it was the Newfie boys in Jeff Walker’s “Not One of Us the Same.” (Read my interview with him here...) Now it’s a different world war, but Clare Flynn brings us her romance set in the English seaside, “The Chalky Sea.”

So, what’s your story, Clare?

I live on the south coast of England – Kipling’s “Sussex by the Sea”, in Eastbourne, a seaside resort with a Victorian pier and a beautiful seafront bandstand built in 1936. I moved back here just over a year ago from London. I spent my teenage years in the town and always loved the South Downs and the sea – both of which are outside my windows and I can hear the screams of seagulls as I write this. I have used the town as the setting for my latest book, The Chalky Sea – although I had not planned to do that when I moved here.

I am now writing full-time, after a long career in Marketing and then as a strategy consultant with my own business. My career took me to some wonderful places – I lived in Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney and did a lot of travelling all over the world for both business and pleasure.

I write historical fiction, often about displacement and with a strong sense of place. The Chalky Sea is my fifth novel and I have also published a collection of short stories.

What’s your book about?

It’s the wartime story of two people.

Gwen is a thirty-something Englishwoman whose husband has just headed off to war. She is stranded in Eastbourne – by choice, working for the Women’s Voluntary Service and training as a fire warden and subsequently as a translator of German signals. The war gives her a purpose her peacetime life has lacked. Gwen appears emotionally cold, having bottled up her feelings for years.

Jim is a young Canadian farmer from Ontario. He joins up on the spur of the moment after an unpleasant discovery that makes him want to get as far away from home as possible. He arrives in England expecting to fight and caring little if he dies ­– only to find himself kicking his heels in Aldershot like most of the Canadian army, performing endless exercises far away from the front. Eventually the two story strands come together and we see how the war changes each of them. These are people who in normal circumstances would never have met.

Ah yes, because when you think romance, Canadians leap immediately to mind…. Besides our natural magnetism, what is it about the time period or the story that intrigues you?

I never intended to write a book set in the `Second World War. In fact I’d always shied away from it. It seemed too big and in some ways too recent – my father was a pilot in the RAF and my Mum was evacuated as a child. When I moved to Eastbourne I discovered that the town had a little known significance in the war – noted for being the most frequently raided in the south-east of England. Almost two hundred people, mostly civilians, lost their lives in bombing raids and there was wholesale destruction of homes and many notable buildings including the town’s library, fire station, two churches and many shops. German bombers even machine-gunned people in the streets and one of the worst raids happened while people were doing their Christmas shopping in Marks & Spencer – completely destroying the store.

The other little known fact was that Eastbourne was home to thousands of Canadian soldiers during the war, with troops moving in and out of the town and its surrounds constantly from July 1941 until just before D-Day. I discovered that the Canucks of the 23rd Field Regiment used to drink in both my two local pubs, the 31st and 46th Batteries preferring The Ship with the 83rd Battery favouring The Pilot, which they treated as a second home. They used to park their tanks on the local streets (destroying much of the old Victorian brick paving) and there was an officers’ mess in one of the houses in my road. The first German plane shot down over the town during the Battle of Britain landed in the playing field of the school down the road. How could I resist?

Good point. Without giving away the store, what’s your favorite (or favourite) scene?

Oddly enough it was a scene I wrote in my final revisions. It happens in the nearby port of Newhaven on the day of the ill-fated and tragic Dieppe raid in which around nine hundred Canadians lost their lives. My scene is at the harbour as the ships return bearing dead, wounded and survivors. I had “under-written” this, skating over it too quickly, despite one of the key characters being directly involved in the raid. Fortunately my editor called me on it – I immediately knew she was right and still can’t understand why I had missed something so obvious. I sat down to rework the scene and I hope that this time around I did it justice.

I also enjoyed writing a lot of the Aldershot scenes. When I realised some of the book would need to take place there I wasn’t exactly thrilled. Aldershot was another place I once lived in (aged about seven!) and it was singularly unmemorable – basically an army garrison town. As the poor old Canucks nearly went out of their minds with boredom there, I thought I would too – but I ended up really enjoying writing the Aldershot chapters. A character, who was meant to feature briefly in one scene, elbowed me out of the way and wouldn’t get out of the book. She has now forced her way into being a main character in the sequel I’m working on now, set in Canada.

Where can we learn more about The Chalky Sea and your other books?

The Chalky Sea is available as a paperback (ISBN 978-0-9933324-3-2). Online as an e-book it is exclusively on Amazon at the moment http://mybook.to/chalky sea

You can find out about me via my website which is http://www.clareflynn.co.uk

Or my Amazon author page http://author.to/clarefly

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6486156.Clare_Flynn

And Twitter https://twitter.com/clarefly

Chicago History and Mystery with Michelle Cox

One of the things I love about living in Chicago is the insane pride people take in the history of this city. Not just the big things; the fire, Capone, blues music, but the growth of the town from lonely fur outpost to whatever it is today (Carnage Central, Hub of the Midwest, the City that Works… pick one.)

Today’s author, Michelle Cox, writes romance mysteries set in Depression-era Chicago.

So, Michelle, what’s your deal?

Hi, Wayne!  I write the Henrietta and Inspector Clive series, the first installment of which, A Girl Like You, debuted last April.  Book two of the series, A Ring of Truth, is publishing in April.  Besides working on the manuscripts for the series (I’m currently toiling over book four!), I also write a weekly blog about Chicago’s forgotten residents, entitled “Novel Notes of Local Lore,” and another blog that pokes fun at the publishing industry called “How to Get Your Book Published in 7,000 Easy Steps – A Practical Guide,” both of which can be found on my website.  I live in the Chicago suburbs with my Liverpudlian husband and three kids.  Oh, yeah, and I have a BA in literature from Mundelein College in Chicago, if that matters to anyone!

I’ll swap you that for my Associates Degree from BCIT any day. What’s your series about?

A Girl Like You is the start of a historical fiction series, set during the Depression era in Chicago.  It’s a mystery, really, but there’s a pretty strong romance thread running through it, too.

Essentially it’s about a young woman, Henrietta Von Harmon, who has to provide for her mother and siblings when her father kills himself after losing his job due to the Depression.  The book starts off with her working as a 26-girl at the local tavern.  She’s not making enough, though, so she is persuaded by a friend to become a taxi-dancer at one of the big dance halls.

Not long after she starts there, however, the floor matron is murdered, and an investigation led by the aloof Detective Inspector Clive Howard begins.  Impressed by Henrietta’s beauty, Inspector Howard convinces her to go undercover for him as an usherette in a burlesque house, where he suspects the killer is lurking, all the while not realizing that Henrietta is much younger and more innocent than she pretends.

Henrietta quickly gets absorbed into the seediness of the place, meeting all sorts of strange characters, as she attempts to discover the secret behind the “white feather club,” which she believes is connected somehow to the murder and the disappearance of young women.  So that’s the mystery part.

Meanwhile there’s a little bit of comic relief in the character of Stanley Dubowski, the love-struck neighborhood boy who thinks of himself as Henrietta’s protector and continues to follow her around, annoyingly popping up at rather inconvenient moments.  Not only is he worried about Henrietta working at such a dangerous place, but he’s threatened by what he sees as a growing attraction between the Inspector and Henrietta.  And that’s, of course, where the romance part comes in, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

What’s your fascination with that time period in Chicago?

I’ve always been very drawn to the ‘30’s and ‘40’s—the music, the clothes, the cars, the Great Depression, the wars.  People lived through so much in such a short period of time and there’s so much there to write about – drama, intrigue, romance—you’ve got it all!

In the early 1990’s I found myself working at a nursing home on Chicago’s NW side, and I heard literally hundreds of these types of stories from that era.  So when I decided to write a book, I actually picked out one woman’s story, let’s call her Adeline, and used some of the details of her life to create the character of Henrietta.  There are many parts of the book, then, that are actually true:  Henrietta’s extreme beauty, all of the strange jobs she procures, the family history of the Von Harmons, the character of Stanley, and, believe it or not, the lesbian characters that befriend her at the burlesque house.

Of course, I had to fictionalize most of the book, including the murder mystery and all of the other characters, but it gave me a great foundation to start with.  Adeline was quite a character, and she used to follow me around the nursing home, telling me – frequently – that once upon a time, she had had “a man-stopping body and a personality to go with it!”  That’s classic!  So I tried very hard to capture that same spunky spirit and give it to Henrietta.

I know you love all your children equally, but do you have a favorite scene in the book?

There’s so much going on in Chapter 7.  We’ve got a little comedy with Stan roughly being escorted out of an abandoned apartment, the building suspense of the mystery as Henrietta and Clive discuss certain chilling aspects of the case, followed by an unexpected scene of domesticity as Clive sits quietly musing and watching Henrietta sew.  He takes the opportunity to ask her more about her sad story, and they both become a little more vulnerable.  This naturally lends itself then to a sort of sexual/romantic tension as they realize that they’re alone in an empty apartment without a chaperone.  Clive is obviously attracted to her, but it torments him, as he sees himself at thirty-five years of age as being much too old for this young girl of eighteen.  Henrietta, for her part, is also attracted to this older man, whom she possibly sees as a father figure, but doesn’t believe anyone so good as the inspector would ever be interested in “a girl like her.”

So as you can see, there’s lots of drama and intrigue and romance going on in this scene, and it’s deliciously fun to see what unfolds, not just in this chapter, but the whole book, if I do say so myself!

Anything you want to say to the giant throng of people reading this?

I hope you’ll check out the next book of the series, A Ring of Truth, due out in April!  It picks up right where the first book ends.  You can read more about it (including the whole first chapter!) on my website:  http://michellecoxauthor.com/

You can also connect with me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/michellecoxwrites/ or Twitter: https://twitter.com/michellecox33