A side of the war that’s ofter overlooked.
Sisters at War By Clare Flynn released in May in the Historical Fiction genre.
1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their father’s murder of their mother.
With her new husband, Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith’s Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith’s loyalties are divided.
Each sister wants only to be with the man she loves but, as the war progresses, tensions between them boil over, and they face an impossible decision.
A heart-wrenching page-turner about the everyday bravery of ordinary people during wartime. From heavily blitzed Liverpool to the terrors of the North Atlantic and the scorched plains of Australia, Sisters at War will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.
Clare Flynn is the author of thirteen historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer.
Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveler, her books are often set in exotic locations.
Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, ALLi, and the Romantic Novelists Association. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano.
Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog, Viviana – lovely to meet you!
You asked me which part of Sisters at War was the most emotionally difficult to write. That’s a really hard question to answer without giving spoilers. It’s also hard because so much of the book was tough to write, as it deals with some terrible aspects of the Second World War. So, I’m going to answer this by giving you an overview of some of those topics and why they were all hard to write.
Sisters at War is set mostly in Liverpool, the city of my birth. My early memories of the place were of prefabricated temporary houses and former bombsites – even though I was born nearly ten years after the war ended. My mother was eleven when war was declared and was initially evacuated – something that made her miserable as she was sure her family would all be killed in her absence (she was the youngest of eight). She would tell me of sheltering in the cupboard under the stairs during bombing raids, which happened nightly during several periods in the first few years of the war. As a child, I had little interest in my parents’ wartime memories – something I bitterly regret now they aren’t here anymore to ask. But writing the book made me realise how utterly terrifying it must have been for them at the time. Sisters at War is set in the Orrell Park area of Liverpool, in a house just a few streets away from my first home.
Merseyside took an absolute pounding in the war. As the primary port for the Atlantic shipping, as well as being a major industrial city, Liverpool was a prime target. The bombing was relentless – not only of the docks but the entire city – and the Wirral on the other side of the Mersey. Post war Liverpool is a very different place to the city it was before the Blitz. The worst time was the notorious May Blitz of 1941, when 44% of the total casualties in the city in the entire war took place. In the month of May alone, 681 German bombers dropped 870 tons of bombs plus well over one thousand incendiaries, causing over 1800 deaths and 1200 serious injuries. The bombing knocked out half the docks, five hundred roads were closed, and transport systems, gas, electricity and telephone lines were put out of action. The German attacks on the city in the war destroyed over ten thousand homes and damaged almost double that. Countless people of Liverpool exhibited great acts of bravery – many of which were officially recognised with George Crosses, OBEs, MBEs and BEMS, George Medals and Commendations for Bravery.
Something of which I was unaware until I began researching the book was the treatment of Italian nationals in the UK after Mussolini brought Italy into the war. Even though many Italians had lived here for decades – or were born here, when Churchill gave the order to “Collar the lot!” there was no distinction between those who might genuinely pose a security risk and the chefs and waiters, hairdressers, hoteliers and grocers who posed none at all. The treatment some of them received shocked me to the core – especially as I am an Italophile, lived in Italy for three years and have many Italian friends. Two incidents stand out. The first was the sinking of the Arandora Star, en route to Canada with hundreds of “enemy aliens” on board. When torpedoed and sunk, north of Ireland, the loss of life was disproportionate among the Italians prisoners, many of whom were elderly and most were on the lowest decks. The loss of life was shocking but a hazard of war – unlike the atrocity perpetrated by the British in the transport of Italians and German Jews to Australia on another ship, the Dunera, where they were systematically and horrifically abused. Reading about this and subsequently writing about it was very hard.
The other key element to mention is the Battle of the Atlantic – the ongoing dance with death that British merchant ships faced constantly plying between Liverpool and North America to keep the country alive and able to carry on the fight against Hitler by transporting essential food and raw materials. I come from a family with several members who served in the merchant navy – including my great grandfather and grandfather earlier in the century – but I had no idea how brave the men were. Over 30,000 men lost their lives in the merchant navy – a disproportionately higher death rate than for any of the armed forces in WW2. Crossing the hostile waters of the North Atlantic in all weathers was hard enough but doing so while Admiral Dönitz’s submarine Wolf Packs were prowling, was a high risk enterprise.
Having told you all this, in actual fact the hardest things to write were not the scenes of action and battle – but their impact on ordinary people – the two sisters of my title. It’s easier to write about actual physical pain and high drama than to write about the consequences of these things on others. I did cry at one point – as did my editor, who told me that she’d heard JoJo Moyes say that only when she made herself cry did she know she’d nailed a book. I hope that’s true for me too.
Social Media Links:
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Clare-Flynn/e/B008O4T2LC/