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Village Art & Literature

Villagers with stories to tell

Posted on June 27 2016 at 11:39:26 0 comments

Terry

Sally Oldaker reviews four recent books by three local authors.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming  by Jack Walsh
Second Thursdays  by Wythall Writers’ Group

Rednal author Terry Walsh, writing as Jack Walsh, took on the meaty subject of the Vietnam War for his debut novel, and its title really sums up the book: quite poetic in a way, but actually rather bleak.

As the tragic tale unfolds, the descriptive, almost dreamlike passages (including actual dream sequences) are punctuated by shockingly violent episodes, many of which have nothing to do with the official conflict.

The language also reflects this dichotomy; sometimes lyrical, sometimes staccato – but always vivid.

If you didn’t think war was hell before, you will after reading this powerful examination of the effect it has on all involved, focusing on the protagonist’s absolute downfall as the American Dream goes to hell in a handcart.

It’s grimy, grim and thoroughly depressing – definitely not a holiday read, but a thought-provoking one nonetheless, especially the based-on-truth conspiracy element.

Terry is a member of Wythall Writers’ Group, and has also contributed to its compendium entitled Second Thursdays, named for the day the group meets.

This offers somewhat lighter fare with an eclectic collection of poems and short stories covering a wide spectrum of subjects, from childhood and wartime memories to love and death, the dating game and the differences between men and women, via ghosts, demons and religious extremism. The National Lottery also seems to have proved fertile ground for the writers!

Terry says he has always been an avid reader, so it was perhaps inevitable that he should write a novel himself. He began Twilight’s Last Gleaming with a burst of enthusiasm and wrote for eight to 10 months, but then abandoned it for several years.

“I looked at it again about five years ago and decided on a serious re-edit,” he says. “It’s self-published but it’s not a vanity project! It was published for Kindle first, and now it’s available on Amazon.”

He had started writing the book before the internet was available in every home, doing research in public libraries and using his own knowledge developed by his lifelong interest in military and modern history.

“I also got in touch with an ex-member of US Green Berets, who gave some valuable insights without giving too much away!”

Terry is now partway through a second book, The Will of the State, about the Soviet gulags – this began as a short story for his Open University degree in English Literature, then developed into a novel – and has made notes for a third, which also started life as a short story for the Wythall group’s “homework”.

“I carry a notebook around for when inspiration strikes, and I sometimes get up in the night and write things down, otherwise I might forget by morning – I’m at that age!”

Both books are available via Amazon.


Blockade

Blockade: Cruiser Warfare and the Starvation of Germany in World War One by Steve R Dunn

A glimpse into another often overlooked corner of World War I, Blockade opens in fine form and continues in that vein. This is fact, not fiction, but even the prologue is as descriptive and dramatic as you could find at the beginning of a novel.

The author feels that the British Navy did not and still does not receive as much attention as the Army for its role in the First World War, in part due to the string of disasters outlined in Dunn’s three previous books.

This fourth takes a different tack, offering a typically in-depth look at one of the Navy’s triumphs – the blockade of German shipping that brought the enemy to the brink of starvation and was a major factor in their eventual surrender.

Remarkably (or perhaps not, if you’ve read Dunn’s other books and know what state the British Navy was in at the time), this “unglamorous”, “unsung and unseen” battle was fought largely by “civilian vessels and cargo ships never intended or designed for use in war.”

The author provides a detailed examination of the background to the blockade, including contemporary naval strategy, the history of cruiser warfare and the shipping trade, plus a guide to how the blockade actually worked.

It’s a big topic to cover, but in his usual fashion Dunn picks out key characters and events that are emblematic of the whole story.

We learn of the supposedly inferior British ships that captured German armoured merchant cruisers in the Atlantic, and the hugely successful (in German terms) enemy cruiser Moewe, whose exploits even have their own appendix at the end of the book.

Then there are the German U-boats, whose captains and crew are named and brought to life alongside their Allied counterparts.

In addition, there are fascinating historical footnotes such as examples of cargo from captured or destroyed ships (dinosaur fossils for a British museum! Alligators bound for a German zoo!) and the none-more-English tale of naval reservists being called up by the town crier.

But as always, it’s the extracts from diary entries and letters that humanise the war, as well as the lovingly-researched details of the lives, deaths and families of men who never returned.

Blockade is another strong performance from Dunn, while the sheer amount of detail makes it not just an interesting read for history fans but also a useful resource for anyone researching or studying the period.

Blockade is available via Amazon.


Pull of the Earth

Pull of the Earth  by Jenna Plewes

Following on from previous anthologies Salt and Gifts, Pull of the Earth is a poetic journey around the world from Nepal to Paris to South America to Orkney and home again.

Accomplished Alvechurch poet Jenna Plewes draws on her own travels, many to places off the beaten track, to express through her choice of words and vivid descriptions what it feels like to see those sights for the first time, allowing the reader to share in her delight and to imagine the places for themselves.

The second section of the book focuses on how it feels to return home, and while the subject is perhaps more prosaic, the writing is equally skilful.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that she lives in an idyllic country lane, Jenna is able to see and convey beauty and magic in the smallest, most commonplace things – from a simple fall of rain to autumn leaves in the garden.

The unusual layout and structure of some of the poems merely add to the enjoyment, with the powerful imagery and messages shining through.

Pull of the Earth is available from http://www.indigodreams.co.uk


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