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Write me a Love Story

by Chestersmummy 

Posted: 08 December 2016
Word Count: 2087
Summary: This is Chapter one - after the prologue. You may find it has quite a lot of 'tell' but I wanted to move the story along.

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‘It’s only a few acres, I know.  Thing is to start small and expand.  There’s already some mature apple trees in the orchard, we’ll buy a couple of cows in calf for milk and cream, hens for eggs and a pig to fatten.  Any surplus cream you can churn into batter and cheese to sell in the market and next year…..’
I looked at him, my husband of just a few months, the rays of the setting sun filtering through the trees reflected the fire in his face.   With an effort, I dragged my gaze away, towards the small cottage.   To some, it might appear almost derelict but to me it was wonderful, my very first home and one that I wouldn’t have to share with others.   I slid my hand into Frank’s and squeezed.   We could do it: with Frank by my side, I was absolutely sure of it.
            For a few years we were happy.   We worked until we dropped but Frank’s predictions were coming true.   He leased a couple of extra acres and planted potatoes and beet.   We even had a bit of money in the bank.  Life was good and getting better.   Then, so gradually that, at first, we didn’t notice, a shadow crept across our sun.   
            Neither Frank nor I were great newspaper readers, we were too busy for that but we bought one occasionally, usually on a Sunday, reading it over a late breakfast after we’d done the milking.   Gradually, its news became increasingly bleak until even we began to realise that in the world outside our own, things were going badly wrong.   The name ‘Hitler’ became a familiar one and every edition carried pictures of an odd looking little man with oily black hair, and sporting a comic-book moustache from behind which we caught the occasional glimpse of a petulant mouth.     
            ‘I don’t like the sound of this.   That chap is getting too big for his boots.’    Frank dipped a piece of fried bread into his egg and lifted it to his mouth, the yolk dripping from his fork.
            ‘What’s happened now?’
            ‘According to this’, he shook the paper at me, ‘not content with Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hitler’s now threatening to invade Poland.  It’s causing quite a stir.’
            ‘Oh, surely that’s all talk.  He wouldn’t go that far.  That would raise a hell of a stink and he’d never risk another war.’
Although Frank and I were too young to fully remember the Great War, we knew that Germany had been thoroughly thrashed and had become a crushed and broken nation.   But then Hitler had risen to power and his belligerent speeches gradually caught the world’s attention, although most ordinary folk didn’t take him seriously.   He was just another crank and surely, only a lunatic would dream of putting their country at risk so soon after the last disaster.  Anyway, the German people wouldn’t stand for it.  At least that’s what we thought, but it soon became clear we might be mistaken and photographs of massed ranks of steel helmeted soldiers goose-stepping in honour of their Fuhrer, struck a chill in our hearts.
            It was a worrying time.  Every time we attended church it was a little more crowded; it was clear that people were getting the wind-up, especially those with sons.  Whenever Frank got back from the village pub, he barely got in through the door before blurting out the latest rumours, his face flushed and his eyes almost feverish.  But it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I look back on those evenings and wonder if he wasn’t a trifle too excited and that maybe the shine in his eyes wasn’t entirely due to cider.   At the time, in all innocence, I did my best to play things down.
            ‘Don’t worry.  I’m sure it won’t come to anything.  I think he’s just full of wind.’
            But I was wrong and I’ll never forget that bright September day, eighteen months later, when we sat, glued to the wireless, listening to Chamberlain’s tired voice.  Hitler had ignored his ultimatum and the broadcast ended with sombre music.   Without saying a word, Frank reached forward and switched off the radio.   The carefree twittering of the birds outside seemed out of place as we looked at each other in dumbstruck silence.   We were at war with Germany again and we just couldn’t believe it.
            At first, a jittery silence enveloped the whole country as we waited for the next blow to fall.   But, as the months passed and very little happened, gradually, we got on with our lives.   In our remote district, this was all too easy.   We’d always felt separated from the rest of the country.   We had our ways and they had theirs.   Food began to get a bit scarce but that did us farmers a good turn.   Our produce was in great demand, although we always kept enough back for ourselves and lived well.   Meat was particularly scarce but with the occasional poor layer for Sunday dinner, we didn’t go short.  Anyway, the meadows abounded with rabbits and every morning Frank went out with his gun, as did most of the villagers.   The fields around us rang with the sound of death; it was like living in our very own war zone.  
In fact, it wasn’t until the Germans invaded France that we really started to worry; suddenly, the Channel seemed very narrow.   Things went from bad to worse, culminating in the disaster that was Dunkirk and it was during this time that I first noticed a change in Frank.  Although everyone’s heart went out to the soldiers marooned on those windswept beaches, Frank’s reaction seemed out of proportion.   Their plight seemed to seep into his very soul.   As soon as he got back in the evenings, he’d retreat into the front room, switch on the wireless and sit listening, his face intent and still as if carved from stone.   Once, when I went to tell him that supper was ready, I touched his shoulder and he jumped as if he’d been scalded.   At the time, I didn’t take much notice; I thought he was just worrying about the war in general.  I know I was.   During those dark days we all felt vulnerable and the threat of invasion lurked in the back of everybody’s minds.  Partly to reassure myself, I tried to jolly him along.
‘Don’t worry love.  Our brave boys won’t let us down.’
Much later, I realised this was quite the wrong thing to have said.
* * *
One hot and sticky night after I’d gone to bed with only the sound of rats in the eaves breaking the silence, a sudden crack of thunder split the heavens.   I sat bolt upright and disorientated, turned to Frank but his side of the bed was empty and the sheets quite cool.  Slipping out of bed, I padded downstairs;    the cottage’s thick walls had trapped the heat and as I padded downstairs I seemed to push the hot air before me.   I heard the low mutter of our wireless and I headed towards the tiny ‘best’ room, we kept for visitors.   The polished oilcloth felt slippery under my bare feet as I stood in the doorway.   Sitting bolt upright on one of the shiny leatherette armchairs, staring straight ahead, Frank’s face was blank.  Mechanically, he was taking sips from his cigarette, its scarlet eye waxing and waning in the half-light.   It was three in the morning and we rose at five.
            ‘Frank, what are you doing?’
            Starting, as if waking from a dream, he turned his head.
            ‘Couldn’t sleep.  Too hot.’
            Clicking off the radio, he got up and came back to bed but neither of us slept again.  Once, I moved towards him but he shrugged me off and after that we both lay as stiff as planks, listening to the birds as the sky lightened.
            As the weeks went by we carried on working side by side but, brick by brick, I could feel him building a wall around himself.    Our easy banter was gone and he seemed to have forgotten how to laugh.
            Gradually all the joy drained out of my life.  Frank became increasingly distant and even worse, subject to black moods.  I found myself tiptoeing around him for fear of saying the wrong thing and unwittingly setting off another volcanic bout of temper when he would storm and rage and eventually disappear for hours on end.   I never knew where he went and never asked; to be honest his absence grew to be a relief.   But I did worry.  This was so unlike the Frank I had married.
            One evening he was late for supper.  Inevitably it was rabbit but, for once, my pastry had risen like a dream and when I cut into it the golden crust fell away in soft flakes.   I could have saved myself the trouble.  Thursday was Frank’s ‘pub night’  the one evening of the week he allowed himself off.  Although Frank didn’t drink much alcohol, he was far too conscious of how his mother had ended up for that, he enjoyed chewing the rag with his pals but that night, when the cottage door opened at last, it was obvious he’d had a drop.  He swayed slightly as he crossed the room and there was a strong smell of cider on his breath.
            Collapsing into his chair he looked at his meal with glazed eyes.   He pushed the plate away.
            ‘Got something to tell you,’ he slurred.
I glanced at him, only half of me paying attention; the other half occupied with thoughts on how to on salvage his rapidly congealing supper.
            ‘I’ve joined up.’
 Food forgotten, my eyes jolted towards his face.
            ‘I’ve joined the army,’ he repeated, his voice suddenly loud.  ‘I leave at the weekend.’
            The ticking of the clock seemed deafening, echoing the thumping of my heart.   My mouth fell open as his words sank in.   Then, I shook my head.   He was staring past me at the wall, his face stony.
            ‘What are you talking about?   Why on earth would you join the army?  You’re a farmer, you don’t need to.  Please don’t be silly Frank.’
            ‘Oh, you think I’m silly do you?  Perhaps you’d rather I skulked at home while our boys are being slaughtered over there?’   He jerked his head towards the south.   ‘Good God, woman…do you think I’m that much of a coward?’
He was shouting now and like the thunder, his words rolled around my head.
            ‘No, of course I don’t, but be serious.  Do you really think one man is going to make a difference?   And what will happen to me?  What will happen to the farm.  I can’t cope on my own.’
            ‘There’s no need to worry.  I’ve arranged for some help.’
            Suddenly, I felt so angry I could have hit him.   ‘And what sort of help would that be, pray?   A pensioner?   Or perhaps the local half wit?   Or maybe you’re thinking of Bill Rogers.  He’d be a great asset.  He could use his wooden leg to plant the spuds.’
            He shook his head, my sarcasm bouncing off him.   
            ‘There’s the prisoner of war camp down the road.  One of them’ll be drafted. I’ve arranged it with the Sergeant at the camp.  He’s a mate of mine.’  He stared harder at the wall.   Then I knew he was wrong.  He was a coward; he couldn’t even look at me.
  I knew all about the camp.  Newly opened, it had been thrown up to house the increasing number of German Luftwaffe pilots shot down from our skies.    Its presence had caused great consternation in the village and if the rumours were to be believed, all its inmates had horns and forked tails.  Once, I’d caught sight of a trickle of them marching in a drab line along the lane.   Immediately, I’d turned and gone the other way, my skin crawling at the thought of their eyes on me.   I hated and feared them: they were Nazis and the newspapers were crammed with stories of their brutality.
‘No Frank. Not in a million years and anyway, surely, they wouldn’t allow it.’ 
‘Yes, they would.  It’s already been okayed.    You’ve got nothing to worry about.  It’s only a small camp and they’ve all been vetted.  None of ‘em are dangerous.  You’ll be all right.’
I felt my face freeze.
‘I’d rather die.   Go, if you must Frank.  I’ll manage on my own.’

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Comments by other Members

michwo at 17:18 on 08 December 2016  Report this post
This reads really well and I guess Chapter 2 is going to introduce the reader to Georg, presumably one of the Luftwaffe pilots who has been shot down and is now a prisoner of war in the camp down the road.  I can't really fault any of this other than to question if, when you wrote 'Any surplus cream you can churn into batter and cheese...' at the end of your first paragraph, you really meant butter rather than batter.  This is interesting and my parents' generation actually lived through this though I wasn't born myself till 1949.  My mother was an auxiliary fire fighter and my father was in the RAF as part of a bomb disposal squad stationed in the Far East and only stopped from being sent to Eniweetok, or some such island in the Pacific, by the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (cf. the story Lionizzzed posted - Blue Skies.)

Chestersmummy at 21:34 on 08 December 2016  Report this post
Hi Michwo

Thanks for your comments.   Yes - I'm afraid there are quite a lot of unforced errors in this piece, as well as 'batter' there are two 'padding downstairs'!   Not being very good with computers, for some reason I had quite a bit of trouble posting this and I thought I had changed things but apparently not.

I'm glad you are finding this interesting.   Being slightly older than you (but not wiser, I am afraid), I vaguely remember some things although I, myself, was not born until 1940.  However, I have spoken to folk slightly older than myself and they told me some interesting tidbits that for some reason has slipped under the radar and these facts come out later in the novel.  You are right about Georg although you will not meet him until Chapter 3 - if you stay the course.

Very interesting to hear about your parents - did you discuss the war with them?  So often, we have history on our doorsteps but for some reason we do not recognise it at the time.   My father was found to be unfit for military service because of a heart murmur and I know that he was devastated about this.   And, of course, a lot of people who had a 'bad' war simply did not want to talk about it.

Best wishes


Chestersmummy at 21:41 on 08 December 2016  Report this post

As your mother was an auxiliary fire fighter - have you read 'The Night Watch' by Sarah Waters.  Excellent book although, come to think of it, I think the heroine was an auxiliary ambulance driver.



michwo at 23:44 on 08 December 2016  Report this post
Hi Janet,
I did talk a bit to my parents about World War II.  My father brought back Japanese Invasion money from Hong Kong with Emperor Hirohito's face on crisp uncirculated banknotes.  He was even offered a samurai sword, but declined!
My mother saw a Messerschmidt 101 flying low over Dukinfield Town Hall and could even see the pilot in the cockpit.  She may even have been brave enough to wave at him, though I doubt I would have been!  I may well have a look at the Sarah Waters book you mention.

Chestersmummy at 16:23 on 09 December 2016  Report this post
Gosh, your mother must have been brave.  I expect that's why she was a fire-fighter.   One of my aunts was sent to Devonshire because it was thought she would be safer but she was machine-gunned in the street - the gunner missed fortunately - I don't know whether there were any other casualties.   Anyway it just goes to show, doesn't it?  Fact can be much stranger than fiction which is probably why your pieces are so interesting.


michwo at 17:10 on 09 December 2016  Report this post
Flattery will get you everywhere, Janet, with me as I always crave it, but seldom get it!
I think my stories so far have been hard going for readers not clued in to the immediate historical background of them and "Olivier Brusson" in CC is probably no exception, though it is quite short.  If you read it and want to leave a comment, just say what you genuinely think - I won't be offended honestly!

Chestersmummy at 22:27 on 10 December 2016  Report this post
Hi Michwo

I did comment on Olivier Brusson - didn't you get my post?


Catkin at 23:19 on 10 December 2016  Report this post
Hello, Janet and Michwo. I'll get to this next chapter soon Janet, honest.

I've read The Night Watch - I thought it was excellent. I'm quite interested in the War myself - my parents had me unusually late in life, for the times, and they lived through the War as teenagers, although the parents of most of my contemporaries were still young children. Having older parents has always made me feel that my understanding of what life was like in the past goes back a little bit further than that of most people my age. I sort of feel that I know what it was like to have lived in the 30s and 40s, in a way, because my parents told me so much (this may be a complete illusion). My father just squeezed into the last few months of the War, and served in the Navy, mostly at a naval base in Alexandria.

Chestersmummy at 17:41 on 11 December 2016  Report this post
Hi Catkin

I think the past always has a sort of horrid fascination for us.  I have always thought that if you were young in World War II - it must have been really exciting and nowadays life must seem quite tame.  But - if you had a husband or, even worse, a son or daughter involved  - it must have been quite terrifying.  I don't know how parents or spouses coped with the worry.



Catkin at 21:46 on 20 December 2016  Report this post
Hello, Janet. I can’t find much wrong with this at all. The only little criticism I would make is that it seems that at first, the War doesn’t really touch them and their lives, and then suddenly it’s revealed that there is a POW camp down the road. I think you ought to mention the camp earlier. Apart from that, it reads absolutely fine. It sets up the situation very well, and I’m starting to get a sense of what Frank is like as a person. Nothing is confusing and it’s well written and easy to read.

However ... you say, “You may find it has quite a lot of 'tell' but I wanted to move the story along.” The entire difficulty of writing a novel is in that little nutshell of a comment. Yes, I did find that there was quite a lot of ‘tell’ - it’s good tell. It’s well done tell. There are quite a lot of moments of good and effective show in amongst the tell ... but it’s still mostly tell.

‘Tell’ - especially tell which is as good as this - has a place, but it has to be in the right place. The very beginning of a novel is the worst possible place for it - that’s where you want to grab readers and engage them. What you’re doing here is saying, in effect, “I have a lot of background I need you to understand first, and after you’ve got all that, then I’m going to get on with story proper” - but the trouble is, if the readers aren’t engaged immediately, they’re not going to hang around waiting.

I think there is a lot of this chapter that the reader doesn’t need to know to start with, and much of the historical detail is very widely known anyway. If I were writing this chapter, I’d start at the point where Frank comes home from the pub and announces that he’s joined up. Really work on building and elaborating that scene. Give a lot more detail, about both Frank and their house - exactly what does it look like, and how does it feel to be there? In your prologue, you have made it clear that the story is set in WWII, so the reader would already know which war we are talking about - you simply don’t need (at this point) all the exposition about Hitler and the start of the War - just get straight into the story: here’s a man who has joined up, to the absolute horror of his wife: bam. We’re there. We’re off and running - and no ‘tell’ in sight. Some of the story of the life they have created for themselves on their farm could come out in the argument they have. Then, later, you could include a scene in which the narrator thinks back to when they first came to the farm ... that could be a bit of your good ‘tell’, but by that time the reader would be hooked, and wouldn’t mind having a little break from the action while you filled in some details. I think this is rather like the difference between hearing news about people we don’t know, and people that we do. If a friend insists on telling me lots of detail about some people that I don’t know, I’m not all that interested. If I’m getting the latest gossip from a friend about someone whom we both know, I’m much more intrigued. You have to let the reader get to know the characters before he or she will have enough interest in them to want to learn the supplementary details.

I’m sorry if that isn’t what you wanted to hear. As I say, there’s nothing wrong with this chapter as it stands - it’s pretty good - but it could be so much more engaging and arresting if you actually do show not tell, at least until you have got those hooks into the reader.


... and I thought of another point: this sort of "good tell" is most useful for genuinely moving the story along; not for establishing or starting a story, as it is doing here. Once readers are engaged in the story, this sort of 'tell' can work really well, because the readers actively want to know those details.

Chestersmummy at 09:18 on 21 December 2016  Report this post
Wow!  Thanks Catkin l looks like I've got to re-write the whole chapter!  

I found your comments really helpful and it was sort of what I was thinking myself.  I was worried there was a bit too much 'tell' and I think you are so right.   Get them hooked and then drip feed bits of the back story.

Will have a go and see how I get on.

Many thanks for your help.


LauraSco at 09:16 on 01 January 2017  Report this post
I think that a lot of us are interested in people's stories about the wars, especially WW11 - probably because so many of us have heard some of those stories first-hand. Yours looks as though it is going to be a populay read.
I agree with a previous comment that you've given away too much in this first chapter and your own 'get them hooked and then drip feed bits of the back story' should do the job.
I would have also liked to see more of the couple's life (even the mundane and routine things), before "a shadow crept across our sun" - a great line - so that the difference between these two lives can be better appreciated.
Your writing of the anxious/guilty/worried Frank is well done. You make the reader both have sympathy for him and dislike him - how dare he make such a decision on his own!
Question - What's a 'poor layer' that they sometimes had for Sunday dinner?

Chestersmummy at 13:18 on 01 January 2017  Report this post
Hi Laura

Thanks for your comments.  I get your point about wanting to know more detail about Flora's life before it all went sour,  Looks like I've got to re-write that chapter so I will bear it in mind.

A 'poor layer' is a hen that is maybe getting a bit old and is not laying so many eggs as in the past.   They were always the first to get the chop I'm afraid.

Best wishes for the New Year.


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