I was invited to give a talk, a reading, and a Q&A for The Chalky Sea at The Hawthorns in Eastbourne. I was a little nervous as they had taken out a half-page ad in the local paper and had kindly laid on tea and cakes for all. There was a good crowd who asked lots of excellent questions.
I told them about how I came to write the book, having recently moved to Eastbourne with no prior intention of setting a book here. As soon as I discovered that, during the Second World War, the town was the most heavily bombed in the south east I had to research more – then when I found out Eastbourne was home to many Canadian soldiers between 1941 and 1944, I couldn’t resist and The Chalky Sea was born.
I decided to read an extract which featured the bombing of Churchdale Road in the Archery area of the town. This was a (and still is) a residential road. On the morning of 28th March 1941 a single German Dornier bomber dropped four bombs on this and surrounding roads. Two women and a six year old boy were killed with twenty-five others injured. In my book (which has entirely fictional characters) this scene marked my main character Gwen’s first meeting with a young woman, Pauline, who has a major impact on her life. If it were not for the bombings these two would never have met and Gwen’s life would have been the poorer for that. Here’s a short taster of the impact of the bombing:
A wide swathe had been cut through the row of houses, like a scythe through corn. Gwen left her bike against a wall and made her way into the thick of the scene of destruction. No matter how many times she attended the aftermath of a bomb attack it didn’t lessen the horror. Helmeted ARP men were scrambling over a mountain of debris – bricks, plasterwork, roofing tiles, wooden beams, all piled across the road in the gap where the houses had stood. The air was thick with dust. Suffocating. Choking. Stinging the eyes. Blocking the throat. This was what hell must be. Gwen covered her mouth with a handkerchief, then unfastened the silk scarf from around her neck and tied it across her face bandanna style. She moved forward, picking her way through the detritus, towards the survivors.
I really enjoy doing readings as it is a great opportunity to connect with readers – existing and potential. The audience at the Hawthorns had some good questions. One lady asked me if I’d heard of the first enemy action in the town – the attack on a merchant vessel off Beachy Head – the Barnhill. Fortunately I had – and it even got a passing mention in the first chapter:
A month ago the first sign of German aggression had been witnessed by the town when a merchant ship, laden with food supplies, was bombed off Beachy Head. Gwen had watched the burning vessel from the balcony of her bedroom. It seemed unreal. Like watching a newsreel at the cinema. The war was no longer something happening on the other side of the Channel or flickering in black and white across the big screen.
Among the audience was a woman I was at school with, Lois, – it was delightful to have a reunion after so many years (I refuse to say how many!).
Since the talk I have had requests for more signed copies and several people who have got in touch to say they have downloaded the book to their Kindles.
Clare Flynn is the author of five historical novels and a collection of short stories. To receive a free e-book of her short story selection, A Fine Pair of Shoes, and keep up to date with special offers and news from Clare, sign up here.