Monday, November 24, 2014

Engraved: Canadian Stories of WWI

By Vicki Delany

I am a crime writer. I write novels and novellas of crime fiction.  I am not a short story writer, although I wrote a few of those when I was starting out as we are all told we should do.  I sometimes incorporate real history and real places into my work, but I do write fiction.

But I decided to step out of my comfort zone one time when I had a story to tell and someplace to tell it.

When the call went out from the Canadian literary publisher Seraphim Editions for creative non-fiction stories about World War One, I immediately knew I wanted to take part.  I had never written creative non-fiction at all. 

Why not give it a try, I thought.

I had a story that needed to be told.

All of his long life my maternal grandfather, Henry Hall, had been a keen reader and had an intense interest in everything around him, people and politics in particular.  When he got older and his eyesight began to fail he found he couldn't read as much as he had enjoyed in the past.  But he could write letters and he wrote long letters to his grandchildren full of observations about the current political situation, and news of all the other members of the family. Then, over one year, he began adding tidbits about his memories of the past in letters to one of my cousins.

She saved all these letters and bound then into a book. Fascinating reading, and I’m delighted to be able to share them with my own children.

My granddad (far left) and his brothers

So young
In particular he wrote about his time in the trenches in France and Belgium in 1914 – 15. He didn't write much about the fighting or the battles he’d been in, but about him and his “chums” wandering the countryside.  His intense interest in everyone and everything around him, comes out loud and clear in the letters. One central story is how he’d decided he had to get rid of his standard-issue Canadian Ross Rifle (which was very second rate and eventually became a political scandal back home) and get a better one. So he set about to steal one.

And that became the grain of my story for Engraved: Canadian Stories of World War I.

About all I had to do was to add dialogue as I imagined it might have gone, a bit of colour (or lack thereof actually, considering we’re talking about the mud of the trenches) some weather.

I’m proud that Bernadette Rule, editor of the anthology, liked my granddad’s story, and I’m proud to be featured in that marvellous book. It looks at the war mostly from the point of view of people you don’t hear much about: army nurses, family back at home, and ordinary soldiers. It forms them all in to a powerful book with a message of pacifism and hope.

So far Engraved is only available in trade paperback, but can be found at all the usual sources. If your library doesn’t have a copy, why not ask them to get one?  

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