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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Scarlet Blackwell Talks About What Inspired Half a Man ( War Tales #1 )

It is an honor and pleasure for me to welcome Scarlet Blackwell to my blog. Today she is going to talk about what inspired her unique vintage M/M romance Half a Man ( War Tales #1 )

Here's her post:

When Natasha asked me to write a piece on my Half a Man novella for her blog, it was 10 November. I found this rather apt as it was the day before the anniversary of Armistice Day, 11.11.1918 and I was keen to do something to mark the occasion.
 
The First World War was a bloody war of attrition which lasted from 1914-1918 and resulted in the deaths of around seventeen million people. Not all of these were soldiers, some were civilians massacred in war crimes such as the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in Turkey and the killing of Belgian citizens during the German invasion of 1914.
 
Animals at war - forgotten heroes
Burying horses on the battlefield of Haelen.


In the war on the Western Front, France and Britain fought Germany in trenches, the lines of which barely moved from year to year, in mud which swallowed men and horses whole. Machine guns, barbed wire and mustard gas were employed. Thousands of bodies were never recovered.
 
Half a Man is the first in a projected trilogy of War Tales. It centres on Robert, a British veteran who, in 1919, is confined to a wheelchair after being shot on the first day of the Battle of the Somme 1 July, 1916 and suffering from shellshock - what would be known as post-traumatic stress disorder today.
 
I chose this particular campaign as it resulted in the deaths of 20,000 British soldiers on its opening day. Between July and November that year, advancing the line seven miles, Britain and the Commonwealth lost 95,675 men, the French 50,756 and the Germans 164,055. The loss of life is simply incomprehensible.

 
British supply horse sunk in Flanders mud


A British machine gunner wrote this on 2 July:
 

“…(The British) attack had been brutally repulsed. Hundreds of dead were strung out like wreckage washed up to a high water-mark. Quite as many died on the enemy wire as on the ground, like fish caught in the net. They hung there in grotesque postures. Some looked as if they were praying; they had died on their knees and the wire had prevented their fall. Machine gun fire had done its terrible work.”

 
In the UK, WW1 is remembered keenly every November. Poppies are worn on lapels; Remembrance Sunday is televised. The last veteran of the trenches was Englishman Harry Patch, who died in 2009, aged 111. Before he died, he described the First World War as ‘organised murder’. Despite the fact that no veterans remain, their sacrifice won’t be forgotten.

 
 

Notable talent lost during WW1:
Wilfred Owen (English poet, 1918)
Rupert Brooke (English poet, 1915)
John McCrae (Canadian poet, 1918)
August Stramm (German poet, 1915)
Julian Grenfell (English poet, 1915)
Alain-Fournier (French author, 1914)
W.N Hodgson (English poet, 1916)

Recommended WW1 reading:
Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
Flanders - Patricia Anthony
All three books are set in the trenches of the Western Front. The latter is a surprising m/m love story.

Click on Cover to Buy Now:

From the Silver Publishing Product Page: 
 
Traumatised by the nightmare of trench warfare in France, Robert Blake turns to rent boy Jack Anderson for solace. Neither man expects their business relationship to go quite so far.

It is 1919, less than a year after the end of the First World War with a recovering Britain in the grip of the influenza pandemic. Crippled veteran of the Somme battle, Robert Blake, is looking for someone to ease his nightmares of France and his guilt over what happened to his commanding officer. He turns to educated rent boy Jack Anderson for physical solace, not expecting how deeply the two soon become immersed in each
other's lives.

Excerpt from Half a Man by Scarlet Blackwell:

Jack Anderson watched from the window, agog, as the car swept up the tree-lined driveway to the country manor. The house perched atop the grounds, as though overseeing its environs, leaded windows flashing in the wan winter light. Despite the tidiness of the grounds, the driver's expensive livery and the ostentatious car, something about the house suggested neglect, dereliction. He was shown into the grand house by the butler and waited patiently at the foot of the sweeping staircase while the man took his hat, gloves, scarf, and coat. Jack looked at the paintings on the walls, the marble floor, the glittering chandelier, and the vast corridor stretching out before him. All was silent, the atmosphere closed and still. He coughed nervously. Really, most of his business was dealing with rich men, but he wasn't sure he had ever been to a house quite like this before.


"This way, sir." The butler led him down the hall.


Jack followed, wiping damp palms on his jacket, telling himself this was no different from any other engagement.


The butler opened the door to a large living room. "Mr Jack Anderson, sir," he announced loudly, as though his employer was deaf.


"Thank you, Clarke," came a soft voice.


The butler stepped aside and looked pointedly at Jack. Jack hurried inside, crossing the hard wood floor swiftly. The door closed behind him and Jack stood looking at a man in a wheelchair.


Sitting down, it was difficult to tell, but he appeared tall, his body lean in a smart black suit with white shirt. His black hair was brushed back neatly from his pale face with brilliantine; his eyes were an unusual mix of grey-green. He was handsome, but he looked sickly, like he hadn't been out of the house or seen sunlight in years. His eyes carried a certain look of wariness and undisguised sadness.


He perused Jack with an enquiring gaze, eyes roaming over his body and back up to his face. Jack tried to stand tall, like a soldier awaiting inspection.


Finally, he coughed to break the silence. "Jack Anderson, sir," he said. He moved forward and held out his hand.


"Forgive my manners," the man said quickly, shaking it briskly. "I'm Robert Blake. Do sit down."


Jack stepped back to a chaise longue directly behind him. He glanced around the room. Expensive furniture was lit by the light from the huge windows; rugs scattered the highly-polished floor. In a corner was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase, a large oak desk before it. To the far side, a fire blazed in the hearth, warming the chilly room.


"So, Mr Anderson..."


"Jack please," Jack said quickly.


"Very well, and please call me Robert."


Jack inclined his head in acknowledgement.


"My secretary saw you?"


"Yes."


"He explained what I was looking for?"


"A companion," Jack said politely.


"Just so. And he explained my--" Robert gestured vaguely to his own body and the chair, "circumstances."


"Of course." Robert was a war veteran, now confined to a wheelchair. His secretary had not expanded beyond this and Jack had thought it imprudent to ask.


"Very well. I'll pay you for your time today, and should I wish to take further advantage of your services, it would be for an hour a week, if that's agreeable to you."


"Yes." Jack was rather unsure about what providing services to a man in a wheelchair consisted of, but he suspected it might be the easiest money he had made in some time. He wasn't hugely successful. He still worked two days a week in a bookshop in London to supplement his income, but this might be just the job for him, even if the nature of his employer's circumstances unsettled him somewhat.


"Well then," Robert said. "Tea?" He pushed his wheelchair closer to the occasional table and lifted the teapot.


"Thank you."


"Milk and sugar?"


"Just milk." Jack got up to take the fine china cup and saucer with a polite thank you.


"And a biscuit or a cake? My cook is legendary in these parts."


Jack took a delicate little currant bun, placed it on a side plate and withdrew to his chaise longue. Robert poured himself some tea. He sipped, watching Jack over the rim of his cup.


Jack took a bite of his bun. Certainly he had yet to go anywhere where his employer seemed less inclined to get down to the business in hand than here. It struck him then that maybe this was actually a job interview. That nothing but a formal chat would take place. He would have to be careful. He didn't want to make a fool of himself by suggesting anything when Robert had brought him here merely to drink tea and eat cakes.


Robert balanced his cup on his lap. "So here's the thing, Jack," he began, clearly nervous. "I was shot in the back during the first day of combat at the Battle of the Somme. Although I continue to have feeling below the waist, I can't walk. I am affected in other ways. The nerves..." he trailed off, coughed, took a spotted hanky from his pocket and held it up a moment, covering most of his face.


Jack was painfully embarrassed. "I understand."


"You must wonder what I want with you."


"A companion," Jack confirmed quickly.


Robert looked up, slowly lowering the handkerchief. A tentative smile tugged at his mouth, his teeth perfect and pearly. "Just so."


Jack smiled in return. His attraction to Robert was beyond question.


Robert glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. "So, if you wish to leave now..."


Jack frowned. "I understood I would stay for an hour."


"Yes, but..."


Jack regarded him. It seemed less and less likely that Robert wanted him in any of the traditional ways his employers usually wanted him, unless he was waiting for Jack to encourage him in some way.


He finished his tea and the last bite of his bun. He got up and placed the crockery back on the occasional table. Then he stood close enough in front of Robert to touch him.


"Truly your cook is talented," he remarked.


"Yes indeed," Robert said with a smile. "I have to ration myself in order to keep my figure."


"Your figure looks just fine from what I can see." It was bold of him and Robert blushed becomingly.


"Thank you."


Jack stood looking down at him. Robert's gaze didn't waver from his. Finally, he gave a loud sigh. He tilted his head back, regarding the ceiling.


"You should know, I haven't been out of the house since I returned from the hospital over two years ago. Not even for the Armistice celebrations last November. I have few visitors. I..." his mouth trembled visibly and Robert put a hand over it a moment. "I... have had no... relations. No one has touched me and I have touched no one. Sometimes I feel... starved for contact."


He bent his head as though deeply ashamed.


Jack moved closer. Robert's pain moved him. Hesitantly, Jack lifted his hand and stroked Robert's dark hair gently.


Robert flinched. A little sound came from him. He reached up and encircled Jack's wrist with clumsy fingers, holding on tight.


Jack hesitated, looking down at Robert's bowed head before he turned to one side and placed himself on Robert's lap.


Robert caught his breath as Jack curled both arms around his neck and held on. Then his own arms came around Jack's body and he held him close with a long sigh.


It was perfect. This was not something that usually took place within Jack's engagements but the tenderness of the moment appealed greatly to him. Something about the way Robert's body trembled against his, how his arms held him so tight, so protectively, as though Jack wasn't a stranger he had just met. Jack wasn't a romantic, but even he could get swept up in romance if he wasn't careful and the emotion of the moment took him away.


Robert showed no signs of letting him go. He kept his face buried against Jack's chest and his arms tight. Jack stroked his hair again. He closed his eyes and let himself drift.

Cover Artist: Reese Dante, Photo credit: D.W.S. Photos
Genres: Gay, Historical, Romance
ISBN: 9781920501181
Format: eBook
Pages: 156 pp.
Word Count: 28644

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