Arlette’s Story: A Virtual Tour

Yesterday we celebrated the release of Angela Barton’s debut novel from Ruby Fiction, Arlette’s Story, which tells the story of Arlette Blaise; a young woman living in the French countryside during the Occupation of WW2. Today on the blog, Angela takes us on a ‘tour’ of the area that inspired the location and shows us some of the sights Arlette might have seen along with some short extracts from the novel itself to really set the scene …

Hello everyone. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write a blog post about Arlette’s Story.

When I’m creating a place for my characters to live, I usually imagine somewhere that I know, and rename it. My protagonist, Arlette Blaise, is the daughter of a farmer living in rural France and I knew immediately that she would live a short distance away from this beautiful hilltop village in Charente. It’s called Aubeterre-sur-Dronne and it’s where I now live with my husband, Paul. I re-named the village, Montverre, in Arlette’s Story.

Narrow cobbled roads lead off from each corner, sweet-smelling linden trees perfume the air and small shops sit along its edges. As Arlette’s Story is set during WW2, I’ve changed the items being sold in these shops. I invented a clog maker, a haberdashery and a cobbler’s. Throughout my story, a lot of drama takes place in this square. It’s here that Arlette and her close friend, Francine, watched the Germans march into their village. It’s where she meets an old friend of her late-mother’s, not knowing what a huge role this lady would play in her life. It’s where Arlette witnesses the brutality of war. Seventy-five years ago, the Germans really did take over Aubeterre to live and work. Every morning when I wander down to the boulangerie to buy my baguette, I’m reminded of Arlette and her story.

 “Soldiers marched in rows of six. They were dressed in green field uniforms and wearing metal hats that reminded Arlette of Grandma Blaise’s mixing bowl. They looked almost comical; hardly how she’d expected murderers to look. Their faces were stern and impenetrable, but as they strutted past her position outside the clog maker’s, she noticed a few of the soldiers look furtively to one side. They snatched glances at the gathered villagers and the damp grey buildings that were to become their new homes. Like a drumbeat, the Germans stomped in rhythm, followed by soldiers on horseback.”

This is the church just up the hill from us in Aubeterre. I renamed it and placed it on the edge of the village because I needed there to be a cemetery where Arlette’s mother is buried. Tragically, someone else is laid to rest in my story. 

“A small group of people assembled outside St Pierre’s church, their heads bowed in hushed whispers. The sky was a canvas of blue and white smudges. It had rained overnight and the smell of damp earth and pleasantly pungent flowering raspberries hung in the air alongside the gathered throng’s anticipation.”

Arlette’s Story is also a book about family, friends, every day life, relationships and of course, love. Saul Epstein is my book’s hero. He’s a Jewish medical student who’s been prevented from training by the Nazis. He moved south to Montverre where he’d heard that farmhands were being hired.

“Arlette sat on the wall of the well and lowered the bucket that was fixed to a long chain. It was early evening, the time of day when the flowers’ scent was more potent. The farmyard was tranquil and Klara the dog slept in the shadow of the mulberry tree. Against the wall of the farmhouse leant a fig tree, its trunk looking as if it was slouching with weariness. The wide green foliage tapped repeatedly against the sitting room window in the breeze that blew from the river. At that moment in time, Arlette felt happy. She raised her face to the sinking sun and sighed audibly.

A short time later, the reason for her happiness strode out of the shadows of the barn pushing a squeaking wheelbarrow. Saul. His shirt was rolled up to his elbows and his top few buttons were undone, revealing a tanned and toned chest.”

There are several smaller arcs in Arlette’s Story but the climax takes place at Oradour-sur-Glane. It’s about an hour’s drive from us here, but I needed Arlette to be able to get there by horse and trap in an hour or so. (This is one of the things I love about writing. We can move towns, change names and forge relationships with a few clicks on the keyboard!)

Oradour was a small thriving town that had enjoyed a peaceful seclusion for most of the war. It had wonderful facilities: a tram system, schools, two hotels, a doctor’s surgery, a restaurant, a hairdresser, a butcher and baker. Nearly seven hundred people lived there. You can see some wonderful photographs taken before 10th June 1944 – the day the Nazis arrived on this website: http://www.oradour.info/images/catalog1.htm.

“Cycling at speed, they passed a metal sign welcoming them to Oradour-sur-Glane. With her chest heaving from exertion and her skirts billowing, Arlette was desperate to reach the tranquility of her grandmother’s house. They passed the church with its tall steeple and continued until the road opened up into a village green, bordered by neat railings. Dotted around the open space were mature chestnut trees and wooden poles that were linked by tram wires, looking like long empty washing lines.”

At midday on 10th June 1944, a convoy of trucks drove into Oradour. Two hundred Nazis climbed down and ordered all of the villagers onto the fairground. (A central grassy slope where a fair would visit each summer; although the villagers called it the fairground all year round.)

“Waiting in the centre of the village, Arlette saw townspeople converge from all directions at gunpoint. She was standing on Oradour’s fairground, a gently sloping hill of grass from where she could see in all directions. She watched while the elderly were hauled from their homes and clients were pushed out of the hairdressers with wet hair. The baker joined them, still covered in flour. Teachers led children by the hand and diners streamed out of restaurants. The carpenter was forced to leave his work, also the cobbler, the village cart-wright and the blacksmith. An elderly man struggled beneath the weight of his sick wife in his arms. The Hotel Avril and Hotel Milord’s guests were being ushered from the buildings by Nazis shouting orders.”

The impressive steepled church stands on the edge of the village next to the River Glane. The 10th June 1944 was a Saturday, but children were present from outlying villages because some were rehearsing for their First Holy Communion and others were attending a vaccination programme at school.

On the fairground, the Nazis separated the men from the women and children. The men were taken to several barns spread around the village and the women and children were ordered into the church. 

“Arlette didn’t let go of her grandmother’s hand despite the bumping and jostling from others. They were ordered deeper inside the church. The cool interior was a welcome relief from the fierce heat outside and many women and children settled themselves on the wooden benches. She helped her grandmother to sit on a stool beside the altar but as more women were herded inside, the crowd pushed Arlette a short way from the old lady. Helpless to stop the momentum, she was thrust to the opposite side of the altar.

A cough. A baby’s whimper. A child’s voice calling for maman. But still the women remained calm, their ears straining for any communication or sign of what was going to happen next.

Then it came.

Distant machine gun fire could be heard through the open church door. It continued for a long minute until it slowed. Then just occasional short bursts.

‘What are they firing at?’ someone whispered.

‘Perhaps they’re destroying something.’

‘The men…you don’t suppose…?’”

I will leave what happened next, here. A short summary of words cannot convey the feelings that I, and everyone who visits, are left with after visiting Oradour.

Charles de Gaulle ordered that the town should be left as it had been found after the Germans set fire to it and fled. It remains frozen in time as a reminder of the capability of man’s inhumanity to mankind. After seventy-five years the buildings are crumbling and family items and furniture are rotting and rusting. The first time I visited I felt an overwhelming compulsion to write a story from a survivor’s point of view, and in some small way, to help keep the memory alive. For those who read it, Arlette’s Story will be that reminder.

Here are photographs taken on my latest visit.

A typical street of crumbling houses.

The doctor’s car still stands where he parked it 75 years ago. He came back from his rounds and saw the village on the fairground. He climbed out of his car to see what was happening and was forced to join them by the Germans.

Oradour’s church. The steeple caved in during the fire.

The tramlines are overgrown and rusty.

One family’s Singer sewing machine. The majority of mothers made their children’s clothing. I gave Arlette’s grandmother a sewing machine in my book.

The fairground where hundreds of villages were herded.

Cars parked in the village’s petrol station and mechanic’s garage.

Tiles still decorate a family’s fire surround and a  saucepan still hangs above where once sat a grate.

Arlette’s Story is published by Ruby Fiction and available to purchase on all eBook platforms. Click the cover image above for purchasing options. 

For more information on Angela Barton:
Follow her on Twitter @AngeBarton
Check out her website: www.angelabarton.net

 

The Purrfect Pet Sitter and my Imaginary Menagerie

This week we released our second Ruby Fiction title – The Purrfect Pet Sitter by Carol Thomas. Today on the blog, Carol introduces us to some of the animals in her own life (and in the book!) and talks about the research she did on running a pet sitting business.

I am delighted that my romantic comedy, The Purrfect Pet Sitter, is now available as an eBook. Getting my publishing contract with Ruby Fiction is a dream come true; the fact it is for a book that enabled me to indulge my love of writing romantic comedy in which you can fall in love with the supporting cast of animals as much as the hero makes it even more special.

Anybody who follows me on social media will know that I am a dog lover with a soft spot for Labradors. I lost my two gorgeous old boys, Benson and Milo, within the last few years and now have a slightly crazy, two-year-old Labrador with a penchant for eating things he shouldn’t (he last went to the vets for swallowing a tea towel, whole!).

With Lisa Blake, the lead character in my novel, being a pet sitter, this gave me the perfect opportunity to incorporate a Labrador into her life. Jack is a wonky-eyed black Lab, the beloved pet of Winnie, the first client to put their faith in Lisa and her new business. He is a cheeky boy and, while not a young dog, when the mood takes him, he can achieve the energy of a puppy and the speed of a whippet – many Labs can.

Jack, who was inspired by my Labrador Milo (a handsome, slightly wonky-eyed boy, with an independent spirit, a variety of quirks and a lot of love to give) features throughout the book. One of my favourite scenes involving him is the opening chapter in which he has slipped his collar. In her search for Jack, Lisa has a chance encounter with a mysterious man in leather, Lisa finds him frustrating whereas Jack seems to have him on side.

Another of my favourite scenes comes when Lisa and Winnie take Jack to church, for a service in honour of St Francis of Assisi (patron saint of animals). Writing the scenes in the church was a lot of fun. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that what Jack does to a Yorkshire terrier actually happened. My dog, Benson, was guilty of this misdemeanour in one of his early training classes, in which, being a Labrador, he was much larger than his smaller breed puppy pals.

My insight into the life of a pet sitter came from my daughter. She has been a pet sitter, running her own business for many years. Of course, she is nothing like Lisa Blake; she has certainly never lost a client on her watch. But she was able to provide some great anecdotes, and she allowed me to read her diary, where clients are listed under their pets’ names. It made for a fabulous read and inspired me to come up with names for the three chickens Lisa looks after in my novel. I hope their names will give you a smile, they did me – but then I had been alone in a hotel room writing for thirty-six hours when I came up with them (hmm, you’ll have to let me know what you think)!

I enjoy bringing animals to life in my books; I consider them all part of my very own imaginary menagerie and, as you read The Purrfect Pet Sitter, I hope that you will fall in love with them, as I have.

The Purrfect Pet Sitter is now available to buy as an eBook on all platforms. Click the banner below for purchasing options.

For more information on Carol Thomas:

http://carol-thomas.co.uk
http://facebook.com/carolthomasauthor
http://twitter.com/carol_thomas2
https://www.pinterest.co.uk/carol_thomas2/
https://www.instagram.com/carol_thomas2/
http://carol-thomas.co.uk/blog

From Recipes to Romance

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We’ve recently launched our new Ruby Fiction imprint and with the launch came the release of our first Ruby book – The Best Boomerville Hotel  by Caroline James. To celebrate this exciting occasion we have Caroline on the blog today revealing a little bit about her writing journey AND, if you read right until the end, you might find a rather special competition too! 

Many little girls like to make up stories and even one day write them into a book. It was always my dream but as I grew up, it was one that I never imagined would come true.

I went to an all girl’s grammar school and absolutely hated it. The only classes I took a passing interest in were cookery and English and those because the teachers terrified me. It was a very unhappy time. My working life took a very different direction from the one my parents had planned and instead of taking further education, to their horror, I left home and worked on the south coast, waiting table and washing pots. Eventually, I knew I needed more education and in free time, at college in Bournemouth, I would wander along the beach, staring up at the cliff-side hotels, dreaming of owning my own. That was a dream I knew I could make come true if I worked hard. Writing however, was a dream too far as I never imagined being good enough to put pen to paper.

Fast forward many years.

I got my beautiful hotel. A country house in the Lake District. In fact, I got many things including a great career in the hospitality industry working with some of the best chefs in the business. Food was my life and had given me a good living. But there was still that nagging dream, that unpublished book and an unanswered question – could I write? A story had been in my head for years, based around a hotel. One day I had an epiphany. I would die wondering if I didn’t get my bottom on a chair, fingers on a laptop and brain in gear. And so, I stole every hour that I could from a manic schedule and wrote the story. It took me a year. My elation at having completed my first manuscript soon evaporated as no one was interested and the rejection slips piled high. In desperation, I learnt how to self-publish and was completely gobsmacked when the book went to number three in women’s fiction on Amazon. I’ve never looked back and five books on and five years later, my new book, The Best Boomerville Hotel, is published by lovely Ruby Fiction.

I never thought my recipe writing years would turn to romance writing but I am so thankful that they did.

The Best Boomerville Hotel is now available to purchase in eBook. Click on the banner below for purchasing options. 

BBH OUT NOW

For more information on Caroline James:

Follow her on Twitter: @CarolineJames12
Like her page on Facebook: Caroline James
Check out her website: www.carolinejamesauthor.co.uk

COMPETITION TIME!

And now for a very special competition for a chance to win perhaps the cutest prize we’ve ever had the pleasure of giving away! Meet Boomerville Bertie …
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If you’d like to win Bertie (who comes in his very own branded Boomerville small draw-string bag) then simply answer the following question:

Where is the Best Boomerville Hotel set? 

If you know the answer please email it to info@choc-lit.co.uk with the subject heading ‘Boomerville competition’. The deadline for entries is Monday 26th March. 

Good luck!