This month’s author in the spotlight is another of my very good writing friends, Ros Rendle, who’s here to tell us about her latest book, Flowers of Flanders. Welcome Ros!
Flowers of Flanders – Ros Rendle
Rose rivals her beautiful, mercurial sister for Michael’s love but calculated lies and misunderstandings alter the young peoples’ course. War breaks out and Michael is as eager as the others to go.
Maybe Rose will settle for second best with Thom even though she cannot get Michael out of her soul.
Does a man need the grace of serenity to rediscover his own or is it frivolity and seduction he craves when he has been through the darkest places of war? Michael’s experiences in the trenches gradually alter his perceptions.
This is a story about deceit and loyalties, complex relationships and loves developing from youth to adulthood during a cataclysmic time in history.
Readers who are entranced by sweeping historical sagas will devour Flowers of Flanders, Ros Rendle’s drama set before and during the First World War.
Early summer 1912 – A town near Manchester, England
Rose’s heart was singing with the joy of the sun and the birds and the glossy, bright leaves above her head. She and her two younger sisters strolled home along the lane when the peace was shattered by a lot of clattering and shouting.
“What on earth is that noise?” She stopped to listen.
Izzy, only twelve years old, grabbed Rose’s arm and whispered, “I don’t like it, Rose. What should we do? It may not be safe to venture further.”
“Oh don’t be such a wet, Iris,” Delphi said, using her given name as she often did. She tossed her head.
Rose, who always maintained the peace, answered her youngest sister, “Don’t worry Izzy, it’s probably the boys playing rowdy games.”
“I don’t think…” Delphi’s words were interrupted.
There was an ear-splitting bellow and then, “Bloody hell, Crispin.” It was a deep male sound.
Rose, certain she recognised the voice, felt her stomach churn and her heart beat faster. She had known Michael nearly all her life and loved him for almost as long.
The older girls looked at each other with widening eyes and ran. Izzy followed. Their steps were short and quick; long, narrow skirts hindered their progress. They didn’t have far to go round the corner of the lane when through the trees their fourteen-year old brother, Hector, came bounding.
Seeing his sisters he called out, “That stupid fellow Crispin has walloped Michael good and proper. We were play-acting but he’s done it now.”
“What do you mean?” wailed Izzy.
Delphi ran ahead. She held onto her hat with one hand.
“These wretched skirts,” Rose heard her say to no-one in particular as she hitched them up. “It’s alright for you Hector,” she called as he disappeared through the trees ahead of her. Rose knew that as the most active sister, it was frustrating for Delphi to endure her skirts. Many times she had said it was so much easier for men.
There were shouts at the hapless Crispin as she arrived.
Rose came with Izzy through the trees that bordered the lane. Her gaze, generally gentle and myopic, took in the situation and she looked on in horror. The sun through the branches slapped the group with searing tiger stripes. Michael stood with head bowed. The deep gash on his forehead was a slash of vermillion vividness which dripped unheeded; a violent splash on his shirt, so white. A long log of wood lay at his feet and three other lads stood and looked aghast but clueless.
Delphi’s voice rose as she berated them all for their stupidity but Crispin, as the main culprit, received her full wrath.
“You’re fighting with sticks! What on earth for?” Delphi demanded. “Hector you should know better,” she continued, looking at her brother who had got back to the scene of the crime ahead of her. With the full force of her words again upon Crispin she added, “That’s a dirty great log. It’s not even a stick, you dolt.”
Rose saw Crispin regard Delphi. She recognised the look he gave, admiring her beautiful face with its prominent high cheekbones. Rose felt a pang of envy. Everyone looked at Delphi that way including Michael. At that moment, though, Delphi was frowning yet it still didn’t detract from her exotic looks. Her lovely dark eyes, so often dancing with fire lights glared at the culprit.
And now for Ros’s guest post:
My latest book is the first of a historical fiction trilogy that has a strong romantic element. The main front cover image is that of my grandmother and while it’s definitely not her story she was the inspiration for it. She always looked for the good in people and if someone did something awful she tried to see beyond the action to the reasons. In this way she could be forgiving. Sometimes people can take that for granted.
In my book Flowers of Flanders, Delphi is the sister of the main protagonist, Rose. She tells a malicious lie which affects Rose’s relationship with Michael as well as changes the destiny of other characters including Delphi herself. Rose must learn that to be forgiving all the time is not always the best strategy for anyone’s benefit. This is set against the backdrop of a world in turmoil just before and during WW1. Michael must learn which sister he needs to survive.
It is of paramount importance for me to research thoroughly. Just because it’s difficult to find a fact doesn’t mean I can ‘wing’ it. Someone reading the book will surely discover the truth. The main historical facts are easy enough to find. Everyone knows that the killing of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was one catalyst for the start of the Great War and many have heard that it was Gravilo Princip who pulled the trigger. Fewer would know that the gun used was originally issued by the Serbian army which cast a different light, for some, on the motive. But it’s not just these huge historical facts that are so important. What people ate for breakfast, wore in the afternoon, slept in or how they travelled is equally important. When certain words entered the vocabulary or what particular foods were in short supply also give a flavour of the times and can really disrupt the reader’s enjoyment if these things are wrong.
I once read a book by a highly respected and well-known author who talked about ‘the dreaming spires of Cambridge’. Aargh! Of course the Matthew Arnold poem refers to those spires of Oxford.
For the WW1 scenes in my book I visited the records offices at Kew and accessed the war diaries of the relevant regiment. The anecdotes about which I write are true incidents, bizarre as one of them in particular might appear from today’s view. The horrors of the mud and the blood could have been much more graphic from what I learned but I wanted to maintain the genre of the book while being true to people’s feelings.
It took significantly longer to write this book than my first which was contemporary women’s fiction. This time there was little first-hand experience upon which to draw. However I am enjoying the research aspect of writing historical fiction. My current WIP is a sequel and features Delphi’s daughter, Flora. It’s set in Vichy France, so between 1940 and 1944. There is much less written about this and some that I have discovered is clouded by politics (with a small p) of the time. However, the deeper I dig the more interesting it becomes and it’s easy to divert from my original enquiry. I have learned, though, not to ‘info dump’ and so much of the research will never find its way into a book.
We lived in the region of the Somme for ten years. It was easy to soak up the atmosphere of this region, especially when visiting some of the main sites early in the morning. At some ceremonies a lone piper would emerge from the mist that cloaked the land. At other times the silence was intense and then a lark would rise, singing as it soared and it was easier to imagine those men awaiting their fate in a silence almost as profound despite the odd cough or clink of weapons.
I have my husband to thank for showing me some of his collection of books about WW1 and for driving us out to the actual spot upon which we know, since he is mentioned in the war diaries, my grandfather stood on 1st July 1916 at 7.29am.
Having worked as a Headteacher, Ros has been used to writing policy documents, essays and stories to which young children enjoyed listening. Now she has taken up the much greater challenge of writing fiction for adults. She writes both historical sagas and contemporary romance; perfect for lying by a warm summer pool or curling up with on a cosy sofa. Her books are thoroughly and accurately researched. This is her third book.
Ros is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novelists’ Society.
She has lived in France for ten years but has recently moved back to the UK with her husband and dogs. Ros has two daughters and four grand-daughters, with whom she shares many heartwarming activities.