Why is is that we are drawn to stories about the Second World War? What is it about this tragic event that changed the course of the lives of a generation that makes us want to read about it? I would argue that reading novels give us the chance to get inside the head of a character during any period of history and is one of the most compelling ways to discover the past. I’m going to answer my own question below, but first, I want to tell you why I seem to be drawn towards writing about this period.
I don’t think I did so consciously. Writing comes from the subconscious, as we all know. Much of it does. Ideas, characters, settings, scenarios, questions, intrigues come into your head and you feel compelled to write about them. I tend to put about five ideas together and then write, because I have to write about them.
But, as for the war, I am in a somewhat unique position generationally as my parents were both in the Second World War. I was born when my mother was in her late forties and my father was in his mid fifties, so that war lingered on in our house. It was a shadow that was not spoken about. And yet, it was there.
I know that it affected my father. I know how it affected him and how that was expressed, not in talking, but I don’t know what he felt. He was a pilot in the RAAF who dropped parachutists over France during the French Resistance. Because my father never spoke about the war, Max’s situation, (in The House by the Lake) to me is completely believable. The only thing I remember my father telling me was that he was given one boiled egg for breakfast before he went out on flying missions. That is honestly it. I hate to think what he saw and how much he held inside. And how much others did.
My mother was seventeen when the war broke out. She spent the duration in the WAAF’s living in a Nissen Hut, sleeping on a stretcher filled with tens of other women on a training base for pilots. She drove supply trucks amongst her duties and she was the most resilient person I have ever known. She was about to enrol for university when the war broke out but once it was over, she was engaged, then married, soon a mother. Despite having topped both Modern European and Ancient History in the state in which she grew up, she missed out on her chance to have a career.
I have heard other writers say that growing up with parents who were involved in the war lends a sense of owing something to them. Maybe, Paris Time Capsule and The House by the Lake, while they explore experiences in other countries, is my way of giving something back to my long gone parents. In writing about the war, I gain more understanding, respect and love for them, for what they missed out on, for what the pain that my father endured afterwards and every day due to the injuries he sustained in a plane crash, for lost chances, for the fact that we are lucky, and must simply live our lives because they missed out.
In answer to my question, the Second World War is resonating with us because we still have an emotional connection to it.
And the other thing is that the generation, which populated my childhood as I made great friends with a number of my mother’s close friends, are dying.
So, we writers write a lovesong to those people. And we will never forget them, perhaps, no matter what side they were on, no matter why they were forced to fight. I adore that generation.