Work in progress

It seems that now we are virtually imprisoned there is a greater need to connect. I’ve found that when I exercise my dog more people say hello and now that I have to write from home rather than at a cafe, suddenly the need to share what I’m working on is palpable, although I rarely used to talk about my projects. Here is a snippet from a chapter entitled Shopping. It is from the second book in the trilogy manuscript entitled Paris Next Week. I hope you enjoy this glimpse. Like all of us at the moment, she is imprisoned. In Sarah’s case by the threat of violence.

Shopping

Melbourne was wonderful, the Block as they call it, much nicer than I expected. Funny how in Sydney we think everything in Melbourne will be inferior to what we have. The Block arcade of shops I could have spent all day in and Mother would have disappeared for days. But Clarissa had obviously set herself a vast list of places to visit and Pene and I could only follow in her wake. I felt like a child glancing at the marvellous domed ceiling, the tiles below my feet with my character Anne whispering in my ear that it would be a lovely place to play hide and seek in.

Yes, wouldn’t it be marvellous to lose myself here. Simply not go back to the ship. Find a cheap hotel and stay for a while until Nana’s five pound note ran out. But what then? I have no idea how many shops we visited but number one on Clarissa’s list was Georges on Collins Street.

Clarissa was intent on buying a woollen, navy coat for London. She tried to offer to buy me one as well but I told her that my terrible mink would keep me warm. She also offered to buy me some warm underwear for France. You have no idea, how cold it can be, she exclaimed but I stood firm, explaining that I couldn’t be seen spending money as I was soon to tell Toby I didn’t have any. Although I felt such a longing to buy one single thing from the wealth of beautiful items on the shelves.

It was then, as the spoilt only child of a Sydney socialite prone to spending a lot of money on clothes and accessories that, stupidly, I felt the full force of how my life has changed. As I gazed at a sunset coloured evening dress, which would have been perfect with my auburn hair, I realised that Toby was actually a terrible straightjacket, squeezing the life out of me.

Now as I return to my cabin I can feel that band around my chest. I am actually short of breath as I open our cabin door. Toby is inside seething. That much is obvious at first glance.

“You actually had the nerve to go shopping, did you? Shopping!”

“I was invited.”

“You were invited. You were invited!”

He is moving closer, his red face shoved close to mine. His left hand begins to squeeze my arm tight when there is a knock at the door. I open it quickly before Toby can compose himself.

It is Clarissa, serene, composed and with a happy smile on her face. She bursts into the room without invitation, startling Toby. I struggle to hide my relief.

“Darling, I got you something. It’s just a trinket for being so patient whilst I dragged you and Pene through all those shops. Pene’s is silver but I thought gold would suit you better with your marvellous hair.” Clarissa raises her arm to give me a small paper bag with the large scrolled writing of Georges on it, the G an extravagant loop…..

The World’s Worst Travel Agent

Yes, that’s me when it comes to moving my main character from A to B, ie England to Salonika during the last few days of 1917 to early 1918. Should I have her spend most of the travel time on board say, a French liner/hospital ship with the possibility of it being attacked by a submarine? During one week in April of 1917 55 ships were sunk in the Mediterranean. So maybe not…

Or then I can have her going overland to Le Havre, Rome, Taranto and then by ship via Corfu to Salonika but where did she stay on the way? On board the train or in small hotels? The mind wanders and at this rate she’ll never get there! She is stamping her foot in frustration and I’m dithering around like a maiden aunt. But then of course I know what is ahead of her: driving an ambulance along a torturous road with men crying out in pain in the back, freezing cold such she has never known in Australia, horrible sights that no-one should have to witness and young orderlies, VADs and nurses did witness, sometimes for years, more often than not working incredible hours that would compromise their health in later life. Yes, it’s all ahead of my Miss Summerville and I’m petrified for her. No wonder I am delaying sending her to Macedonia.

In fact I’m quite nervous about the writing of her Serbian diary. How did the real women live through it all? I am in awe of  women such as Sister Alice Kitchen who served through the whole of the war, Sister Ross-King who was awarded a Military medal for her bravery on the night of the 22nd July when her Casualty Clearing Station was bombed. And the wonderful dressing station sister Agnes Dorothy Kerr. Even just your average nurse who often worked up to 18 hours a day, particularly when  a convoy of wounded men arrived! They deserve to be remembered.
http://www.theage.com.au/news/opinion/lets-remember-the-bravery-of-thousands-of-australian-nurses/2007/04/23/1177180564828.html?page=fullpage

Now it’s back to getting my girl over there and into action. I know she is going to be fearless!

The Ostrovo Unit

Well, the mystery surrounding the massacre of what I’m guessing was an outpost of the Ostrovo unit, has deepened. No more details via Stella Miles Franklin and nothing at all in the biography of Dr Agnes Bennett by Cecil and Celia Manson. Nothing either in a referenced work Australians and Greeks, Volume 2 by Hugh Gilchrist. But it doesn’t really matter as I’m fairly sure the event occurred towards the end of 1917 – well before my characer arrives on the scene. Still it would help my writing to understand the historical context and how such a thing happened.

Despite this slight setback, I have actually been picking up some very interesting facts and historical details along the way: information about the day to day running of the unit, the politeness and old world charm of the Serbian officers, the large numbers of  Australian women who were doing war work at the Macedonian Front. Even the odd Serbian word as well, which may prove useful if my heroine happens to fall in love with a Serbian orderly. It’s a possibility!

At the moment my girl is still on board HMAT Kanowna which has recently (October, 1917) stopped off at Durban and Cape Town. At this very moment (well today as far as  my writing goes – actually 15th November, 1917) she has just spent a few hours wandering around Sierra Leone before she must embark for the last leg of her voyage to England and a confrontation with her difficult aunt. Will post again when she arrives in London.

More problems with shipping

Well, I didn’t get to the Mitchell (State Rail doing track maintenance) but I did find a ship through the wonderful website AIF project. http://www.aif.adfa.edu.au:8080/index.html
Working between the AIF Project and the Australian War Memorial embarkation section http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/nominal_rolls/first_world_war_embarkation/introduction.asp
I was able to find some details about the Hospital ship Kanowna. She departed Sydney on  25th September, 1917 and had nineteen doctors and six nurses on board. Definitely room for my character Miss Summerville to depart with them.

Now here is the new problem! After several days searching I was unable to determine that voyage’s ports of call or disembarkation. I couldn’t find anything on google, no shipboard diaries on Trove, the brilliant website of the National Library of Australia http://trove.nla.gov.au/ or the previous two websites. Peter Dennis of AIF had some  suggestions regarding the NAA http://www.naa.gov.au/ and finally their ISS Department came up with the answers: a logbook of the Kanowna, a two page document detailing the 7th voyage of the Kanowna and a book entitled Sea Transport of the AIF – all available to view in Sydney. Yay! So I’ll be back down there again soon!