Author August: Rebecca Stevens – How ‘Rose in the Blitz’ began…

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

Like most stories, Rose in the Blitz is a mixture of things that happened and things that are made up; places where I’ve been and places I’ve only heard about; people I’ve  known and people I’ve only met in dreams…

Rose in the Blitz Jacket lowresAnd I think that’s what our memories are like too. We remember the important bits, the times that were particularly happy or scary or sad, but we also remember smells and feelings and sights and sounds that don’t seem to have any particular meaning and might not even have happened at all:  sunny days in photographs and scary first days at school; the smell of our grandma’s house or a pet rabbit’s clean fur; the sound of seagulls or the feel of our best friend’s hand…

If you read ‘Rose in the Blitz’ you’ll see that it’s dedicated to the memory of my mum and dad. They both died in 2014, the year my first book was published (it was called ‘Valentine Joe’). You might also notice that, like two important characters in the story, my mum was called Rosemary and my dad, John.

That doesn’t mean my mum and dad were the Rosemary and Johnny in the book. Mum had trained as an actress and, like Rose’s ‘aunt’, she was known as Cosy in the family and was a bit of a show off. But she was only eleven when the Second World War broke out and she didn’t live in Nightingale Lane, Clapham. She lived in Worthing. Like Johnny, my dad joined the RAF at the age of nineteen. His plane was also shot down over Europe and he ended up in a prisoner of war camp. But he didn’t come from British Guiana. He came from Ipswich.  

Like many men who’d been through the war, my dad never talked about his experiences, but Mum did. She loved to tell us about keeping chickens in the garden and the shortage of sweets and being woken up in the middle of the night by a loud bang and her mum saying, ‘Go back to sleep, dear, it’s only a bomb’; about being evacuated to a family with a big house in Yorkshire where there were ponies and servants and you had to say prayers before breakfast;  about soldiers everywhere (she always thought how boring life would be without soldiers!) and girls being able to wear trousers; and then, on the day the war officially ended, going up to London with her mum and dancing in Trafalgar Square and spending the night on a bench in St James’ s Park because they’d missed the last train back to Worthing…

All my mum’s memories became part of my own memory and my life. They still are. So, when she got really old and, like Aunt Cosy, started to show signs of memory loss, I wanted to make sure they’d never be forgotten.  But I wasn’t sure how to do it.

Rebecca StevensAnd then something else happened. Mum started to see things that weren’t there. She saw two little boys who followed her around and appeared when she was in the Co-op or having her eyes tested. I was intrigued by these boys and started to wonder what it would be like if I could see them too. If I could see what my mum was seeing, I thought, maybe I could really be part of her memories and share the things that had been important in her life before they were lost forever.   

I didn’t manage it with my mum, of course, so I decided to do it with Rose. I sent her down the escalator into the London of her aunt’s memory, the London of the wartime Blitz, so she could experience it too.  And so, in a way, could I.

Rose in the Blitz by Rebecca Stevens out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)

Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com

Follow @chickenhsebooks and @Rstevenswriter

My personal thanks to Rachel for taking part in Author August!

To view all guest author posts so far and for a chance to win a £40 Foyles Giftcard visit the Author August Page.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *