DEVOTION – Louisa Young

Devotion is the third book in the trilogy that began with My Dear I Wanted To Tell You… and was followed by The Heroes Welcome. The novels trace the lives of Riley, Nadine Waveney, Peter Locke and their families through the First World War and its aftermath, and on to the gathering war-clouds of the 1930s. Young has a worthwhile story to tell and tells it with thought-provoking honesty and a lyricism that evokes the period beautifully.

Devotion opens in 1928 and takes up the story of the next generation ­– those born at the close of the First World War who will be approaching adulthood as the next war begins. We follow Tom Locke as he grows into adolescence and begins to holiday in Rome with an Italian branch of his adopted family. He is captivated by Italy and by Aldo, Susanna, and their childrDevotion coveren – Vittoria, Stefano and Nenna.
As the years pass by, Tom watches with growing awareness and, ultimately, horror as Mussolini leads the people of Italy towards his shining vision. Aldo is fiercely patriotic and believes in Il Duce’s plans for Italy with such fervour that he refuses to believe his family’s Jewish heritage will, in the eyes of his countrymen, mark them as enemies of the State and put their lives at risk. Wanting to save his beloved cousins from their inevitable fate, Tom risks his own life to make them see the truth of their situation.

Back in London meanwhile, Tom’s father Peter – badly traumatised during the First World War – is finally  beginning to rebuild his life and renews his relationship with coloured American jazz singer Mabel Zachary; a talented and independent woman with a secret that will turn Peter’s world upside down. Realising he is falling in love with Mabel, Peter negotiates his way through the engrained attitudes of racial and class bigotry that were endemic in 1930s Britain.

Louisa Young weaves together these two narratives with skill, drawing parallels along the way ­– some obvious, others not so. She presents a worldview while simultaneously exploring how that world affects the lives of individuals. Devotion is a novel of crumbling ideals and blind faith; of awakenings, acceptance and of love. It exposes the lies we are told by those in power and the lies we tell ourselves in order to live.


Devotion is published by The Borough Press – thanks are due for the ARC.




Nursing Through Shot & Shell – A Great War Nurse’s Story

Over the last year or so, I’ve developed a great interest in the role of women during the First World War and have read widely on the subject. The most interesting and informative bNursing throughooks are those based on personal memoir because it’s like looking into the past through a different window each time. Dr Vivien Newman’s latest book: Nursing Through Shot And Shell, A Great War Nurse’s Story, published by Pen and Sword Books is one such gem. Based on the previously unpublished memoirs of Beatrice Hopkinson, a member of the author’s family, Nursing Through Shot and Shell gives a vivid, and often uncompromising, account of what life was like for a member of the Territorial Forces Nursing Service (TFNS).

In the first section of the book, Newman provides the reader with historical background to Beatrice’s diary and this section really is invaluable. Newman’s research is impeccable and her concise, informative style gives readers all the context necessary about Beatrice, her background and nursing during wartime. By the time I started on Beatrice’s diary, I knew enough about her world to become quickly immersed in her recollections.

Despite having read several other memoirs and narratives on nursing during the Great War, I discovered perspectives and experiences here that I haven’t come across before. For example, while stationed in France, Beatrice belonged to an elite group of nurses who were effectively ‘rapid response’ teams. These six person teams would be sent out to provide support where needed, usually at Casualty Clearing Stations close to the front line. Their life was demanding, arduous and often dangerous; only the most competent and skilled nurses were selected. Beatrice’s account of this time are gripping and revelatory.

Another perspective we don’t often get is what life was like as the war
came to an end. During the closing weeks of the war, the German front lines were being pushed further back and inevitably, as allied forces advanced, so the nursing teams moved with them. This meant that Beatrice found herself in the middle of newly abandoned battlefields which had, just a week or so earlier, been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the war. She was faced with desolation on an apocalyptic scale – a land of water-filled craters, deserted trenches and acres of barbed wire. Towns and villages reduced to little more than the sign that marked their boundaries. Her account of entering the recently captured seven-mile-long Bellicourt Tunnel is so astounding that it deserved to be read twice. Beatrice remained in France and Belgium until she was demobilised in October 1919, almost a year after the armistice. Her diary for this post-war period is no less engaging because, despite being kept busy with influenza patients, she also records travelling through the newly liberated towns and cities of Belgium.

For anyone interested in the experience of women on the Western Front, Beatrice’s diary is self-deprecating, pragmatic and utterly compelling. Highly recommended.

Nursing Through Shot & Shell can be bought here:

International Conscientious Objectors Day – May 15th.

Telling the stories in their own words

It’s great that the conscientious objectors of the First World War are finally being heard and their stories told. While researching for The Courage Of Cowards, I was privileged to read some remarkable hand-written accounts of life as a conscientious objector. Reading stories of beatings, torture and imprisonment is hard enough, but when you realiBook Cover

This wasn’t the case for all men though. Some struggled for many years to come to terms with their experiences and some never did.

These personal accounts and the personalities of the men involved lie at the heart of The Courage of Cowards. It’s what drives it, what makes it different from other books on conscientious objection. I felt as though I had known some of the men and I wanted readers to know them too; to understand how difficult their decisions were and to realise that they were anything but cowards. I have strayed into the realms of fictional narrative, but every last date, experience and outcome were firmly grounded in fact. I wanted to do these men justice and, in two cases, I know I definitely got it right because descendants of the men contacted me to tell me how much they appreciated my telling their stories.