Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Clare Flynn, Author of Sisters at War

3 June 2021

Special Guest Post by Clare Flynn, Author of Sisters at War

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their father’s murder of their mother. With her new husband, Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith's Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith's loyalties are divided.

The Inspiration behind Sisters at War

I wrote Sisters at War as a standalone novel, but it continues the story of Hannah and Will Kidd of Storms Gather Between Us. That book ended just as the Second World War was beginning and I wanted to explore the impact of the war on their lives and the lives of those they care about.

The book is mainly set in Liverpool, where I was born. My parents were children when the war began and my dad ended it serving as a pilot in the Royal Air Force. My mum was evacuated for a while at the beginning of the war before returning to Liverpool. Both of them grew up in Orrell Park where the book is set – as did our relatives.

I knew from my mother’s stories that Liverpool had taken a pounding in the war – indeed I saw the evidence with my own eyes as even long after the war ended, bomb sites marked many street corners. We left the city when I was about six, but I loved going back there for weekends and holidays. Naturally I wanted to delve into the history to discover what my parents’ experiences might have been. Neither are around anymore for me to question – and when I was younger, to my lasting shame, I wasn’t interested.

Will Kidd is a merchant seaman. That also has its roots in my family. My mother’s father was a ship’s captain, her grandfather was an able seaman and she had uncles and cousins in Ireland who were seamen. When I began to research the background for the book, I was shocked by the enormous toll the largely unsung heroes of the merchant navy paid in the war to keep Britain fed and armed. 

The port of Liverpool was pivotal to this as most of the transatlantic traffic came through the Liverpool docks. This was why the city suffered such heavy bombings as Nazi Germany intended to destroy the port and hence bring Britain to its knees. The sailors undertaking those Atlantic crossings had the dice stacked against them as Hitler, with his wolf packs of U-boats and squadrons of German bombers based on the west coast of France, made the voyages a perilous endeavour. By the end of the war 2,232 merchant ships had been lost in the North Atlantic.

My digging and reading unearthed another source of inspiration – the treatment of Italian nationals in Britain after Mussolini entered the war. I was aware that many were interned and knew a. lot of them had been sent to the Isle of Man and incarcerated in hotels and camps. What I didn’t know was what happened to those less fortunate. 

When Winston Churchill issued the order to “collar the lot”, the Home Office took him at his word and every Italian man over sixteen was rounded up. Many found themselves on the Arandora Star, bound for internment in Canada. A former luxury cruise liner, the ship didn’t get very far as it was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland, with great loss of life – mostly Italians. The survivors – and many other “aliens” were then put on another ship, the Dunera, bound for Australia. 

The treatment meted out to the Italian and German POWs by British guards on that ship was utterly shameful. Once I had read about it, I had to include this episode in the book. Incidents such as these are often air-brushed out of history, but the truth is usually far more nuanced.

HMT Dunera in 1940 (Wikimedia Commons)

The other area I wanted to focus on is the way war impacted civilians: the ever-present fear of air raids, the need for frugality and rationing, the desire to help others by volunteering. It is hard to imagine how it must have felt, night after night, hearing the wail of sirens and having to take shelter in a damp tin-roofed hole in the back garden, under the kitchen table or under the stairs. 

The sheer gut-wrenching fear of those aeroplanes roaring overhead, the deafening explosions and the horror of emerging to find your house now a pile of rubble. More than four thousand people were killed in the Merseyside bombing raids. Ten thousand homes were completely destroyed, a further 16,400 seriously damaged and 45,500 sustaining some form of damage. Amidst this destruction, there were countless acts of heroism and an indomitable spirit that ensured that throughout the war, the port of Liverpool never stopped functioning.

Liverpool centre in Blitz
(Ministry of Information Photo Division official photographer, 
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Thanks for inviting me to give you some background on what inspired me to write Sisters at War. I hope the book will bring some awareness about the often-forgotten true history behind my story.

Clare Flynn

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About the Author

Clare Flynn is the author of thirteen historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer.  Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveler, her books are often set in exotic locations. Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, ALLi, and the Romantic Novelists Association. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano.  Find out more at Clare's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @clarefly

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