Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War

Susan McDuffie

Fall of Poppies“Years later, people would always ask, what were you doing the moment the war ended?” — Jessica Brockmole

Almost one hundred years have passed since the Armistice ending World War I, the war to end all wars. The cataclysmic conflict and its final cease-fire, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November 1918, are remembered in the recently released Fall of Poppies (William Morrow, 2016), a collection of short stories. The nine stories, tied together by themes of forgiveness, survival, grief, and hope, bring the cost of the Great War vividly to life.

The contributors include Jessica Brockmole, Hazel Gaynor, Evangeline Holland, Marci Jefferson, Kate Kerrigan, Jennifer Robson, Heather Webb, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. Heather sparked the initial idea and approached the other authors. All enjoyed the collaborative process. Marci commented, “Working with authors you know whose work you respect has been a dream…the authors struck a working camaraderie, so publication felt like a celebration of art and friendship.” Lauren mentioned, “It was immensely rewarding to get to work with and get to know such a talented group of authors.”

“We all know writing is, by its nature, a lonely profession. Being part of a bigger team has been a wonderful experience,” Hazel added.

All the characters face the terrible challenges of devastating conflict. Forgiveness and reconciliation are easier spoken of than actualized and, as a reader, I grew curious to learn how the authors felt about this often torturous process. Heather commented, “How does one forgive the nation who enlists them in such meaningless destruction, or the men who follow those orders? In “Hour of the Bells” I explore the idea of revenge and rage born of intense grief, and how my protagonist’s only salvation is truly through forgiveness — self forgiveness as well as forgiveness of those, including God, who took her son from her.”

The set word limit was a challenge. Lauren Willig’s story, “The Record Set Right,” spans the years 1918 to 1980, and spans the globe as well. She commented, “Creating a self-contained short story plot is always a challenge to someone accustomed to writing in a more expansive form, and occasioned much scribbling, and crossing out, and rethinking, and scribbling again. But it was immensely rewarding to see how everyone addressed that same challenge.” Hazel added, “I’d only ever written full-length novels or 1500- to 2000-word short stories, so this was new writing territory for me. Ultimately I found it really rewarding to tell a story in 10,000 words.”

These few words convey us to nine fascinating moments and places. The Aerodrome Romorantin, in France, inspired Jessica Brockmole’s story “Something Worth Landing For.” She says, “It was used during WWI as an airplane production and repair facility, but a vibrant community sprung up around the aerodrome to accommodate the American airmen and engineers, and the French women employed to build DH-4s.” Kate Kerrigan’s contribution, “The Photograph,” takes us to Dublin. “On Armistice Day a group of British soldiers staying in the Queen’s barracks in Dublin attacked a house party in a nearby street because they heard what they thought was Irish rebel music being deliberately played to disrespect them.” An old film clip of Anna Ladd’s Red Cross Studio for Portrait Masks in Paris sparked Jennifer Robson’s story, “All for the Love of You,” and Jennifer utilized Mrs. Ladd’s personal papers, archived at Yale, in her research. Each story provides a window into the unique experiences of those caught up in this maelstrom of war.

The creativity and emotion inherent in these nine tales provide a fitting tribute, not only to the many fallen, but to the resilience of the human spirit. Ultimately, the road to reconciliation lies through forgiveness, and through love.

About the contributor: SUSAN MCDUFFIE writes historical mysteries set in medieval Scotland, during the 14th century. A lover of historical fiction since childhood, she regularly reviews books for the HNS.

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Published in Historical Novels Review  |  Issue 76, May 2016


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