Two sisters and one betrayal that will carry across generations… In wartime Cornwall, 1943, a story between two sisters begins – the story of Adele and Amelia, and the heart-breaking betrayal that will divide them forever. Decades later, the efforts of one reckless act still echo – but how long will it be until their past returns? The Returning Tide will sweep you away to the beautiful Cornish coast, full of secrets and mystery.
A Guest Post by Liz Fenwick
(Thanks to the wonderful Liz for writing this great post so quickly and letting us know about her writing process and sources of inspiration. And for the amazing soundtrack!)
Writing a novel that is two thirds historical gave me sleepless nights – many of them. All my previous books had been contemporary with historical touches. I love history, always have. My editor had to reassure me on a regular basis that I could do this. And I tried my best to believe her, I really did, but in the middle of the night I would wake worrying. It was a trying time.
I’d learned from writing A Cornish Stranger it was best not to do all the research before I finished the first draft. I only needed enough to put the story together. Because when writing A Cornish Stranger I was certain my older heroine was going to be in the SOE so I researched like mad…half way through the first draft I realised she was not…so much time had been lost.
Lesson learned this time I began writing with just enough to leave my draft full of XXXXs telling me I needed to return to these spots and fill in the missing pieces. This allowed me to discover the story.
The Returning Tide began with my mother-in- law. She was a Wren telegraphist during WW2. One night over dinner we were discussing something that had been mentioned in the papers that morning about the Slapton Sands incident. She turned to me and said she was working that night with the Americans. She heard them die. The men went from code to using plain language. I shivered then and I shiver now. Although I asked several times for her to write down her experience she never did. Only while researching did I realise that she was still under the Official Secrets Act and she had held that experience inside her all those years carrying it alone.
From my mother-in- law’s experience, I built the story. I read the fabulous Debs At War by Anne de Courcy. This was a book I kept coming back to…to ‘hear’ the voices of the past. At the same time as writing I tried to discover more about my mother-in- law’s experience but somehow all her photos and letters from that time had been lost. I knew she’d been in Weymouth and Portland so through Twitter I contacted the Wrens Association there.
Christine Baker who runs the Twitter account was wonderful and she put me in touch with two women who served at HMS Attack the same time as my mother-in- law. Talking with both these women gave me an insight into a world that was so different.
Looking out to Portland on a glorious spring day it was hard to imagine it filled with ships and sailors. But their memories began to colour in the experience. One of the woman loaned me her diary from 1944. I cannot tell you how using a primary source helped. The hardest thing for me to understand was the not knowing. Today almost as soon as a bomb drops it’s on the news. But in the war no one really knew anything. By looking through her diary I knew what she saw on 28 th April 1944. She saw the bodies of young American soldiers on the quay side but she didn’t know why. That was incredibly powerful.
After speaking with these women, I began tracking down books written by women who served as Wrens. Many of them were privately published. They had wonderful titles like I Joined for the Hat. These books helped to understand the mind-set of a young woman in the 1940s. Stockings or the lack thereof was almost universal in all the memoirs. In today’s world of plenty it’s important to understand the lack of things.
I spoke with people who lived in Cornwall during the war. Currently Cornwall is a picture of loveliness but if you look you can still see evidence of the war along the Helford River.
Despite these relics, it’s hard to imagine it filled with landing craft. There are some fantastic film clips of the 29th Division available on line through Critical Past. Even though the beach at the bottom of Trebah Gardens is still mostly concrete, it’s hard to imagine it could have happened.
The other research that helped me ‘feel’ the past was music. Music for me acts as a time machine. Recently my teenage daughter has been discovering the music of my youth. Out of the blue she played a song I hadn’t heard in years…Smoking in the Boys Room. In that moment, I was in primary school with Sister Brigid Mary teaching and I could smell the disinfectant that they used to clean the floors. I then turned to the music of the war.
However I can’t write with music playing as I will drift into the story told by the song. But I found that I could use it before a writing session to put me in the ‘time’ or to wind down afterwards. I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the music referenced in The Returning Tide.
The Returning Tide was also the novel I found Pinterest came into its own for me. As I hunted down pictures I collected them on a page. The more I added the more Pinterest sent me to. I have done a board for every book but for this one the visuals were really important as I didn’t live through it.
Each story presents its own challenges and The Returning Tide aside from the lack of sleep allowed me to dwell in the past and gave a greater appreciation for those who lived through WW2. I hope those reading the story become as immersed as I did!
I knew I had to read this book as soon as I saw the beautiful cover. And the blurb said for fans of Kate Morton, so I was already sold. The Returning Tide was a dual-time novel featuring a beautiful love story and a complicated relationship between twin sisters. There’s nothing I love more than a tragic ending and this novel certainly delivered.
The prose was engaging and elegant, subtle and easy to read. I was equally interested in both the past and present story; the past because it was the main focus, and the present because I wanted the characters to reunite. Lara was my favorite and I admit I had a soft spot for Jack and his moody ways as well. They didn’t properly “meet” until later in the book, but I already felt the chemistry.
The past story, featuring Amelia, Adele and “the American” was simply wonderful. I loved that even though I already suspected what was about to happen, I nearly gasped out loud when I learned about the betrayal. And there was one part of the mystery that I definitely didn’t see coming and I admit I shed a few tears. I don’t want to say much more about the plot because it’s better if you find out by yourselves.
It’s no mystery that I love reading novels set in the past. I’ve always thought that letters and old tradition make for great stories and they never fail to engage me. The events of this book would’ve never happened nowadays, which is definitely good for the characters, but at the same time our loss because we wouldn’t get to enjoy these beautiful tragedies.
All in all, this was a classic historical novel: poignant, beautiful and sad… I read it all in a sitting and it wasn’t exactly a short book. What can I say? I was swept away by The Returning Tide.
ARC, Orion Books, 2017