Why We Are Not Done with World War I

Audio of this blog entry available here:

I was at a lovely dinner with some other novelists recently (after a long hiatus from that world) and one of my dining companions, whose sharp narrative style I admire a lot and envy a little, told me: “I can’t publish my Victorian novels traditionally because publishers keep telling me that they only want World War II.”

Not only Victorian novels. World War One has apparently gone out of fashion too. Of course the centenary – the one the Irish Times said I “got out my novel in time for” – has passed. White Feathers did indeed come out in August 2014, bang on almost 100 years after England declared war on Germany for the first time. But now the centenary of the 1918 armistice has passed, as has the 101st anniversary of a post-war snap pre-Christmas general election, which was marked almost precisely on the day by the holding of…another snap pre-Christmas general election, the less said of which the better.

(The first election features in Lucia’s War, btw, as a background detail. I don’t bother mentioning the outcome – Tories lost by a huge margin – as protags are far too busy doing… other stuff.)

So, we’ve all moved on. Readers don’t want all that WWI stuff any more. It’s too long ago. Too irrelevant. Too often repeating the same themes. Is that right?

I insert exhibit A into my argument for the contrary:

poppy-costume-at-tranmere

For those who cannot see the picture, or just can’t bear to look, the above illustration (from the website footballburp.com) is a giant, felt, human poppy walking on a football pitch accompanied by a security guard of some description. I respectfully submit that as long as people feel compelled to dress up in this manner in a public place, we are not done with World War I.

Reverberations

Also to treat this massive, traumatic four-year series of events as a self-contained unit of history is narrow and nationalistic; it disregards how this war re-drew the map of the world and nudged at history. How it changed the course of Irish nationalism, how it started what became the horrorshow of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how it created unrest in the Arab world through broken promises, and set its peoples against each other. How it showed the loyal Commonwealth states in the West Indies that Britain did not care a whit for their interests and used them as fodder. And that’s just the Allied side. We are not done with WWI because the people of these regions live with the trauma caused by these decisions. Ruqaya Izzidien and Isabella Hammad are two novelists recently tackling these subjects and I warmly recommend their material. Martine Madden has also written powerfully of the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Conclusion

I see little evidence that readers are no longer interested in World War I. Bored with the anodyne “boy in the trenches / girl at home, then goes out for the war effort” fables perhaps, but the deep themes and the political undertones are still relevant to readers. It gives me some cheer to know I am publishing Lucia’s War independently (and to high standards) as I don’t have to worry about this hurdle. It is my hope that I can continue to reach these readers and that they enjoy my next novel when it comes out.

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