Marie Johnson is trapped by her job as a chef in a seaside pub and her increasingly poisonous marriage to its landlord, but the sixtieth anniversary of a D-Day exercise which ended in disaster triggers chance meetings that prove unlikely catalysts for change.
A charming American soldier walks into Marie's life but it soon becomes clear nothing is as it seems. Could the D-Day re-enactments be stirring up something from the past? Or is the answer to Marie's problems much closer to home?
Another You started when my husband bought me a book of ghost stories from around Britain.
In it was a tale from Studland in Dorset, a place I knew quite well, which told
of a woman in a white jacket walking up the path from the beach on August
nights, telling the people she met she’d been swimming, then vanishing in
front of their eyes. The fact the hauntings were recent appealed to my imagination
and formed the basis of a short story I needed for Winchester Writers’
It was when my mother read it and told me I didn’t have a short story, but the opening of a novel, I started to think again. In September 2013 my husband and I went on a two week holiday and I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote until I had at least a few characters and half a book.
When I started to read around Studland’s history I discovered it had been used extensively in practices for D-Day and a tragedy had occurred with six men losing their lives when a number of amphibious tanks failed to make it to the shore. This story was so secret it only came to light during the preparations for the sixtieth anniversary commemorations of D-Day when a plaque was finally unveiled in their memory. Armed with this knowledge, the other half of the book started to take shape, even though it meant I had to lose my original, more contemporary, ghost.
Walking on the cliffs above Studland, downtrodden chef Marie meets Corbin, a visiting American soldier. There are in fact two GIs in the story, Corbin and Paxton, and I am indebted to the time spent with me by a former Para who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was able to tell me all I needed to know and more about the effects of combat stress. This conversation was the final piece of the jigsaw that shaped the book.
In many ways the setting is the story. The action rarely ventures from Studland with its sheltered bay and sweep of chalk cliffs which end at Old Harry Rocks. I have always been inspired by place and this one stole my heart from my very first visit in 2010. I have walked and swum there at all times of year but never yet spotted one of its rare sea horses.
Studland's association with the preparations for D-Day fascinated me from the start and was brought alive when, during the seventieth anniversary commemorations for Exercise Smash in 2014, I met John Pearson and his restored Valentine Double Duplex tank – the type that went down in the bay in April 1944. It was also incredibly moving to share a short service next to Fort Henry with veterans of 4/7 Royal Dragoon Guards.
As the book developed, the story of the tanks themselves became less central and the story of the GI’s who were stationed in nearby Swanage and took part in the exercises took on more importance. Many of them never came back from Omaha Beach, in part because their high command didn’t take so much notice of the mistakes made during Exercise Smash as their British counterparts.
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