Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Guest post: Fenella Miller - 'Barbara's War'

I write historical fiction, some romantic some of it not, all it needs to be researched. This is the part I love and the reason I don't write contemporary novels. The problem is I've become so engrossed in this I don’t get on with the writing.

For part two of Barbara's War I’ve begun to research the life of a fighter pilot. My hero, Alex, is a Spitfire pilot, and I became fascinated by the lives of those young men. I have already spent far too long on this.

It is hard to credit what those very young men lived through in the early days of the war. Dowding's code meant they were taught to fly in close formation – wingtips almost touching – which proved to be a lethal method. Many "tail end Charlies" were shot down by the ME 109s because they just didn't see the German fighters. Sometimes these missing planes weren’t noticed until the squad had landed. Early on in the war a group of Spitfires shot down a Blenheim – and then claimed it as the first kill of the war – because of faulty information and bomber command.

The Blenheim looked similar to a Dornier 17. A Spitfire was shot down by a squadron of Hurricanes – it seems that this sort of thing wasn't that unusual. The myth that German pilots were poorly trained was believed but that was soon proved erroneous and many of our brave young fighter pilots lost their lives because they thought they were better trained than the Germans. In fact it would appear our boys were wrongly trained – should have flown in pairs – not something in a V-shaped close formation – thus making them easy targets the opposition.

See what I mean about too much research? Neither of my heroes are involved in this – although now I think about it – Alex is a pilot at the start of the war – perhaps I can use some of this with him. You might think my book is more about the men than Barbara, but that’s not the case. This second book takes her from the end of book one (when John and she are engaged) to the end of the war. I’m not telling you how the book ends – you will have to wait and see.

Back to my fascinating research: Lessons should have been learned from the way the Luftwaffe performed in the Spanish Civil War, but this was ignored by Dowding. After the fall of France it some squadron leaders ignored the obsolete manual and flew in pairs.

I think I’ll have Alex be one of those who ignored the manual –he’s an intelligent young man –he would have understood what was needed to keep his men safe.

Air-Vice Marshal Johnnie Johnson said at the time "These formation attacks were useless for air fighting because the tempo of air combat did not allow time for elaborate manoeuvres in tight formation and as a result the last words too many splendid fighter pilots heard were 'Number …Attack… Go.’"

The second and final part of Barbara's War will not only focus on Alex and also on John to whom she is engaged at the start of the book. He is a bomber pilot and I'm thoroughly enjoying learning about their lives as well.

Barbara's War, Part Two, should be written and ready for publication by the end of the year. I'm a little nervous about saying this as I’ve not written anything completely new for over a year. It is also the first time I've attempted to write a sequel.

Thank you, Lindsay, for inviting me to your fabulous blog.

Fenella Miller


Lindsay Townsend said...

Fascinating article, Fenella. I've tweeted it.

Fenella Miller said...

Thanks, Lindsay. I've now decided to write a Jane Austen linked book so am reading lots of lovely books on JA and costume.

Lauren Linwood said...

I love the WWII era and found your blog fascinating! Also think you have a fabulous cover. Look forward to reading your work, Fenella!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Maybe we should all do a blog on the joys of research (or not if you're like me.)

Fenella Miller said...

I'm doing my next blog for another group on this. Thanks for the comment aobut the cover - Jane Dixon-smith does all my covers and she's brilliant.