Please help me welcome Anne Barwell! She’s here to talk about her latest release, On Wings of Song, and some of the history behind it.
Thanks for visiting, Anne!
Thanks, Charley, for hosting me today 🙂
Although On Wings of Song begins with the 1914 Christmas Truce, most of the story takes place six years later in 1920. People were still coming to terms with their experiences during the war. Those who hadn’t fought had still lost someone they cared about, or had them return either maimed or a very different person than had left to fight at the Front. Toward the end of the war, in 1918, the influenza epidemic struck, killing more people than the war.
In Germany people were starving. Inflation coupled with the debt incurred by the Treaty of Versailles, was also taking its toll. In Britain the war had begun to break down some of the class barriers, at least for some, although for others it wasn’t about to change anytime soon, if ever. It was also time of growth and relative prosperity, as the economy broke down later there, in the late 1920s.
So how to get Jochen—a German—to Britain in 1920? One of my betas and I were discussing this over tea break at work one day, and a colleague suggested the solution. Enter his great-aunt Wilhelmina, the black sheep of the Weber family who had married a British man and settled there. She dies and leaves Jochen an inheritance.
But anti-German feeling is running high, and while Jochen’s English is excellent, his accent gives away his origins. Dealing with that on top of post war trauma is not easy—it’s not meant to be. Aiden’s injuries might be physical as well as psychological but that does not mean that Jochen has escaped the war unscathed.
One of the reasons I wrote On Wings of Song is that I wanted to show both sides of the war, rather than take sides one way or the other. No one truly wins a war and huge costs are paid by both sides. The 1914 truce reminded each side of a shared humanity. This story brings together two men who find they have a lot in common despite having fought a war on opposite sides.
On Wings of Song by Anne Barwell
Six years after meeting British soldier Aiden Foster during the Christmas Truce of 1914, Jochen Weber still finds himself thinking about Aiden, their shared conversation about literature, and Aiden’s beautiful singing voice. A visit to London gives Jochen the opportunity to search for Aiden, but he’s shocked at what he finds.
The uniform button Jochen gave him is the only thing Aiden has left of the past he’s lost. The war and its aftermath ripped everything away from him, including his family and his music. When Jochen reappears in his life, Aiden enjoys their growing friendship but knows he has nothing to offer. Not anymore.
“I’ve seen it,” Aiden said quietly. “I wish to God I hadn’t.” He looked directly at Jochen. Jochen met Aiden’s gaze. He’d seen an echo of Conrad’s fire in Aiden when he’d talked about his music earlier that afternoon.
“Don’t die on the wire, Aiden.”
“I’ll try not to.” Aiden’s words were an empty promise. They both knew it, but what else was he going to say?
The red-haired man Aiden had spoken to about arranging the burials walked over to him. He too held a shovel, and he wiped perspiration from his brow despite the cold. “There’s going to be a combined service for the dead,” he told them. “In about ten minutes in no man’s land in front of the French trenches.”
As they made their way over, men were already beginning to gather, soldiers from opposite sides sitting together, conversation dwindling to a respectful silence. A British chaplain stood in front of them, a Bible in his hand, a German beside him. Jochen recognized him, although he didn’t know his name. The young man was only a few years older than Jochen and was studying for the ministry—would he ever get the chance to complete those studies?
Jochen and Aiden found somewhere to sit a few rows back from the front and joined the company of men. The German spoke first. “Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel. Geheiligt werde dein Name.”
The British chaplain repeated the words in English. “Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name.”
They then spoke a few words each, some from the Bible, the rest from their hearts. Their congregation was silent apart from a few quiet “amens.” Jochen saw a couple of men wipe tears away. He was close to it himself.
Finally the chaplain bowed his head in prayer. When he’d finished, he spoke quietly to the man who had come to stand next to him. It was Captain Williams. He nodded and looked over the crowd, his gaze fixing on Aiden.
Aiden must have guessed what Williams wanted. He inclined his head in response and then stood. Jochen glanced between the two men, confused. What did Williams expect Aiden to do?
“Aiden?” Jochen asked softly.
Aiden smiled at him and began to sing. “O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining….” He lifted his head, his voice strong and clear, each note building on the last to create something truly beautiful, something angelic. Aiden’s eyes shone; his body swayed slightly in time with the music. He was the music.
His audience sat in awe. Jochen could feel the emotion rippling through the men around him, tangible, as though he could reach out and touch it. He felt something inside himself reach out, wanting to be a part of it, to be carried along the wave of pure music, to grab it and never let go.
Buy On Wings of Song:
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.
Coffee Unicorns: http://coffeeunicorns.wordpress.com/
Dreamspinner Press Author Page: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=55_426
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Thanks again for hosting me, Charley.
My pleasure! I love this excerpt–chokes me up every time i read it. *hugs*