I’m delighted to be taking part in the tour today for Catherine Byrne’s historical novel Mary Rosie’s War with an extract.
There’s a fab tourwide giveaway too – don’t miss it!
WW2 has been declared. A strange find on the beach gives Mary Rosie the chance to fulfil her dreams and contribute to her country, but all is not what she imagined.
After witnessing the first bomb to be dropped on mainland Britain, Mary watches her friends leave to join the forces and longs to be with them, but is held back by loyalty to her widowed mother.
France has capitulated. Johnny Allan’s regiment has been annihilated by German troops north of Paris. Johnny has to find a way to get home and to the girl who no longer waits for him.
Leisel is a German Jew who lost her family to the Nazis and has to make her way in Britain, a strange new country, while harbouring a desire for revenge.
Their lives become entangled in a way that no one could have envisaged.
A story about war, family ties, love, loyalty and loss.
WW2. France. Johnny and his badly wounded friend are the only survivors after a German attack on his platoon. They finally take refuge in an abandoned farm house.
Back in the farmhouse, Johnny no longer knew how many days had passed. He accepted now that Matt was not coming back. Ozzie’s delirium had ceased and he had slipped into unconsciousness, but even if he wanted to, Johnny doubted if he had the strength to make a run for it. As the cold rendered his fingers and feet into a numb nothingness and his stomach ached with hunger, he imagined his mother’s mutton pie with new potatoes and fresh green cabbage, a crackling fire and the banter around the table. He wondered what they were all doing now. He needed nourishment soon or he would die. He might have sneaked into the village. It was possible that the Germans had gone and left behind a morsel of food, but there was no more strength left in him. All he wanted to do was sleep, although it seemed he’d done nothing else for days. As he stared into the darkness listening to his friend’s laboured breathing, his mind carried him back to Caithness, the land of his ancestors, and he was running over the heather with Mary, jumping and giggling. The wind lifted her hair which was threaded with daisies and she turned and laughed at him, her lips and tongue stained purple from eating blaeberries.
Holding onto the warm image of the only girl he’d ever loved, Johnny drifted away into the arms of Morpheus once more. He awoke to something hard pressed against his temple. Opening his eyes, he twisted his head to find himself looking along the muzzle of a rifle. The muzzle was drawn back enough to allow him to see his assailant. An old man, unshaven, his clothes dirty and creased, stood over him. Within minutes more people crowded into the room. Two women, one old, one young, and three children of various ages, all thin, dirty and ragged.
Johnny put his hands above his head and rolled onto his back.
‘Anglaise?’ asked the old man.
The man turned to his followers and issued orders in French. The young woman kneeled beside Johnny. ‘We must burn your uniforms. It will be dangerous for this family if you are found here. We will give you clothes.’
Johnny looked up into the palest blue eyes he had ever seen and recognised the girl he had met on the road from Paris.
‘Suzanne?’ He gasped, before he slipped once more into unconsciousness.
When he next opened his eyes, there was a fire burning in the grate and the room was warm. He had been washed and dressed in clothes that were far from clean, but at least they were dry. A girl of about ten or eleven sat by his bedside. When she saw he was awake she rose and ran out of the door. ‘Suzanne, il est revéillé.’
Suzanne came into the room and took a seat beside him. ‘How do you feel?’
‘I’ll live. How’s Ozzie?’
‘Your friend is still alive. We have no medicine but we’ve poulticed his wound and offered him some soup made from nettles and the birds we’ve been able to trap, but he was unable to eat. He’s very ill. I’ve sent Yvette to get some food for you.’
Yvette brought in the soup. It was thin and bitter, but Johnny was ravenous and lifting the bowl to his lips drank it down in several gulps.
‘Who are you?’ he asked Suzanne.
‘My father is English. These,’ she indicated the others huddled round the fire, ‘are what is left of my mother’s family, my grandparents, my aunt, my nieces. I was with them when Hitler invaded. We were hoping to leave, but when we heard that France surrendered, we returned to our farm. Being under occupation might be better than taking our chances on the ocean or in another country. Perhaps I can still go back to England, but I can’t turn my back on them. We can only hope the Germans will treat us fairly.’
Johnny thought about the surrendering soldiers shot with their hands in the air and wasn’t too sure about that. ‘How will you survive? North of Paris is like a desert.’
‘I know. I’ve heard that whole towns are mostly destroyed, though the Germans haven’t damaged the churches and cathedrals.’ She gave a short laugh. ‘They think that God will forgive them more easily for the atrocities. The villages are deserted, the farmsteads empty, but now the people will return. There’s nowhere else to go.’
She took a breath and looked around her. ‘I’m young and fit. I can hunt. I can’t let my family starve. Any farm animals or crops that have survived will go to the German army, then to those who’ll work for them. For people like us…’ She spread her hands and shrugged. ‘We’ll hunt when the animals return, grow more vegetables, but in the meantime, maybe I’ll be forced to work for the enemy to keep us alive.’
‘I have to get home.’ Johnny struggled to keep his eyes open.
‘We’ve heard a whisper about somewhere safe. Do not go north. You must go to Marseille, the seamen’s mission and ask for Donald Caskie. He’ll help you. If you’re found here we’ll all be shot.’ She lowered her voice and bent close to him. ‘The less my family know about this, the safer it will be for them, but there are those who will not surrender, who will form a resistance. They will help you, but for now, you are a French peasant, my cousin, and you are a deaf mute. If the Germans come, how well can you act the idiot?’
In spite of the situation, he gave a wry smile. ‘I won’t need to do much acting. Can I see Ozzie?’
Yvette came in and whispered something to Suzanne.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘your friend has died.’
What a poignant moment we leave the story …
Catherine Byrne always wanted to be a writer. She began at the age of eight by drawing comic strips with added dialogue and later, as a teenager, graduated to poetry. Her professional life however, took a very different path. She first studied glass engraving with Caithness Glass where she worked for fourteen years. During that time she also worked as a foster parent. After the birth of her youngest child she changed direction, studying and becoming a chiropodist with her own private practice. At the same time she did all the administration work for her husband’s two businesses, and this continued until the death of her husband in 2005. However she still maintained her love of writing, and has had several short stories published in women’s magazines. Her main ambition was to write novels and she has now retired in order to write full time.
Born and brought up until the age of nine on the Island of Stroma, she heard many stories from her grandparents about the island life of a different generation. Her family moved to the mainland at a time when the island was being depopulated, although it took another ten years before the last family left.
An interest in geology, history and her strong ties to island life have influenced her choice of genre for her novels.
Since first attending the AGM of the Scottish Association of Writers in 1999, Catherine has won several prizes, commendations and has been short-listed both for short stories and chapters of her novels. In 2009, she won second prize in the general novel category for ‘Follow The Dove’
In 2016 The Road to Nowhere won second prize in the Barbara Hammond competition for Best Self Published novel. The follow up, Isa’s Daughter won 1st prize in the same competition the following year.
Although the books follow the fortunes of the same family, they are all stand-alone.
The fifth book in the Raumsey series is Mary Rosie’s War.
Catherine Byrne lives in Wick, Caithness.
Connect with Catherine Byrne
Tourwide Giveaway – 1st Prize – all 4 of Catherine Byrne’s previous books in paperback.
6 x Runners Up Prizes – PB copy of Broken Horizon (UK Only)
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