Wednesday, March 28, 2012

100 years ago - what kind of world?

Cheers. Welcome to my guest blog for freshfiction. If you'd like to leave a comment after reading the blog, please go ahead. This will automatically enter you into a giveaway for an autographed copy of my new novel THE WINGS OF MORNING. All the best!

This winter saw the film War Horse coming to our local cinemas, a story about a boy and his horse set during World War One. At the same time, the popular British series Downtown Abbey was sweeping an ever-growing number of fans into its embrace on Sunday evenings in Canada and the US. Part of Season 2's story in Downtown Abbey was World War One. But the series also takes a look at the coming of the motorcar and electricity.

The first decades of the 20th century were a period of momentous change. The motorcar and electricity were part of that. But so were the telephone and the airplane. Try to put yourself in your grandparents' and great-grandparents' place. For hundreds of years, thousands of years, you use a horse and a cart. Suddenly people are driving past you in a car. It's never happened before. You always needed a horse. At the same time, except for going up in hot air balloons, flying was unheard of – who could even think of ever really flying up with the hawks and starlings? Yet it happened and by 1914 airplanes were buzzing over people's heads in ever increasing numbers. Flying! How incredible was that? Toss in flicking a switch for your house lights, instead of lighting candles and oil lamps, along with talking with your brother or sister in Denver while you were living in Boston, and the first years of the 20th century made most people's heads and brains spin.

Then there was the lethal aspect of those years – a world war for the first time, unprecedented in its scale of destruction and loss of human life. And right on its heals, the horseman of disease and pestilence – The Spanish Influenza, the first modern pandemic, rivaling the Middle Ages' Black Death in terms of its global scope and the numbers slain. More died from the pandemic than died in the trenches and skies of Europe's war. Imagine all that loss of human life taking place in a short span of five years, 1914-1919. It must have staggered families in every country affected – and almost every country was affected.

So in this mix we see the Amish of the United Stares trying to hold onto their distinctive take on the Christian faith and their distinctive lifestyle. A lifestyle that wasn't really that distinctive until 1900-1920 came along. For it was when they said no to telephones when everyone else was saying yes, no to motorcars, no to electricity, no to airplanes, that they began to look different, even odd. But the oddness was nothing to how they looked when they refused to fight for America in the first global conflict – then they looked like bad neighbors and unpatriotic. In fact, with their German language and accent, they looked a lot like the enemy American boys were being killed by in France and Belgium. So people took it upon themselves to burn down their churches, vandalize their homes and farms and crops. And some people in the government and the military took it upon themselves to imprison and even kill those Amish-and Hutterites, Quakers, and Mennonites.

Which is where my early 20th century story comes in. Not like War Horse or Downtown Abbey. But with a young man who is a whiz at flying and a young woman who loves to go up with him into the heaps of white cumulus and golden sun. With a military who sees how brilliantly he flies and manipulates him into enlisting and fighting in the sky over France, even though the Amish are against war and will cut him off once he climbs into a cockpit. With a woman who loves him and believes in him despite all those around her who scorn and reject him for what he is doing. With bloody warfare that the Amish youth swears he will not take part in, choosing to force planes down without killing their pilots, until the day comes when so many of his own men have been shot down his fingers turn in rage towards the machine guns mounted on the fuselage of his plane.

That's THE WINGS OF MORNING. I invite you to pick up a copy and get into its world with that young man and woman and find out what happens in the years 1917, 1918, and 1919 to them, their love, their people, their nation, and their faith.


Anne Payne said...

Wow! It's almost hard to fathom that time in history and all the advancements that were made. I never thought about the chasm between Englishers & Amish not ever really being there. But, as you say, there would have been a time when they weren't so different. They must have undergone great criticism. Reading about the young man's rage brought tears to my eyes. I haven't read any of your books but I will certainly be keeping my eyes open for this one!

murray said...

thanks, Anne - I'll look to connect with you on FB!