Monthly Archives: April 2006

Deserters in No Man’s Land

I first came across this legend when I read the Monocled Mutineer about fifteen years ago, where mention was made of deserters hiding out in the country round Etaples. James Hayward's Myths & Legends of the First World War mentions the story, albeit briefly. He quotes Osbert Sitwell, who claimed that the story there were bands of deserters of all nationalities, hiding out in parts of the front line, existing by brigandage and scrounging was widely believed by the troops. Heyward also quotes from a 1920 memoir which mentions a story about the abandoned Somme battlefield told in 1917, he ends his discussion with the note that the story formed the basis of the 1985 novel No Man's Land by Reginald Hill.

But it appeared in fiction long before that. The novel, Behind the Lines, by WF Morris (1930), published in the States as The Strange Case of Gunner Rawley, makes use of the idea for much of its plot. I'll discuss the book in more detail in another post.

It's a pity Hayward didn't do more than just mention the story in passing, because of course the usual end is that after the war the authorities rounded them up and shot or gassed them all. Urban myth, or was there perhaps more than a little truth in it?


Barnaby, Rina Ramsay (1910)

This is an everyday tale of fox hunting folk with a duplicitous marriage as the main part of the plot. Interestingly, the heroine is an American, although we never find that much out about her. Of course it's all totally preposterous, but great fun, I think probably because, unlike some similar novels I've read, the hero is actually likeable.

The rest of the post, contains a synopsis of the plot, and gives away the ending, but it's not intended to be a serious literary analysis. Continue reading

Rina Ramsay

Rina Ramsay was an author of light fiction who published novels and short stories between 1896 and 1926. It is extremely hard to find her novels these days – there's another one I would like to read but I haven't seen it anywhere.

Many of her short stories appear to be horror, which is interesting considering that her published novels are rather frothy romances. You can read one of them, Resurgam online. This originally appeared in The Strand in 1915 and was the last short story of hers that I have been able to identify. Others were published in different magazines between 1898 and 1908.

Her published novels are:

Miss Drummond's Dilemma (1896)
English Ann. At school in Blumbaden (1897)
Key of the Door (1908)
The Straw (1909)
Barnaby (1910)
Impossible She (1912)
Long Odds (with J Otho Paget) (1921)
Step in the House (1926)

My great grandmother had two of these – Barnaby and The Straw which I shall discuss in due course.

Mabel Pritchard’s collection of light fiction

In a box in my mother's attic there is a collection of books that belonged to my great grandmother. Both my mother and my sister had read most of them at various times, but I never had. Until recently.

I was looking for some information about nurses during the Great War, when my sister mentioned that one of these books concerned nurses and had been published in 1917. I borrowed it, and subsequently decided to read some of the others. It was a romance, and I’m not a fan of any romantic fiction not written by Georgette Heyer. There are around twenty of these novels, many of them falling to pieces they have been read so often, and held together by sellotape in varying degrees of decay. They appear to have been published between 1908 and probably the late twenties (not all of them are dated). They are mostly cheap editions and the publishers have listed other new novels out that season at the back. These lists make almost as fascinating reading as the contents of the novels themselves, especially where tantalising hints about the plots are given.

Most of these books have been out of print for years and can be very hard to find.

My interest in them is for the glimpses they give of a very different society, and as a writer concerned with presenting an accurate impression of life at the time I write about, the assumptions made can be very telling.


It is traditional to begin a blog with a statement of intent, and I see no reason to be any different. I wanted something where I could post (relatively) serious discussion about books I am reading or have read recently, and thoughts and issues about my writing. 

I am not an academic, neither am I a great student of serious literature. For me, reading is something I do to escape from the real world. I read to be entertained, not challenged, and I hope that the sorts of things I write are in themselves, entertaining.

Growing up I tended to split my reading between historical fiction and science fiction/fantasy. I devoured Rosemary Sutcliffe and Andre Norton. When I began to write I attempted to write fantasy but it didn’t work and when it eventually did work, it was historical, and that is what I write now.

Rosemary Sutcliff links
Sutcliff Interview
An Appreciation, by the HNS
Blue Remembered Hills

Andre Norton links
Andre Norton
Wikipedia on Andre Norton

So the focus is largely historical. The period of my interest is subject to change, dependent on what I am writing. Currently it is the Great War, previously it has been mid Victorian Scotland, Roman Scotland, and some years before that, the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.