“I’d written a piece for the Guardian in 2012 about my horror at the potential sale of the Forest of Dean – I’d always known I wanted to set fiction there, and my visceral reaction to the government’s proposed sale made me start to think about how it would be to have lived there during the Second World War, when the way of life was also threatened, and what it would have been like to find sanctuary there.
I’d known about the POW camps in the Forest of Dean all my life – my grandmother used to take in sewing for the prisoners, and gave me tokens which they used in place of ‘real’ money. The idea of a sensitive prisoner also brought me to Connie, who is the antithesis of Seppe, and the real driver for the book.
To research the book I spent a lot of time in the archives of the Imperial War Museum, reading and listening to archived accounts from Lumberjills. The Dean Heritage Museum in the Forest of Dean provided similar invaluable material. I also read two first-hand accounts of life in the actual POW camp in the Forest of Dean, which were incredible and really informed the camp scenes.”
Sound intriguing? Thanks to Sarah's publicist I have a short extract from Shelter to whet our appetites.
Connie stuck her tongue out at the face gurning at her from the faded looking glass on the tallboy. Mud was everywhere, in her eyelashes and streaked down her face like bad rouge. It was going to take some serious spit and polish to get spruced up. For a moment she couldn’t remember why she’d agreed to go to the dance in the first place. But Hetty would kill her if Connie missed tonight’s final fling before the other trainees scattered, and it had been too long since she’d been out dancing. Time to make sure she still knew how.
Connie found the edge of the washcloth, spat on it and rubbed her cheek, twisting sideways to see if she’d improved the situation. Not a hope. She was scuppered – time to brave the water. She moved over to the chest of drawers and poured water from the jug that sat there in the porcelain basin. It was as clear as spring water and as cold, too. Nothing like the brown trickle you’d get back in Coventry.
Connie tangled the brush through her hair until it was stick-straight again and tugged off her drenched socks. When she’d been in the hostel, before she’d been billeted here, some of her fellow lumberjills had made a big song and dance about getting changed as soon as they were home from the woods. They’d swan around putting on dainty tea dresses, or the clean skirts and blouses their mothers had sent them.
Some hope of that for her. Connie yanked open the wardrobe door and stared at its contents. The cupboard still smelled of the forest; maybe she’d stop noticing once all her clothes whiffed like that too.
Nothing would fit. She’d have to wear that yellow dress, though she should have got rid of it months ago. Connie pulled it out, hangers jangling. The trousers and overalls that belonged to Amos’s son bumped into her uniforms, releasing another pong of the countryside into the air.
Connie draped the frock against her overalls and dragged the rickety chair over to the window, craning to catch a glimpse of her reflection. Behind the panes, finger-like twigs tapped at her and she jumped. This place gave her the willies, always something creaking or scratching. Whoever thought the countryside was still and calm hadn’t spent any damn time in it.
Spring 1944. As war threatens even the most remote English communities, a trainee lumberjill and an Italian Prisoner of War form a friendship in the Forest of Dean.
Both are outsiders. Both are in desperate, unspoken need.
Connie Granger arrived in the ancient forest alone. Fleeing tragedy in her devastated city, she hopes the Women's Timber Corps will give her a place of safety, and a place to protect the secret she carries.
Seppe is haunted by his memories of combat and loss but is surprised to find a certain liberty in his new surroundings.
They discover in each other a means to start again, to find a home. But Connie knows she cannot stay - and soon she must make a life-defining choice . . .
But is the price Connie must pay for her freedom too great?