Moving between the tragedy of 1990s Bosnia and the apparent tranquillity of a Shropshire village Thorns relates the story of war correspondent James Lambert sent to cover the siege of Sarajevo. He finds and loses a lover there and returns traumatised to a small hill farm to recover and write the book he has been paid an advance to produce. He becomes involved with a naive girl in need of somewhere to keep a horse. Puzzled by the apparent urgency he agrees and gradually pieces together the facts of her situation -- trying to escape what is effectively an arranged marriage between two land-hungry farming families. He discovers the sordid tale of one family's hold over the other in concealing an attempted murder. She unfolds to him her troubled life and stuns him with her request for lessons in love. He is torn between memories of his dead love and a growing attraction to Kate as they become the target of a campaign of increasing violence from her ex-boyfriend, Steve. He begins to realise that the peace of the countryside is an illusion. A letter from Bosnia draws him back and as the scale of mass murder is revealed he begins again to chronicle the country's ongoing misery. Back in England Steve's cruelty escalates into a shocking conclusion.
IF -- a mighty big word in human life, what if but more often 'if only.' As you get older it's too easy to look back and wonder if the path not taken was the better way. Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken sums up the choices we all must make in life with its wistful last lines, " I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference." You can't go back, you can only look back and sigh for what might have been.
The weather plays a major role in Thorns, one way or another, affecting work around the farm and the management of Harry, Kate's young event horse. It also has an impact on the mood and feelings of the characters, especially Kate who fears the wind. Living here among the hills makes you only too aware of the wind and rain and we watch the clouds rolling in from Wales and the Atlantic beyond, wondering what they bring. The worst snow comes the other way, with icy blasts straight from Russia.
James and Katya decide to get away from the besieged city of Sarajevo. They are warned of the risks.
In May 1995 the British public went to town celebrating the 50th anniversary of VE Day, the end of the Second World War in Europe. Parties and festivities took place all over the country including enormous bonfires on what had been the traditional beacon hills. One of the telling scenes in my novel THORNS shows the village at play and I hope paints a vivid picture of the revelry around the beacon fire on the summit of Caer Caradoc, site of an ancient British fortress.
James is badgered into attending a midnight mass which only brings back bitter memories for him.
James' mistake in staying at a brothel in Cognac is based on a real incident when we stopped unwittingly in a maison du passe. In the days before the net our travels in France were always unplanned and we relied on chance to find a bed for the night. Madame seemed delighted to have guests for breakfast and gave us some great tips on local wines and the wonderful fortified Pineau de Charentes.
Traumatised by the constant roar of heavy guns in Sarajevo James finds it hard to use his own gun again, even to shoot a few pigeons on a neighbour's corn field. It brings back bad memories of a teenage 'crime'.
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