Traumatised by what he witnessed in the streets of Sarajevo during the 1990s siege, newsman James Lambert flees back to England, seeking peace and recovery in the beauty and apparent tranquillity of the countryside. He'd narrowly escaped death from a Serbian shell and watched his Bosnian lover die. Haunted by memories and the reverberating clamour of guns he takes on a small farm in the Welsh Marches, with a commission to write about the conflict. He is entranced by the unspoiled beauty of the landscape but settles slowly into a community which seems to him a time warp of ideas and behaviour. His seclusion is disrupted by a vulnerable girl's appeal to find a home for her young horse and his kindness to her drags him into the mesh of her family's secret guilt. Their relationship develops into a love which brings with it dreadful consequences.
Remembrance Day on Sunday -- or the day when Britain honours its dead from wars old and new. The 11th -- recalling when the guns stopped in 1918 -- is Monday but the wreath-laying mainly happens on a Sunday in village and city churches all over the land. It was November when James went back to Sarajevo to visit Katya's grave, found after much searching by her family. So he took poppies to leave there for her.
When war comes it's hard to imagine how things were before it all went wrong.
James returns from Bosnia racked by doubt and conflicting emotions, torn between memories of the woman in the grave and the flesh and blood girl waiting anxiously to see him.
When you live among the hills you soon learn to be prepared. The temperature drops several degrees when the wind is blowing and icy blasts turn uncovered ears to stinging red. The wind is always colder than down in the village but frost often hangs like a pocket in the valley when it doesn't affect us here.
Sometimes those who think they know better advise and caution in matters of the heart. But the heart has its own advice when it comes to future happiness.
It'll soon be October when the early morning mists and the added tints of colour in the trees create scenes of autumn beauty. Here in the west of England, as in other places the trees seem to say green for much longer and the dazzling display of reds and gold is delayed. Yet another sign of the way the climate is changing, more moisture in the ground to keep the sap in place. But a sad reminder of what we have done to this beautiful planet. As J B Priestly said: "The earth is nobler than the world we built upon it."
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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