It is with intense pride and with extreme tiredness I announce to have won the National Novel Writing Month 2014, making this 4 subsequent years I have 'done it'. This means: having written over 200,000 words written in 120 days on 3 different novels and 1 short story under very difficult personal circumstances that I do not want to further elaborate on right now but are the worst any parent can be made to bear. So, I'm crying, celebrating and shaking; wondering what the hellish attraction in it is for me but succumbing to this fever every year. Only those who take part in NaNoWriMo can actually understand its allure and I must tell you many of my writer friends don't "buy it".
Is it crap we write, is it a rough diamond or is it mediocre? The editing rounds that follow will tell us but I know that I write my best stuff when my ego is not in the way and when the quota I have to make for that day is the only thing that matters. When that hurries me on I seem to lose all sense-of-self-as-a-writer, the whole critical mind telling me to go hither or thither, crap-no-crap-possible crap etc, and the characters take over and I type and type and when I read back what was actually written I'm often surprised at what I find. I don't even recall having registered that move of a bare arm in the late afternoon sun, or the light breeze that made the glass curtains bellow out through the french doors or the deep love and despair that pierced my male main character's heart. Ah yes, that's the reward of writing with lose wings!
Here's a sliver of what I penned down in this year's NaNoWriMo. It's the epilogue to the short story I wrote for the Thorstruck Anthology that will come out this Christmas. We are in the year 1919.
Château de Drakòn 1919
Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born – Anaïs Nin
Max Dupuis de Melancourt and his wife Elise, née Aberg, were sitting under the chestnut tree in the garden of their Château in Picardy drinking their morning coffee and chatting about this and that in an amiable way. Through the French windows Agnes and Angèle stepped out, dressed in light summer dresses, their straw hats tied under their chin with colourful ribbons. They had arrived from Paris the night before where Agnes was specialising as a gynaecologist and Angèle worked as a family doctor in the Nanterre district. Both were still single, as – like with so many women of their generation - their lovers, Gregor and Anthony, had not returned from the front. Agnes was twenty-six now but didn’t look a year older than twenty with her wavy blond hair and clear blue eyes, perhaps a little too thin and ethereal and serious but a beauty none the less. Angèle was still the tiny spirited, mass of copper curls with a decisive look around her mouth but a certain softness surrounded her now due to all that they had gone through in the Great War.
“Papa, we are expected at Château Drakòn this afternoon. Elle and Jacques invited us to stay with them for the weekend. Will you excuse us?”
Max, at fifty-two still upright and with a full head of hair that had turned completely grey, smiled as his daughter and her friend joined them:
“Of course, my darling. Please give them my greetings. I am so pleased you have become friends after all.”
Tons of memories made the trip to the Château near Roye very emotional for both young women. They parked the Renault Torpedo at Roye British Cemetery and walked among the endless rows of white crosses, the silence only broken by the lonely song of a nightingale high in the blue sky. Agnes laid a white rose under the cross that read Revant Chopra Sehgal, born Lahore, Punjab 2 January 1900- died Roye, France 5 August 1917.
They continued their journey in silence, wondering what they would find at Drakòn, which they had left soon after the Armistice on 11 November 1918 to return to Paris to recuperate. Although there had been an exchange of letters so that they knew Elle and Abigail had visited Valérie in the States and Jacques was still busy returning some normality to the castle and the old countess was still unchanged in her state of dementia, they hadn’t met up.
Arriving on the familiar gravel parking place in front of the castle, they were surprised to see quite a number of cars, also with English number plates.
“I don’t hope something happened to the old countess,” Agnes observed, “of perhaps her relatives are here.”
A broad-smiling Jacques and Elle stood on the steps of the castle in light summer gear, both in trousers and it dawned on Agnes she always seemed to arrive here in full summer. Only the last time she’d left, it had been a grim Autumn day.
“Welcome again,” brother and sister de Dragoncourt chimed. “Let’s go straight through to the garden, there is no time to waste,” Jacques added. After many kisses and bonjours, they tugged the two young doctors by their sleeves and dragged them to the garden where there was quite an assembly of people dressed festively but also men in military uniforms. Under an arbour a small string quartet was playing Irving Berlin’s That International Rag, which sounded quite cheerful and had already drawn couples to the wooden dance floor that had been created on the lawn. Electric lights were decorating the trees and the necks of champagne bottles stuck out of silver buckets filled with ice. The staff no longer in blood-smeared clothes but in immaculate black and white uniform served the guests as if they had not been through the war.
Two tall uniformed gentlemen with rows and rows of decorations went up to stand behind a table and signalled the musicians to stop playing. The two generals, one British and one French, stood side by side, looking imperial and victorious on the Drakòn lawn. The British general cleared his throat and in his deep loud voice announced:
“It is an honour to be here today to present to four young French citizens and one former British subject the British War Medal 1914-1918. These five young people have shown immense strength and courage during the Great War. This silver medal, also jokingly known as “Squeak” is awarded to men and women of the British and Imperial Forces who either entered a theatre of war or entered service overseas between 5th August 1914 and 11th November 1918. For over 1100 transports of wounded military from the front to the war hospital here at Drakòn, on numerous times descending into the trenches herself to carry out the wounded men, I’d like to ask Elle de Dragoncourt to step forward.”
Elle looking rather nervous for the first time in her life but hiding it under her usual air of bluff and bravery, marched up to the table, clasping her hands with the invariable red nails in front of her. She slowly bent her head as first the British general pinned the British War Medal and then the French general awarded her with the Croix de Guerre 1914-1918. The sun shone abundantly on her short brown crop of hair and for the very first time in her life, Elle looked vulnerable. A tear slipped down her cheek that she wiped stealthily as she took her up her position next to her brother again.
The general continued: “Abigail MacDonald you are awarded these crosses for at least 700 hundred ambulance rides to the front and back.
“Count Jacques de Dragoncourt you are awarded these crosses for the more than 6000 wounded soldiers that you looked after in your war hospital here at Château Drakòn and giving a temporary place for the almost 700 who didn’t survive their wounds.
“Angèle Brest, you are awarded these crosses for carrying out more than 500 operations on wounded soldiers of the Allied Forces.”
“Agnes Gunarsson Dupuis de Melancourt, you are awarded these crosses for carrying out more than 500 operations on wounded soldiers of the Allied Forces. Thanks to you, doctors, almost all these men have been able to return to their families.”
The group of young decorated war heroes were quite overcome by these words of such high distinction for what they had only considered their duty. None managed to mutter more than a soft ‘thank you’.
Later, when the music had resumed and the tall champagne glasses stood bubbly and tingling in front of them, they shyly inspected each others' medals, still quite wordless. The wordless silence of the men gone, the men they hadn’t been able to save and those they had.
They raised their glasses to victory and to friendship, blessing and cursing the blood-red nails of war.