Kent, 1940.In the idyllic village of Chilbury change is afoot. Hearts are breaking as sons and husbands leave to fight, and when the Vicar decides to close the choir until the men return, all seems lost.But coming together in song is just what the women of Chilbury need in these dark hours, and they are ready to sing. With a little fighting spirit and the arrival of a new musical resident, the charismatic Miss Primrose Trent, the choir is reborn.Some see the choir as a chance to forget their troubles, others the chance to shine. Though for one villager, the choir is the perfect cover to destroy Chilbury’s new-found harmony.Uplifting and profoundly moving, THE CHILBURY LADIES’ CHOIR explores how a village can endure the onslaught of war, how monumental history affects small lives and how survival is as much about friendship as it is about courage.
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir by Jennifer Ryan is published by The Borough Press in hardback on 23 February 2017. I'm thrilled to be hosting the BLOG TOUR today.
This novel totally captured my imagination, I was swept up and transported to life in a small village at the beginning of the second world war.
Jennifer Ryan cleverly structures her tale of life in Chilbury; using journal entries, letters and diary posts from the narrating characters. This kept the story fresh and well rounded, and the reader is able to see the plot unfold through different points of view.
have gone off to fight in the war, the women of the village are outraged. Ably led by Mrs Tilling, the local district nurse, the women decide that they will continue to sing. So that is what they do, and this book follow their story, and how their little village is affected by the fighting that is raging across Europe.
This story could have been sweet and twee, almost like a Sunday afternoon TV drama, except that the author does not shy away from including some themes that are darker and harsher, and she does it so very well. Her characters are a mixed bunch, with some strong women, some downright evil women and an incredibly ferocious Major whose temper is often uncontrollable. Young girls who suddenly experience freedom to discover the world, and the dangers that can befall them, men who are no more than children going off to fight the enemy, The worry and grief of the families left behind, the devastation wrought by German bombs, and the feelings of suspicion about everyone and everything. Chilbury may appear to be a sleepy Kent village, but scandal and intrigue lurks behind almost every front door!
The Chilbury Ladies' Choir really is a joy to read. It's funny, it's full of heart and characters that the reader will cheer for, and hiss at.
Seamlessly told, heartfelt and believable. This is a real treat.
I'm delighted to welcome the author, Jennifer Ryan here to Random Things, with a guest post all about Nella Last, and her real second world war diary:
A Real Second World War Diary by Jennifer Ryan
One momentous day, as I scanned the bookshop shelves for my beloved evacuee and other stories from the Second World War, I came across something as delectable as it was extraordinary, almost impossible to imagine. It was the Mass-Observation project.
In August 1939, as war became less of an option and more of a reality, a group of sociologists and artists invited members of the British public to keep journals of their day-to-day experience of the war, and to send them in to a central repository. 485 people took it up at first, although the number grew to a few thousand as the war progressed, providing an unexpected wealth of personal experience when it happened, as it happened.
Probably the best known and the most treasured of these is a diary by 49-year-old housewife, Nella Last. Her writing is exquisite, but it is the depth and raw power of her feelings about the war and what it going on around her that makes her diary a powerful indictment of how women prevailed during the war years. As the war begins, Nella is getting over a breakdown, and has health problems that force her to rest every afternoon and take aspirin continually for headaches. But as she becomes involved with the Women’s Voluntary Service, heading up a canteen for the troops, making dollies for the hospital, knitting, sewing, keeping chickens, and helping women cope with the bombs and the grief, she regains her spirits and her health, giving up the afternoon rest and her aspirins.
One can also sense how the war has shifted her relationship with her husband, with her beginning to make her own decisions, getting away from her narrow household existence to carry out enterprising and social help for the war effort. More and more often she doesn’t make it home in the middle of the day to make him lunch, unheard of at the beginning of the war.
By the end of the war, she acknowledges that her breakdowns and illnesses were the result of her husband’s way of never socializing or allowing her to socialize, and insisting that the only company they needed was each other. Keeping him happy and preventing a fight, she had gone along with it. But she had come, through the war, to realize that she didn’t need to do this anymore. In her own words, she became determined that “No one would ever give me [a nervous breakdown] again.”
Cliff, her younger son who goes to war, is the main source of her love, her thoughts, and her worries. It’s heartrending when he is supposed to be coming home for Christmas but becomes sick and day by day she is half expecting him, coming through the door with his smile, only to be disappointed.
It isn’t surprising that the first scene of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir that I wrote was that of a widow, Mrs. Tilling, watching her only son leave for war, struggling to accept the sad end of his childhood and the abrupt beginning of an overwhelming fear that he would be killed.
I was so moved by Nella’s diaries that I wanted to write a novel that in some way fictionalized her experience, making it more accessible for a larger audience. It captures how it might feel to be a woman alive during this incredible time. How we might have experienced marriage, and how the war might have changed the way we think ourselves and the institution of marriage. And it is this that I hoped to bring to life in The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir.
Jennifer Ryan grew up in Kent. She was inspired to write The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, her first novel, by the extraordinary and often scandalous stories about life during the war told by her jovial grandmother, a prodigious storyteller and lover of that wartime favourite, the Pink Gin.
Many of the characters' stories in the book are based on real life, discovered through Jennifer's extensive research and her grandmother's experiences.
Jennifer now lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two children, where she previously worked as a non-fiction book editor.
Find out more at www.jenniferryanbooks.com
Follow her on Twitter @JenniferiRyan