Much of Katharine Orton’s writing is inspired by folklore, fairy tales and ghost stories. In her latest novel, Glassheart, she’s combined this with the aftermath of World War Two. Here, she explains to MyBookCorner how war stories influenced the writing of Glassheart…
I was chatting to a member of my extended family one day when she said, ‘You know, it’s funny. At school we weren’t taught about World War Two because it had only recently happened, so it wasn’t considered “history”. And our parents didn’t like to talk about what they’d been through. So it was a blank.’
This was something I’d never considered before. Had a whole generation kept their experiences of war – at least the very worst of it – to themselves? Had their children grown up in this strange, ominous silence?
I thought about my own Granddad, who’d been in the RAF and also survived Dunkirk, and who only ever gave the sketchiest outline of what he’d experienced.
The stories he did tell were pretty grim: a colleague who’d become so mentally distressed by the situation that he’d throw live grenades at his friends for fun; a tragic plane crash that almost killed my granddad, putting him in hospital for several weeks. So who knows what he’d actually held back on.
I’d heard stories of people only returning to memories of the war – opening up about it to family – at the very, very end of their lives. What did this bottled up trauma and pain do to people, I wondered? How had the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude affected them inside? These are questions that became central to the story of Glassheart. How people get over terrible events. What journey they go on to do so, and what the barriers are – silence being one of them.
Mythology breeds in silence too, I knew. In the absence of information, the people who’re in the dark make up their own stories. And so I thought Glassheart would be the perfect opportunity to introduce magic and spirits to this dynamic – a whole fantastical world in fact, to mirror our own and to complement it, even to illuminate it.
There’s also the story my Nan told me about listening to an air raid going on overhead on the night before she was set to be evacuated to Australia by ship. She said she felt like ‘Hitler didn’t want her to go.’ This always fascinated me because it was clear that as a child experiencing these scary things, she had felt it as a personal thing between herself and Hitler, directly, who in her mind had become a sort of all-knowing, malevolent entity. She’d created her own story to explain something that, back then, felt inexplicable to her.
And this in no small part inspired the dark, ominous force of Nona’s enemy in Glassheart: the Soldier.
These days, it’s more recognised that opening up about painful experiences can sometimes help a person overcome them, that at the very least they don’t have to carry the burden alone. And that creative things like art – just as Uncle Antoni in the story has Nona do whenever she remembers the past – can also have a healing effect. At its core, Glassheart is a book about Nona going on a journey with her own personal trauma – and finally having to face it.
You can enjoy My Book Corner’s review of Glassheart, here.