Friday, 31 May 2013

Why was Jean-Luc here?

This  is Blakemere in Delamere Forest, recently "rewetted" in a major scheme to  restore ancient peat bogs to this ecologically  important area.

A lot of this area was drained nearly a couple of centuries ago in an attempt to increase timber production. It is said  that the drainage work was carried out by  French prisoners of war from the Napoleonic war - something I never  knew  anything  about as a child at Delamere many years ago. When I heard about it years later  it set my story-weaver's mind in motion and before long I  had the makings of a sub-plot for  my  next novel.

That next novel is  now my present work and Jean-Luc Anquetil has grown into a nearly real character.  So I've been  doing  a bit of reading  around  the subject. Where were those prisoners held or billeted? How much opportunity would they have  had for a measure of freedom, if any? I've searched through Francis Abell's "Prisoners of War in  Britain 1756 - 1815" (1914) And I've drawn a blank. Nothing. There's a similar story about French PoWs building stonewalls  in Snowdonia but the  general  opinion seems to be  that this is very unlikely because work  that could provide income for British  workers would not be given to PoWs -  though  there are some researchers who think  it may have been possible.

The nearest parole  towns to Delamere were Whitchurch in Shropshire and Ormskirk in  Lancashire. But PoWs were confined within strict limits of the town. So what do I do? I could move this bit of the novel a few miles away to Whitchurch and  put Jean-Luc into a different situation  there. On the other hand, I can still see him in the forest - and this is where Helen lives with her father and  their animals.
So why is he there? My "research" seems to have taken  a different  twist.


Sharon Bradshaw said...

Not an easy situation to be in. I like to be as historically correct as possible but if the storyline can't fit in with this, and there's no way round it, then at the end of the day it's fiction, your plot. In the alternative, it could perhaps have happened as you feel it did, since not everything is documented for posterity?

Robert Crompton said...

Yes, I also think historical accuracy is important. The intriguing thing is that this has opened up various possibilities. Jean-Luc could have absconded from parole in Whitchurch and be on his way to Liverpool to try to get a ship home. Or it could have happened after 1814 and he was among the fairly substantial number of ex-PoWs who chose to stay in England.
And then, although it does sound reasonable to say that PoWs would not be give work that could be taken by British workers, if there were no PoWs in the area, how did the legend even get started?

Sharon Bradshaw said...

Writing historical fiction is fascinating, and being true to fact whenever possible. The parole idea appeals to me as it may add a twist in the tale, or even subplot? I would run with these thoughts for a while, Robert, until you find the one which you feel sits best in your story and you want to write.

lizy-expat-writer said...

If you've researched every avenue and found nothing, that leaves the field wide open for your imagination to fill in the blanks. Italian and other POWs in UK in WW2 were "farmed out" to work - why not 2 centuries earlier?