Back Behind Enemy Lines: the back story

I try to make my writing reflect the world I live in. I suppose this has something to do with the teacher I’ve always been. Back Behind Enemy Lines began with a revelation and was spurred on by a feeling of guilt. The dedication in the book reads: For my mother, Nora Bridge. In my first version I added, by way of an apology.

My Dad had died several years before. Mum was living alone in a large house and was already in her mid-nineties. Of her four children I lived nearest to her and I was three hours away by car. Like so many grown up children I was concerned for her safety. With little time to spare from a demanding job (can you hear the special pleading) I phoned up the local vicar’s wife and asked if she thought Mum was coping. Together with the Vicar’s wife I arranged for another member of the congregation to clean for Mum and generally check on her. Mum hated this arrangement, but I insisted.

I was never sure where the revelation came from but one day I finally twigged that Mum valued independence more than safety. Let me spell that out. I think she was prepared to risk dying slowly at the bottom of the stairs she had fallen down because that was the price for being able to live independently. In spying in her I had violated her privacy.

I began to think about how we treat older people and out of that thinking I created Anna. She had to be aged 90. That’s quite a challenge for a novelist to have your central character already over the age of incapacity. So I made her a spy, gave her an exciting earlier life. That’s where the title comes from. Anna served behind enemy lines in Normandy when anyone and everyone might report her to the authorities. Being old makes her feel as if she is back behind enemy lines. She needs to bring her wartime skills back into use in order to defend her independence.

I think that idea works well in the book. It also allowed me to explore another theme that intrigues me. How much can we ever know another person, or ever fully understand the life we have lived and the impact of the choices we’ve made. When in Part 3 Anna goes back to France and confronts the ghosts that have haunted her I hope readers respond to the persistent ambiguity I create there. I hope that feels like the truth.

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