Catherine Law - historical romantic novelist


Discover spell-binding romantic fiction with a dark heart


Me & Auntie Ginge

How A Season Of Leaves Was Born

 

 

There’s something about grandparents, something in that generation gap, that makes them kind, sympathetic and not so quick to tell us off when we’re naughty, cross or rebellious.

Before I was born, my parents moved to Harrow from Northampton where most of our extended family – on both sides – remained. Leaving the suburbs to visit cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents, perhaps just three times a year, was always exciting, familiar and the foundation of warm, wistful memories. And there were also many great aunties and great uncles to visit and be fussed over by, too.

On my mother’s side, great auntie Ginge (Gertrude) Robinson, born in 1913, was my grandmother’s youngest sister in a family of seven siblings. As I grew up, I became aware of how extraordinary so many of my mother’s aunties and uncles were. These smiling, welcoming elderly people, in their bungalows and tending their allotments, could among them claim to be the first woman journalist in Northampton, lady mayoress of Northampton, and a navigator with bomber command. Most amazing for me, however was Ginge who, along with her two young boys (my mother’s cousins), escaped from Communist Czechoslovakia at the end of the 1940s.

I have become a chronicler and keeper of our family history. I still use my grandmother’s saucepans and tables my grandfather made. I love to pore over our old photographs: sepia images where everyone looks so regal and stylish. Early images of Edwardian boaters and ruffles give way to cloche hats and crimped hair, testament to the family growing up through such extraordinary times. But they were, really, quite ordinary. The seven Robinson children lived in a terraced house in Northampton town: outside loo, brick back yard and five girls to one bedroom.

When I was about twelve years old, having absorbed these facts into my over-active imagination, I suddenly realised that the elderly Ginge, with her hair still a delicate shade of red, was the very same person who had lived through an adventure that seemed to have come straight out of a novel.

But greatness was expected of that generation. People did and saw such devastating things during the war, and then simply got on with their lives. This is what intrigued me and compelled me to write the story.

When auntie Ginge got on that train out of Northampton – hers was one of the first to cross Europe after VE day – as a bride to be reunited with her Czech husband Jan, what did the young woman who had barely ventured from her home town expect to see? Her enduring spirit emerged when I first spoke to her about it. She told me that when the train stopped in a devastated German city and she saw people in rags crawling out of the rubble begging for food, she knew that she could not help them. After all, she said, she did not even have a sandwich for herself.

I first interviewed Ginge for a feature I was writing at journalism college about the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. She told me about her work as a land girl in Northamptonshire, seeing Coventry burning on the horizon, rations, Tommies and the Yanks. And meeting Jan, who was with the Czech army, posted nearby. But I knew there was more to reveal, and I knew that her story had to be told. She was happy to share it with me. Her two sons (my mother’s cousins) complained that she never opened up to them; she was stoic and didn’t like to make a fuss, another trait of her generation. But I approached her as a journalist, and kept a ‘professional’ distance. Perhaps the generation gap helped.

The writing of A Season of Leaves was a long journey, which began the first time I was told by my proud mother of what her auntie had done. Over the years I have sat back and absorbed everything my parents and grandparents have told me, and it seeps through in my writing. As living memory inevitably becomes more tenuous, there, in black and white, all their stories remain.

In the autumn of 2007, an incredibly frail and fading auntie Ginge was told by her eldest son that my novel, inspired by events in her own life, was to be published. A few weeks later she passed away. The timing was poignant and tinged with sadness; stranger than fiction.

I feel immensely proud that my writing can be testament to Ginge and all of her generation. Their time was most compelling – romance was heightened, death was stalking, everyone was living each day as their last – and it should never be forgotten.

Catherine

 

Postmark artwork by Tony Fleetwood

 

 

The Real Ginge