John Hall is our Author of the Week
We start John’s week with an author interview so he can tell us a little more about himself and his books, so here are his answers:
1 Describe your book in exactly 50 words.
Under the Yew Tree is a “what-if” story set in Southern England in 1940, during World War Two, under German occupation. We follow a rural community trying to carry on with their everyday lives, whilst the local Resistance battles the forces of occupation. Living with the enemy tests the character of individuals and their community…
2 What was the inspiration?
A strange answer, perhaps, but I actually woke up one morning in 2009 and had the entire structure and chapter headings of the book in my mind! I wrote it all down and from that point, started mulling over the story. Initially I thought it was a story about the French Resistance, but eventually I realised that it was about the English Resistance.
3 Describe the mood of your book.
Under the Yew Tree is a combination of light hearted tales and descriptions of the villagers going about their everyday business, interspersed with darker waves about the clandestine activities of the local resistance. At times, the book is quite thrilling and it carries an element of suspense.
4 Is there an underlying theme?
The theme is about how communities live together and carry on with village life, under occupation, which can cause cracks in what becomes a neighbourly facade. I’m fascinated by how close village communities used to be and how an occupying force might affect that dynamic.
5 What research did you do?
A huge amount! I recalled stories from my father who was in the Home Guard, so looked into how they operated and what sorts of exercises they carried out, but then I also recall that my father slept with a machine gun under his bed! I started to research into why on earth that might have been and came across a lot of writing about the politics and strategy of the war and Churchill’s ‘hidden army’. I looked into the clandestine activities of the French Resistance and wanted to understand and imagine whether cultural differences may have caused an English Resistance to operate differently. Fascinating stuff!
6 If made into a film who would play the main characters?
Well; obviously me as an 18 year old – but I suspect I’m a bit too long in the tooth for that part now!!
7 Will there be a sequel to Under the Yew Tree?
I’m delighted to say, there is a work in progress… Ash before Oak is picking up a steady pace and I’m aiming to have it published in time for Christmas! So, readers will soon know the fate of the main characters…
8 Give us an example of one of your favourite dialogue sections.
…. They stood and watched together as orange flashes lit up the western sky in the distance, and the boom of explosions reverberated through the house. Twenty-five miles away, Portsmouth was being bombed. They stood watching and listening for half an hour; and not for one moment did the ferocity of the sounds or the intensity of the flashes ease off.
Eventually, Mary said, “I’m going to make some tea,” and with that, she turned and headed off down the stairs. As she did so, Lily walked slowly across the landing to where Joseph and her father still stood.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“They’re bombing Portsmouth,” her dad and brother replied in unison.
Five minutes later they were all sitting around the kitchen table, staring at the table top in total silence, listening to the awful noises of war in the distance. As the kettle came to the boil on the kitchen range, Harold joined them at the table and spoke quietly to Charles:
“Yes, I’m afraid so” his son replied.
Mary poured the steaming water from the kettle into the big old brown teapot. After a while, Harold poured a cup of tea and took it back to Catharine who was now sitting up in their bed, listening to the distant rumblings.
“Is it Portsmouth?” she asked, as Harold handed her the tea.
“Yes,” Harold confirmed. “It’s been going on for about two hours now.”
“My God,” Catharine murmured; “those poor people.”
Harold took the cup from her and placed it on her bedside table, then sat down carefully beside her, and kissed her gently on her forehead.
“Don’t worry my old love,” he whispered, “You’re safe with me.”
Catharine looked up at him; tears running down her soft face. Harold squeezed her hands, reached over for the cup of tea and handed it back to her.
News the next day was grim …….
10 Who is your core target audience?
Well, Under the Yew Tree is a historical fiction which wraps up a love story, a portrayal of community and village life, with the backdrop of the Second World War and then moves into an imagined history, so anyone who can tick those boxes, really!
I suppose it would appeal most to people interested in the Second World War, but the dystopian direction will appeal to a wider audience, I believe.