The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott
Back in 2018, we acquired a debut novel by Caroline Scott, who originally submitted her manuscript to our Books and the City #DigitalOriginals #OneDay open day in 2018.
The Photographer of the Lost is an incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history; an epic novel of forbidden love, loss and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of the First World War.
1921. The Great War is over and while many survivors have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He has been declared ‘missing, believed killed’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph in the post, taken by Francis, hope flares. And so she begins to search.
Francis’s brother, Harry, is also searching. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, he has returned to the Western Front. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last conversation they ever had.
And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they begin to get closer to a startling truth.
Lynn says: ‘The Photographer of the Lost is a beautifully written and meticulously researched homage to the soldiers and their families who lived and died through The Great War.’ Read her full blog tour review here.
Amanda says: ‘What made this novel stand out from all the others was it’s unique perspective of the aftermath, of the families who wanted photographs of the place their sons had fallen, had been buried. It was at times incredibly moving and poignant and something I had little knowledge of. It was absolutely fascinating and tugged at the heartstrings.’ Read her full blog tour review here.
Linda says: ‘The Photographer of the Lost is a beautiful, haunting and unforgettable story. At the end of the novel I wept for them all; for Francis, Edie, Harry, for the lost and the found, and all those whose lives were so affected by events during that terrible time.’ Read her full blog tour review here.
Jill says: ‘The Photographer of the Lost is one of my reads of the year so far – you cannot fail to be drawn into this fully-realised historical world. If you adored Birdsong or The Nightingale, you’ll absolutely love this book’ Read her full blog tour review here.
Anne says: ‘I’ve read many books set against the horror of the First World War, but this powerful book with its finest of writing perhaps moved me more deeply than any other.’ Read her full blog tour review here.
Fully Booked say: ‘The power and poignancy of this novel will cause it to be spoken of alongside such classics as Covenant With Death, the Regeneration Trilogy and Birdsong. ‘ Read the full blog tour review here.
Lacy says: ‘This story is emotional, raw and immensely moving, I loved reading every moment, this is not only one story I could read again, I feel it is one that I could read endlessly.’ Read her full blog tour review here.
@TELLMEASTORYXX shared her review here, calling the novel ‘a remarkable piece of work’.
@KELS_READS shared her reading journey here, and said ‘one of my favourite reads so far this year, and I’m not done!’
@HEAD_IN_THE_PAGES shared her review here, and said ‘If you, like me, are loving the historical fiction coming out at the moment and want another to add to your collection, then I’d strongly recommend this book!’
@KIRSTYES shared her reading journey here.
@THECAFFEINATED.READER shared her review here, and said ‘absolutely stunning and evocative. This was one of my top reads of 2019, the premise and prose were brilliant.’
@BOOKS_AND_CWTCHES shared her review here, and said ‘It is such a poignant read, especially at this time of year when we remember those that sacrificed their lives so we could continue with ours.’
@LAURENSLITERARYLIBRARY shared a guest post from Caroline here.
@BOOKISHFAIRYTAIL shared her review here.
@RHIRHIREADER shared her review here, and said ‘One of those books I will keep and look into every now and again, if only for the important reminder of what our men gave up for us over a century ago.’
@VELVETREADSBOOKS says ‘This is a wonderful historical novel, one that is bound to touch your heart strings.’
@READEROFRIVENDELL shared her review here, and says ‘Scott has written a beautiful and emotive story on how while the war has stopped, it’s aftermath ripples through the people’s lives.’
@BOOKWORM_LAUREN shared an extract of the novel here.
@BOOKLOVELIFE shared her review here, saying ‘I absolutely fell in love with this book. It is such beautiful writing, a very poignant story, a love story in a way, but it also serves as a great reminder of what both men and women went through during the war and in the aftermath.’
@_FORBOOKSSAKE shared her review here, saying ‘I have read a lot of historical fiction based on WWI, but I can honestly say that this is the most thought provoking, powerful, and moving one yet!’
A Postcard from the Past
‘I am not coming home until after the soldiers have gone away!’ exclaims the voice of my great-aunt Lucy on the back of a postcard from 1915. The hand that forms the letters is that of a teenage girl. Her schoolroom copperplate is slightly skittish and I find myself smiling with surprise. I can hear a foot stamp with these words and the wilfulness of the flighty younger sibling in a Jane Austen novel.
It is an effort of imagination to equate this voice with the memory of the great-aunts who used to stay with us over Christmas each year. By my childhood, in the 1980s, they had seasoned into formidable women. I was instructed to speak to them only when spoken to; and, when duly summoned, they required Proper Pronunciation. And Posture. I recall the smell of advocaat and talcum powder as I approached my great-aunts and a sensation of stark fear. They scared the bejesus out of me – and so, how strange to hear their girlish voices exchanging postcards. But then, I also remember a story that my grandfather told me, how his mother’s sisters had both lost their young men to the First World War. As ‘superfluous’ women were expected to in those days, they’d set up home together afterwards and would remain in that arrangement for the next eighty-odd years. I vaguely recall being taken to their house as a small child, a great mausoleum of a place, with desiccated flowers under glass domes and photographs draped with black crêpe. I wonder at what point their voices changed?
In the same album, among the sepia views of promenades and parks, there’s an embroidered silk postcard. I remember first taking it out of its paper brackets decades ago, turning it over, finding nothing on the reverse, and asking my grandfather what it was. He told me that his father had sent it back from the First World War, and then flicked on through the pages and pointed at a photograph of a young man looking decidedly glum in uniform. A few days later, with a flourish worthy of a magician, Grandad produced a silk handkerchief; it was stitched with an image of a burning building, the word ‘Ypres’ curling into the corner, and had come back in his father’s kitbag, Grandad said. It was such a fragile thing, this handkerchief, not much more substantial than a spider’s web, and light as a whisper. It kept on whispering at me.
In the olden days we went to libraries (lucky us) and the shelves of Milnrow’s Carnegie Library taught me all about Ypres and why that building, the Cloth Hall, was burning. I read all the books that I could borrow about the First World War and started collecting postcards of my own. I always bought them for their pictures (no scholar, I liked a nice larking soldier group), but then the messages on the reverse began to have a fascination too. So often the phrases are formulas, the same strings of implausibly chirpy words, repeated again and again, but in between the good wishes and reassurances, you can catch glimpses of something else, of experiences that defied any formula.
I come from a family of postcard senders, letter writers and diary keepers. And we hoard terribly too. Three generations of my family have lived in the house that I now call home, and they have filled all the cupboards with their keepsakes and photographs and words. I am the custodian of five generations of postcard albums, several shoe boxes full of love letters, and a couple of not-quite-finished novels. But among all these competing words, my four great-grandfathers are silent. I recognise their faces as young men in military uniforms, four boys from a textile town each pausing in a photographer’s studio before heading off to war, but I don’t know their voices. The reverse of their photographs are all blank and not one of them left a letter behind.
I inherited the family fondness for putting pen to paper. We had wonderful English teachers at my school, real Jean Brodie types, bubbling over with their passions and convictions, and just like one of Miss B’s acolytes, I swooned, succumbed and by the time that I was heading off to university, I’d got the writing bug. It’s a habit that I’ve always had (private until now) and that I enjoy – mostly, I suppose, because it’s a marvellous way of travelling, of evading the humdrum, and the bills, and the news. Not only can you bounce across continents, but once you’ve figured out how to work the dials, you can also teleport back and forth through time and possibilities.
So many possibilities.
But, personally, I return time and again to the faces of those young men in khaki uniforms and the wordless reverse of their photographs. There are thousands of written words in my family’s story, but also so many gaps and silences, and that’s what I was exploring when I wrote The Photographer of the Lost. I’ve been following my great-grandfathers’ footsteps, trying to sniff the air in a conjured version of their world, and straining to hear their voices.
I have always written just for my own amusement, but suddenly I’m in print – and now asking myself why other people might be interested in my story. It’s a story that we share, though, isn’t it? As much as the shadow of the First World War fell across my family, so it lengthened across thousands of doorsteps. That’s why, as a nation, we keep on going back there. We all have those photographs in our family albums. Don’t we? Those stories. Those silences. Those questions.
This, then, is my return postcard. Sent with respect, gratitude and love,
Juliet says : ‘The Photographer of the Lost is an outstanding debut novel from Caroline Scott. She writes with such passion and understanding, empathy and compassion that rise from the page and into the reader. This really is one of the most beautiful books I have read in a long time, and one that I will never forget reading.’ Read her full review here.
Alex says : ‘I was immediately hooked by the prologue of this one. The writing flows absolutely beautifully and I was completely swept away in the story.’ Read her full review, and an extract of the novel, here.
Pam says: ‘Scott’s stunning novel is both memorable and haunting, an exquisitely moving exploration of what it means to survive when so many have lost their lives, of the psychological gulf between those who fight and those who stay at home, and the unseen legacies that will ripple onwards through the generations.’ Read her full review in the Lancashire Post here.
Sharon says: ‘The Photographer of the Lost has affected me deeply. I feel as if I have scoured those battlefields and experienced first-hand the trauma of everyone we meet. A powerful story of despair, death but ultimately hope. Don’t miss it.’ Read her full review here.