A Gathering Storm by SJV
Rachel Hore, author of Sunday Times bestsellers The Love Child and Last Letter Home (a Richard & Judy Bookclub pick), revisits her 2011 bestseller A Gathering Storm, now reissued with a captivating new cover.
It’s hard for a writer setting fiction in Cornwall to escape the influence of such behemoths of the romantic imagination as the Poldark series, Rebecca, Penmarric and The Shell Seekers. When I embarked upon A Gathering Storm was it really any surprise that my story opened with the discovery of a burnt-out mansion reminiscent of Manderley, that the Wincanton family who had inhabited it governed the locality for generations like the Poldarks, and that I felt compelled to choose a Second World War background redolent of Rosamunde Pilcher’s splendid saga? Cornwall, what a magnificent, wild theatre for high romance!
In A Gathering Storm, Lucy Cardwell, a young photographer, visits the Cornish coastal town of St Florian in 2011 to solve the mystery surrounding the great-uncle she never knew. Here she encounters Beatrice Marlow, an old woman with an amazing tale to tell and a shattering secret to reveal. Beatrice describes her lonely 1930s childhood in St Florian, and how she was befriended by the fascinating Wincantons of Carlyon Manor, in particular the charismatic Angelina, whose governess she shared. But as the storms of war gather, their friendship is threatened by their love for the same man, Rafe Ashton, whom Beatrice once rescued from drowning.
My novel is a love story, but it’s much more than that, too. When war breaks out Beatrice’s sense of duty draws her far beyond her childhood haunts, to London and ultimately to Occupied France, where she’s dispatched as a Secret Operations Executive (SOE) agent at risk of her life. Through her, I felt compelled to explore notions of patriotism and the sacrifices of women in wartime.
My interest was particular sparked by a solitary female name – Diana Morgan – amongst all the men listed on the Eaton village war memorial close to where I live in Norwich. Diana was ATS, but also a FANY (a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). Uniquely amongst the women’s uniformed services, FANYs were allowed to bear arms, which is why female SOE agents were always FANYs. (And if they weren’t enrolled as anything they could legitimately have been shot as spies if caught.) Diana never became a secret agent. Instead she was fatally wounded in the course of driving duties during an air raid in Kent. On her gravestone it says that she is ‘Remembered with Honour’. Her story stuck with me. She was only 23.
Over the last fifteen years or so many documents and personal accounts concerning SOE female agents have been released into the public domain and there has been a burgeoning interest in them in nonfiction, fiction and films, Sebastian Faulks’s Charlotte Gray being perhaps the best known. A Gathering Storm was one of the earliest novels about them and I’m very proud to see it republished.