I’m offering a free download of my new short story, Jungle Heart based on an episode in Bamboo Heart . It is shortly to be launched by Monsoon Books. If you’ve already read Bamboo Heart, you might be interested to read more about Tom’s struggle to survive the war in SE Asia. If you haven’t, I’m hoping it will encourage you to read the book!
If you’d like to download a free copy, please sign up to my website or like my new author facebook page and message me your email address. I will then send you the EPUB and MOBI files published by Monsoon Books with instructions. It may be read on Kindle, iPhone,iPad,Android,e-readers and desktop ..
Today I have great pleasure in welcoming Ann Bennett to Lost in a Good Book to tell us about her intriguing Bamboo Trilogy.
When did you start to write, Ann?
I’ve been writing in my spare time on and off for over twenty-five years and have several half-finished novels and numerous short stories in my collection which I might one day dust off and revive! In 2014 I was lucky enough to submit Bamboo Heart to Monsoon Books who liked it enough to offer me a publishing deal.
What was your inspiration for Bamboo Heart?
The idea for Bamboo Heart came from researching my father’s wartime experiences. He fought in the Indian Army in the Malaya campaign and was taken prisoner at the Fall of Singapore. He worked on the Thai-Burma railway and survived the sinking of a hell-ship off the Philippines.
74 years ago today, Singapore fell to the Japanese after a bloody campaign lasting just over two months. On this day, Feb 15th 1942, 85,000 British, Australian and Indian troops were taken prisoner on the island, to join the 50,000 so who had already been taken prisoner during the Malaya campaign.
Winston Churchill called it the ‘worst disaster’ and ‘largest capitulation’ in British military history. Many of those prisoners were to suffer starvation, disease, brutal treatment and forced labour during their three-and-a-half year captivity.Tragically,thousands didn’t survive, and countless others carried the scars for the rest of their lives.
In writing my book, Bamboo Heart I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live through that final battle. I put myself in the shoes of an ordinary British soldier, Tom Ellis. Here is an extract from Chapter 21….
‘Tom had never seen a tank before. His mouth went dry, and he could not swallow. He tightened his finger on the trigger, but as he did so wondered what a rifle could do against the great guns on the tanks. The guns were blasting in every direction, at the buildings, into the rubber trees. They were soon upon them.
‘Fire for all you are worth, boys,’ yelled the Bull, and they all fired in unison at the first tank, but their bullets just pinged off the metal. The great gun swung round and faced them, blasting at them, round after round. The Japanese were also firing machine guns at them from inside the tank. The Bull went down with the first hit, then one by one the others were struck by bullets, screaming out in pain and falling back into the drain like rag dolls.
Tom felt his breath coming in uneven gulps. He gave up firing and crouched down low behind the Bull’s body, trying to hide himself from the enemy. A sob of fear rose in Tom’s throat. The tanks went rumbling past him on their great caterpillar tracks, churning up the tarmac, brushing obstacles aside, moving on relentlessly like great voracious insects. When the last of the tanks were gone, he could hear troops marching past. Wave after wave of feet pounded the road, only a few yards from his ear. He was shaking all over. It would take only one of them to notice he was alive.’
At the end of the Second World War allied intelligence services surveyed newly-released prisoners of war with so-called liberation questionnaires. My novel, Bamboo Heart, started life when I discovered my father’s liberation questionnaire in the National Archives at Kew. It was an amazing moment when I first saw it; written in his perfect copper-plate hand in pencil, it answered so many questions I would like to have asked. From that moment I knew I had to write about his experiences as a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway in Thailand.
This discovery was the culmination of a lifetime’s quest to find out what had happened to my dad during the war. He died when I was only seven, and growing up I became increasingly interested in his past. He hardly spoke about the war, having started a new life with my mother on his return to England in 1945. I was interested enough to travel to Kanchanaburi to see the railway in 1988. On that trip I fell in love with South East Asia, but found out very little about what had happened to dad there.
I took the tragic events Dad described in his questionnaire as the basis of Tom’s story in Bamboo Heart. I wanted to write about those events from the perspective of one man, within the framework of a fast-moving narrative. My aim was to bring those events alive without it feeling like a history lesson.
The scenes I was describing were harrowing. So to lighten the mood, I broke it up with flashbacks to Tom’s pre-war life in colonial Penang, where he fell in love. I also introduced a parallel modern plot, the story of Tom’s own daughter’s search for the truth about the war. For Laura’s story I drew upon my own life as a disaffected young lawyer in the eighties, and upon my memories of those times. The novel touches on the Wapping Riots, which I remember well as I lived in North London at the time. Co-incidentally the first day of serious rioting was 15th February 1986, the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.
I tried to tell a story of hope and survival, to examine the reasons why some survived the worst of ordeals and others sadly did not. I also wanted to show what an important role history plays in all our lives; how powerfully our family’s past affects our own choices and values.
Welcome to my first post on a new regular blog about my writing.
I’m getting ready for the upcoming UK launch of my novel Bamboo Heart, published by Monsoon Books and have been thinking back to what first inspired me to write the book. It is the story of Tom, a British soldier during world war II who is captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore and sent to work on the Thai-Burma railway. Decades later his daughter Laura travels there to try to try to piece together what happened to him during the war.
The seeds of the idea were sown over twenty five years ago when I first went to visit the River Kwai and the death railway with my mother. I had grown up knowing that my dad had been a prisoner there during the war and that he’d never recovered physically from the experience. Dad died when I was seven, and the urge to find out about his wartime experience grew stronger as I grew older. When I was in my twenties I decided to go to Thailand to discover as much as I could for myself.
It was not easy then to find information out about what happened to individual prisoners, and I don’t think their records were available in the National Archives as they are now. But Mum and I travelled to Kanchanaburi, stayed in a bamboo hut right on the river and saw as much as we could of the railway, the bridge on the river Kwai and the only museum that was there at the time – the JEATH museum. It was not an easy experience for either of us, especially for Mum – she was of the generation that wanted to forget.
During that trip I kept a diary, and that has been the source of inspiration for quite a few of the scenes in the book.Here is a link to my website page of some of the pictures I took then. Over the next few posts I’m going to add my diary entries too, and post further instalments about the ideas behind Bamboo Heart.