Ten authors – in thirteen stories – explore the experiences of GLBTQI people during World War I. In what ways were their lives the same as or different from those of other people?
A London pub, an English village, a shell-hole on the Front, the outskirts of Thai Nguyen city, a ship in heavy weather off Zeebrugge, a civilian internment camp … Loves and griefs that must remain unspoken, unexpected freedoms, the tensions between individuality and duty, and every now and then the relief of recognition. You’ll find both heartaches and joys in this astonishing range of thought-provoking stories.
Quite often the blurb for a book exaggerates, or offers a promise that the words inside simply do not deliver. I am pleased to say that, in the case of A Pride of Poppies, the stories within do much, much more. Each story has clearly been written from the heart and with the heart of the characters in mind. We do not just see the lives of lesbians and gays either, one of my favourites stories of the anthology being that of an intersex character.
What really struck me, as I read each for the first time, was that so much seems to have changed for the LGBTQIA community in the last hundred years in terms of recognition and decriminalisation of their lifestyles and yet the core of each of the stories still holds true today – that being free to be yourself and love who and how you want can still be one of the hardest tasks in the world.
I cannot, hand on heart, say that each story accurately represents every aspect of the war that it includes, but I wouldn’t expect to be able to. In fiction the story is always the most important part and anyone who picks up a work of fiction expecting cold hard fact is always set for disappointment. What I can say is that I was swept up by the emotions of each story, concerned more for the characters than anything else, and I certainly didn’t find myself jolted out of any story thanks to any jarring incorrect portrays of life (whether in the trenches or on the home front) in WWI. Which is as it should be.
Of course, as is the case with any anthology containing stories from a myriad of authors, there are some that I prefer more than others, but I can, hand on heart, say that I didn’t find one that didn’t move me or make me think about some aspect of living at a LGBTQIA person during the war that I hadn’t considered before. This is something that, given my deep and abiding interest in WWI, you should know is no idle praise and I feel quite honoured to have been asked to review the book before its general release.
The UK Amazon link for the e-book is here and it comes out this Friday. At only £4 I think it is well worth the money, especially when you consider that none of the authors have taken payment for their stories and a minimum of 60% of the sale proceeds are being donated to the Royal British Legion. If you’d like a physical copy to pop on your shelf (like me) then keep an eye on the Manifold Press site to get your paws on one!