published 2009, set in the early years of WW2
[It's 1941. Arthur, a shy bachelor, is enjoying his visit to the set of a film being made about the Dunkirk evacuation.]
Nothing happened for a good hour. The tide began to creep in. Chopper the bull-terrier passed by, busily sniffing, and one of the young lady actresses stepped on a jelly-fish and screamed a great deal… Round about ten o’clock, a light wind began to pluck a the water and the young lady actresses were helped into a rowing-boat and taken across to a thirty-foot white-painted tub anchored a few yards off-shore. Both actresses were wearing trousers, which was just as well since they had to climb a fixed ladder and swing themselves over the gunwhales.
The director shouted something through cupped hands, and one of the young ladies positioned herself in the bows, a hand shading her eyes, while the other took the tiller. The director gave a ‘thumbs up’ sign and strolled away to speak to the cameraman. A few minutes later, a boy holding a bucket and brush waded out to the boat and started to daub the side with what looked like muddy water. The tide crept in still further.
observations: Lissa Evans is one of Clothes in Books favourite authors – she was most recently mentioned in our list of homefront books (two books), and she also featured on Christine Poulson’s matching list. Crooked Heart was on the blog last year (and was one of my books of the year): this is an earlier novel, and the one that first introduced me to her. When I read it back in 2009 I was knocked out: it was very funny, and readable, and entertaining, but also a proper novel, literary and serious, with an excellent and carefully worked-out plot, and a great theme in the making of a wartime action adventure film that will also serve propaganda purposes. The book follows several characters: Catrin, a young writer, and Edith, who will work on the costumes. There’s Ambrose, a fading and egocentric actor whose every appearance is filled with achingly funny lines; and Arthur, above, a military adviser – fair enough, because he was at Dunkirk, but inexplicable because he has little to offer the film crew.
If you look below the homefront blogpost, you will see Lissa Evans coming into the comments with a list of other books about the era. She is a frequent visitor to the blog, and has become a friend via our online interactions. But that doesn’t stop me objectively recommending her as a wonderful and undervalued author: I don’t know why this book didn’t win every award going. I am very glad to say that it looks as though a film is going to be made of 1.5 hrs [© CiB]: it should be wonderful. Get ahead of the game by reading this, and all her other books….
The book is full of potentially illustratable outfits, but I decided to go with these pictures of film-making, from the Imperial War Museum. They show the making of a film called Channel Incident, definitely in the same area as the film in the book (and actually briefly namechecked: Channel Incident comes up as a possible title, but ‘already a film called this, last year’). I love Peggy Ashcroft’s trousers, and the continuity girl looks pretty good too - and looks like my idea of Catrin.
Used with kind permission of the IWM: top one is © IWM (D 1080). It has this caption:
Anthony Asquith (centre) directs Peggy Ashcroft and Gordon Harker (left) in 'Channel Incident', a film about the evacuation of Dunkirk made by Denham and Pinewood Studios for the Ministry of Information in 1940. The stars are standing on board a motor yacht, named the 'Wanderer' in the film. The microphone boom can be seen over their heads and a large light is also visible to the right of the photograph. Just right of centre, actor Kenneth Griffith can be seen, sitting in a rowing boat.Lower one is © IWM (D 1076A): ‘The stars are standing on board a motor yacht, named the 'Wanderer' in the film. The continuity girl, two other members of the production crew and the microphone boom are also in picture.’