I wore my red (RED, got that? RED) poppy and I stood for two minutes silence on Sunday. Which is as well, because on Saturday, the actual anniversary of the Armistice, at 11 a.m. on the 11th of the 11th, I was running around in a wood near Andover, shooting at people with paintballs.
This was a company social at which family members were welcome, so a couple of spouses joined us and I brought the Boy too. The opposition was a bunch of chavs, oiks, bounders and general non-gentlemen who didn’t always take their shots unless there was a marshal actually there to tell them to (‘yeah, who does?’ was the response of one of them when challenged). Ours was the moral victory, theirs the actual one. So in a way, this was quite a suitable activity for the day as by the end there was the definite feeling that we were the ones upholding the standards of decency and civilisation. A doomed venture, but one worth fighting for. Come the last game of the day, when we had to defend a fort with our carefully measured remaining ammunition, I could feel the ghosts of Captain Mainwaring and the Alamo defenders looking over my shoulder.
But, back to the war. I have in my mind what I think would be a killer opening chapter to a novel set during WW1. But I can’t get beyond that opening chapter in my head, as every subsequent plot outline I can think of devolves into a fantasy novel of good vs evil, and you just can’t make the real world WW1 a secondary struggle to a purely made-up fantasy one. It would be demeaning and insulting. Nor could you link it to the real WW1, as even if non-Germans at the time thought it had a reasonably happy ending, sadly we in the present day know what came next.
Of course, you can set a novel during WW1. Bird Song. All Quiet on the Western Front. Private Peaceful (which, like Joey in Friends, I wanted to put in the fridge when I finished). Blackadder showed you can even set a comedy during it. But in all of these, even Blackadder, the war is treated with the utmost respect – it’s bigger than any of them, and ultimately it’s the war that wins. There may be a fantasy novel waiting to be written during WW1 and I (who knows?) may be the one to write it, but not yet. Not until I’ve got that angle completely straight.
If it does happen, it might feature another idea I’ve had at the back of my mind for some time – take the cute Victorian/Edwardian kids of E. Nesbit’s novels (The Railway Children, The Treasure Seekers, Five Children and It) and stick ’em in the trenches. Hah.