‘Two Sons’ by Stewart Gill Owen is the story of two families, from opposite sides of the Great War, brought together in their grief for their sons. It’s a book borne out of Stewart’s own family and experiences, that we have hugely enjoyed reading, and hope you do, too.
We recently met up with Stewart for a chat about the book and it’s message and inspirations. Enjoy this one.
My father (Herbert Edward Owen) was born in 1918 and was named after his eldest brother who was killed and buried in Flanders in that year. He always talked of a grave in Belgium with his name on the headstone. Twenty years ago I took him to see the grave in the Dozinghem Military Cemetery near Ypres. During our visit I was staggered at the large number of well-maintained and impressive British and Commonwealth cemeteries in the region. However, as visible as these places of rest are, I found that the German burial sites were almost invisible. To me it seemed that it was a case of the remembered and the soldiers who had mainly been forgotten by the rest of the world. I felt inspired to write a story that was personal and provided a more compassionate view.
Who do you think should read the book? Who do you think will get the most from it?
There is a considerable amount of detail in the book about what took place on the Western Front and at Passchendaele in particular. I was keen to ensure that the facts were correct in terms of historical events. Readers who are interested in history and WW1 will enjoy it. Two main characters, the mothers of the dead soldiers feature strongly and some of the positive feed- back has been from women who relate to and empathise with these characters. The theme is concerned with a serious and a tragic story but there is humour, happiness and laughter. I think that it is a book that will appeal to many. WW1 was an event that happened so long ago and yet, so many today can say that they had a family member who fought and served in that conflict. My uncle died in Flanders and my great grandfather’s brother was the grandfather of the war poet Wilfred Owen. So many today feel that they still maintain a connection with that period of history. I think that the story has a broad appeal because it’s not only about a military campaign but also focuses on family life.
When you were writing the book, was it difficult or easy to put yourself in the mind-set of both families on both sides of the war?
Some of the story is based on my family history so it was easy enough to select some of the characters and consider how and why they would behave in certain situations. Having been born and raised in Lancashire I drew upon my memories of the way of life, the language and the humour that I experienced. I do have friends in Germany and of course on the surface they are different and yet very similar. I deliberately chose a German family from a very different world, not only in nationality but also in status, occupation, class and even religion. What both families share is the experience of joy, pride, despair, love, grief and the constant fear of possible loss and tragedy.
What message do you hope people take away from reading the book?
The book does not seek to detract from the sacrifice that many young people from Britain and the Allies made in WW1. They are honoured and rightly remembered. However, the pain, suffering and the loss was felt with the same intensity by families in Germany. I have five grandsons who are aged from a few months to ten years of age. If the date was around 1900, from 1914 onwards, at different times they would have enlisted or be conscripted into the British Armed Services. Obviously this is because this would have been the country of their birth. If they had been born in Frankfurt or Berlin, they would have fought wearing the grey uniforms of the German forces.
Are you planning to release any more books?
I am writing a sequel which is called White Sand and is due to be published in 2015. I am also researching a third book, which is a prequel titled The Black Poppy.
When is your book available to purchase and from where?
On line to order at: Silverwood Books, Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, W.H. Smiths, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and at all good bookshops.