stories: We Live Without a Future

When Manifold Press decided on a new anthology – a companion piece to our Great War anthology A Pride of Poppies, but this time about the Second World War – I thought long and hard about the subject matter. The fact is, I know far less about WW2 than I do about the Great War, so I felt it all too possible that I would have nothing to contribute.

One abiding interest of mine, though, is the Bloomsbury Group and in particular Leonard and Virginia Woolf. I love them both dearly, and for me they are indelibly associated with a great deal of the first half of the 20th century, including the Second World War.

The relationship of each member of the Bloomsbury Group with war was quite complex and individual. There’s a great little article by Roy Johnson exploring their varied actions and reactions on the Mantex site, if you want to explore further. His initial focus is on the Great War, but he includes later developments.

I knew that Leonard and Virginia were afraid of a Nazi invasion of Britain – a possibility that was very real at the time. We tend to dismiss such notions now, because of course we know it never did happen, but it was experienced by people at the time as a genuine fear.

I attended the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision, and was quite shocked to discover that the Wolves’ own personal fears were quite justified. One of the few surviving copies of The Black Book was on display, with their names listed as two people to be immediately arrested once Britain was occupied. I stared at it for quite some time. Virginia wouldn’t have known about it, but Leonard would have found out about it after the war.

A page from The Black Book, sourced on Wikipedia.

This very real sense of dread was what I wanted to explore in a story. To capture something of what it was like to live at home during the war – how deeply unsettling this could be – and to fear what would happen if the invasion came to pass.

But how to approach and organise such vast subject matter within the context of two complex lives…?

Leonard and Virginia spent much of their time during this period at Monk’s House in Rodmell, Sussex, which is now a National Trust property. It was a photo of the sitting room that finally sparked my Muse into life. This luminous green room on the ground floor, nestled within their beautiful garden, had an underwater feel to it. From there, everything became beautifully clear…

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