About the book:In 1910, no one believed there would ever be a war with Germany. Safe in her affluent middle-class life, the rumors held no significance for Victoria either. It was her father’s decision to enroll her at university that began to change all that. There she befriends the rebellious and outspoken Beryl Whittaker, an emergent suffragette, but it is her love for Gerald Avery, a talented young poet from a neighboring university that sets the seal on her future.
After a clandestine romance, they marry in January 1914, but with the outbreak of the First World War, Gerald volunteers and within months has gone missing in France. Convinced that he is still alive, Victoria’s initial attempts to discover what has become of him, implicate her in a murderous assault on Lord Kitchener, resulting in her being interrogated as a spy, and later tempted to adultery.
Now, virtually destitute, Victoria is reduced to finding work as a common laborer on a rundown farm, where she discovers a world of unimaginable ignorance and poverty. It is only her conviction that Gerald will some day return that sustains her through the dark days of hardship and privation as her life becomes a battle of faith against adversity.
Interview with Robert BartramRobert, I love the title Dance The Moon Down. What’s the story behind it?
I read an article in The Nation, a now obsolete periodical, for June 1914, written by John Galsworthy, the author of the Forsyte Saga. Basically it was a critique of the younger generation, of whom he wrote-“they had been born to dance the moon down to ragtime.” In hindsight we now know that they, in fact fought the bloodiest conflict of the twentieth century and paid a terrible price. The irony of Galsworthy’s remark made such an impression on me that I took it for the title of my book.
How did you create the plot for Dance The Moon Down?
An enormous amount of fiction has been written about WWI, almost exclusively about the men and even the animals that fought on the front line. It occurred to me that very little had been done about the people, most particularly the women, who had been left behind. I didn’t want to write a war story, in fact Dance The Moon Down is a romance, so the woman’s angle was perfect. The rest was pure research. I took two people passionately in love, separated them by a global event, and then left them with only their courage and faith to see them through.
What’s your favorite line from a book?
That’s easy. Page 227, line 16-20. “As she made her way back to the farm, she wondered if the world would ever become what people in their heart of hearts truly wanted it to be, or if it would remain as it was now, the creation of their greed, anger and stupidity.”
How do you get to know your characters?
Rather in the same way as I get to know “real” people, little by little. Gradually I come to love and respect them (my characters, that is) I explore their strengths and weaknesses, applaud the former and make allowances for the latter. Whilst you might think I have the “God-like” ability to do anything I want with them, I simply don’t, for their sake, the novel's, and mine.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
Victoria, of course. She displays such a wide range of emotions, everything that’s best, and worst, in all of us. She’s vulnerable and strong, both naive and wise, it’s how she balances it all out that makes her such a joy to write about.
She sounds like a strong character. What would she say about you?
Happily, Victoria is a lady, so she’d resist using the expletives she’s entitled to, after what I put her through. I rather hope she would say, thank you for bringing me into being and thank you for seeing me through. Now please leave me alone to live in peace.
Is your book based on real events?
Very much so. About 75% of the novel is based on actual events. Naturally I changed the names of those involved and made slight alterations to some events so they fitted the novel, but other than that, there’s less “fiction” in it than you might think.
Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.
One of several is where Victoria is finally persuaded by her girlfriends on the farm to go skinny dipping in a pond in a nearby wood one swelteringly hot summer's night. Her uninhibited friends strip off and jump straight in, but she is much more cautious. Even though she’s been implicated in an assault on Lord Kitchener, accused of obstructing a Scotland Yard inquiry, interrogated as a spy, and come close to committing adultery, she considers that taking her clothes off in a public place is the most daring thing she’s ever done. Then the Zeppelin arrives...
What song would you pick to go with your book?
When Gerald finally has to leave for France, Victoria stands at the gate and watches him go. She puts a brave face on it, but her heart is breaking. All I could think off when writing this scene was Catherine Jenkins singing “Time to say Goodbye.” Play it when you read it and see what happens...
Who are your favorite authors?
Henry James, Ernest Hemmingway and Herman Melville, among others, but these three really impress me as writers.
Do you have a routine for writing?
I prefer to write at night, it’s much quieter then, and I can hear my thoughts. I usually work from 11am to 3pm seven days a week. I tend to start with a basic idea and then write the parts I enjoy most until I have chunks of disembodied plot, then it’s a process of marrying them together. After that it’s rewrite after rewrite, until I have the draft I want. I always write at the dining table, next to a window which looks out on my large secluded garden. My muse lives there.
You’re leaving your country for a year. What’s the last meal (or food) you would want to have before leaving?
Fish and chips (French fries) with lashings of salt and viniger.
You’re given the day off, and you can do anything but write. What would you do?
I’d probably stay in bed all day. Come on, be honest, wouldn’t you?
I just might. Why did you decide to publish with Authors Online?
The harsh truth is that nobody in mainstream publishing wanted the novel. To be fair to the book, they never asked to see more than ten pages which, I feel, hardly gave them the opportunity to reasonably assess the novel. Nevertheless, that’s the way they do things, so I decided, like many others, to go it alone. Was I right to do it ? Well, I’m only half way through my promotion campaign and the novel has already notched up 30 five star reviews and was nominated book of the month on “Wall to Wall Books.” You tell me.
Those are excellent results. What’s one of your favorite quotes?
It’s by Oscar Wilde. “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” I can really relate to that.
Oh, I can too. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love natural history. I take any opportunity I get to stroll through the countryside and make observations, many of which end up in my writing. I also enjoy gardening and going to the Globe in London to watch Shakespeare preformed at its best.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’m already here. I thank God for my health, my strength and letting me live in England.
What are you working on now?
It’s a story set against the background of the American Civil War. This one also has a female central character (my favorite) and I think, as with Dance The Moon Down, I’ve found a new slant on how to write it. Before you ask, no, it won’t be anything like Gone With The Wind, but that’s all I’m saying for now.
I hope you'll say more when it's finished and that you'll say it here! In the meantime, best of luck with Dance The Moon Down.
Excerpt from Dance the Moon Down
‘This is Lieutenant Fairchild,’ Colonel Bass informed her bluntly, ‘temporarily assigned to this department. I’ve put him in charge of investigating your husband’s case. In future, you’ll direct all your questions to him.’ Closing the file, he handed it to the lieutenant.
‘Carry on, Fairchild.’
The lieutenant took the file, turned to her, smiled and gestured that she should follow him.
Victoria was only too glad to do so, but as she rose to leave, Colonel Bass had one last word of warning.
‘In future, young woman, I suggest that you confine your activities to the appropriate channels. If you persist in pursuing your original course, you may discover that this department is no longer disposed to offer you the leniency it’s shown today.‘ With that, he looked down and began writing again.
With an outstretched hand, Lieutenant Fairchild reaffirmed his invitation for her to follow him. Victoria couldn’t wait to get out of the room. She was shaking from head to toe and in such a state that, by the time she reached the corridor, she was desperate to confide her feelings to just about anyone.
‘That man,’ she told the lieutenant, her voice wavering with emotion, ‘that awful man is overbearing, rude and insensitive!’
‘He’s a colonel in the British army,’ Lieutenant Fairchild pointed out. ‘He’s supposed to be.’
His candour did nothing to alleviate her distress. ‘Do you know, he accused me of being a spy?’
The gravity of her statement merely seemed to amuse him. ‘My dear Mrs Avery, if he’d ever once thought that you were actually a spy, then you’d never have been allowed into this building. At this moment, you’d be languishing in His Majesty’s Prison Holloway, awaiting execution.’
Victoria drew a huge gasp, her eyes widening with incredulity; she could hardly believe her ears. ‘You mean to say that he put me through all that, knowing all the time that I wasn’t a spy?’
‘Believe it or not, he did you a favour,’ Lieutenant Fairchild told her. ‘It could have been far more serious had he wished to make it so.’ Victoria was incensed. She felt completely humiliated.
Disregarding his remarks, her agitation began to boil over. ‘That’s despicable!’ she fumed. ‘I don’t think the corridor is the best place for this conversation,’ he advised. ‘I’m certain we’ll be much more comfortable in my office.’
The lieutenant’s office was tiny in comparison to the baronial hall occupied by Colonel Bass, but it was far more inviting. It was hardly bigger than a cupboard, lined with filing cabinets and cluttered with stacks of paper that further reduced its size.
‘Sorry about the mess,’ he apologised, ‘but lowly lieutenants don’t rate a lot of space.’ He paused, studying her for a moment. ‘May I offer you some tea?’ he asked. ‘You look as though you need it.’
When the tea arrived, Victoria was grateful to receive a cup. Her ordeal had left her parched, and it was all she could do to stop herself from gulping it. Nevertheless, to her acute embarrassment, each time she tried to replace the cup back onto the saucer, her trembling hand made it rattle conspicuously, and in spite of trying not to, she slurped when she drank.
Lieutenant Fairchild waited patiently for her to recover enough to continue. Eventually, Victoria put the cup down and eyed him warily. Despite his good looks and easy charm, she was still paranoid about military conspiracies. ‘It won’t work, you know,’ she told him.
The lieutenant folded his hands on the desk top and smiled indulgently. ‘What won’t work?’ he asked.
She was certain that he knew exactly what she was talking about, but if he insisted on continuing this silly charade, then she would tell him anyway. ‘I’ve made a nuisance of myself, and after frightening the life out of me, that colonel of yours thinks to distract me by putting a pretty face in my way.’
It took him some moments to comprehend what she was alluding to. Then suddenly, his eyes widened in surprise. ‘Oh, I see. You mean me. I can honestly say that I’ve never thought of myself in quite those terms before,’ he admitted, still somewhat bemused by her remark. ‘Do you suppose Colonel Bass sees me that way?’
Victoria was only too well aware that his amusement was entirely at her expense, and was determined not to be the butt of the joke.
‘You know precisely what I mean, Lieutenant,’ she remarked coldly.
‘Please, call me Alan,’ he invited, taking her by surprise, ‘and may I call you Victoria?’
He had a beguiling way about him that easily disarmed her caution, and after an appropriate pause required by formality, she nodded her consent.
‘Excellent,’ he beamed. ‘I’m sure we’re going to be great friends.’
Under any other circumstances, his remark might have been considered presumptuous. Perhaps the harrowing events of the last few hours had tired her, wearing down her resistance, making her susceptible to his overtures. In any event, Victoria found the suggestion not altogether unattractive. Maybe Colonel Bass was a better judge of character than she’d given him credit for.
About the author:
Never one to let the necessity of making a living get in the way of his writing, Robert has continued to write for most of his life whilst holding down a succession of jobs, which have included, “Health Food Shop Manager,” ”Typewriter Mechanic,” and “Taxidermist” – Yes, you read that correctly.
His passion for the history of the early twentieth century is second only to his love of writing. It was whilst researching for another project that he came across the personal diaries and letters of some women who had lived through the trauma of the Great War. What he read in them inspired him to write his debut novel Dance The Moon Down, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Robert is single and lives and writes in Hertfordshire.
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