When I asked Alison if she would like to be a guest on my blog, I had no idea what an amazing story she would have to share. Take a few minutes to read it, it’s fascinating. Welcome, Alison.
I’m Alison Ripley Cubitt, and I’m a multi-genre author and screenwriter. I worked in film and television production before turning to writing. I’ve gone back to film, this time as part of a production team with our own company, specialising in investigative drama.
I’m here to talk about one of my books, Castles in the Air: A Family Memoir of Love and Loss, which was partly inspired by the genealogy tv series, Who Do You Think You Are. I’ve always been fascinated by true-life stories, particularly those from the 20th century, which is the era that shaped my own life. I was reflecting on what a profound effect World War 2 had on so many people’s lives. Before I started writing my book, I had never really given much thought to how the war shaped my own family’s future.
In 1937 my grandfather was turning 40 and soon to be unemployed as he had reached the end of his commission as a Royal Marine. He was invited to apply for a job with the Admiralty based in Hong Kong but was given no details of what he would be doing until the third and final round of interviews. It turned out that he would be working with the intelligence-gathering operation in what would become the Far East outpost of Bletchley Park.
When war finally did come to South East Asia, my mother Molly was one of the last two remaining girls at her remote boarding school up country in Malaya. The nuns had insisted that war or no war, education came first and that they must finish their School Certificate exams. With the ink barely dry on the exam paper, the girls still in school uniform, were driven down the lonely switchback road to the nearest train station to start their long journey home to Singapore. In the surrounding jungle, the enemy was watching and waiting for the signal to invade.
Molly and her parents were evacuated in January 1942, and she spent the war years working as a stenographer in the same naval intelligence unit her parents worked in. A high-spirited teenager, she would wait until her boss went out and then pull out the secret intelligence communiqué she was typing at the time, and go and dash off a quick letter to a friend.
During the war years, Mum developed a crush on a family friend who was much older than she was. She never got him out of her system, still secretly carrying a torch for him long after she married.
The book is told in two parts: the first, a series of letters written by the 15-year-old Molly, to her crush, Steve. I wanted the reader to have an insight into what life was like for a teenager in wartime and for this to be written in Molly’s own voice. In part two I take up the story of the woman who became the nurse and mother I knew.
The letters were a revelation as they had been kept hidden for nearly 50 years. It is a miracle they survived. Steve (who never married) had kept every single one. When he died, his niece sent the letters to my grandmother, who kept them hidden away so my father wouldn’t find them.
The first three readers who read this piece to like my Facebook page will win a free ebook copy. Don’t forget to let me know how I can contact you. To buy a copy, see below.
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Alison, it was good to meet you and I will be checking out your book. So often our parents did not talk to their children about feelings and events and many of us have discovered the truth only through the letters they left behind. It’s only after they have departed do we wish we’d asked all those questions while they were still alive. This book may well shed light for all of us whose parents fought in the last World War.