My novel The Eighth Child is mainly set in the Loire Valley in France, in and around a mythical town called Chalons which is remarkably like the ancient town of Chinon that is actually on the River Vienne a few miles east of its confluence with the Loire. I will tell you more about Chinon in later blogs.
The reason for setting The Eighth Child in the Loire Valley is that parts of this area formed the frontier (if it can truly be called that) between semi-independent Vichy France to the south and Nazi German-occupied Northern and Western France during the years from 1940 to 1942. This is an important strand of the plot.
You will probably know that during the early summer of 1940 the German Panzer divisions swept aside the massive French army which everybody except Hitler had believed to be invincible, entrenched as they were along the Maginot line of fortifications just behind the border. The German army followed that up by driving the British Expeditionary Force back to Dunkirk. The story is well-known of how they escaped with a part of the French army in a near miraculous fashion aboard hundreds of fishing boats, pleasure craft and yachts to the safety of Southern England – a total of a third of a million men spirited from under the German noses.
With most of the remaining one and a half million French soldiers captured by the Germans, the majority of the government of France felt they had no alternative but to make peace with the invaders. The terms were humiliating. Less than half of France remained unoccupied (see map – the Vichy state is coloured blue) and even that was only permitted by the Nazis on condition that the Vichy government did as they were told. Nevertheless a number of nations around the world, including the USA and the USSR, recognised the new smaller state and continued to retain diplomatic relations with Vichy.
However within both halves of France there were many men and women who could not accept their government’s collaboration with the Nazi invaders and gradually they began to combine together to form groups which in time came to be known as the Résistance. These heroic people carried out various acts of sabotage and defiance which included sheltering Allied airmen who had been shot down over Northern France and the Benelux countries and helping them to escape.
Such actions earned them, their families and their fellow civilians savage reprisals from their Nazi overlords and many of these are still commemorated in various small French towns, including Chinon. It is one such event that is described in The Eighth Child.
Next week I will be telling you more about the Loire Valley.