Copyright Guy Richardson
In the summer of 1965, with ‘A’ levels looming the following year, I crossed the Channel for the first time in the hope of making much needed improvements to my spoken French.
Work camp buildings in 1965
If my parents had had any idea of the dire conditions and bizarre experiences that awaited me at the youth work camp set deep in the forest, they would have been on the first plane over to take me home.
However, with the resilience of youth and because I had fallen for one of the local boys, I wrote nothing untoward on my postcards - no mobile phones or email in those days - and left them in blissful ignorance until my return
Maggie and Jean-Claude outside the entrance to the underground dormitories
A fictionalised version of that same location serves as the setting for Shadows of the Past in which three English schoolgirls disappear without trace in the 1960s. Twenty years later, a tourist, already intrigued by the hostility of the nearby village towards strangers, discovers a human skeleton in the forest. At considerable risk to her own life, she begins to uncover secrets dating back to the sufferings of the little community during the German occupation of WW2.
The view from inside the tunnel
The tunnel entrance blocked up and covered in graffiti
Writing the 1960s part of the story, based to some extent on my own experiences, was relatively easy. The flashback to WW2 took me a great deal longer and involved travelling back to the area a few years ago, re-establishing contact with my old flame Jean-Claude and mining the memories of his parents’ generation. I am also grateful to the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris for allowing me access to a collection of letters written to their parents by children in hiding. Although Shadows of the Past is a work of fiction, it is strongly grounded in the lives of real people.
No trace left of the work camp
Having decided to ‘self publish’ which, in my case, meant handing over all the technical details to my obliging journalist son Richard, the next thing was to decide on a suitable cover. The finished product shows many items crucial to the story, including an old CND badge and Be-Ro recipe book I was lent following an appeal on Facebook. The framed photograph is of myself and Jean-Claude standing in front of the entrance to the work camp’s dormitories. Yes, we were all obliged to sleep underground like moles and emerge each morning half blinded by the daylight.
Maggie and Jean-Claude reunited
Chatting to villagers
Shadows of the Past, which has attracted some excellent reviews on Amazon, is available for £7.99 as a paperback or £1.99 for a download. Signed copies are available from me on request through my website and I am always happy to discuss the story itself and the publishing process.
Editor: I am delighted to announce that a signed copy of Shadows of the Past will be donated by Maggie for a future raffle. Details will be announced shortly. Many thanks Maggie!