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Two Writers on the Great War Coming to Knowlton

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--October 15, 2015.

As the world recalls the outbreak of The Great War one hundred years ago this year, two Canadian writers have published novels recounting the harrowing experiences of young volunteers as they confront the horrors of mechanized warfare.

The Knowlton Literary Festival will welcome Paul Almond and Jennifer Robson on the weekend of October 17-19. Almond has recently published two novels, The Gunner and The Hero, which tell the story of Eric Alford, gunner in a 4.5” howitzer battery who suffers shell-shock and spends the post war years searching for his British sweetheart and suffering the agonies of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jennifer Robson's first novel Somewhere in France, A Novel of the Great War was a summer bestseller in Canada and is a love story which takes place within the context of a crushing war. She will be publishing a second novel, After the War is Over this fall.

Paul Almond is author of a series of historical novels, the Alford Saga, which depict the lives of a Gaspé family from the early years of the ninenteeth century to the 1930s. The saga, now in its eighth volume, is rich in Canadian history and ranges throughout Quebec and beyond to the killing fields of France, the granite coast of Labrador and the blistering heat of South Africa.

Almond, who divides his time between Shigawake on the Gaspé coast and Santa Monica, California, has based his epic narrative on his own remarkable family history. He has had a notable career as a televison and film director and has received the Order of Canada and a lifetime achievement award from the Director's Guild of Canada. The Gunner, he says was the hardest to write of all his Alford Saga novels.

Reading over one hundred background books brought home to him the terrible waste and pain caused by the war. “I tried not to let these feelings overwhelm my writing as I endeavoured to recount with honesty this story of my father and his friends, dead or alive, who did their best for what they believed in at the time,” he writes.

Jennifer Robson learned about the Great War from her father, well-known historian Stuart Robson, and like Almond did exhaustive research on her subject, the role which women ambulance drivers played on the Western Front. Her main character, Lilly Ashford of aristocratic parentage, breaks with her very conventional family, joins the WAACs and goes off to France as driver of a Ford ambulance. The novel tells of Lilly's encounter with Dr Robbie Fraser, a surgeon in a Casualty Clearing Station, and how their secretive romance provides a sliver of light in a brutalized environment.

Robson has served as an official guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, has worked as a copy editor, and has a doctorate in British economic and social history.

“ Both novelists write in a straightforward accessible style filled with vivid, often horrifying details and fascinating background material. They have succeeded in making the act of remembrance a powerful reading experience,” says Philip Lanthier, Coordinator of the Festival.

Paul Almond's presentation will take place at the Community Centre at 270 Victoria on Saturday afternoon, October 18 from 1:30 to 3:00. Jennifer Robson will speak on Sunday, October 19 from 1:30 to 3:00 pm at the Old Court House on St Paul. Admission to both events is $10.

Of special note: Joanne Croghan of the Brome County Historical Society will give a short guided tour of the Museum's holdings of WWI artefacts following Robson's presentation.

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