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Under A Wartime Sky


Liz Trenow (Pan: 2020)

Liz Trenow has written seven novels. Her first, The Last Telegram, published in 2012, was set in a silk factory in Suffolk during the Second World War and inspired by her own family history. She returns to a solidly Suffolk setting for her latest novel, Under A Wartime Sky, published in February. It is set mostly in Felixstowe and Bawdsey just before and during the Second World War. This story is also inspired by family links as Liz spent childhood holidays at Felixstowe Ferry and later took advantage of various invitations by friends to stay in Bawdsey Manor,a central location in the book.

Liz writes historical fiction which often links the past to the present and this recent novel is no exception. Those links are often character driven and in Under A Wartime Sky the two main characters are brought together by their involvement with Bawdsey Manor during the time it was being used as a base for the development of Radar. They are Vikram (Vic) Mackensie a young and brilliant physicist brought in from Cambridge to work with Robert Watson-Watt, an expert in radio detection, and Kathleen (Kath) Motts, a local girl who knows Vic from working in the Manor’s canteen and later as a Radar operator. This unlikely pairing allows the author to explore a number of themes,including racism and homophobia.

It is clear in all her novels that the author does a significant amount of research on the period in which her stories are setand this is particularly evident at the end of Under A Wartime Sky where she provides a very useful list of resources which inspired her to write the novel.

However, she wears this research lightly in her novels. The reason maybe gleaned from a comment she made in a recent interview with Catherine Larner in the Suffolk


‘The trickiest aspect of research is knowing when to stop, though. Research can destroy your imagination in many ways. You have to use it as a launchpad. Take copious notes, then close your notebook and put it to one side.’

One aspect of the novel which the author doesn’t need to research is the geographical setting which she knows so well. My concern is that many of her readers will not have this

advantage so maybe an introductory sketch map showing the location of Felixstowe and Bawdsey would have been useful.


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