Congratulations to Nottingham-based author Clare Harvey. Her wartime novel The Gunner Girl, published by Simon & Schuster, has been awarded The Romantic Novelists' Association’s (RNA) prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers. Clare was presented with her award and a cheque for £1,000 at the RNA’s Summer Party. The former University of Nottingham creative writing student's debut novel had previously scooped the Exeter Novel Prize.
NottsLit review of The Gunner Girl:
Set in London during the blitz, the story follows the war efforts of three teenage women who join the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). The characters are:
Bea – Having not heard from her boyfriend/soldier sweetheart for months (he’s purported missing in action), she takes a train to London hoping to make a better life for her baby daughter, and, at the same time, escape from her own controlling mother who is passing off Bea’s baby as her own whilst forbidding Bea to reveal the truth.
Edie – From a background of wealth and privilege, which included a philandering father that insists on calling her ‘half pint’, Edie wants to make a difference. Inspired by Mary Churchill she signs up, almost on a whim. A young lady of Edie’s social standing is told that she shouldn’t be manning guns but, Edie thinks, if ATS is good enough for the PM’s daughter…
Joan: Struggling to recall her tragic past, Joan arrives in the ATS after her family home was destroyed by a bomb. Joan is really Vanessa, her younger sister (aged 17, she's too young to join ATS). Vanessa took her dead sister’s name and ID card in a twist that could have been held back for suspense. Instead, it’s a plot point that opens the novel. When, later on, she receives a letter from her fiancé, it’s the wrong man. A development that could have been a great twist of intrigue, worthy of Harlan Coben, is instead only a mystery for the characters themselves.
It doesn’t take long for the three gunner girls’ paths to cross and friendships to be established but, as much of the first half flips, following one character’s story at a time, it takes a while to get to know them individually. Once the stories have two or three of the women on the same page the pace picks up and the second half of the book is eventful.
The 1940s setting clearly provides challenges for the characters and works well for this coming of age tale. Their roles, manning anti-aircraft guns, provide an interesting angle from which to experience the horrors of war. But it’s the horrors of life that are inflicted on our three heroines. As you might expect, the women attract lots of male attention, which has unwanted, even tragic consequences. With their difficult family lives and up and down love interests there’s plenty of emotion to engage with, and one big surprise towards the end will definitely shock you.
If this was adapted for TV it wouldn’t look out of place on BBC2 at 9pm on a Sunday evening. Part two is, apparently, coming soon. Watch this space.