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Jane Austin: News from Nowhere

News from Nowhere is a First World War novel, inspired by family letters written from the Western Front. These were collected by my grandfather, and his slim volume, ‘Witness These Letters’, spoke to me. Written by very young men, they cried out to be heard. I didn’t want to write a novel from the trenches, but the letters were all I had. I imagined what it must have been like for a sister left at home, which is how my heroine, Bronwyn, came to me. She’s inspired by my great-aunts, a strong presence in my childhood, who never spoke of the war.

Set in Bangor, North Wales, this is Bronwyn’s story. She sees the arrival of refugees and wounded soldiers, and the absence of men makes the singing in chapel high and thin. The full force of the fighting is made real in her brothers’ letters, but turns light-hearted and heart-breakingly honest. Bronwyn adores student life at Bangor University and plunges into hot debate about war and peace, votes for women, and how to change the world for the better. When she falls in love with George, a blinded officer, her heart is torn in two. Will she marry him or follow her passion to become a journalist? We agonise with her as she wrestles with conflicts faced by women of that time. The story unfolds across a wide historical canvas, depicting the Roberts family in their piece of North Wales and its landscape, and the war’s terrible impact on them. I hope my heroine, Bronwyn, gives voice to women at the margins of history, whose stories deserve to be heard.

Writing my novel has been a journey of discovery. In addition to the letters, it led me to my grandfather’s war poetry, which I weave into the narrative; and in an extraordinary encounter, I received a message for the family that echoed down generations, which I reveal in my talks. As a debut novelist in my 60s, I love sharing my passion for books and for writing, and what better place to do so, than in a library? See you there!

Jane Austin was born in Liverpool and has worked as a French teacher and as a coordinator of Adult Education in Yorkshire. Starting writing at 58, she believes passionately in creativity as a way of breaking down barriers and bringing people together. News from Nowhere, Jane’s debut novel, is inspired by a collection of letters, written a century ago by three of Jane’s family, as they served on the Western Front during the First World War. News from Nowhere was shortlisted for a Cinnamon Press writing competition and published February 2017. Jane lives in York.

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