Research, the Great War and Band History

IMG_5603In Kitty and Cadaver: Not the Zombie Apocalypse, I wrote in a reference to one of the former incarnations of the band: the trunk that the band carries around contains a few artefacts, including a horseshoe which Bartos, of revered memory, once used to hold ghouls at bay on a battlefield in France in World War I.

This year is the anniversary of the start of that war, and there are all kinds of solemn and striking stories being told: reminding us how it began, and why it didn’t stop sooner.

Here in London, where I am on holidays and looking for material for several books, including the next Kitty and Cadaver novel, I have seen a couple of terrific exhibitions. The Cartoon Museum has on display a number of newspaper cartoons and postcards, not only from the Allied perspective but from the Germans and their allies too. Seeing how the other side saw things is always an interesting perspective, and British cartoonists occasionally showed a human side to the nation’s enemies as well.

Public opinion, as expressed through editorial cartoons, advertising and postcards, isn’t as cut and dried as you’d sometimes think. It’s one reason it’s always a good idea to return to primary documents rather than rely on later interpretations.

The Imperial War Museum also has a Great War Gallery, proving very popular, and it threads the historical narrative with homefront conditions and some alternative perspectives as well.

All of this viewing of exhibitons and documentaries and reading of articles is essential so that I can one day write out the whole story of Bartos and the horseshoe – an idea which popped up when I was at Genrecon one year and took part in a writing exercise. This short piece was, I think, the first thing I wrote in the Kittyverse.

Now I know that Bartos is Slovakian (a country then under the power of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and Piotr is originally from Russia (then allied with Great Britain, until the Russian Revolution saw its withdrawal). I now know what those two men were doing together in France, and where they were first – but I don’t know yet who else is in their incarnation of the band, or their fates. It won’t all be happy endings, obviously.

In the meantime, here’s that exercise I wrote.

Kitty reached instinctively for the horseshoe lying in the folds of greased brown paper at the top of the trunk.

“This feels… strong,” she said, rubbing her thumb across the grains of rusted metal. The brown streak on her skin tingled.

“Good choice,” said Yuka, “Steve says it’s a hundred years old, that one. Bartos, the percussionist back then, was caught in the Somme, a ghoul was coming up from the bomb crater for him. This was all he had. That and a tent peg. But he made music with that horseshoe and his voice, and held it back until Piotr could arrive with his flute.”

There will be more stories set in the band’s 700 year history coming from my experiences on this trip – and I’ll post some of them here when I’m done.

New to Kitty and Cadaver? Find out about the project in About Kitty and Cadaver or start from chapter one at Read the Book.

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