Lancaster Skies: A Review

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Dear Readers,

It’s a statistic that bears repeating. Nearly half of all Bomber Command aircrew died during World War Two. Most were in their late teens or early 20s. Their’s was a war fought in darkness over occupied Europe, with the night sky occasionally illuminated by searchlights, flak, or tracer rounds. Men from all over the Commonwealth, and indeed, the world, took to the night skies to deal death each night, while other young men, in different uniforms, did their best to kill them in return. The indie film Lancaster Skies manages to capture a slice of their world, and it is a film you should add to your watch list.

I will preface this by saying that I was able to watch in courtesy of my all region DVD player. It will be out in the United States later this year, but if you have a DVD player like mine, you can get it and enjoy it now. Follow the official website here for updates as to the specific US release date, though I’ll be sure to announce it here as well. Now on to the review…

I will not detail the plot, as that information is available on the film website other than to say it concerns a pilot who transfers from Fighter Command to Bomber Command and takes over a crew whose pilot was killed on their last operation. He has to win their respect, but doesn’t have much time to do it, as they are due for another mission soon.

The first thing to really strike me about this film was the cinematography. The lighting and camera angles are incredible. It gives the film an intimate feel, as though you are taking part in the events rather than merely watching them on screen. This helps you build a connection with the characters. It had an almost claustrophobic quality to it (similar to Das Boot), which is a good thing in a film like this as it recreates the tight quarters of a Lancaster, but also the lives of the men in Bomber Command as they were eternally squeezed between life and death.

The dialogue is lean and sparse, which suits the subject. Most American and British aircrew I’ve met in my life tended to be men of few words. There is an appropriate amount of banter as well, but not so much as to be over the top. (Think the novel and TV series Piece of Cake). Right away I appreciated the fact that the cast, at least visually, looked the right age. Wars are fought by young men, but the actors that play them usually aren’t. In this movie, the actors and actresses look the part. It was great to see the inclusion of some WAAF characters.

The aerial combat scenes both at the beginning and the ending of the film were both well filmed and well acted. It’s difficult to show nocturnal activities in a film sometimes because if it is too dark, the audience can’t see what they need to see, but if it is too light, then you lose the night setting. Thankfully, Lancaster Skies was able to find a happy medium. As a boxing fan, I appreciated the inclusion of a crewman who boxed and the scene of him engaging in the puglistic arts.

The remarkable thing about this film is that it was filmed on a shoestring budget. The fact that the filmmakers were able to produce such a quality movie is really a testament to their skills, as well as those of the actors. It just goes to show you that a small budget doesn’t always mean a small film. So my final verdict is to give Lancaster Skies two thumbs up. Stay tuned to the film website and to my blog for announcements about the upcoming US release, or spend $40 like I did and get an all region DVD player and get the movie now.

If read my novel So Others May Live and enjoyed the scenes which take place in a Lancaster over Berlin, then you will absolutely love this film. So get you hands on a copy as soon as you can. Though it would be staggeringly expensive, I think a film focusing on the Berlin firefighters in my novel would be pretty cool. Then again, movies about firefighters can either be good (Ladder 49) or absolute garbage (Backdraft, Backdraft 2). And, as a reminder, there is a great sale on World War 2 fiction taking place from June 5 through June 9 to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings. Numerous books listed for a mere 99 cents. You can see that list here.

Until next time, Dear Readers, here’s to hoping you don’t prang your kite and catch a rocket from your CO. He’s a right bastard.

L.H.

Lee Hutch is a retired firefighter/arson investigator. He is a history professor at a small college in Southeast Texas. His first novel, So Others May Live, was published in 2019 and tells the story of a Lancaster crew over Berlin and a group of firefighters on the ground. 

 

D-Day 75th Anniversary Sale

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Dear Readers,

In honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings, there is a special ebook sale! Several authors are offering their World War 2 novels at the low price of 99 cents! From action/adventure to romance, there is something for everyone in this sale. All of the books are set either during or just before the Second World War. The sale runs from June 5th through June 9th. Don’t miss out! Spend the summer with some great books.

You can see a list of the books with their purchase links here.

Happy Reading,

L.H.

Inspiration Part Deux

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Dear Readers,

I wanted to expand a bit on the topic of last week’s post and go into a bit more detail. I’m happy to report that my current work in progress is half completed. I’ve written half a novel in fourteen days. The next fourteen will see me finish the first draft. In other news, you may also obtain a copy of my first book on Kindle for a mere .99 cents up through June 9th in order to mark the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. So if you haven’t read it, now’s a good time.

But on to the subject of today’s post. You can see in last week’s post where I talked about the photo that helped launch my current book, but allow me to go into a bit more detail. So as I was looking at the photo and pondering those questions, the lyrics to Runaway Train by Soul Asylum came to mind. Particularly the lines “Can you help me remember how to smile/Make it somehow all seem worthwhile/How on earth did I get so jaded/Life’s mystery seems so faded”. Wow, I thought, I could definitely see a young woman in 1864 trafficked into prostitution as my main character Molly was appreciating those lyrics. Like all 90s kids, I know this song, but I did not have it downloaded on my phone as its never been one of my favorites.

I wanted to listen to it as I looked at the photograph, so I fired up the AppleTV, opened up YouTube, and watched the original video. Though you may not believe me when I say this, I had NEVER seen the video before! It was released in 1993 and we didn’t have cable and I wouldn’t have watched MTV anyway, even if we did. As the video started, Dear Readers, I was absolutely awestruck. I had no idea the subject of the music video was runaway children, going so far as to show photos of actual missing children. Now, Molly did not run away from home. She was sent to America, but through circumstances that you’ll just have to wait to read about, she finds herself forced into prostitution just as runaway teens today are sometimes compelled into those exact same circumstances by traffickers. (And others are outright kidnapped by the same.)

Later that day, I got in the car to run down the corner store to buy my daily green apple slushy. In the truck, I tuned into the Pop Rocks station on SiriusXM, and guess what song came on? If that’s not a sign, dear readers, I don’t know what is. I made the photo/lyric sheet that appears at the top of this post and printed it out to keep next to my computer. I need only look at it and the words come pouring from my head as if they were floodwaters through a breached levee.

So follow the posted link above and watch the original video if you’ve never seen it. Absolutely haunting. That I can tell you.

L.H.

The Photo That Launched 90,000 Words

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Dear Readers,

It is said that Helen of Troy had a face that launched 1,000 ships. My current work in progress, tentatively titled Molly’s Song was launched by a face as well. Or, to be more accurate, by a black and white photograph of a young woman. As the image is copyrighted, I cannot include the picture itself in this post, but you may visit the article here and see it for yourself. Scroll all the way to the end of the article, as it is the last photograph, though check out the others and read the article too. It’s quite interesting. Then return to my humble page and read on. Note that the photo is risque, but it is not lewd. It was taken in the 19th Century, so view it in that light.

It’s a fairly straightforward photograph. A young woman is seated in a chair (or possibly a stool) and looking at a photograph. But it is anything but simple, Dear Reader, for you see, the woman is a woman of ill repute (harlot, scarlet woman, woman of ill fame, hooker, whore, ceiling expert, fallen woman, prostitute, or whatever term people use), though today we use the word sex worker. Granted, the photo was taken about twenty-five years or so after the time period I decided to write about in my novel. (Civil War as opposed to late Gilded Age), but while looking at the photograph, I wanted to know the answers to several questions, and the answers I dreamed up formed the basis of my novel.

  1. What was her name?
  2. Where was she from originally?
  3. What color was her hair? (Red, of course!!!!)
  4. What circumstances led to her employment in a bordello?
  5. How old was she?
  6. Who is in that picture she is looking at?
  7. Who gave her the locket she wears around her neck?
  8. What does she dream of at night?
  9. What are her fears?
  10. What does she do in her down time? Does she have any?
  11. Does she ever wonder how her life might have been different?
  12. Is she comfortable with her circumstances? Or does she want out of sex work?
  13. Where is she? City? State? Country?
  14. Does she ever think of slipping off into the night and starting a new life elsewhere?
  15. If she does, will she actually do it? Or merely think about it?
  16. Is she religious?
  17. Does she have friends? Enemies? Regular customers? Customers she hates?
  18. What does she do when she gets angry? Sad? Happy?
  19. When was the last time she cried? Laughed?
  20. Has she ever been in love? When? With Who? What happened?

So there you have it, Dear Readers. I wanted to know the answers to these questions, and so I set out to figure these things out and thus I got a novel out of it. Or will have one once all the steps have been completed.

For the record, I named her Molly O’Sullivan, of County Galway, residing on Mott Street in Manhattan in the Summer and Fall of 1864.

A Writer’s Schedule

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Dear Readers,

My semester ended with my last two finals on Thursday last. I entered grades and submitted all my paperwork. Friday morning I was up bright and early for a doctor’s appointment followed by a visit to the used bookstore I frequent. But this week starts my summer writing schedule, though I’m breaking it a bit to post this. Given the demands on my time during the semesters, I lack much time to write other than the occasional weekend, but only if I don’t have grading to do. So I must take advantage of the eight weeks I have off before the start of the Summer 2 session when I’ll be teaching two classes. So, Dear Readers, here is how my days go, no matter if it is a weekday or a weekend. I guess it gives me a glimpse into the life of a full time writer.

0730: Wake up and build up the strength to actually get out of bed while checking my social media accounts.

0800: Up for breakfast, either Reese’s Peanut Butter cereal or Wheaties.

0815-0900: Sit on the porch and drink my coffee with my feral cat buddy Cravat Cat while planning the day’s social media posts and waiting for my morning medicine to kick in.

0900-0915: Paying attention to Anastasia so that she will let me write in peace.

0915-1100: Write. With a break around 1030 or so.

1100-1130: Write

1130-1230: Break. I usually have a bit of a lie down to rest my back at this point and watch an episode of something….it varies as to what I watch.

1230-1245: Lunch

1245-1315: Sit on the porch and enjoy a Dr. Pepper.

1315-1500: Write. If I managed to hit my 3K word a day quote in the morning, then I use this time for marketing related things for my novel.

1500-1600: Break

1600-1615: Supper

1615-1730: Write, work on marketing items, or plan the next day’s writing.

1730-1800: My wife is home by 1730 and I sit outside on the porch and talk to her.

1800-1830: Shower, take nighttime medication, figure out what I’m going to watch on TV.

1830-1945: Lie in bed with ice packs on my back and watch TV with Anastasia.

1945-2045: Sit on front porch with my wife and listen to a baseball game on the radio.

2045-2200: Back in bed on ice packs. (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off)

2200-2245: Sit on the porch and listen to an Old Time Radio program.

2300: Lights out.

I’m usually up at least twice in the middle of the night for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Pain and bad dreams rob me of sleep. If I manage 6 hours in a night (though the are non-consecutive hours), I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. This is my schedule from this week through mid July when I’m back to the campus for classes.

L.H.

 

Chosen Men to Me!

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“Now you and I know you can fire three rounds a minute. But can you stand?”

Dear Readers,

As another semester draws to a close, I am preparing for my usual end of the semester tradition (each fall and spring). That is, a Sharpe’s Rifles marathon usually followed by a Hornblower marathon. I’ve seen all the films in both series numerous times, too numerous to even count. But they never get old. I enjoy watching Sharpe and the lads give Boney a damn good thrashing every time. And I do enjoy the Age of Sail and nautical fiction, so the exploits of Hornblower are always entertaining as well. I do wish they’d make a crossover episode with both Hornblower and Sharpe. Maybe they team up to rescue a kidnapped Austrian princess from a Turkish harem. Or something like that.

Alas, my marathon cannot start until Friday. I have one final Monday, two on Wednesday, and two on Thursday. And then I have to enter grades and respond to usually 20-25 emails begging, cajoling, or demanding higher grades than those earned. Once all that is over, I can begin the films and enjoy my two months off before I start classes in the Summer 2 session.

Pleasant Notes

So Others May Live

Novel by Lee Hutch

Dear Readers,

My apologies for the slight delay in my usual posting schedule. This is my busy time of the semester as it winds down and we get ready for final exams. Then I get a couple of months off! I’m writing this from my office on campus that looks out over a parking lot and the train tracks. I get excited when a train comes by, since very few students stop in to see me. But I digress. For today’s post, I thought I would give you the play list that I listened to while writing So Others May Live.

I know that some writers need silence to work, but I need music. As I do not really watch much modern television (I’m the rare Gen X kid that hasn’t seen Friends, I’ve never seen Pulp Fiction, and laugh at me if you must, but I don’t watch Game of Thrones), I spend a lot of time listening to the radio. Often times this involves listening to old time radio dramas, as I have mentioned here before. But I love music too. Nothing can capture emotion quite like a song. In fact, my favorite assignment I give my students in class is to create a personal playlist for a historical figure. On my phone, I have playlists divided by subject or mood. For example, I have a playlist of songs that remind me of various things that happened during my time in the fire service. I have a Civil War music playlist. A World War 1 playlist. A World War 2 playlist. A 90s playlist. Etc.

So whenever I start writing a book, I create a playlist for that book. Since most of what I do is historical fiction, it obviously includes popular songs from that time period. However, it also includes songs that remind me of or I equate with certain characters in the book. So Others May Live was no different than other things I’ve written, so here is the playlist I wrote the book to, and why each song was included.

Closing Time by Semisonic: The line in the song “Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end” reminds me of Grace and the way the novel ends. (No spoilers!)

Only God Knows Why by Kid Rock: This is my personal theme song. “People don’t know about the things I say and do. They don’t understand about the shit that I’ve been through.” That sums up my life post retirement as I deal with physical and mental scars. But it also could fit Karl’s character as he is haunted by his own experiences.

Bombers Moon by Mike Harding. This could very well be Michael’s story in musical form. The funny thing is that I had never actually heard this song before until after the book was finished. But if they make it into a movie…..it would be a great theme song.

Lambeth Walk: Obviously the characters in England would have known this song as it was popular during the War. In fact, I remember my grandfather humming it to himself sometimes when I was a kid. It is indeed a catchy tune. It’s a nice dance too.

I Don’t Want to Wait Paula Cole: Move over Dawson and Pacy, I like the line in this song that says “And the war he saw lives inside him still”. That’s true of all of the characters in the book, not just Karl and Michael. It is sort of like how when you retire from public safety, you have images from calls running through your head on a continuous loop….or rather I do. I can’t speak for anyone else.

Mein Kleines Herz by Katharina Schutter. Proof that German isn’t necessarily a harsh language! This is not a World War Two song, but rather a World War 2 style song. It is from the excellent series Generation War. The actor Volker Bruch played one of the lead roles and he is who I’d like to see play Karl if they make mine into a series.

We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn. Actually, most of the versions of WW2 songs I listen to are Vera Lynn versions, because, well, she’s Vera Lynn. My grandfather liked this one. Grace and Michael would have no doubt known this song, as would his crew.

I’ll be Seeing You also by Vera Lynn. This was my grandfather’s favorite World War 2 song. I remember listening to it with him many, many times. I think it reminded him of my grandmother. Now when I hear it, I think of him.

Lili Marlene by Lale Anderson. The classic German song of the war. It was played on the radio regularly and was quite popular with German soldiers at the front, but also with allied soldiers. Karl and his comrades would’ve known this song well. In fact, I vaguely recall a reference to either the song or the singer in the book, but I may be confusing my book with something else.

Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden by various. I know for a fact this song is mentioned in the novel. It’s a military funeral song which predates the Nazis by several decades. It was played on the radio in Germany during the War, and often times, as in my book, it was played following air raids which does strike one as a bit morbid.

Keep the Home Fires Burning by various. Though normally associated with World War One, this song was also popular during World War Two. “And though your heart is breaking, make it sing this cheery song.” That can sum up the feelings of many young women, like Grace, who must put on a brave face while their loved ones serve in harms way.

A Long December by the Counting Crows. Though the novel takes place in November, it is still close to December, or rather close enough for this song to make sense. “It’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” Would 1944 see the end of the war? Or would it drag on longer? In November of 1943, no one knew the answer to that question.

There are a few others too, but these are the main ones.

Happy Reading!

L.H.