Photo from World War II: A soldier returns home

Maurice-soldier-1941-smallerForWebMy wife and I found this picture from World War II—it’s 75 years old! I wish I had found this photo years ago, before I published the first edition of Army of Worn Soles.

This is a picture of my father-in-law, Maurice Bury, on the day he returned to his village of Nastaciv, Ukraine, after escaping from the German POW camp in late 1941. The woman beside him is his cousin, Tekla, who was named after her aunt, Maurice’s mother. Tekla was the first family member who met Maurice on his return home.

Here’s the story as told by Maurice, years ago

Even though it was wartime, the market bustled as farmers sold the last of their harvests: corn, wheat, parsley, apples, pears, onions and beets. Townspeople pressed through the stalls, haggling over vegetables, chickens and animal feed. Behind a stall selling eggs stood a slim woman whose dark brown hair threatened to burst the knot in her kerchief.

Maurice tapped her on the shoulder. “Hello, Tekla.”

The woman spun to face him, expecting trouble. She glared at him for several seconds before her eyes widened. “Maurice? My god, I cannot believe it.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed tight. She had to lean over her table of eggs, but she held on. Maurice hugged back, wary of knocking eggs down. When she let him go, she looked at him as if she were afraid he was about to vanish again. “What are you doing here?”

Tekla was his cousin, daughter of Myhailo Kuritsa, his mother’s brother. She had been named after her aunt.

“I’m coming home. Can you give me a ride?” he asked.

She threw her arms around him again. “Of course, Maurice, of course. Oh, I can’t believe it. We heard you’d been…been killed.” She held him at arm’s length. “You’re so thin. You must have been starving.” She called to the woman in the stand next to hers, who had been staring at them. “Hanyah, please, sell the eggs for me.”

“Of course, dear. Take the young man home and give him something to eat. Right away,” Hanyah said. She was older than Maurice’s mother, and Maurice did not know her, but she smiled at him as if he were a grandchild she had not seen for a year.

Tekla re-tied her scarf and pulled on her gloves, took Maurice by the hand and led him out of the market. “My wagon is over here,” she said, then stopped. “You know what we should do, Maurice? Let’s get a picture together.”

“Can’t we…”

Army of Worn Soles cover

Army of Worn Soles

But Tekla interrupted, took his hand and led him through the market to a small shop, where she paid a few rubles for a picture. The photographer had Maurice sit on a stool in front of a cloth draped against the wall, and posed Tekla standing next to him. Tekla could not stop smiling, nor babbling.

“I can’t wait to see Auntie’s face when she sees you standing on her doorstep. Oh, and my father, too. It’s too bad your father is not here, Maurice. He would be so relieved, so happy to know you’re home safe. Are you sure this is my better side?” She asked the photographer as he adjusted the camera. He smiled, nodded and calmly pressed the shutter.

“The print will be ready on Thursday,” the photographer said and handed Tekla a ticket. “Welcome back, friend,” he said to Maurice.

The print promised for that Thursday, 75 years ago, is the one at the top of this post, and we found it in a box of Maurice’s old things in our basement last week.

I am thinking of incorporating it in a new edition of Army of Worn Soles, or maybe I’ll use it as part of the cover design for an Eastern Front trilogy boxed set.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Cover reveal: I Had a Farm in Ireland

By Sigrun Buckley


Sigrun Buckley has revealed the cover of her new memoir. I Once Had a Farm in Ireland tells the story of how a couple from Germany ended up on a farm in Ireland in the early 1990s, and all the work they had to do to transform themselves from professionals to farmers. And I’m proud to be associated with this book as editor.

From the acknowledgements:

I’m grateful to my marvelous editor, Scott Bury, who also straightened out my collection of anecdotes as they cascaded from my memories and helped me bring them into a storyline.

About the book

A wheelbarrow, a cable drum, gardening tools and  a pickaxe are unusual items on a wedding registry. They’re what Mac and Siggy, a German professional couple, need to fulfil their dream of organic gardening. But Siggy doesn’t know that Mac is harbouring secret dreams of full scale farming and emigrating to seek a healthier and simpler life in an unspoiled country: Ireland.

After two babies and the Chernobyl meltdown in 1987, they are scared enough to make big changes. They buy a farm in Tipperary and give up their jobs, friends and home to raise their children in an unpolluted environment.

More than just fleeing the nuclear threats, they want to blaze a new path to wholesome, sustainable living. A period of intense learning follows: how to raise chickens, pluck geese, breed cattle and sheep, and how to grow all kinds of vegetables.

I Once Had a Farm in Ireland is a modern woman’s journey from a sophisticated, hectic urban life in western Germany seemingly back in time to a lifestyle that may be rustic, so different but just as complex as a modern European professional’s. It’s the story of a woman who sacrifices her own dreams for the sake of her family until she discovers her own path.

Detailed descriptions of gardening and farming activities, combines with recipes make I Once Had a Farm in Ireland a useful “hot to” book for grew-minded consumers and environmentally conscious readers who are toying with the idea of producing their own food.

About the author

A former English teacher, Siggy Buckley’s other books include a series of travelogues, Secrets to Successful Home Swapping and Next Time Lucky: How to Find Your Mr. Right. She has also written a number of short stories, including “There is No Going Back,” the story of German refugees  exiled from land conquered by the USSR at the end of World War Two.

She now lives in Florida and is a member of the National League of American Pen Women.

Visit her website, Siggy’s Omnibus.


On Remembrance Day, in honour of all who served: Chapter 1, free

Today, November 11, 2014, is Remembrance Day in Canada, Veterans’ Day in the US, Armistice Day in the UK. It’s a day recognized under many names in countries around the world, marking the end of the First World War, called the “defining calamity of the 20th century.”

That calamity, which took millions of lives and changed the perception of war, began 100 years ago.

In honour of all who served, I offer the first chapter of Army of Worn Soles, the true story of a Canadian drafted into the Soviet Red Army just in time to face Nazi Germany’s invasion in 1941.

Chapter 1:Prisoner of War

Kharkiv, October 1941
Maurice put the bottle on the ground beside him and took off his uniform shirt. He spread it on the smoothest piece of ground he could find, then laid the bottle near the officer’s insignia on the collar and pushed down. He rolled the bottle over tattered, light-brown material until the lice cracked under the glass. Back and forth, twice, three times. He felt a dull satisfaction at his first pathetic victory in more than half a year.
The effort was exhausting. His stomach ached and his throat burned with thirst.
He slumped back until he leaned against the barracks. Men in grey uniforms stood or walked across the cobbled courtyard of the ancient castle. One came toward him, a slim man with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He stopped in front of Maurice and leaned down.
“Maurice? Is it you?”
Breathing required effort. So did looking up. Maurice had not eaten in days, but he still trusted his sight. He knew the man with the light-brown hair and hazel eyes, even in a Wehrmacht uniform. 
“Maurice?” the young man said again. “What are you doing here?”
He couldn’t swallow. His mouth held no moisture. “Dying. I’m starving to death.” Maurice closed his eyes and hung his head.
Bohdan crouched beside him. “You got drafted?”
Maurice made the effort to look up at his old friend. “The Red Army made me a lieutenant. What the hell are you doing here, and in a German uniform, Bohdan?”
“The Germans kicked the Russians out, something we couldn’t do. Why shouldn’t I join the winning side? And it’s ‘Daniel’ now, not Bohdan.” He looked around to make sure no one noticed him, a Wehrmacht officer, talking to a prisoner of war. “I’m glad you survived, that you were captured instead of killed. The Germans killed a lot of Red soldiers.”
“I know. I was there.”
Bohdan looked around again. “How did you get here?”
“Like you said, we were captured, the whole army, outside Kharkiv. They brought us here.”
Bohdan shook his head. “Are you all right? I’ll see if I can bring you anything, but I have to be careful.”
Maurice looked into his friend’s eyes. “Get me out of here.”
“Set a prisoner free? Are you crazy?”
“Bohdan—sorry, Daniel, you’re my best friend. Or you were. If I ever meant anything to you, get me out.”
Daniel—Bohdan, looked left and right again. “I cannot let Red soldiers go,” he whispered.
Maurice took a dry breath. His strength was almost gone. “You’re an officer in a victorious army. You have the power. You can get me out, me and my boys.
Daniel shook his head and stood. “Stalin’s going to surrender within six months, and then all the prisoners will be freed. Hitler has promised freedom for all nations. We’ll all be free. Ukraine will be free.”
Maurice looked at the ground between his splayed legs. He could no longer lift his head. “I can’t wait six months. I can’t wait two days. If you wait, you’ll find a corpse. We’ll all be dead. You have to get us out now.”
Daniel hesitated. He looked around the camp again, but no one paid attention. “So the Reds made you an officer, did they? Where are your men? All dead?”
Somewhere, Maurice found the strength to stand up again. He staggered to the barracks door, went in and called his odalenye, the unit he commanded. “Step over here, boys.”
Daniel followed Maurice inside, and Maurice wondered if Daniel wasn’t breaking some regulation by entering prisoners’ quarters unaccompanied by at least one guard.
Daniel scanned the room, taking in the defeated, injured and starving men. No one threatened him. They did not even move. Maurice realized when they saw Daniel, they saw their captor.
Daniel stepped out of the barracks and waited outside the door. “I’ll see what I can do, Maurice. But you’re on the wrong fucking side.”
Maurice picked up the bottle and returned to crushing the lice out of his uniform shirt. It was the only thing he could do to reduce his misery.
He thought about the last time he had seen Bohdan, before he became Daniel.
It was in the gymnasium, the pre-university school in Peremyshl. What used to be Poland. What a long, strange, twisted path my life has followed. 
For more from Army of Worn Soles, click the cover image at the top of this blog.
Visit the Worn Soles page on Facebook.

It’s launch day today

Image courtesy SpaceX
Army of Worn Soles, my third book, launches officially today.
It’s exclusively on Amazon, at least for three months, allowing me to take advantage of the marketing and promotional tools available through the Kindle Select program.
Go to Amazon right now for a look inside (or to buy it if you can’t wait)
And in celebration of the launch, I’m putting my previous books, The Bones of the Earth and One Shade of Red, on sale for just 99 cents each on all channels, all week long:

What’s it about?

Ukraine, 1941
A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?

Follow the tour and win a signed paperback

Sixteen awesome bloggers are supporting the launch of Army of Worn Soles by posting excerpts. Coming up:
Monday, June 23: Rebekah Lynn’s Books blog
Tuesday, June 24: Michael Lorde’s M.E. Author blog
Wednesday, June 25: BestSelling Reads’ Win-a-Book Wednesday—two chances to win!
Thursday, June 26: Wodke Hawkinson’s Find a Good Book to Read blog
Friday, June 27: Seb Kirby’s New Words for New Times
Saturday, June 28: Michelle Chiapetta’s Chipper Muse
Sunday, June 29: Gae-Lynn Woods’ The Big Heat
Monday, June 30: Back to Written Words for the wrap-up.
Read each blog on its day and collect the clue. Put all the clues together and unscramble them for a chance to win a signed paperback copy.
And if you enter the clue into the comments field in the respective blog, you’re eligible to win a free e-copy. Don’t delay—enter now!
You still have a chance to go back to the previous blogs. For a list, visit my blog post from the start of the tour.

Why June 22?

June 22 is the anniversary of a key event in the book and the life of its protagonist, Maurice Bury. What is it? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Get it from Amazon today!

Independent novel review: Broken Pieces by Rachel Thompson

Why do I feel the urge to type “Rachel S. Thompson”?
Broken Pieces breaks the moulds of confessional memoirs and is rightfully ahead in the polling for best non-fiction book of the year among the E-Festival of Words contenders.
Rachel Thompson is best known for her humourous observations of male-female relationships in her blog, Rachel in the OC, and her previous books, A Walk in the Snark and The Mancode Exposed. These books are short, snappy, definitely snarky. Funny, entertaining and usually dead-on right.

“Husband has t-shirts from before we met. He sees no problem with this fact. “They still fit!” — why should he throw them away? Sigh. #Mancode.

With Broken Pieces, Thompson takes a decidedly more serious turn — a walk on a darker side. The book includes verse and prose poems, as well as extended descriptions of her emotions at different crises or turning points of her life in almost stream-of-consciousness prose.
It begins with descriptions of learning about the suicide of a former lover which happened only hours after she met him following years of separation. With a few well-crafted sentences, Thompson exposes the conflicted emotions that result from the memories of a troubled, inconsistent, thrilling and terrifying relationship.
Broken Pieces is an apt title. The book is very much a collection of essays, odes and prose poems, as well as pieces that are impossible to categorize. There are long passages that describe the author’s up-and-down relationship with her unnamed lover: how his strength made her feel safe, and how that feeling contrasted with his barely-restrained violence and his tendency to tear down her self-esteem. She also contrasts the lover with her eventual (and still) husband.
“Rachel in the OC” Thompson
It’s not all dark: Thompson also writes eloquently about the joys and bemusements of her relationships with her sometimes bumbling husband and their kids. Then, like refractions through a broken window, she turns back to her childhood and the trauma and abuse she experienced.
The pieces are disjointed. But I was never in doubt about which period of her life she had just jumped to. I always knew which man she was writing about on any given page. The book is not an easy read; it’s sometimes disorienting, but it’s compelling writing that tells Rachel’s own story. Broken Pieces shows Thompson as a real person, someone much more sympathetic than she comes across in her earlier books.
You cannot stop reading Broken Pieces once you start.

Get it on Amazon or through Thompson’s website.