“The Secret of the Old Clock”

In The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Kat Bateson is a logical girl who idolizes her father. His hobby is clock-mending, and Kat spends her time with him learning about the inner workings of clocks, including the moment when he lets her help with a clock repair:

Her hands had trembled a little as she started, but after she’d disassembled the first layer of the works she grew bolder, and her father watched her, interjecting only a little. She’d cleaned and oiled the parts, and reassembled them, tightened the screws and adjusted the balance, and then set the clock to running. It gave a satisfying tick-tick.

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Medieval clock in Salisbury Cathedral

Kat’s skill with clocks is a crucial element in the story.

Mechanical clocks may be an anachronism in the age of streaming time and digital watches, but they are also satisfying – and are resonant with meaning. Time travels in one direction. Time waits for no one. Time can be your friend, or your enemy.

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My cuckoo clock

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is a story that is at one level about time and its passage. Kat and her friends live during World War 2. The castle itself is ancient. Scotland is a country rich in history through the ages. The clocks of Rookskill Castle break down in the face of magic. The number 12 figures both in the hours of the clock and in the children of Rookskill (more on that in an upcoming post.)

When you open up the back of a mechanical clock, you’ll see a beautiful assemblage of wheels and gears all working synchronously. Mechanical clocks need mending, but they can work for centuries (unlike most things digital). In fact, the oldest mechanical clock is in Salisbury Cathedral in England. You can even make a mechanical clock yourself!

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Nancy Drew and her clock

I love clocks. Our family has made a collection of clocks over many years, some inherited and some we’ve picked up along the way. All are mechanical, some chime, some just tick – and one, in my office, is a cuckoo clock, which can drive our guests crazy.

One of my favorite books as a kid was Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock. I wonder now if it had a subconscious influence on my work. As a writer, I love playing with the concept of time, and what better way to suggest this than to use clocks in The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle both physically and metaphorically?

The Clandestine Machines of War

When Father brought a short-wave wireless home a couple of weeks before leaving, he’d shown it only to Kat. “Here, Kitty. Have a look. I knew you’d be interested. Just keep it under your hat.”

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A short wave radio

During World War 2, clandestine stations broadcast news from the Allies into Nazi-controlled Europe, and those stations could be accessed through short-wave radios which access transmissions by way of skip (off the Earth’s ionosphere) propagation. Long-distance communication using shortwave frequencies is often the recourse of governments or individuals seeking to transmit to foreign nations because it’s difficult to censor. I imagined what might happen if a short-wave radio was part of a spy’s tool kit in Rookskill Castle.

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Enigma machine

Another physical war-related item that appears in The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle is an enigma machine. Some models look a bit like a weird typewriter. They use rotors attached to the letters of the alphabet in several combinations in order to form encrypted information that can be transmitted. Enigma codes used mathematical cyphers as a product of permutations which made them especially hard to decode. The Germans used enigma machines with great success until code breakers were able to find the correct cyphers.

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Women working in Bletchley Park

One of my inspirations for Kat was the number of young women who worked at the UK Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. You may be familiar with the work of Alan Turing through the movie The Imitation Game, but some 80% of the personnel who spent time deciphering code were women. They were not permitted to discuss the nature of their work, even after the war, yet without them the enigma codes would not have been broken.

The British were constantly monitoring the coastlines during the war, concerned that a German submarine, or U-boat, would allow for a landing and invasion, even if by a small company of spies. Abandoned fortifications remain along the coasts today.war fortifications

I had a great deal of fun weaving these war-related details into the spooky mystery around Rookskill Castle. In my next post, I’ll talk about how clocks play a role in the story.

 

The Blitz: “Keep Calm And Carry On”

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St. Paul’s stands tall in the face of the Blitz

In The Charmed Children, Kat and her brother and sister are shipped out of London, as were many children, in an attempt to escape the Blitz in the fall of 1940:

The cab splashed through deep puddles and rain pelted the roof. They passed mounds of rubble, men in their clinging wet work clothes clearing flattened homes with picks and shovels and barrows. They passed St. Paul’s, rising stately and seemingly untouched from the ruins around it. Pride surged in Kat. The bustle of London—motors and buses and black umbrellas—continued as if there was no war. Londoners described the bombings as “blitzy,” as if they were some kind of nasty weather.

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Londoners hunkered down in the Underground as the bombs fell.

This fall marks the 75th anniversary of the Blitz.

The Blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) was a relentless bombing campaign waged by the German Luftwaffe on Great Britain and especially on the city of London. The Blitz was Adolf Hitler’s attempt to break the British spirit. But the British refused to be cowed by the German campaign, and the Royal Air Force was able to defend the homeland.

While many families sent their children to live in the country – and even to live in the United States – to escape the bombing, the British prided themselves on standing firm in the face of tragedy and deprivation.

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Children who left London as evacuees.

One of the favorite sayings of the time was “Keep Calm And Carry On”, used on a poster. This and other similar morale boosting posters were created by the Ministry of Information at the behest of the British Government. The crown of King George VI, the bold colors, and the straightforward font were used consistently. (While most of the original posters were destroyed at the end of the war, you can order your own replica – and even make up your own saying! – here.)

downloadThe British did not falter even in the face of food shortages that required the government to introduce rationing. Meat, cheese, and eggs were among the foods rationed. Cottage gardens sprang up to combat the shortages, and ration books were the currency of the day.

The British held on with a “stiff upper lip” despite the great odds and the shortages until the United States, which had held an isolationist position despite its alliance with Great Britain, entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

 

England’s Entry Into World War 2

In The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, Kat Bateson faces change in the early days of World War 2:

The pieces that made up Katherine Bateson’s world were scattered across the landscape and over the ocean, far and wide, blown about by the winds of war. Kat herself felt like one of the clocks in Father’s workshop, all wheels and plates and springs and pins strewn across the table, waiting.

 But she squared her shoulders and told herself to hold her wits together. That’s what her father would want, and what her brother and sister needed. Especially given the urgency in Father’s letter to Mum, the letter sending the children away.

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England’s entry into World War 2 was forced by the non-stop aggression of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany. England formed the western front line against the German offensive; if not for English bravery and the entry of the United States into the European campaign, Germany might have taken Great Britain.

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The evacuation of Dunkirk was hasty and dreadful.

In late 1938 Great Britain was led by Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister. He was anxious to avoid another World War, and when Adolf Hitler’s Germany began an aggressive campaign in eastern Europe he cosigned the Munich Pact, giving Germany the go-ahead to invade Sudentenland in Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, this Pact didn’t halt German aggression into the rest of Czechoslovakia, followed by the German invasion of Poland.

The British had pledged support for Poland, and on September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany.

Winston Churchill replaced Chamberlain as Prime Minister in May 1940, and Churchill proved to be a charismatic as well as more aggressive leader. Later that same month the Germans staged a massive offensive, and the British Expeditionary Force had to evacuate Dunkirk in haste. Belgium and France fell to the Germans and the war gained terrible momentum.

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In the summer and fall of 1940 Nazi Germany, with its deadly Luftwaffe (air force), engaged the British in the Battle of Britain. German pilots assailed Britain with almost nightly bombings, especially over the city of London. These bombings were known as the Blitzkrieg (German for “lightning war), or Blitz.

Nazi Germany was determined to rule all of Europe.