As one who is an avid book reader, I know the process of what it looks like on deciding whether or not to purchase a book. Opening the first pages of the book, you read the opening chapter and if the writing style or first chapter doesn’t capture your attention, you place the book back on the shelf, no matter how pretty the book cover may appear to be. Let’s be honest, though. We all judge a book by its cover.
A Song for Somme is set in England in the year 1922 and follows the life of Lloyd Fox, a cynical atheist who is determined to re-make himself through his music. The story for my book was inspired by the life of C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest Christian theologians of our time. Lewis served in World War I and was an atheist until meeting J.R.R Tolkien at Oxford University where he studied English Literature.
Thus, if you know a little bit about Lewis’s life, some similar themes are found throughout A Song for Somme. However, I preface this by saying that this is not a Christian book. It is a historical fiction book that has Christian undertones that will hopefully impact the lives of all races, ages, and religious or non-religious backgrounds. Also, for my BBC and Downton Abbey fans, I believe that you will also thoroughly enjoy this read. (let’s hope!)
So, for my friends who are considering whether or not they will purchase A Song for Somme, I thought I would provide you with a sample, the first half of chapter one.
A Return to Oxford
It was unfamiliar, yet at the same time, invigorating. Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins danced between the intricate designs of the startling light’s ceilings. I checked the scribbled handwriting on the piece of paper to make sure that I was in the right building. Of course, the concerto piece was evidence enough, but all the same, I didn’t know if changes had been made since the war.
“Lloyd, there you are old chap.” Charles’s excitement collided with the stagnant walls.
“It’s about time you showed up.” I slapped his chest with his musical scores.
“Who would have thought? A couple of war veterans in pursuit of a music education, huh, old chap?”
“It’s a miracle they let you in,” I replied.
“And, now you are being daft. The king sent me here on recommendation himself.”
“The next best thing to the king,” I smiled.
“My father almost didn’t allow it,” he responded.
“Yes, it is a mystery as to why your father almost didn’t allow you into the programme,” I replied without a change of tone.
“I promised him I was serious this time,” he said, but then proceeded to laugh, indicating that he had convinced his father to let him back into the programme, even though he most likely would not take it seriously at all, no matter how bloody talented he was.
“Even a war can’t change Charles Atwood’s habits,” I said, before walking towards our first class for the day.
He smoothed his midnight black hair and replied, “Perhaps you are right, but it will be much more fun this time around.”
“I’m serious, Charles. You know my rules. No parties, no girls. Not this time around.”
“You’re on your own, Lloyd.”
“War taught you nothing.”
“Sure it did. Life is shorter than I thought,” he smiled. “Might as well have fun.”
“Music comes first, Charles.”
“Oh, lighten up. You’re always so serious.”
“If you aren’t careful, your father will remove you from the programme, and then what? You’ll be subject to the authority of the aristocracy. Is that what you want?”
“I haven’t been subject to their formalities in years, old chap.”
“You deny your privileges.” I was annoyed.
“Of all people, you talking to me about my life being a privilege!” He laughed harshly and added, “You are always the one saying the aristocracy is a life of great restriction.”
“I am not talking about your position in society. I only meant that you don’t have to worry a day about spending a pence on your education. Do you know how many fellows would long to be in your trousers?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Tell that to my father, old chap.”
I ignored him.
Charles shook his head and then changed subject. “What courses are you taking this time around?”
“Chamber Music Performance, Seminar in Composition, Vocal Instruction and some other composition course. I can’t remember the name of it now.”
“Crikey. You aren’t thinking of doing this for a living, old chap?”
“Don’t call me old chap.”
“You already know you’ve lost that battle.”
“I, unlike others with privileges, have to make a living some way or another.”
“So, that’s what this talk of the aristocracy is all about, old chap?”
“Let’s focus on finding the classroom, shall we?”
While Charles was one of my closest friends, he was also a real pain at times. We were both in our first semester at Oxford when Great Britain entered the Great War. It was shortly after Britain had declared war on Germany when both Charles and I had made the decision to go to the warfront. We had served under the same regiment, and somehow had both gone unscathed, except for a few scars here and there. Most of our friends didn’t make it, and as a result, my nickname came about. I was already the oldest amongst our friends at the start of war and now, eight years later, every time Charles mentioned that bloody nickname, it reminded me that I should have been dead with the rest of them. I was an old bloke now.
Half of the students in the programme were at least a decade younger and most certainly not as committed to the art. I knew I shouldn’t judge those eager faces sitting in their chairs filled with hopes and dreams, but I couldn’t help it. I judged them because I knew them; I had been in their shoes eight years ago. Sometimes, it seemed like it belonged to a different lifetime and other times, it felt as familiar as yesterday’s supper.
I let my thoughts drift and realised that I had forgotten to ask what courses he was taking. “How about you, Charles? Anything interesting this semester?”
“Music Theory and Vocal Instruction for the hell of it.”
“That’s it?” I asked in shock.
“Crikey, you think I could get away with that, old chap? You know why I’m here.”
I admitted that I really didn’t and made some remorseful remark about the girls he had hung around with before the war.
“No, Charles, why are you here, really?”
“Why, do you think my old man would send me back to school if he thought I would mess around the whole time?”
“It’s good to hear you admit it.”
“I like the music just as much as you do, old chap.”
It didn’t seem worth it, to throw away all that money for only a course or two, but of course, Charles didn’t have to worry about such. His father was president of the university’s music programme and Charles was the heir to his father’s land. His father was re-making a name for himself in society, and thought it best that his son invest in a worthwhile education for their family’s sake. Charles had been born into the British aristocracy, but unfortunate circumstances had moved their family from their affluent estate in Manchester to the outskirts of Oxford.
I never learnt the details of why they had lost their estate and why Charles’ father had chosen university to remake himself. The less I knew, the better. Besides, despite all of it, their family still had a bloody lot of money.
If it wasn’t for Mr. Atwood’s loss of their estate in Manchester, I believed that education would have never been a consideration for his son. If that was the case, Charles and I would have never met. Sometimes, I wondered if it would have been better that way, but war changed that. We had been through things together; he was the only person alive who could understand how those circumstances had changed me.
I stopped the brisk walk and realised that I was indeed lost. Rubbing my forehead and taking the sheet of paper, I asked a young man walking on by to direct me in the right direction of the classroom where we were to take Vocal Instruction. Charles didn’t seem to care that we were already late.
After receiving directions from the student, who looked as though his mum still dressed him every morning, Charles bluntly commented.
“Jazz is going to revolutionise the way we ever thought about music.”
“You are a trumpet player who belongs in an orchestra, not some jazz club band. You wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“That’s where I think you are wrong, old chap. You are too old-fashioned. Classical music had its day. It’s time for some new rhythms to shape our world. Jazz is already revolutionizing the music scene in America.”
“Classical music will never die. If it was able to do so, it should have died with King George VI,” I stated.
“I’m not saying it will, but it is going to change, whether you want it to or not.”
“You’re too good for that scene,” I replied.
“What was that, old chap?” A huge grin crossed his face. “I love to hear you say it.”
Charles knew he was good, and I always hated to admit it out loud. He was the best trumpet player I had ever known, and I’m not just saying so because he was my friend.
“You heard me. That’s all I have left to say on the matter.”
I sighed in relief as the classroom that we were approaching was the room number scribbled on the paper in hand.
Upon entrance, I apologised for the both of us as we made our way to the back of the room.
“As I was saying, tardiness is prohibited.” The instructor’s voice was high pitched. I wondered if he had fast-forwarded his speech to prick us underneath our skin.
A blonde haired boy seated to our right let out a quiet laugh which informed me that my predictions had indeed been true. As I sat there in a room full of people, students whose lives had borne little experience, I envied them. I longed for their innocence, their naivety, and their indifference to what really took place on the battlefields in France. It wasn’t their fault, and it was futile to make them understand, but all the same, I felt like a foreigner on new soil. Oxford wasn’t as it used to be, no matter if the hallways and windows still groaned the same.
We had been back at our classes for a month now. Charles seemed to be taking his courses more seriously than before, which I attributed to Cherry’s insistence that he not miss a class and play his trumpet for her. Cherry was the girl that Charles had been taking out as of late. She wasn’t his girl really; I didn’t know exactly what to call her, for Charles’ parents certainly wouldn’t approve of the match. It was the one thing that no one could be envious of: to be trapped in a system where position and money were the causes behind every familial decision.
Most English men were stilted to express human emotion, yet Charles wasn’t like the rest of them. He wore his heart on his sleeve.
They met at the library, the Radcliffe Camera, of all places, Charles and Cherry that is. That would have never happened before the war, which made me realise that perhaps the war had really changed Charles after all. If anything, it had taught him discipline, and perhaps made him realise that his family’s fortune should have never been taken for granted to begin with. Even though their family’s name had been ruined, though not entirely, Charles parents still hoped that he would marry someone with a title. From what I knew, Cherry was far from such qualifications. Yet, Charles didn’t care about these traditions, and truth be told, where his parents thought his education would be an entrance back into society, it truly was Charles’ escape from a lifetime of rules and regulations.
He returned late to our flat, but I didn’t mind it. I was working on a musical composition, despite my instructor’s request that we not write anything until we completed this term’s courses. I knew I was better than most of the kids there, at least that’s what I called them, they were only kids. I tried not to judge them, for their innocence was not their fault, but no matter how hard I tried, prudence robbed their ability to make me think against it.
Ever since I had returned to England, I heard the music in my ears and I couldn’t let it remain in my head for that much longer. Charles called me insane. I called him insensitive.
It was after the Battle of Somme, that’s when I heard the notes scrape through my ears and down my spine. When I returned to English soil, it haunted me, reminding me that all of that blood was just as futile as explaining to one of the kids why it had been shed in the end.
Charles and I rarely talked about the war. I attributed this to the fact that most of our friends had been taken. You grow up as a boy reading about war stories, by hell, you romanticise it and worship those men in novels who took out dozens of chaps with their weaponry. I didn’t know if Charles felt the same since the day we became victorious four years ago, but I can assure you that there is no romance in the trenches of war. None of us felt like heroes, and to those who did, their names belonged under the same list of men who truly died for cowardice, not like Victor. This is why I didn’t share my thoughts with Charles; I knew he probably belonged on that list.
“You home, old chap?” His voice made its way through the thin hallway and met me in my study room.
I didn’t answer. He would find me soon enough. After a dozen steps, the echo of his footsteps came to a standstill.
“There you are! Did you hear me, old chap?”
“Well, what is Beethoven working on tonight?” He slapped my back and took a seat.
“Nothing that will interest you,” I replied without a change in my tone.
“That might be the case, but I have something that will certainly interest you.”
Charles placed a ticket on the desk and mischievously grinned. “What’s this?” I held the ticket in my hand and read the print out loud.
“London Symphony Orchestra.”
“Tickets for Saturday’s show. Thought you’d be pleased.”
I turned the ticket over as though it was a trick of some kind.
“Is this a bribe?”
“Oh, come on, can’t I do something nice for my friend?” he smiled.
“What is the timetable?”
“Can you read old chap? The bloody ticket says it will start just past eight.”
“Who else did you invite?” I asked.
He rolled his eyes as he realised that I had caught onto his scheme.
“Come on, old chap, I just want you to have a little fun. And, I’d like you to meet Cherry. She’s a decent girl.”
“Far too decent for you,” I replied bluntly.
I had yet to meet her. All I knew was that Cherry Walsh was studying Latin and French Literature and she was more intelligent than most girls Charles had ever met. She was fluent in at least three languages, at least that is what Charles said.
“She’s bringing a friend, I believe her name is Charlotte. I don’t know much about her, but if she’s a friend of Cherry’s, I’m sure she’s just as decent a lady.”
“I’ll think about it,” I replied. Placing the ticket next to my sheet music, I returned diligently to the notes that fluctuated in my head.
“A trip to London would do you good,” Charles smiled and then left the room.
I stared at the composition piece before me, wrestling with what key to write it in. I couldn’t let the notes remain in the Key of F# major, for it was too triumphant sounding and I felt far from it. F# minor was more fitting, a key of disarray. Although I had returned to Oxford, there was discontentment found in its cracks, a howling for the days before the war, of feet that trod upon their boards which no longer walked this earth. I knew I would not remain in this key, at least I was hopeful for such. Perhaps the evening at the Symphony would be a good thing after all. Perhaps the key would shift to G major then. God, I hoped so. It was a terrible thing feeling the way I did, and Charles’ enthusiasm didn’t make it any better. I sighed and got up from where I was sitting.
Charles was in the kitchen and had just put a pot of water on the cooker. His garter belts were hanging off his trousers. His ruffled hair made him appear to be a man who had just returned from a day at Gran’s farmland.
“Alright, I’ll go,” I said, splitting the silence of the flat.
Charles immediately turned around with a grin about his face, a grin that I wanted to wipe off. I was bitter that he foolishly enjoyed life, while I still couldn’t understand why I still had breath in my lungs and was sharing a London flat with Charles instead of Victor. He was doing me a favour, though, for I probably couldn’t afford this place on my own, and he had wanted an escape. Charles had even told me that he had to beg his valet not to follow him to Oxford. I couldn’t imagine having a man dress me every day.
“Cherry thinks it’ll be a marvellous time for you. She’s been worried about you, old chap,” Charles’ enthusiasm never failed.
I was surprised that Cherry even thought about me, for I hadn’t even met her yet.
“Then, I’m certain she’s right.”
“She always is.”
And, with such an agreement, my hands felt as though they were hovering over the ivories, unsure as to whether or not I should return to F# Major. Someone other than Charles held concern for my well-being, and that was something to play about.
Well, there you go. Hope you enjoyed the sample and consider adding the book to your list. Once again, I am so thankful to each and every one of you who have continually supported me, both financially and emotionally, through the indie author process. A Song for Somme will be available in online bookstores this coming Friday, November 17th. Until next time, cheers!