And No Birds Sing

Image may contain: cloud, sky, house and outdoor

Birkenau

Before I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau I read Keats’s poem La Belle Dame Sans Merci from which the line ‘and no birds sing’ is taken and wondered if it was true what people say – that birds avoid the site of this former Nazi run concentration camp and will not sing there.

It isn’t true!

Sunday the 18th of June 2017 was a blistering hot day and as we walked through the entrance gate of Birkenau (Auschwitz ll) we were struck by the enormous, sprawling size of the place. Of course it had to be big to house the hundreds of thousands of prisoners that were sent there during the years of World War ll, but nothing prepares you for the sight. On either side of the road that runs the length of the camp are row upon row of small brick built buildings situated in grassy meadows surrounded by barbed wire fences and overlooked by guard towers. As I pushed my partner’s wheelchair along the rough and bumpy road (let’s face it, these places weren’t meant to be disabled friendly) I stopped to listen. It was eerily quiet, but in the oppressive stillness the chirrup of a single bird could be heard as it skimmed the air above the wildflowers, feeding on the buzzing insects as it flitted back and forth.

We followed the single rail track towards the crematoriums that had been destroyed by the German’s as they’d left the camp in an attempt to hide the evidence of the atrocities they’d committed there. These buildings have been left where they collapsed, the twisted metal and shape of the ovens still visible. On either side two oblong pools mark the place where the ashes of cremated prisoners were dumped. They seem far too small for the purpose and I wonder how deep the pools are. As I stare into the depths the turquoise flash of a dragonfly catches the sunlight.

I left my partner at the memorial, the path into the woods is too narrow for a wheelchair, and agreed to meet him back at the road. Here, nearest to the site of such horror, the trees are filled with the cacophony of birdsong.

I expected to feel the echoes of sadness from Birkenau’s past, but instead it felt empty. There are no lingering ghosts here. The feeling of sadness comes from those who wander its ruins remembering and honouring those who suffered within its confines. It’s a sobering place, but I’m comforted by the thought that those who experienced this place all those years ago are not trapped here and have gone to their rest.

Auschwitz l, however, had a very different effect on me.

 

All photos copyright to Guinevere Saunders http://guinsaunders.wixsite.com/artist/photography

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can  connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Advertisements

A Victorian Affair in Secret Code

If you came across this while perusing the personal ads of a Victorian newspaper what would you do?

news

Intrigued at finding a secret code I couldn’t resist trying to crack it. It was posted in the London Evening Standard  on the 11th January 1900. The Standard was a daily newspaper that ran from 1827 until the end of 1900 and appears to have been the newspaper of choice for cryptic correspondence.

The code is a basic substitution cipher where one letter of the alphabet is swapped for another. This particular code is a Caesar cipher in which the alphabet is moved along a certain number of letters. Caesar always used 3 moves which made it easy for his enemies to crack his codes once they realised he never changed it.

It was only by moving the alphabet along by twelve letters that this particular code began to make sense. In addition the coder had substituted n for l and i for o as well, just to make it a little more difficult I suppose.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L    l=n o=i

When the coded bits of the message were solved it read:

Eippom (This didn’t translate to anything so I assume it’s a codename)  Returning  home  Satday. Letter awaiting you. Arrive In town Monday next. Can meet you one clock anywhere.  – Shopping to do for sirtom. Will that suit?

Who is Eippom, who is Sir Tom and who is the message for? I had no idea, but a reply was posted in the newspaper the following day.

West Wind-G Arnoe  sauzsfa  faiz egzpmk tabq kaginxx youwbll mdduhq  yazpmqyadz mnagf gxghqz ddufq London qjmof fuyq kagmdq pgq I will yqqfkag  cfmfnaz

Decoded the message is: Going to town Sunday. Hope you will arrive Monday morn about eleven. Write London exact time you’re due. I will meet you station.

The correspondence between these two people go on for months and I still haven’t found all of the messages. They’re not very exciting, just instructions to meet in secret to conduct their illicit affair (both of them are married), but I can’t help wondering who they were and what happened to them. Who knows, they might end up as characters in one of my stories one day.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

Becoming a Deltiology Detective

In my last post I promised to explain how I’d become sidetracked by a hundred year old postcard that showed a picture of the house I live in (105 years actually), but first I should explain how I became obsessed with old postcards in general.

It all started three or four years ago when I began my access course at the University of Liverpool. We were invited to a lecture given by Professor Andrew Popp from the Management School whose specialism is family businesses and their history.  Not something you would usually associate with postcards, but he had discovered an old postcard that had been posted in the early twentieth century from Liverpool to London and it fascinated him enough that he wrote a paper on it.

He had no idea who had sent the postcard, but the recipient was a young lady by the name of Miss L Warden. The image on the card was of the Liverpool Exchange building with the memorial to Nelson on the lower right hand side and various employees, clerks and brokers, milling around in the foreground.

the postcard Andrew Popp gave a lecture on

On the reverse of the card was a map of the UK showing the route of the rail line between Liverpool and London and Hastings was also highlighted.

reverse of the card showing map and angle of stamp

You can see the original post on the Postcardese blog and here.

An enormous amount of information was gleaned from the scant details on the card, even the angle that the stamp was placed at on the card gave a clue to the relationship of the sender and recipient. In this case it tells us they are romantically linked. The red line showing the route that the train took to deliver the card also emphasises how far apart this couple are. Does Hastings have some significance for them, a romantic weekend away perhaps?

Professor Popp had used genealogical records to piece together the mystery of who the couple were and what happened to them after sending the postcard. I’d been doing genealogy on my family tree for several years and was fascinated to see it used in this way. The lecture inspired me to go out and buy my first postcard and become a deltiologist (postcard collector) – it was a picture of the old chemistry building at the University of Liverpool (I’ll tell you all about that another time) and my collection quickly built into one of over a thousand cards.

Postcards were the social media of their day. They were delivered several times a day and you could post one in the morning and have a reply within a few hours – almost as quick as a text. Not all of the ones available to purchase today have been posted, their value lies in the images on the front of the card, but the most interesting ones have been sent far and wide and all have a story to tell.

Professor Popp’s card was a glimpse into the lives of two people, a moment in time that is now long gone, but those moments live on in a few scrawled words on the backs of old postcards for anyone who cares to decipher their mysteries.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

How Many Vowels In The English Language?

In my last post I explained how I’d made a spur of the moment decision to change my degree programme.  The transfer itself was fairly straight forward, just a couple of hundred emails back and forth between tutors, student support, my new department and my old one and Hey Presto! I was back to being a fresher. Then came getting access to coursework, handbooks and assessment details. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end.

I made the huge mistake of trying to work through the weeks I’d missed by reading the lecture notes and watching Powerpoint presentations, eager to get stuck in, catch up and prove what an outstanding student I was. Except, when it came to making head or tail of this:

ipa1

and this:

ipa2

This utter gobbledegook  shows the phonology of sounds. All I could think was, “What on earth have I let myself in for?” I was dreading the lecture to come and almost wished I’d stayed in archaeology.

Despite feeling apprehensive, I went to sit at the front (as I always do) of the massive lecture theatre. I’d been to my first history lecture the day before and knew there would be about three hundred students in the class. My plan was to record the lecture and just sit and listen without taking notes, not expecting to understand a word that was said, but miraculously it was far easier than I anticipated. Everything fell into place and made perfect sense. Slowly, my fear of the module dissipated and I began to enjoy it. At one point the lecturer asked a question and I was the only one to put up my hand, and I answered correctly.

Then he asked, “How many vowels in the English language?” It was a trick question of course. Someone shouted from the back “Five.” He gave a little laugh and shook his head. “Six” another called. Again he shook his head. Eventually he gave in and told us the answer, “More than sixteen, nearer twenty.” Of course if he’d asked how many vowel sounds are there in the English language it might have given the game away.

I’m slowly finding my way around such things as plosives, fricatives, alveolar and bilabial sounds, but rather than being intimidated by these unfamiliar words I’m enjoying the journey.

I’ve also found an easier to read version of the International Phonetic Alphabet – now all I have to do is memorise these signs for transcription.

International Phonetic Alphabet Transcription signs

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

How To Start A War.

We all know that the trigger for the start of the First World War was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but what might not be so well known is that pure chance put him in the firing line of the man who shot him.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

On 28th June 1914 the Archduke narrowly escaped being blown to bits by a bomb thrown at his car. The bomb bounced off, rolled under the car behind and exploded, injuring members of the Archduke’s entourage. They were taken to hospital, but later that day the Archduke decided he would go to visit them and ordered his chauffeur to take both him and his wife, Sophie,  to the hospital.

In real life Ferdinand’s chauffeur was called Leopold Lojka, in Immortal, my latest novel, Lojka’s place is taken by Malachi. When the bomb is thrown he swerves, managing to avoid it and so bodging  the mission Lucifer has sent him on, but instead of punishment Lucifer gives him a second chance.

Under pressure not to mess up a second time poor Malachi drives around, hopelessly lost and stops at a junction to decide if he should turn left or right. He makes his choice, fingers crossed and by an amazing stroke of luck (for himself, not so lucky for the Archduke) manages to drive straight past the Archduke’s assassin.

Princip, the gunman, later confessed that hemmed in by the crowd he was unable to throw the bomb he had on him he had simply raised his pistol and fired off two shots without aiming. Sophie was shot in the stomach and Ferdinand in the throat. Princip could not have predicted the war that ensued and the incredible loss of life that resulted from his initial action, but had the chauffeur turned right instead of left history might have been very different.

If you would like to read more about Malachi and how he became Lucifer’s errand boy you can buy my book – Immortal –  from Amazon.

My first novel, Blackfeather,  is also available from Amazon too.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

 

 

Would You Be Tempted by Immortality?

Immortal Final Cover 5 x 8   The title character of my latest novel, Immortal, is a man who has lived for two thousand years.  Tricked into a deal with Lucifer he has spent immortality as the instigator of disaster and a cause of  chaos in the human world. Given the name Malachi, meaning messenger or prophet, he has almost  forgotten his real name or how he became Lucifer’s pet. All he knows is that he hates what he must  do, but to refuse would mean losing his soul to the eternal torments of Hell for far longer than he has  been alive.

   The inspiration for Malachi comes from a biblical character called “the rich man’s son”. When he  asks Jesus how he can enter the kingdom of Heaven and be given eternal life he is told that he must  renounce his worldly wealth, give up his possessions to the poor and follow Jesus. Only then will he  be rewarded with riches in Heaven.

   The young man cannot accept this, he doesn’t want to give up his comfortable life and I found  myself wondering what he would do if he was offered immortality under different terms. If someone, a stranger, had told him he could not only keep the wealth he already had but accrue even more, be powerful and attractive and spend the rest of time doing anything he wanted in return for nothing more than a few “little jobs” as and when necessary – would he be tempted? Would he resist and question the stranger’s motives? Or would he jump at the chance to live forever?

Once the deal is done it cannot be taken back and Malachi finds himself in an impossible situation. Forced to do Lucifer’s bidding Malachi is at first appalled, but the ever present threat of Hell’s horrors keeps him at his post. Shunned by his own kind he comes to hate humanity and vows to carry out his work with zeal, but revenge is not so sweet and overtime this hatred turns to self loathing and a desire for oblivion.

We have met Malachi once before in Blackfeather, the first book in the series, where his role was to persuade Thomas Whittle to kill an angel and win immortality for himself. Without Malachi’s interference Catherine Whittle would not have died and Ashrafel would not have been exiled from Heaven. Now, five hundred years later, he meets Ashrafel again and all Hell could break loose.

Over the next few posts I’ll explain Malachi’s involvement in some of history’s disasters.

You can get Blackfeather from: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk,

Immortal is released tonight, at midnight, click here to purchase Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Immortal Release Date and Cover Reveal

Killing two birds with one stone today. I’m happy to tell you that Immortal will be released on the 4th April 2015 though I’m hoping to have it available for pre-order a few weeks before that.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting extracts from the book and some other extras. And, finally, here is the front cover image…

Immortal Final Cover 5 x 8

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can also connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter