Zombies Need Brains press ran a Kickstarter in 2017, to fund a set of three themed anthologies. Each anthology has New York Times bestselling authors alongside authors who’ve just made their first professional sale. One of the anthologies in this batch is SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE URBAR, which is a follow-up to a previously released anthology called AFTERHOURS: TALES FROM THE URBAR. Here, Gilgamesh bartends a time-traveling bar where history mixes with a touch of magic. For thousands of years the immortal Gilgamesh has presided over the legendary Ur-Bar, witnessing history unfold from within its walls. Some days it is a rural tavern, others a fashionable wine shop. It may appear as a hidden speakeasy or take on the form of your neighbourhood local. For most patrons it is simply a place to quench their thirst, but for a rare few the Ur-Bar is where they will meet their destiny. Anchor authors include Gini Koch, Juliet E. McKenna, C.E. Murphy, Kristine Smith, Kari Sperring… and me.
I was delighted to be invited to contribute a story to this, but I confess my knowledge of Gilgamesh was a little thin, so it was great to get some guidelines. The bar can pop up anywhere at any time and it displays the ancient recipe for beer on a clay tablet Gilamesh himself is immortal but can’t leave the bar. He can (but doesn’t always) offer his own special drink which might just serve to give the drinker what s/he wants (or maybe what s/he needs which is not always the same thing).
Those of us who were invited were allowed to choose a time period, so that we didn’t duplicate, so I got in early with my choice: 1916, the eve of the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest action in the First World War. I’d just written THE HORSE HEAD VIOLIN, another First World War story about Belgian refugees in 1914 for Alma Alexander’s fundraising anthology CHILDREN OF A DIFFERENT SKY, so my head was still in that particular time period. I’d set THE HORSE HEAD VIOLIN in Leeds and included a few real characters and incidents, so I continued that theme.
I have two main protagonists, one, Alastair Gaunt, a lieutenant in the Leeds Pals, one of those regiments comprising young men all from the same area. The other lead character, Amelia Pentney-Knowles, is a volunteer nurse who’s left a sheltered place with her family, and has had to grow up very quickly as she’s faced with the horrors of injuries and illnesses incurred in the trenches.
And so MAKE ME IMMORTAL WITH A KISS grew into being. A doomed love affair mitigated by a moment of resolution, courtesy of Gilgamesh. No, I’m not going to give away the story. Please buy a copy of the anthology. It’s out in mid June and it’s got some fantastic stories in it. I will say that one of the early readers tweeted:
Damn. @JaceyBedford just made me bawl with her story in the new @ZNBLLC antho #SecondRoundReturnToTheUrBar…
I must admit to a few salty tears while I was writing it.
This is the real world background.
The Leeds Pals Regiment was raised in 1914 by volunteers. They trained in Colsterdale, North Yorkshire, and in 1915 deployed to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal against the Turks. They were shipped to France in March 1916 to join the British build-up for the Battle of the Somme. On the first day, the battalion casualties numbered 24 officers and 504 other ranks, of which 15 officers and 233 other ranks were killed. Private A.V. Pearson, a survivor, later said: “We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”
Lieutenant Victor Ratcliffe, who has a walk-on role in this story, was a real person, a minor war poet and nephew of Edward Allen Brotherton, Lord Mayor of Leeds in 1913-14, one of those responsible for raising and equipping the Leeds Pals regiment. Victor also died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, killed in action at Fricourt. He was twenty-nine years old, and left behind a fiancée, Pauline.
Private Tommy Bennett was very loosely based on my grandfather who volunteered and joined the KOYLI in 1914 (Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry – not a Pals regiment). The songs in the story are the ones Grandpa sang snatches of all the time. He survived the Somme but was invalided out at Passchendaele in 1917 with half his calf shot away. It bought him a ticket home, but he was a year in various hospitals undergoing a long slow recovery. He always walked heavily on that leg and when pressed would roll up his trouser leg and show you his ’empty’ calf and his middle toes that crossed over each other as if wishing for luck. Like many soldiers who’d been through the trenches he rarely talked about it, but I gleaned enough to have some idea of what it was like. Once he was fit again he returned home to life underground in a coal mine which may not have been a lot better, but at least no one was shooting at him. Despite the trenches and the coal mine he lived to his mid-eighties, married his sweetheart and raised a daughter – my mum.
All that background was in my head, though I couldn’t get it all on the page because what mattered was the love affair between my two protagonists under almost impossible circumstances.