A Hundred Years To Arras
By Jason Cobley
From a Somerset farm to the trenches of France: one man's coming of age through land, love and blood
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This historical novel is based on real events. On a painful, freezing Easter Monday in 1917, over twenty thousand allied troops emerged from underneath the French town of Arras to mount a surprise attack on German positions outside Arras and up to Vimy Ridge. Private Robert Gooding Henson of the Somerset Light Infantry is stationed outside of Arras with his brigade and is launched into the battle, where he is separated from his company and ends the day defending Hervin Farm at St Laurent Blangy. Robert is twenty-three years old, a farmer’s boy from Somerset, and the novel tracks his journey from joining up against his father’s wishes in 1915 to that Easter Monday in April 1917.
Robert forms fast friendships with Stanley, who lied about his age to go to war, and Ernest, whose own slippery account of his life betrays a life on the streets. Their story together follows accounts of the real movements of the Somerset Light Infantry throughout the Great War, through gas attacks, trench warfare, freezing in trenches, hunting rats and chasing down kidnapped regimental dogs. Their life is one of mud and mayhem but also love and laughs. Whilst billeted in a battle-strewn French village, Robert meets the daughter of a local baker, Camile. The memory of their one afternoon together sustains him through the horrors that he faces on the front.
A parallel story is that of Flora Stuckey, a nurse of the Voluntary Aid Detachment, naively defying her own parents to come to France to help, and her own journey to realising how she needs to change.
A Hundred Years to Arras is a story of how a time and place reaches down through the generations to connect the past with the present through land and blood
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Jason Cobley was born in Devon of Welsh parents and now lives in Warwickshire with his wife, daughter and two intrepid rabbits intent on escaping. The central character of A Hundred Years to Arras is based on his relative Robert Gooding Henson. Jason studied English Language and Literature at university and has now taught English to teenagers in various schools across the country for 26 years. He is currently Head of Faculty at a secondary school in Solihull.
Jason is otherwise known for his work writing scripts for the long-running Commando comic and graphic novel adaptations of classics such as Frankenstein and An Inspector Calls, as well as the children’s novel The Legend of Tom Hickathrift. Jason also hosts a weekly show on Radio Abbey in Kenilworth, where he indulges his passion for classic and progressive rock.
One cheek lay in the mud, cold and caked to his skin. He drooled into the dirt and tasted the bitterness of the earth that had spattered on to his tongue and lips. Behind his closed eyes, dark shapes fluttered and swam, whispering voices of nausea drawing him down into something deep and heavy. His limbs ached from the fall. His legs lay in a puddle, one foot tucked behind him as if running. His weight was restricting the circulation in his left arm and he felt his fingers tingle. His other arm hung limply, with his remaining grip weak and loose around the stock of his rifle.
The ground’s cold embrace surrounded him. Robert lay in a shell hole, a crater punched into the French soil. He had fallen, and the fall had begun even as the sun rose. The August morning was fine and warm. The previous night’s sunset had bled into the grey rain. Sleep was fitful at best as the battalion took its place in a trench along what was laughingly called the British front line but was in fact just a staggered set of carved holes in the ground. At least, that was the way it seemed to Robert as he had settled down on a dry duckboard for the long night into morning.
On their subterranean shelves in the trench, Robert and the other men from the Somerset Light Infantry knew only the basics of their orders. Set for just after dawn, a short assault was to begin. The infantry in the line in front of them were to surge forward first, and they were to await the signal to race to the parapet after them. Once through the German barbed wire, they were to leap heroically into the enemy trenches and open fire on them as they dragged themselves wearily from their beds in the ground. This had been a tactic employed regularly since the first day of July, when all along the Somme, thousands of men had died in an attack that nobody spoke of now in the trench. The last phase of the Battle of the Somme was tailing off, and Robert was there at its last few shakes. Robert’s specific order was to join in the attempt to reclaim some old trenches on ground in No Man’s Land that had been conceded to the Germans earlier in the year.
- 16th December 2020 A Goose for Christmas
Well, hello! Thank you for your continued patience, ladies and gentlemen. Edits are well underway - the structural edit is more or less completed, and then the manuscript will be in the hands of the copy editor. Conversations have taken place with regard to cover design and things along those lines. Unbound have their own go-to source for cover design, so that's all very exciting indeed.
A by-product…14th August 2020 Manuscript done!
This is just a quick update to let you know that I've submitted the complete manuscript of 'A Hundred Years to Arras' to Unbound. I thought it was ready earlier in the week, but spending another couple of days on it has sharpened it up immensely.
What happens next?
Watch this space...
Thanks again for all your support. The first of you to have pledged for the radio show option…28th July 2020 Progress and Radio Playlist Pledges!
Just time for a quick update, as we go into summer shenanigans. Thanks once again for all the support - we are comfortably over the line, and you would have noticed that the status is "Writing in progress". This doesn't mean I'm only starting to write now of course; I am, however, tinkering with the manuscript as you might expect, in anticipation for the call to send it forth into the…28th July 2020 Progress and Radio Playlist Pledges!
Just time for a quick update, as we go into summer shenanigans. Thanks once again for all the support - we are comfortably over the line, and you would have noticed that the status is "Writing in progress". This doesn't mean I'm only starting to write now of course; I am, however, tinkering with the manuscript as you might expect, in anticipation for the call to send it forth into the…16th July 2020 We did it!
Well, finally, with a few generous donations in the last couple of weeks, we are there. Crowdfunding has been arduous and stressful, I don't mind admitting. I can say this to all of you because you've taken the leap of faith to support this book.
From the absolute bottom of my heart and every nerve ending radiating outwards, THANK YOU. Many of you are friends, some of you are family, others are…29th June 2020 "If My Calculations Are Correct, When This Baby Hits 88 Miles Per Hour, You're Gonna See Some Serious S***.”
We hit 88! 88 per cent, that is. Not miles per hour.
But I couldn't resist the movie quote - from one of the greatest movies ever made, of course!
We're at that stage where I'm going all out to get as much support as possible to reach 100%. I'm going through the manuscript sentence by sentence, adding, subtracting, changing, improving (I hope!) in full knowledge that once an…16th June 2020 A whole year closer to Arras...
On 7th June, we reached a year of this crowdfunding campaign. If truth be told, I never thought this would work. But here we are, at 79% and 182 supporters. We are getting close to the finish line, and I wouldn't have managed it if it wasn't for the support of all of you. I'm expecting to be able to wrap things up soon so that the next phase can begin. Truth be told, lockdown has given me some mopre…1st June 2020 What makes life meaningful...
I’m not a prolific writer. My main focus at the moment is getting ‘A Hundred Years to Arras’ ready. As I type, we’re at 65% with 176 supporters. Welcome and thank you to those new backers who have joined us since my last update.
The lockdown situation we’re all in has obviously affected the timing of Unbound’s releases, but I don’t want A Hundred Years to carry on funding for a hundred years, so…13th April 2020 Easter Monday: Arras 103
9th April was the 103rd anniversary of the Battle of Arras. With Easter being literally a moveable feast, Easter Monday actually falls today, 13th April. But, in 1917, it was Easter Monday when thousands of troops emerged from the tunnels beneath Arras and the villages outside the town to push the German front line back as far as they could.
As you know, on the hundredth anniversary, I visited…31st March 2020 Happiness is the Road
The greatest blessing that we have
Is the dawn of each new day
A chance to finish what we started
And made a mess of yesterday
As day comes out of night
A chance to get it right
A chance to start again
A chance to get it right
- Lyrics by Steve Hogarth, from the song 'Happiness is the Road' by Marillion.
I woke up with these words on my mind today. Today wasn't really anything special…16th March 2020 Funny Old Weeks and TV Retreats
Sometimes retreat is the only answer.
It’s been a funny old week. The United States has closed its borders. Italy and France are in lockdown. Britain can’t decide whether to protect capital or people. Or neither. Messages are mixed and toilet rolls are scarce. We may mock those who are panic buying when there really is no need, but at the heart of it is a complicated set of emotions, even if the…2nd March 2020 Of Liberty, memorials and coffee. Lots of coffee.
"In a New York minute, everything can change
In a New York minute, you can get out of the rain
In a New York minute, everything can change
In a New York minute
And in these days, darkness falls early
And people rush home to the ones they love
You'd better take a fool's advice than take care of your own
One day they're here, next day they're gone"
- Thus sang Don Henley. The first time…17th February 2020 Meet the Author: Tom Ward's 'The Lion and the Unicorn'
This is the latest in an occasional series of interviews with fellow Unbound authors. Tom Ward is the author of ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, currently funding on Unbound. Here’s the premise:
London, 2054. A policeman, H, is called to investigate the murder of a former reality television star, now an outlawed profession.
Since the revolution, the new government has objectively ruled…1st February 2020 Did you know...?
Did you know...?
1. 38 million soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing in World War One.
2. 19,240 British soldiers died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
3. In the Battle of Arras, there were 158,660 casualties.
4. In Messines Ridge, British miners detonated 900,000lbs of explosives in one go, destroying the German Front Line. It was so loud that it could be heard in…31st January 2020 Zero to Hero?
My journey as a writer began when I was very young. In the right circumstances, I was a sociable child, but I needed my own downtime, my time alone, which I spent drawing and writing stories. We didn’t have much in the way of telly, of course. We didn’t even have central heating until 1981, after we’d moved house to an MOD quarter in Chatham Dockyard in the biting, bitter winter of 1980. My Dad was…13th January 2020 January Blues - and Some Jazz
It's a new year. I hope this will be the year that A Hundred Years to Arras is published! We're 52% of the way there, with 159 supporters, and every single one of you keep me plugging away simply by being there.
This year I will also 'celebrate' twenty-eight years as a teacher. Twenty-eight. Crikey. Yes, I started in the womb, clearly.
January inevitably is a bit of a limbo period for some people…20th December 2019 Christmas wonderment awaits
Thank you so much to all of you who have supported the book these past few months. We're at 51% with 157 wonderful supporters but we ain't finished yet!
Don't forget - one of the reward levels is to have a personalised short story written. What a great Christmas gift that could make - there's still time if you order soon. Imagine fending off Germans yourself in a rain-sodden trench, or even…29th November 2019 BLACK FRIDAY DISCOUNT ACROSS UNBOUND!
It's nearly Christmas - less than a month away. What better time to buy a present for the book lover in your life? With today's Black Friday discount (it's only today up until midnight), you can get 15% discount on Unbound with the code BOOKFRIDAY15.
You could upgrade your pledge at a discount if you fancy it, or buy another copy as a present for someone who appreciates exciting new fiction - remember…11th November 2019 To Hull and Back
Blimey. A photo in which I don't look completely awful. There's a thing. On the weekend, I was invited along to Ian Judson's play 'An Ordinary Hero', which is the story of Rugby League player Jack Harrison, who fought in The Great War and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Oppy Wood in May 1917, just a month after the Battle of Arras. The link between our two protagonists was too…28th October 2019 Living on a Prayer... nearly
Who-ah, we're half way there... nearly.
Things seemed to have stalled. Whether it's the time of year, uncertain politics or other reasons I don't know, but I'm intending that we should get a boost in backers on Saturday 9th November, when I will be in Hull at Park Street Performing Arts Centre. I'll be all set up to take some more pre-orders before and after the play that has been written by Ian…14th October 2019 Meet the Author: Alan Gillespie
Good morning / afternoon / evening, Troops! We're so near to 50% I can almost touch it. I guess it's a psychological benchmark in that we could hopefully gain a bit more momentum after that point, so please do direct anyone this way who you think would be interested in the book.
One of the best things about doing this crowdfunding thing is that it's really opened up my eyes to a whole wealth…28th September 2019 Roll up! Roll up! Comic Cons, Radio Stations and Theatres.
The crowdfunding wagon trundles on. In a near-last minute decision, I've taken a table at Leamington Comic Con on Saturday 5th October. I'll be there selling some of my comics, including my adaptation with the wonderful David Hitchcock of Charles Dickens' 'The Signal-Man' and my original graphic novel with James Gray, 'Amnesia Agents'. There'll be other sundries there too, but my main reason for having…15th September 2019 I've got merch! And a plan...
Welcome to my new supporters who reported to the Regimental HQ this weekend! September has kicked into life with some new opportunities to get the word out. I spent a very pleasant afternoon at The Treehouse Bookshop in Kenilworth, with my merch (yes, I know the lingo now) set up (pictures below) and an even more pleasant time having a long chat with a couple of ladies, one of whom pledged for the…10th September 2019 Open Mic shenanigans
You are all beautiful people. Whenever I feel a bit despondent, I think of the 135 people who have faith in this project. We'll get there, by hook or by crook! (Well, hopefully not by crooked means but you know what I mean).
In Kenilworth where I live, we have two totally wonderful bookshops: Kenilworth Books and The Treehouse Bookshop. Both have been fantastically supportive of me and of the book…30th August 2019 Down the Rabbit Hole
I fell down a rabbit hole today. Fellow Unbound author posted a link on social media to a TED Talk by the musician Amanda Palmer (more on that some other time maybe), which led to a bit of a click chain. I watched a number of TED talks on the now-ubiquitous YouTube whilst I was typing away on something else – it’s the advantage of having a large enough PC screen to be able to have two things open…15th August 2019 Readings on the radio
Thanks for your continued support, folks. We are growing in supporters all the time, although there's the inevitable slowdown during August as we all enjoy the rain - I mean, the sun - and jet off here and there. For us, we've acquired a dog from Dog's Trust, and she's taking up all our time!
I've just completed a script for Commando, and you're the first to know the title: it's called 'Red Snow…29th July 2019 The Pitch Video
I'm not sure this uploaded properly last time...
Anyway, here's my ugly mug with the original pitch video.27th July 2019 If you can't take the heat... get a dog.
It's been hot. Too hot for me. Forunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), I've been somewhat tied to the house this week. We adopted a dog from The Dog's Trust last week, and she's settling in nicely, although slightly nervous. She still doesn't quite have to confidence to venture any further than she can see out of the window. We tried walking her around the block, but as soon…24th July 2019 The return of the video with my ugly mug
The official 'landing' video of the project has been replaced, but I thought it would be useful to put the original back in as an update for anyone who has yet to see me waffling on about the book...18th July 2019 A video...10th July 2019 Radio interview and readings!
A couple of weeks ago, I was a guest on Brunch With the Bradleys on Radio Abbey. The show is in two parts. The interview with me starts at about 30 minutes into Part 1 and continues into Part 2. I talk about the background to the novel and do a couple of readings of extracts from the novel. Listen here on Mixcloud:
https://www.mixcloud.com/RadioAbbey/brunch-with-the-bradleys-23-june-2019-music…28th June 2019 An extract... barbed wire and banter.
I promised another extract. This is taken from later in the novel, where the friends Robert, Stanley and Ernest are following orders to break through the enemy barbed wire...
“What are you doing?” It was Ernest, beside him, ducking, half crouching, bayonet forward, ready to press on.
“I fell,” began Robert.
“Fall in then! Come on! Stand still and you’re target practice!” Ernest replied…23rd June 2019 On the radio!
Good afternoon everyone (or good morning, or evening, or brunchtime, whenever you're reading this),
As of today, we've reached 15% of our target with 75 backers. It's been wonderful to see a whole range of people pre-ordering the book: old schoolfriends; Facebook friends; family; work colleagues; fellow creatives (including rock musicians, writers, artists); and complete strangers! It's been hard…18th June 2019 Flashback to research
Thanks so much to all of you who have backed so far. It means a lot to know that you're there encouraging the project. We're at 13% as I write, and I thought I'd flash back to a blogpost I wrote near the beginning of the drafting of the novel, when I was still researching:
Reading up on the Battle of Arras has been interesting. I'm into the end of the first week of my summer holiday…12th June 2019 A Hundred Years to Arras: And we're launched!
This is where it all began:
The attack began at 5.30 a.m on 9th April 1917. It was a Monday. Depending on your attitude to work, Monday mornings are full of either expectation or trepidation. Knowing what faced them, many having already lived through the Somme earlier in the Great War, trepidation was the least the young men of the British and Canadian regiments were feeling as they prepared to…
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