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  • Writer's pictureElaine Marie Carnegie

Hereditary Heartache

Please welcome Phillip to the Writer's Journey Blog this week. His story brought tears to my eyes...

Can heartache ever be hereditary?

I wouldn't have thought so.... until I analyzed it.

Can the trauma of an unimaginable experience somehow be carried within your genes, passed from another era?

Let me begin my story.... with a story about a compass.

Do you like this compass? It is from the second world war. It was found by my father as a sixteen-year-old boy, at the side of a dead German soldier he came across, laying in the woods in 1941.

These woods were on the land of a farm owned by my grandfather in Yugoslavia.

My father's job as a young boy was to protect the sheep from wolves that came out of the forests during the night. He could not have known at the time, but this compass was to save his life.

Later the German soldiers called at every household in the village, having come to take the oldest son to work in the forced labour camps. One morning they knocked on the door of his farmhouse, yet the oldest son (his brother Stojan) had injured his arm in a farming accident.

My father volunteered to go in his place and was pulled from the clutches of his mother who thought she would never see her son again. He was taken to a town called Bor close to the Bulgarian border.

For me there is a beauty in listening to the words of someone when English is not their native tongue, the words they choose when they are describing things. My father would very rarely talk about what happened to him during these times, in common with a lot who went through the horrors of WWII.

Yet in the very rare occasions when he did.... he told me that at that camp, he felt like a frog in a pan of water, where every day the water was gradually getting hotter. He had to try to escape one way or another and get free from that awful place. He and his older cousin did escape together, but his cousin was leading him the wrong way and straight into heavily fortified German positions.

With the help of that compass and some brave people who risked their lives to assist them on their way, travelling under cover of darkness, after many days, half starved, these two young cousins made it home.

The look of joy on his mother's face when she saw him walking on the path to their little house, was to stay in his heart for the rest of his days.

Later he would again have to leave his home, his mother, his family and his country.... but this time he would never see her again. As the Communists took over Yugoslavia, he and over a million others would become displaced people and passed from transit camp to transit camp.

I suppose he would be classed as "fortunate" for he survived, and he and his compass made it to England... otherwise I would not be here to tell you this story today. Yet the plight of the ones who escaped and then were sent back to the Communists, was to be the reason I wrote my book. I couldn't forget what happened to them.

Before he passed away in 2007 my father gave me that compass, which still works to this day. The pointer is luminous, and this helped him navigate under the light of the moon.

One day when it's my turn to shuffle from this mortal coil, I will pass this compass to one of my sons, and hope he cherishes it as I have done, with my memories of all those men who survived and made a new life so far from the family and home they loved.


So how did this steer me into writing a book?

How come fifty-one years after my English teacher told me that I should (because she liked the way I described things) I wrote a book with fifty-one chapters, and fifty-one thousand words about two worlds some fifty-one years apart. And I wrote it all on a mobile phone, because I can't type. There were two reasons actually.

Firstly, I wanted to write about suicide. Something I know kills more men than anyone wants to admit. Yet who would want to read about such a depressing subject... isn't there enough sadness in the world? But if we don't try to tackle it.... where is our compassion for those trapped within the blackness of their minds? Those who maybe need our help the most.

They say write about what you know. Actually, the countdown to suicide isn't all sadness, it's mixed with a great deal of humour. Believe it or not it can actually be funny in all its tragedy.

I suppose Roman's story is actually my story.... but I don't like to admit it. Why as a young man with all my life ahead of me did I want to destroy myself? When entrenched in the battle with the devil of depression, its sword is so much mightier than your shield.

Secondly, I wanted to give a voice to those young men who didn't escape Yugoslavia. Those young men who were betrayed and were so desperate to live.

How life is such a paradox.

If you write about war, you can't wrap it up in pretty paper with a bow. War is horrible. Ask anyone who went through the horrors of war, they won't want to recall those times. My father rarely did, it was just too emotional to remember all those people who were lost.

Yet, was the trauma of what he endured somehow passed on to me? Is that same sadness now within my soul?

My book is tackles tragedy, but it's actually a mind-blowing story of bravery, wonder and love. My father taught me about the power of love, and the absolute beauty of its infinite endurance. The same love that Roman is trying desperately to find, within the pages of this book.

So let me conclude my story with another little story. It's about someone called Jenny the great.As an author you will know about the emotional rollercoaster of waiting for your first review. My first review came from someone called Jenny the great, some 6000 miles away in Utah, America.

The Amazon review went on to say how each chapter had squeezed her heart a little more and the rollercoaster ride to the end simply blew her away. It made writing my book worth it, for I had touched her heart, and that's really what it was all about. I decided to send her a signed copy as a thank you for her lovely comments. So, I posted it all the way to Utah. A couple of weeks later I received a message from her husband. He was in the UK and having visa problems getting back home to Jenny. So, the cat had urinated on my book… just a reminder to me, not to take life too seriously. Of course, I sent her another signed copy without accepting payment.

My book is about love not money, and the realisation that love in all its intricate guises, is far more precious than you will ever know.

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