‘That Burning Summer’ by Lydia Syson and stories we can trust


Here is another two part blog post.

Part One

I think the best historical novels are the ones where you find yourself in a historical period you think you know, and by the time you close the book you realise that you have just been told a story you had never come across before.

I feel like this about Lydia Syson’s books, both published by Hot Key Books. Her first one, ‘A World Between Us’, was about the Spanish Civil War, and I think that anyone studying that period should read it; they would learn lots about a relatively recent period of European history AND really enjoy a wonderful, very moving story, with love and bravery and a satisfying ending.

I read Lydia Syson’s brilliant second book ‘That Burning Summer’ today. It is set in 1940 on the Kent coast, and tells us of a time when many British people felt they would be invaded. This reminds me of the recent BBC ‘Imagine’ documentary about the illustrator Judith Kerr where we learnt that her refugee parents were given suicide pills by a doctor friend so that they, as known Jewish critics of Hitler, could take them should the Nazis invade. Lydia Syson re-creates the fearful atmosphere so well, and I learnt things both about Britain and about Poland and the Polish airforce that I had not known before.

But this is not really doing ‘That Burning Summer’ justice. I loved it because as well as being so fascinating in terms of its historical details, Lydia Syson’s writing itself is wonderful. Her characters are so well drawn and believable and at times with both these books it was almost unbearable waiting to see what was going to happen to them. I don’t want to say too much in case I spoil the reading experience – but all I can say is – buy both Lydia Syson’s books – give them as Christmas or New Year presents – or treat yourself (I did!)



Sorry I can’t manage to put the covers up – they are lovely, so look at the websites!




Part Two

I am trying to learn not to get overly involved with my children’s arguments. I tend to wade in, urging people to apologise or accept apologies, and then I get the outraged response from everyone involved that I don’t know the whole story, and many, often contradictory, ‘eye-witness’ accounts. It’s even worse when they are cross with me about something I have said, or done, and I find half way through indignantly defending myself, or laughing nervously (which makes them even crosser) that I have actually forgotten what I did or said in the first place. (I haven’t always forgetten, however, and, sadly, I am not always in the right. Although, if my children are reading this, I would like to point out that I very often AM. Ahem. Back to the blog post…) Anyway, we tend to work it out in the end, because we do basically love each other, even if we can drive each other mad.

If working out the truth of events that have happened in my own home barely minutes after  they took place, is tricky, then it is not surprising that history is a complex subject. It helps when we have skilful novelists like Lydia Syson to help show us the human side of events, when our sympathy is evoked by brilliant characterisation and story telling but we don’t get easy answers or a simplification of the issues involved.

That is why I distrust oversimplified versions of history or current affairs. I distrust and reject the over simplified descriptions of ‘what is wrong’ with this country that we find in our media today, or sweeping generalisations about people on the basis of their religion, or ethnicity, or nationality, or sexuality, or  wealth, or age, or skin colour, or health, or employment status, or  I.Q. points. I don’t want our children to be told those types of stories. I don’t want to listen to them or tell them myself. And I am so glad there are wonderful writers like Lydia Syson who refuse to give us ‘simple’ history, yet leave us with a sense that, with all the complexity of life, we should not rush to judge others as we will never know their whole story, and that some things, like Love and Forgiveness, are more important than others.

One thought on “‘That Burning Summer’ by Lydia Syson and stories we can trust

  1. clare weiner December 2, 2013 at 4:37 pm Reply

    Anne, you are thinking like I do about the broader issues being thought about in fiction… a wonderful way to explore them from more than one, sensationalist, angle. It’s why I am committed to writing about the present day (well.almost, like 1980’s onwards!) rather than conjuring up a world of my own in fantasy, or trying to see into the medieval mind. For a historical novel, a writer must do a lot of proper research – obviously Lydia Syson has done this – but for the really long-long ago, my personal feeling tends to be, one needs to be a real scholar to get into the character’s minds… whereas today’s people need to consider today’s problems – which doesn’t of course leave out the sweep of history, or the words of the Bible, but does ‘connect’ with where the reader is,and, as you indicate, can give a far broader view than the media who are busy ‘getting a good story’ to sell papers or grab an audience! Oh dear, I have written like St Paul, one of those sentences which goes on for whole paragraph: forgive me! Back to work now. Def like your blog!

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