The title of this episode is taken from Will R. Bird’s memoir of World War 1, a title which also inspired that of Katherine Arden’s novel set amidst the horror of the Great War.

When it comes to writing about war, past authors have glorified it with moments of pathos. Who can forget the stirring “Once more unto the breach, dear friends” speech from Henry V, and which of us classicists hasn’t at some point read and appreciated The Iliad, a story of perhaps the most famous war ever.

Yet since the World Wars blighted both old age and youth alike, many writers have taken to avoiding the glories of the battlefield. We’ve gone from “close up the wall with our English dead” to being sobered by the fact that the official death count for WW1 was 40 million, with the Battle of the Somme alone accounting for one million injuries and 300,000 fatalities.

With these terrifying statistics in mind, modern writers use war as a backdrop to explore aspects of humanity that are intensified when conflict arises. Joining us for this episode is Katherine Arden, whose new novel The Warm Hands of Ghosts follows a brother and sister through the horrors of the trenches, No Man’s Land, and the bloody wards of battlefield hospitals. It’s powerful writing and a book we highly recommend.

Mentioned in this episode:

  • The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • Inferno by Dante Alighieri
  • Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery
  • The Roses of No Man’s Land by Lyn Macdonald
  • The Forbidden Zone by Mary Borden
  • The poetry of Wilfred Owen
  • Ghosts Have Warm Hands by Will R. Bird

Born in Austin, Texas, Katherine Arden has always had a taste for wandering. She spent her junior year of high school in Rennes, France.

Following her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont, she deferred enrolment for a year in order to live and study in Russia. At Middlebury, she specialized in French and Russian literature, and her studies included sojourns at the Sorbonne in Paris and the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow.

After receiving her BA, she moved to Maui, Hawaii and worked every kind of odd job imaginable, from grant writing and guiding horse tours to serving as a personal tour guide. During this time she wrote what became her debut novel, The Bear and the Nightingale. After a year on the island, she moved to Briançon, France, and spent nine months teaching. She then returned to Maui, where she began writing The Girl in the Tower, the sequel to her debut, and officially launched her career as an author. Currently she lives in Vermont.

She is the author of the Winternight Trilogy for adults and the Small Spaces Quartet for children. The Warm Hands of Ghosts is her eighth novel.