Hungry Ghosts

Hungry Ghosts

By C J Barker

Format: Paperback

(2 customer reviews)

Publication Date: 28 Mar 2024


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Categories: Historical

ISBN: 9781916668447
eISBN: 9781835740682


The lives of Vic Woods and Ruth Wolfe, working-class teenagers from Liverpool and London, are profoundly disrupted by the arrival of World War II. Ruth’s journey leads her to aerial photographic interpretation, though her aspirations for advancement are denied, while Vic’s wartime experiences with bomber command haunt him long after the war is over. Their post-war marriage and tumultuous relationship with their son, James, make for a gripping narrative of trauma, conflict and, ultimately, love.

Set against the backdrop of World War II and the social upheaval of the late 1960s, Hungry Ghosts transports readers into the drama of two pivotal eras in history, exploring the intergenerational impact of war, particularly on the intricate relationships between fathers and sons.

Hungry Ghosts is not just a war story; it’s a timeless exploration of family bonds and the indelible scars left by war.



Born in England, resident in Australia, Chris Barker boasts a rich history as an educator in schools and universities in the UK and Australia. He has published several non-fiction books including Cultural Studies: Theory and Practise and The Hearts of Men. When he is not engrossed in writing fiction, he can be found in his garden. He has published short stories in the UK, Australia and the USA.

Reviews (Guest Review) - 05 Apr, 2024

Hungry Ghosts is a story from history. But it is also an exploration of trauma and conflict, of the effects of emotional scars left by terrible sufferings, and of the powerful bonds of love and family. Powerful themes will resonate with readers, and the messages this story conveys will prove a strong influence on the thinking of many readers. Ultimately, that is what great stories do. They shine a light in dark corners. They influence thinking, and by doing so, they often help drive beneficial social change. C. J. Barker’s Hungry Ghosts is a masterpiece of great historical fiction and just a fantastic read.

The Historical Fiction Company (Guest Review) - 02 Mar, 2024

The Indelible Scars Left by War - an Editorial Review of "Hungry Ghosts"

Editorial Review:

James strolled past the rows of brightly lit photographs mounted on the crisp, white walls of The Barracks Gallery. The floorboards shone like cut glass, reflecting each image back onto itself like a hall of mirrors. It’s all here, he thought, twenty-five years of photography: “Vic Woods – World on Fire”, the full catastrophe of his father’s life.

CJ Barker takes us back to 1968 London in the prologue to begin our story. We are introduced to James as he strolls along rows of lit photographs in The Barracks Gallery, and even if you’re not that family with the late 60s, you’ll feel as if you have been transported back in time. Through the conversation between James and his mother, we also learn more about their family, for better or worse. This is foreshadowing of what is to come.

Part 1 takes us further back in time to a “world on fire”. This is when we really get to the meat of the story. We are introduced to Vic’s father, Frank, a man who could lose himself in his work for hours on end. And then, we are introduced to a heartbreaking story of domestic violence, through the eyes of a son.

Vic’s father, Frank Woods, was a quiet, reserved man who kept himself to himself. He worked hard as a mechanic in a local garage where he would spend hour upon hour setting a carburettor just right or listening for that strange thump thump reported by the vehicle’s owner, much like a poet’s search for the precise word, or a photographer’s pursuit of the just-right light and shade.

Immersed in his work, Frank would frequently lose all sense of time and place, making him late home for tea. The intense concentration that he brought to bear on a mechanical problem, or a physical chore, allowed him to forget himself for a few hours, and Frank was at his best when he could forget. His wife, Emily, who didn’t understand Frank’s bloody ridiculous commitment to working all the hours God sent, would throw up her hands in frustration.

We witness one of the types of events that change a family’s course for the future and change a person’s life forever. We follow Vic through his youth, his teens, and then, at the tender age of 16, we experience the tragedy of war through his eyes. Barker writes in a straight-forward but almost poetic way that is captivating and keeps you wanting to turn the pages and see what happens next.

It’s May 1941, and air raids sound over Liverpool, England. It’s War World II and the German Luftwaffle are bombing Liverpool. This would be the most heavily bombed area of the country, outside London, due to the city having the largest port on the west coast.

Many stories have been written about WWII from many different angles, and stories have been written about the Liverpool Blitz, but this one blends history with fiction in a creative and unique way, showing us the tragedy through the eyes of a young man who’d already seen his fair share of tough times.

‘Help me carry this girl,’ she said. ‘We need to get her to an ambulance.’

‘I’m looking for my mother,’ he said.

‘This girl needs help, and she needs it now,’ said the nurse, forcefully.

Though he longed to find his mother, Vic couldn’t turn his back on a child. They found a damaged chair nearby and transformed its back and one pair of legs into a makeshift stretcher onto which they lifted the weeping girl. Vic grasped one end of the chair legs while the nurse took hold of the other, and they edged down the dustfilled corridor and into the night air, where they handed the child over to a Red Cross volunteer.

‘Come on, young man, there’s more inside,’ said the nurse.

‘My mother,’ said Vic.

‘If she’s here, and if she’s alive, you’ve as good a chance of finding her with me as you would wandering around aimlessly,’ she said. ‘We have to do what we can for the wounded right now.’

The dialogue is well done and works well to tell us more about the characters, their thoughts, and their motivations. Our main character was desperate to find his mother, but Vic did what he needed to do in the moment to help others. History tells us that this May 1941 air assault would last seven-nights and completely devastated the city. We experience the human toll of that devastation through Vic’s experiences.

From there, we are introduced to another character, Ruth. Through her eyes, we also learn a lot about how history treated young women of the time. Forced out of school at fourteen, it wasn’t seen as important for females to continue past then. It didn’t matter if they loved to study.

And we also see the unique challenges facing women at the time – some who were happy to maintain the status quo and cook and clean and sew… and others, like Ruth, who wanted more from life and felt the misogynistic culture was stifling. Through Ruth, we are reminded again of just how different things were in the not-so-distant past. Then, Ruth experiences the Blitz as well.

There is well-organized structure, making it easier to follow along and keep up with what’s happening, even though the story is set in the past and there are some jumps between characters. It’s really important to have it set up this way so that we can understand the childhoods and backgrounds of our characters and all the things that happened with them leading up to the Blitz as well.

The book is free of spelling and grammatical errors that might pull you out of the story. It carefully and seamlessly weaves history of WWII into the personal stories of these young adults growing up, in the middle of a war.

She showed her appointment letter and security pass to an imposing soldier at the guard post and waited in line behind Joan to report to the reception desk. Joan was soon whipped away by a WAAF officer, leaving Ruth to introduce herself to the receptionist with a sharp salute.

‘Aircraftswoman Wolfe, reporting for duty.’

‘Welcome to RAF Medmenham. Someone will be along soon to show you around,’ said the receptionist, a young, blonde-haired woman whose WAAF uniform bore no insignia, signifying to Ruth her lowly rank.

‘You’ll be assisting K section, I believe.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Someone will explain all that to you in due course. The unit is organised into sections which have specific responsibilities. K is bomb damage assessment. But really, it’s not for me to say what you’ll be doing. I shouldn’t really say anything. Official secrets and all that.’

‘I ain’t a German spy.

And through the lives of these remarkably human individuals, we see a heartwarming and sometimes heart-wrenching story of love, life, the toll war takes on generations, and the ghosts it leaves behind. It has a satisfying, if bittersweet, ending that brings the entire story full circle. Barker has told a beautiful story of love, tenacity, strength, and family.

The character building is the real treasure of this story, and you’ll feel a whole range of emotions as you move through this often-challenging life with them. This is a story that you will continue thinking about long after you put it down.


“Hungry Ghosts” by CJ Barker receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company

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Historical fiction editorial reviews highly recommended awardWWII2024 Editorial Reviews2024 HFC Book Awards

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