Category Archives: Cypress Branches

#Arnhem70: William the Soldier

One of the few photos we have of William in uniform, taken in Palestine c.1947.
One of the few photos we have of William in uniform, taken in Palestine c.1947.

I wish I could tell you more about who William the soldier was. Very few details about my grandfather’s time in the army are known by me or the family. Why? Because he very rarely talked about it.

In fact, I don’t recall ever speaking to Gramps in any fine detail about the war until after his retirement. He found it very difficult and there were only certain aspects he was willing or able to talk about. It was only when he began writing that he began to open up about his experiences.

He kept no personal mementos from the war or Palestine. There are only a few pictures, probably captured on a box brownie, and then dating from after the war ended.

So what do we know about William the soldier?

We know that he signed up at the tender age of 17, leaving a job in a factory in Harrow in order to join the fight against fascism. We also know that he took up the offer of joining the newly formed parachute regiment for no other reason than they were offering a few extra bob a week in pay. We know he undertook his training at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.

He was only 18 years old when, 70 years ago this week, Private William Edward Thomas, along with thousands of his comrades, was dropped from a plane into a field on the outskirts of the Dutch village of Oosterbeek, and took part in a ferocious battle over the next 10 days to secure the strategically important bridge over the Rhine. It was a battle which was to have a profound effect on the teenager (strange to think he was only half my age now when he was there).

As so many others did, he made some deep and lasting friendships whilst he was in the army. Whilst many undoubtedly never returned from the fighting (or returned to the regiment later, having been captured and taken prisoner) they were all remembered fondly for a long time after.

Once William began to open up, most stories and anecdotes involved those friends. One in particular, Wally Callis, seemed very important to him. Even as the effects of Alzheimer’s Disease took hold, memories of Wally and their escapades would come back, together with the disappointment that they eventually lost touch (Wally emigrated shortly after leaving the army). By all accounts, it seemed that Wally and William – or Bill as most people seemed to call him – were an inseparable pair. Was it their double act that inspired the piano playing duo, “the Twins”, featured in Pegasus Falling? Gramps was an accomplished, if amateur, piano player, and I can just imagine the two of them entertaining their fellow troops in raucous revelry in the mess.

It was in the army that William took up boxing, which he claims to have been very good at. I’d love to know if he was! He had the right build for it, and he maintained an interest in the sport throughout his life, something which surprised me, as he was a dyed-in-the-wool pacifist. But there was something about the art of boxing, the controlled aggression perhaps, which fascinated him.

Photo: Gramps in PalestineThere are so many things about William the soldier that remain unknown, though. His exact role at Arnhem is unclear, although his recalling of events in his fiction shows that he was intimately involved on the front line. I’m not sure when or if he ever progressed to a higher rank than Private. We have no medals or uniform to give us a clue. How did he get back to the UK after fighting in Arnhem? Was he one of the many who were evacuated after the operation failed?

What is clear is that his experiences left a heavy toll on him. He may have gotten through his time in the army physically unharmed, but Arnhem, and indeed Palestine, left him mentally scarred. He had signed up to fight because he felt morally obliged to do so, but he left the army with the unwavering attitude that war is wrong, and must be avoided at all costs.

He did not feel proud of what he did in battle. The very fact that his medals and uniform disappeared, and that he did not open up about his experiences for several decades afterwards, tell you a lot. When ever the subject of the war came up, his very strong opinions would be aired. What happened was necessary, given the circumstances. What he was asked to do had to be done. But it was wrong, very wrong, and the circumstances which lead to him having to undertake such tasks should never have presented themselves in the first place. Not only that, but he did all he could to champion peace and prosperity for the rest of his life.

He may not have been proud of his actions as a soldier, but one thing is clear. He had utmost respect for his fellow soldiers on the front line on both sides of the conflict. And that respect is clear to see in his writing. His characters live and breathe the same conflict he lived through himself. They take orders, they fight, they banter, they suffer, they laugh, they fall in love, just as he did out there. He may pull no punches in his criticism of those in charge, but there is no doubting the empathy with his fellow fighters who had to live with the consequences of the decisions that had been made above their heads.

A lot of the gaps in our knowledge of Gramps’ time out there could possibly be filled by reading his books. Undoubtedly, much of what happens in The Bridge and Pegasus Falling is based on his own experiences, and I am so glad he left us these stories as they give us some clue about what he lived through.

I only realised just how little I know about William the soldier when it was too late to start asking questions. Just as he was willing to start talking, Alzheimer’s began to eat away at his memories and the disease took away my opportunity to ask him more.

But I hope that all is not lost. Once I have published the last part of the Cypress Branches trilogy, I’ll turn my attention to finding out more about Gramps’ time in the army. I’m sure there are records I can look at, and maybe one or two internet forums may come in handy. It would be great to one day write another blog post in the not too distant future filling in some of those gaps.

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William Edward Thomas 1925-2014

On 19th February 2014, my grandfather, William E. Thomas, author of the Cypress Branches trilogy, finally lost the greatest battle of his life and passed away. He went peacefully, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.

William had been battling the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease for well over a decade. A strong and dignified man, he kept his illness in place for as long as he could and managed to outlive all predictions. Although the family is devastated by his loss, we are also relieved that he is no longer suffering or in pain.

A private funeral for family and friends was held in William’s home town of Milton Keynes on 7th March. His ashes will be interred with his wife in their final resting place – a beautiful green burial ground overlooking the rolling Buckinghamshire countryside – later this month.

William led a full and active life. Soldier, sailor, airman, engineer, technician, scholar, comedian, union man, family man, writer…these are just a few of the roles he played. He has left behind an incredible legacy, which includes his literary work, which is now being enjoyed by an ever growing audience, his engineering successes, and his large and loving family who are all missing him dearly.

The family would like to thank all of William’s readers around the world for the interest and support they have shown in both the man himself and his writing over the last few years. It is gratifying to know that despite William no longer being with us, his voice will continue to be heard through his books for many years to come.

We would like to invite anyone who wishes to, to make a donation in William’s memory to the Alzheimer’s Society, the UK’s leading support and research charity for people with dementia, their families and carers. Their work touches the lives of over 30,000 people every week, providing practical services and support for those affected. You can make a donation by visiting their website here.

William with his wife Sheila, who passed away in March last year,
 at the launch of Pegasus Falling in 2012. 

A new start

Greetings, Bloggerland!
How have you been? I know, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it. Sorry about that. Had some time off to think things over and work out what to do next…
You see, 2012 and 2013 have been quite eventful, emotional and trying at times. The excitement of publishing the Cypress Branches trilogy, and learning my way around the self-publishing world, has been tempered by some very sad and difficult events.
William’s wife, my grandmother, passed away earlier this year, just before we released It Never Was You. With the family’s blessing, I decided to go ahead with a low-key launch and the blog tour. But to be honest, it took it out of me, and I decided that I’d have to take a break.
And I’m glad I did. I’d been concentrating on publishing the books pretty much constantly for about 18 months, and the strain was beginning to show. I just wasn’t enjoying it any more, and when you stop enjoying something, that’s when you need to take a step back.

But the trilogy has rarely been far from my thoughts, and I’ve used the last few months to have a really good think about what direction I want to take the project from here on in. I think I have a plan nailed, and once again I’m pretty excited about it, which is great. There are going to be changes, but all for the good, I think.

So, where to begin?

Online spring clean

Well, for a start, the main website (acuteanglebooks.co.uk) is having a makeover to bring it right into the 21st century. With the new format, it will now work just as well on mobile and tablet devices as it did on PCs, rather than being re-formatted into a poor HTML version, which has always been a bugbear of mine. I’m also making it a bit more streamlined and user-friendly, both for the reader and for me making updates!

There will also be changes around this blog. I’m going to do a spring clean as soon as the website is up and running, then I’ll start to pen some posts I’ve been planning for a long time now, but have never managed to get round to…

New blog content

Earlier in the year, I pledged to blog more often. Alas, events overtook that resolution, and the extra content never materialised. But it’s never too late to make a start, and hopefully soon, there will be more opportunities to create some really interesting content.

One of the things I’ve realised since taking my sabbatical is that I’ve never done any really meaty research into Gramps’s past. This really is a rich seam to explore, what with his career as a paratrooper, merchant seaman, engineer and university lab technician. I’d love to get in touch with others who might know of a parent or grandparent who may have served with William during the war, or at sea. I want to find out more about what his life would have been like back then, and get a better understanding of where his ideas for the book came from.

And there’s all the posts around the books themselves that I’d like to do. They are set against the backdrop of some incredible moments in the history of the 20th century, and I’d love to explore them more. In Pegasus Falling alone, we take in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden at Arnhem, the concentration camps, the refugee crisis in Germany after the war, the Jewish settlers trying to reach Palestine, and the whole Middle East situation flaring up. All of these are fascinating aspects of history that I’d love to read more about. As I do, I’ll be documenting my research here.

I’m teeming with ideas, and can’t wait to get stuck in.

Building the audience

The key aim all along has been to get the books into the hands of the audience William’s work deserves, and for the first 18 months of this project I was searching out readers right across the globe. Drunk on the possibilities that ebook publishing offers, I cast the net wide hoping to build an audience wherever I could. That tactic had some success, but not enough to warrant continuing down that road. Because our readers are scattered across the continents, building momentum has been difficult, and I feel that now a bit of consolidation closer to home is what’s needed.

For the time being I’ll be concentrating on building an audience on this side of the Atlantic. Whilst the US market offers a huge number of readers, and I have managed to find a few out there (thanks guys!), I really should be doing more in the UK first. (Don’t worry, international readers, I’m not forsaking you totally, and the books will continue to be available around the world wherever possible, so if you’re in the States (or Australia, Spain, Portugal, or anywhere else the books have sold) and you know your friends will love the books as much as you have, go tell them to buy them – they’re still there in the Kindle Store.

Building a bigger fan base closer to home over the coming months makes a lot of sense for several reasons. For a start, although we now live in a global marketplace, and Facebook and Twitter have transformed how word of mouth is spread, I think it still makes sense to start small. I suspect that building excitement around the books will be easier to do in a small area to begin with. I can visit places in the UK, bringing that personal touch. Plus, with the second and third books being set primarily in the UK, there are places here that I can (and will!) target, and that’s my next step (watch out, Liverpool!)

…But what about the books themselves?!

And then, of course, there’s the small matter of publishing part three of the trilogy. Work hasn’t begun on it yet, which I know will dismay many readers eagerly awaiting its release. But I can assure you, work will begin soon. The first job is to re-read the manuscript – something I haven’t done since putting together the hardback. I can’t wait to get stuck in!

So, that’s the plan. What the next 18 months actually holds in store, who knows. But I’m looking forward to getting started.

Watch this space!

COVER REVEAL: It Never Was You

It is with great pleasure, and a lot of excitement, that I can reveal the front cover image of It Never Was You, part two of the Cypress Branches trilogy.

I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s a very powerful image and captures the essence of what It Never Was You is all about – a powerful love story set against the backdrop of post-war Liverpool.

Remember the images this cover has been derived from (click here for the post)? It’s taken a lot of hard work (and steep learning curves!) to turn those images into this cover. Thanks again to our wonderful actors/models, Mark and Geri, the photographer Dewi, stylist Becky, Katie our host for the day, and everyone else who helped with the photo shoot. It was a great day and I hope you agree when I say I think it was well worth the effort.

“Yeah, yeah, but when do we get to read it?!” I hear you all crying. Well, there’s not long to wait now. The book is being proofread at the moment, and the finishing touches will be made to the paperback and the ebook in the coming weeks.

There’s no exact launch date yet, but I’m hoping that advance copies will be available by early February with a full-blown launch in March. I’m doing things a bit differently this time, and I’ll be posting more information about our launch campaign and how to get hold of your copy in the next couple of weeks.

This blog is the best place for news and updates which I’ll be posting throughout January and February, so why not subscribe to get the latest updates directly in your in-box the minute they’re posted? (Click on one of the “subscribe” options in the panel on the right.)

So what do you think? Feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts.

Happy reading!

Mike

2013 and all that – what to expect from the year ahead

2012 was a year of change for me. I left a job which I’d been doing for 10 years to concentrate on publishing the trilogy, I moved house…twice, studied a bit and learned a hell of a lot about an industry which I didn’t have much of a clue about before I started. It was a year for learning, for trying new things out, reaching out to new people, making friends, making mistakes, getting better at what I’m doing and figuring out how to achieve what I want in the future.
This year is bound to be different. It will be a year of building on the foundations which were laid last year, of learning from those mistakes I made, making the most of my new connections and moving the Cypress Branches project forward. It should be an exciting year, and I have high hopes for a successful and prosperous one, but my approach will have to be different.
2012 was kind to me in that I found myself in a position where I could afford to take time out of work to concentrate on Pegasus Falling. But I’m going to have to move forward with a lot less time and money available.
I have always been realistic and never expected to make much, if anything, from this project, and sure enough, I haven’t. The most important thing was to do justice to William’s work and get the books out there so that people could read them. I’m now well over half way to making that happen. 
Much as I’d love to, I won’t be able to work on the books full-time, as I have done this year. I wish I could, but if you think that publishing a book will lead to instant millionaire status and the easy life, then think again. It’s been a tough slog this year and there have been virtually no financial rewards to speak of.
The pot of gold which I found myself with last year was never going to last forever, and I no longer have the luxury of being able to treat the Cypress Branches as my job. I need to return to paid employment, which means going back to working on the books part-time.
The year I have spent foundation-building has been important and I’m certainly glad I did it. It means that there is an audience for the books, which will hopefully continue to grow, and that I’m now in a position – 10 months after the publication of Pegasus Falling – to publish It Never Was You. Considering it took the best part of three years to get Pegasus Falling off the ground, because I was doing it in fits and starts between work contracts, I’m very pleased with that kind of progress!
So, it’s hi-ho, hi-ho and back off to work I go. And I’m glad, actually. As much as I’ve enjoyed working from home and being my own boss, I do miss the work routine – especially the commute. (Call me mad, but it’s true. Honestly, last year was dire from a reading point of view. I always read on the train, and because I wasn’t commuting, I virtually stopped reading. I’ve now got a TBR pile that’s about to collapse and I’m looking forward to enjoying my morning and evening read again.)
But that doesn’t mean that the Cypress Branches project is on hold. Oh no, there’s plenty to look forward to! I’m now looking forward to building on those foundations laid in 2012 and starting to add bricks and mortar over the coming months.
So, what is the plan?

The blog

I’m planning to make much more use of the blog this year, and to create more exciting content for readers of the books. I’m hoping to post much more frequently – at least once a week, on average – and with content which is much more relevant to readers.
I’ve got plenty of ideas in the pipeline which I hope will allow readers and fans to find out more about William and his writing. There are plenty of themes to explore, characters to profile and history to delve in to, and my aim is to build up a collection of interesting articles and resources which readers can dip in and out of to enhance their reading experience.
To help readers find the posts, the pages (which you may have noticed popped up on the site just before Christmas) will be updated with links and I’ll look into adding “further reading” links to the bottom of posts, should readers want to continue exploring. The plan is that over the course of the year Pegasus Falling and It Never Was You will both have the beginnings of an extensive archive which (hopefully!) readers will find valuable.
I’ve got reading groups as well as individuals in mind here, and if any of you have got any suggestions, please do get in touch.

It Never Was You

I am on the cusp of announcing the details for the release of It Never Was You – part two of the trilogy. The paperback and ebook will be released in late February, but keep an eye out for posts in the run up to the release date which will include the cover reveal, extracts and an exploration of the themes.

Part Three

Although Part Three of the trilogy is still nameless and still requires a lot of editing, it is still my plan to release it later this year – hopefully in time for Christmas. That seems a long way off, but it’s actually a very tight deadline! I’m certain that when people have read It Never Was You, they’ll be baying for Part Three, and I don’t intend keeping them waiting too long. It will be an exciting day when I can say that William’s trilogy is finished, and I don’t want to wait either! Once It Never Was You has been published and the initial publicity push has quietened down, I’ll be ploughing straight on with Part Three. (The first job will be naming it!)

More interaction

I wish that William was able to interact with his readers personally, but alas, that is not possible.
As William’s grandson, and his publisher, I’m very keen to interact with more and more readers on his behalf. I’d love for readers to be able to get to know him better, and I’ll be writing a number of articles to allow that to happen over the coming year.
In the mean time, I would love to hear from you, so get in touch if you have a question, have something to share or if there is something in particular you’d like to know more about William and his books.
I’ll be keeping in touch with the brilliant bloggers I got to know in 2012, and I’m aiming to get to know even more over the next 12 months. The indie publishing game is all about networking, and I’m hoping that with the new content on the blog, more interaction on various forums, as well as the completion of the trilogy, I’ll be able to connect with more and more readers.

Social Media

Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads have all been brilliant for connecting with readers and other authors, and I plan to continue ploughing that furrow through 2013. If you haven’t already, please follow / like / add us wherever you find us.
So, that’s the plan. Now to put it into action!
First up, look out next week for a very exciting post. I’ll be revealing the cover image of It Never Was You. Can’t wait!
Happy reading…
Mike

Weihnachten

With Christmas just around the corner, and complement our review of 2012 (see the Facebook page or Twitter to catch up on the highlights) I thought I’d share with you an excerpt from Pegasus Falling set during the winter of 1944. 
It’s not your usual Christmas story involving elves and reindeer, gifts under the tree and carol singers. It’s probably not the kind of thing you’d want to read if you’re expecting a warm, cosy story. In fact, it’s rather bleak. But in a way, there is an element of the Christmas message in here, thanks to the brave and honourable action our hero takes. 
In Chapter 2 we find Sammy Parker, a British Paratrooper captured in Arnhem, incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp. There, he witnesses the full horrors of the final solution. As winter sets in, the suffering is exacerbated and Sammy tries bravely to help his fellow inmates. But one evening, he finds himself unexpectedly summoned to the camp commandant’s office where he is horrified to find out what is going on away from the main camp…

Sammy and Doctor Rhadski worked together in the small storeroom sterilising the instruments, grateful for the opportunity to huddle close to the hot water boiler. The cold northerly winds now sweeping down across the north German plain brought the first flurries of fine dry snow which blew like salt across the compound, driven by the icy gusts. They had listened stoically to the news on their illicit radio, that a German offensive had smashed the American front in the Ardennes and halted the Allied advance, adding perhaps a further six months to the war and as Christmas approached Sammy wondered how much longer he could sustain himself in these conditions. His health had suffered from the effects of the cold and poor diet and Karl had allowed him to move his bunk into the dispensary to spare him the nightly ordeal of shivering, sleepless in his freezing cell. Yet compared to the inmates of the main camp he knew he was living in comparative luxury. He looked at the doctor. His eyes gazed hopelessly out of a cadaverous face and his breathing became ever more strained. Sammy tried to share his meagre rations with him but he invariably declined.
    ‘It is important that you survive, my son.’ He wheezed painfully. ‘You must live to tell them about this place and what they did. Good Germans must know and understand what has been done in their name.’
    ‘But if you don’t eat you will die and that is foolish. The war will soon be over, Germany will need men like you.’
    The old man smiled. ‘I am dying already, it would be foolish of me to take food from you and put you at risk.’
    ‘You are being foolish and stubborn,’ said Sammy. ‘You’re not dying, you are killing yourself.’
    ‘You are a good man, Sammy. You remind me of some English friends I had before the war, good people. Our two sons were as close as brothers.’
    ‘You were in England?’
    ‘I have visited England, of course, but no, these were doctors from London whom I met at the university in Heidelberg. We were post-grads there. I fell in love with the woman. We were lovers for a while, until her Englander arrived.’ He shrugged and gave his wheezy laugh.
    Sammy touched his arm. ‘You will see them again, Rudi, I promise, but you must eat.’
    The old man looked at Sammy affectionately. ‘No Sammy, I shall not survive the winter. I have TB.’
    Sammy looked at him sadly. ‘How can you be so sure?’
    ‘I’m a doctor, for God’s sake, but it’s rife in the camp, and there is dysentery and pneumonia. The consequence of all this good living, I guess.’ He tried to laugh again. ‘You know it’s ironic, but the gas chambers are a merciful release for most of us.’ Sammy looked away, chastened by the old man’s suffering.
    The klaxon sounded for the evening roll call. Sammy gazed through the window of the dispensary at the shivering prisoners huddled together in groups on the arctic Appellplatz. He knew the SS guards would keep them there until they almost froze, before returning them to the main camp for the night. He saw Rudi, his hands tucked under his folded arms, coughing into the icy wind and as he watched he felt the bitter tears of frustration running down his face. He turned wearily and slumped into a chair. He felt crushed by despair at his impotence in the face of such infamy. Suddenly the door burst open to admit two SS guards.
    ‘Komm, Englander, on your feet, the boss wants to see you, now.’
    ‘What for, what does he want?’
    ‘You don’t ask the questions here, you piece of shit, you just do as you are told. Now move it, nobody keeps Gräber waiting.’
    He was taken under escort to the commandant’s office. He wondered what he had done. Perhaps Gräber had discovered he was sleeping in the dispensary instead of freezing in his cell. He determined to brazen it out.
    Gräber pointed to a chair. ‘Setzen Sie sich.’ He looked at Sammy, his cold shark’s eyes expressionless. ‘Do you know what today is, Captain Parker?’
    Sammy held his gaze. ‘No, and why should I care?’
    Still unsmiling, Gräber said, ‘It is Weihnacht, Das Christfest, the last of the war.’
    Sammy smiled broadly then said softly, ‘Geronimo.’
    ‘What did you say?’
    ‘It doesn’t matter.’
    Gräber smiled. ‘You don’t understand, my friend, the Wehrmacht will be in Antwerp within the week. Von Ründstedt’s Panzers have smashed through the American lines in the Ardennes, the allies are in full retreat and our secret V weapons are levelling Paris, Brussels and London to the ground as we speak.’ He rose and walked to a large wall cabinet. He lifted a large stone flask and poured thick yellow Korn schnapps into two glasses and offered one to Sammy.
    He raised his glass. ‘Sieg Heil. To victory.’
    Sammy smiled. ‘I’ll drink to that.’
    Gräber laughed aloud. ‘Come, my friend, let us go and eat.’
    ‘Eat?’ Sammy echoed with some surprise and followed as the SS man made off into a connecting room.
    Several SS officers were standing round a table laden with a dazzling variety of delicacies looted from the occupied countries. Polish ham, Norwegian herring, smoked salmon and pâté de foie gras from France, lobster and langoustine and Viennese pastries. Sammy’s gaze fell upon a woman dressed in the uniform of the SS. It was clear she had been beautiful once. Her thick blonde hair framed a finely boned face which was now growing plump. She had a dissolute appearance, her expression vacant. He thought she was probably drunk. ‘Be careful, Liebchen,’ Gräber laughed, ‘I think our guest fancies you.’ Turning to Sammy he said, ‘Allow me to introduce my adjutant, Leutnant Höchst, but watch yourself Captain, die schöne Gisele eats men like you for breakfast, don’t you, meine Süss?’ He bent to kiss her. She gazed up at Sammy, leering stupidly. ‘Meine Kameraden!’ Gräber addressed the gathering. ‘It is Christmas, the last of this war, for Germany is on its way to final victory. So in the spirit of magnanimity to a gallant enemy, I have invited our gallant British Bulldog and…’ He tapped his nose with his finger, winking suggestively. ‘…friend of Churchill’s daughter, to celebrate with us.’ He paused, grinning. ‘Before we return him to his kennel, that is.’ They all laughed heartily and sycophantically. ‘Come, Captain Parker, eat.’
    Sammy looked at the assembled company. They stood around, arrogant, loud and contemptuously self-assured in their leather and steel. He looked at the repast laid out before them and thought of the conditions barely a kilometre away in the compound. The cold, the hunger, the disease, the hopelessness and the assurance of a painful, unjust and premature death at the hands of these philistines. He turned his gaze finally to Gräber. Slowly and deliberately he turned his glass over, causing the yellow liquor to patter noisily onto the carpet. ‘I don’t think I care to,’ he hissed. ‘It is enough that I have to witness your sickening barbarities every day, listen to the cries of children and see the hopelessness in the faces of their elders as they try to ease what’s left of their short miserable lives, to watch the casual beatings and murder of people who have done no more than try to survive this hell. What I will not do is share any of this loot with you.’ He flicked his hand contemptuously at the assembled officers. ‘Or these shitbags.’ He placed the glass on the table and wiped his hands on his jacket as though trying to remove all witness of contact with his captors. He scowled at them. ‘If I live through this, Gräber, I swear to God I shall see you pay for all you have done here, you bastards. Now, I have no doubt that you will arrange for a couple of your simians to beat the shit out of me before I go to sleep tonight, so let’s get it over with, shall we?’ He turned and walked from the room.
    Gräber shouted after him. ‘But I can’t have you beaten, Parker. You are protected by the Geneva Convention, remember. And Germany is a civilised country.’
    He heard their laughter as he made his way out of the officer’s block. Trying to understand why Gräber had not immediately placed him under arrest or had him beaten, he hurried to the dispensary hoping they would not look for him there, but he found the administration block empty. Then faintly, drifting across the icy Appellplatz from the guard’s quarters, he heard singing and carousing. He sat on his bunk. ‘You’re OK, Sammy my son, at least until Boxing Day. They are all having a good old Christmas piss up.’
    He smiled and lying back, pulled the thin blanket over himself. The fire had died in the stove and he knew he would not be able to fetch more fuel until morning. As he lay, weary from hunger, he felt the cold gradually begin to eat into his limbs and he wondered how much more he could take. 

Want to find out what happens to Sammy? Find out where to buy “Pegasus Falling” on Ganxy

FIRST LOOK – It Never Was You cover images

Saturday was a very exciting day. It was the photo shoot for the images which will be used to create the cover of book two of the Cypress Branches trilogy – It Never Was You.

The day followed the same format as the previous shoot for Pegasus Falling‘s cover, gathering family and friends on a shoestring budget and having some fun with actors, period costumes and a camera. I am lucky enough to know some very skilled, very generous (and very patient) people who agreed to help me out, and must thank Geraldine Allen and Mark Godfrey for allowing themselves to be transformed into Mary and Harry (the two main characters in the second book) for the day, and once again to Rebecca Potter for her wonderful hair, make-up and 1940s styling prowess and to Dewi Clough for taking these very evocative shots.

There is a very simple theme running through the Cypress Branches covers – strong women. There is a series of strong female characters at the heart of the novels, and I thought it would be appropriate to highlight them on the covers. Lesley is depicted on the first cover, holding Sammy’s red paratrooper’s beret. The vivacious and charismatic Mary will adorn book two. I already know who will appear on book three, but I won’t spill the beans just yet.

It was a fun day and I think we’ve ended up with some very powerful images which we’ll be able to coax into a great cover artwork. Of course, the finished cover will look very different to these images (please ignore the backgrounds – they’ll be painted out). There’s a lot of work to do, but in the mean time, here’s a taster of the shots we managed to get in the can.

MARY

HARRY & MARY EMBRACE

Ignore the backgrounds in these two pictures – they’ll be edited out!

ABSTRACT

What do you think? Is there a powerful book cover in here somewhere? Do you have a favourite? What do you think we should do with the images? There are plenty of ideas that I’m keen to play around with, but any suggestions or comments are always gratefully received…

Deleted Scenes

In Here We Go Again, I talked briefly about the necessary sacrifices that have to be made when editing a larger book into a trilogy. One of those sacrifices is the occasional scene which has to be cut in order to make the book work better in its new format.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to cut many scenes at all from Pegasus Falling. True, entire chapters were excised, but they will appear in book two, so all is not lost. But there were one or two scenes which ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak. As their absence is intended to improve the book rather than detract, that’s not to say that they were no good. Indeed, in some cases it was a bit of a wrench making the decision to pull them. One passage in particular springs to mind.
Any author / editor / reader will tell you that the opening passages of a book are hugely important in getting the reader on board. First impressions, and all that. The opening chapter of Pegasus Falling is actually chapter six of The Cypress Branches. I was very aware that this chapter was never written with the intention of opening a book and in my opinion, the opening couple of scenes didn’t have the snappiness needed to hook the reader straight away. 
The opening scene is, of itself, not a bad scene. Set in the Ops room during the operation briefing just before Sammy’s battalion is deployed to Arnhem, it sets the scene well for the coming action. It was our first glimpse of Sammy, who, being the awkward bugger he is, asks some pertinent questions. It also opens with some army badinage and boyish humour which was undoubtedly fun for William to write. But as I read through the manuscript, it was clear that it just didn’t have the flair needed to get the reader’s pulse going.
So, the difficult decision was made to delete it from the final draft. Also deleted was a short introduction to the Doorns, the family whose house is commandeered by the paratroopers with such devastating effect. Again, well written, nice to have, but not a great way in to a novel. There was no information in there absolutely necessary for the reader to understand the novel. So, that too went.
Am I comfortable with that decision? Yes. Because I’m certain that if William had been involved in the decision, he would have come to a similar, if not the same conclusion as me. He may well have gone away and re-written it to make it more of an opening scene. But under the circumstances, that just wasn’t an option.
Here are the scenes, as originally written with just a light copy-edit and proofing. These scenes were immediately followed by what has now become the opening to Pegasus Falling. Have a look at the new opening (you can use Amazon’s Look Inside feature or download the ebook preview at Goodreads) and I think you’ll agree it was a good decision.
The battalion assembled in the ops room for the operation briefing. A long trestle table stood upon a dais behind which sat a group of officers; the battalion commander, a major from army intelligence, a RAF meteorologist and a captain from the Pathfinder Company. The wall backstage was concealed behind curtains. Captain Stan Parker, Sammy to his men, sat among the babbling paratroopers, forearms on knees, staring at the floor. He was already bored by the whole affair. He looked up as the voice cut through his musing. ‘Right! Come to order and pay attention, the sooner we get through here, the sooner we can get away…’ He wondered why intelligence officers appeared to have a gift for making the crassly obvious sound like intuition. ‘Curtains please!’ The drapes covering the wall were drawn back to reveal a large map. ‘Right!’ The officer approached the map and tapped it with a long wooden cue. ‘Operation Market Garden!’ He looked around at the sea of faces. ‘Now, why do you think this operation has been given such a name?’
‘The NAAFI’s run out of water cress?’
‘No, Jerry’s developed a new pilotless cucumber to attack Londonwith.’
‘Doodlecumbers, they call ‘em…deadly.’
‘They ain’t cucumbers really, they’re dildos. They want to attack the moral fibre of our women.’
‘Why? Are we falling down on the job?’
‘Fallin’ down, that’s a good’n.’
‘Alright, alright!’ He waited for the laughter to subside. ‘It is because it will take place in Holland, a country famous for market gardening.’
‘‘Olland’s more famous for gin, why didn’t they call it Operation Mother’s Ruin?’
‘SHUT…UP!’ The battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel John ‘Jack’ Frost, gave them one of his iciest looks. ‘Right, Major, get on with it, and stop asking silly bloody questions.’
‘Right, Sir. Now, Operation Market Garden is a plan devised by the high command to speed up the Allied advance into Germanyby forcing a crossing of the Rhine. As you will see from this map, the main front is very broad, stretching from here…all the way up to…here. The plan is a bold one. British XXXth Corps, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Brian Horrocks, will smash through Holland up to…here, crossing into Germanyproper…here. Any questions so far?’
‘Where do we come in?’
‘HERE!’ someone shouted.
‘Yeah, why are all the towns in Holland called “Here”?’
‘Now come on, lads.’ The troops settled. ‘OK. Crucial to this plan is the capture, intact, of three bridges. The first across the Meuse, or Maas as the Dutch prefer to call it…’
‘They don’t prefer it, they just can’t bloody say it, it’s double Dutch to them.’
‘…the second across the Queen Wilhelmine canal near Eindhoven…’
‘HERE!’ they chorused.
‘…and the last across the lower Rhine at Arnhem…’
‘HERE!’
The officers on stage could barely contain their laughter as the hapless major pressed on. ‘The first two bridges have been assigned to our American comrades-in-arms, the Eighty Second Airborne. The last, and most crucial, the bridge at Arnhem, is assigned to First Airborne. The American One Hundred and First Airborne division will be dropped er…here, to take Eindhoven, secure the road to Grave and contain any German counter attack.’ The major placed his pointer on the table and sat down.
The colonel rose and looked at his men. ‘Right, lads, you’ve heard the plan, are there any questions before the major goes on to detail our part in this?’
‘Where’s the DZ?’
‘We are coming to that now…Major.’
‘Right Sir, next map please…OK, here is your objective, the bridge over the Lower Rhineat Arnhem. The main assault is by First Brigade, reinforced on days two and three by the Poles and the Gliders. It will establish a salient on the north bank of the river against enemy counter attack whilst you, Two Para, take and hold the bridge until the tanks of the Guards Armoured Division reach you. Divisional HQ will be established in the village of Oosterbeek, here. As you can see, once XXXth Corps is over the bridge, they have a straight run across open flat terrain into the industrial heart of Germany, driving down…here, into the Rühr, thus encircling the enemy in a giant pincer movement.’
‘Yeah, but where’s the poxy DZ?’
‘The three brigades will drop…’ He hesitated then tapped the map rapidly with his pointer, indicating the three dropping zones. ‘Second Battalion will muster just west of Oosterbeek.’ He tapped the map again.
‘That looks miles from that bridge, what’s the scale?’
‘It’s twelve kilometres, eight miles, give or take.’
‘Eight miles? Give or take what? We’ve got a route march just to reach our objective?’
‘Yeah right, what’s the point being a para? We might just as well have stayed in the poxy infantry.’
‘What’s stopping us getting closer to that bridge then, mountains?’
‘The planners considered the possibility of the Division being scattered on both sides of the river. It is imperative that we secure a bridgehead on the north bank. So they deliberately chose a site a little inland of the river.’
‘A little inland? Eight miles?’
‘It’s a good job they didn’t go over the top yanto, mate or we’d be taking fucking Berlin.’
Sammy raised his hand. ‘Yes, Captain.’ The major sounded relieved. ‘You have a question?’
‘Intelligence report.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Intelligence report. This is the third of these junkets I’ve attended and we always have an intelligence report, you know, enemy dispositions, local hazards, anything which may be of use to a bunch of blokes dropping in on a place they have never seen in their lives. What opposition can we expect?’ The major looked at the colonel, uncertain how to proceed.
The colonel stood. ‘British Intelligence reports nothing unusual for an operation of this nature. Arnhem is somewhat off the beaten track. There is a small garrison here, at Elst, and a larger one here, at Apeldoorn. The Germans will not expect such an audacious assault and we do, of course, have the element of surprise.’
Sammy nodded. Surprise, after an air armada of hundreds of planes has spent three days crossing the north sea and most of Holland and thirty thousand paratroops and gliders have drifted gracefully to earth in broad daylight, ten thousand of them a full two hours march from their target, he thought. ‘It had occurred to me, Sir, that if we can see the strategic advantage of crossing the Rhine at Arnhem, it may just have occurred to Jerry. But then again…’ He hesitated as he silently considered the prospect. “Nothing unusual for an operation of this nature”, probably means they will kick the shit out of us. ‘…you mentioned only British intelligence, Sir, how about reports from Dutch resistance?’
‘I am not aware of any reports from that quarter, Captain Parker.’ Sammy nodded and returned his gaze to the floor. ‘Right, we have just to hear from the pathfinders and the Met boys, then you can get a good night’s rest before we kick Jerry’s arse this one last time. Good luck, lads.’ The colonel raised his fist. ‘Geronimo!’
‘GERONIMO!’ they chorused exultantly.
Jan Doorn lived with his wife Marie and daughter Druschke in a large house close to the bridge which carried the road across the Nieder Rijn from the village of Oosterbeek to the city of Arnhem and onward across open country to the German border. He came to the village when his father, a doctor, opened a general practice and surgery there. As a child he played by the river, fishing and rafting often following it to its confluence with the river Ijsel. He met his wife, a student of Fine Arts, at the university of Utrecht where, like his father, he studied medicine. The couple fell in love and after graduating, married and came to live in the house of Jan’s parents. He assisted in the practice and when his father died, the couple assumed the mantle of village doctor and wife. The invasion of the Low Countriesin 1940, the air onslaught upon Rotterdamand the brutal persecution and deportation of Dutch Jews and forced labourers made Jan Doorn implacably bitter toward the Germans. His outspoken criticism caused his wife much concern and she was grateful there was no German garrison in Oosterbeek.
‘You should be more careful, Jan, you know how touchy they are, especially now that the second front has opened.’
He looked at his wife, waving his hand defiantly. ‘That’s where they belong, over there in Germany, those swine. They have no place here and the sooner they go home the better. If they had any sense they would leave now before the Allies get here.’
‘Geography was never your strong point, Jan, was it?’ She laughed as she spoke. ‘This country is crisscrossed by rivers and dikes and most of it is below sea level, the Bosche can inundate us any time they choose. There are only three bridges of any size between here and the Flemish border and all can be blown. Why else would the Bosche have chosen to build that huge rest and refit depot over at Elst? No, my love, the Allies won’t come this way. We will be liberated only after they are beaten and a good thing too.’
He stared at her aghast. ‘Marie! How can you say such a thing? Do you like having them here?’
She smiled patiently. ‘You are such a sentimental fool, my darling. We are a tiny country with an ocean of water to the west and an ocean of Teutons to the east and we shall always be at the mercy of both, for our survival depends on them. What difference does it make if they stay a few more months if it means sparing our country the devastation which has already befallen France and Belgium?’
He shook his head in bewilderment. ‘I shall never understand you, Marie.’ He smiled at her tenderly. ‘Perhaps that’s why I love you so much…Now, I have to make a few calls. With luck I shall be back in time for dinner.’
‘But Jan, it is Sunday, for God’s sake.’
‘It is always Sunday, for God’s sake, my love.’
He was still laughing at his own joke as he rode off on his bicycle.

Pegasus Falling is available to buy now in paperback and for Kindle from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com

Radio days

I’m reaching the end of what has been a rather odd week.

Last week, we were contemplating putting the heating on overnight because it was so cold in the flat. This week, we’re basking in glorious early summer sunshine.

Last week, I was contemplating writing an email to Nick Coffer, presenter of the afternoon show on BBC Three Counties Radio with a press release about Pegasus Falling. This week, I’m just about getting over the trauma of appearing on the show.

The speed at which it all happened took me completely by surprise. The email was sent on Friday, a reply received on Saturday, appearance arranged on Monday and I was on the air on Wednesday. The downside of all this was that Nick didn’t have the chance to read the book before the item. The upside was that I only had a couple of days to panic.

Now, you’d think, me being a seasoned media professional, I’d be relaxed with the idea of being placed in front of the mic myself. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case. I’m much happier being behind the camera, and well away from the microphone, so on the morning of the show I have to admit I got into a bit of a panic. I was trying to put some notes together to make sure I had all the information I needed in my head beforehand, but I found that the more I worked on the notes the more nervous I became. So I stopped, printed out what I had and hoped I hadn’t forgotten anything – or at least had enough in my head not to be tripped up by any left-field questions I might be asked. On the train up to the studio, I got the notes out and started reading them. Again, the nerves started to jangle, so they were promptly put to one side again.

I’d managed to calm down a little when I arrived at the studio in Luton, about 10 minutes early. I had been surprised when Nick asked me to be there just 10 minutes before I was due in the studio. Coming from a television background, I’m used to there being a much longer lead in to an appearance. With no visual aspect to worry about in radio, there was no need for the make-up and wardrobe checks, the fitting of radio-mics, camera rehearsals, or the like that I’m used to. Instead, I was beckoned into the reception area and simply asked to wait.

This would have been fine if it hadn’t been for the fact that the station’s output was being piped over the loud speaker. When I arrived, Nick was talking to a doctor who was helping callers with their health problems. The nerves, which had been dying down, sprang to life again when Nick trailed what was coming next…me!

I had been told that I would be in the studio after the 3 o’clock news and would be talking to Nick for about half and hour. At 3, the news came on, and finished, and I was still sat in reception wondering if anyone actually knew I was there. Nick’s voice appeared again and he intro’d what was coming next again…me. But there I was, still outside in reception. When a song came on, suddenly the door burst open and in came Katherine, Nick’s producer. She beckoned me in, apologising for taking so long to retrieve me. It turned out the guest before me had broken her leg (weeks ago, not in the studio) and needed help leaving the studio.

The briefest of formalities, and there I was, sat in front of a green microphone and Nick with his bank of equipment. We had barely said hello when the music died down and Nick introduced me and the conversation started flowing.

The nerves were certainly jangling, and I was suddenly aware of my very dry throat. Katherine walked in with a glass of water, but I was unable to take a much needed draught, as I was the one doing most of the talking. Despite the lack of preparation on both sides, Nick knew just enough to get the story out of me and somehow I managed to make sense (I think).

Listening back, you can hear the nerves in my voice, certainly in the first half of the item. Thankfully, as the time went on, those nerves abated slightly and the shakiness left my voice. Nick has a clever way that good presenters do of making a nervous contributor feel at ease. The questions flowed and he gave the appropriate nods and gestures to let me know that what I was saying was interesting. All that being said, I’ve never been happier to hear the opening chords of Wet Wet Wet’s Goodnight Girl, a song I can’t stand, but it did give me an opportunity to finally whet my whistle from that glass of water which had been taunting me for the last 10 minutes.

At the end of the first half of the interview, we’d covered the very emotional story of William and his battle with Alzheimer’s. As Marti Pellow got stuck in, Nick said, “Lovely”. Then immediately apologised – it wasn’t the right word to use. It was lovely in a “good radio” sense, but the story itself wasn’t “lovely”. I told him not to worry, I knew exactly what he meant and certainly wasn’t going to take offence. It served to highlight just how difficult it is to talk about Alzheimer’s, and its leading role in the story of William and the book.

The only embarrassing moment in the whole broadcast came after Nick had cut off Marti in his prime. During the song he had briefed me about what he was going to ask in part 2 and I was deep in thought when he turned to me, mid-spiel and asked me a question. I had been so caught up in my thoughts that all I heard was “1952” and a question. I hadn’t actually heard what he’d asked at all! Hence my rather vague reply to a very easy question! Luckily, the rest of the interview went swimmingly.

In truth, the entire 25 minutes or so I was in the studio flew past, as I knew it would. A quick goodbye from Nick and Katherine before they whisked their next guest in to the hot seat and I was headed out into the glaring afternoon sun again, barely remembering a thing about what had just happened.

As I left, though, Nick asked me to let them know when It Never Was You is released. I’ll definitely be keeping in touch.

So, all in all, a successful radio debut. Hopefully it won’t be my last appearance. And hopefully my nerves won’t be as shredded next time!

If you missed it, or would like to listen to the show again, you can listen online by following this link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rjdks I appear 2 hours in to the show. It’s available until next Tuesday (29th May) before it is consigned to the iPlayer recycle bin. Enjoy!

Here we go again

Time has come to start preparing the second instalment of the Cypress Branches trilogy for publication. At the moment, there’s no firm publication date set, but I’m aiming for some time between November this year and March next year. I know, it’s a very wide window, but I need to see how things go before setting a firmer time. It would be nice to hit the November deadline (for more than just the obvious reasons), but I’ve got to be realistic and consider the fact that it took me nearly three years to get the first part ready to print. And now I’ve got to get part two ready whilst keeping everything going with Pegasus Falling. As much as I’d love to consider this my full time job, the truth is that I’m not Amanda Hocking or Kerry Wilkinson and a real job will beckon soon…so I must spend what time I have before the world of work calls me back making sure that as much as possible of the labour intensive work on It Never Was Youhas been done.
Having already launched Pegasus Falling and gone through the aches and pains that is self-publishing a novel, you’d think that doing it again would be a piece of cake, wouldn’t you? Well, truth be told, I’m kind of dreading it.  
For those of you who don’t know, William wrote The Cypress Branches as one large work. Not quite Lord of the Rings or War & Peace, but big enough to make it a substantial tome. It was an incredible feat, and one which took over his life for a significant portion of his retirement. It made a beautiful hardback, but was totally uneconomical to produce in its entirety as a paperback in its full form and the idea of producing a trilogy of paperbacks first came up on the day we launched the hardback way back in 2009.
With its episodic format, being split into six “books” and with the action passing from one set of characters to another, it appeared at first glance to lend itself perfectly to splitting into smaller chunks. A trilogy would surely be easy enough to pull off…with two “books” making up each part of the trilogy.
There’s always been a major problem with doing that though. And that’s that the action in The Cypress Branches starts with one set of characters (Harry and Mary) for the first five chapters, then abruptly switches to the second set (Sammy, Naomi and Lesley) and stays with them almost constantly until the end of book two, with hardly a mention of Harry and Mary again until book three begins. The reason for this becomes clear the further in to the book you venture.
That’s fine if you’re reading the whole work in one go. But If I had included those chapters in Pegasus Falling, readers would reach the dramatic conclusion of Sammy, Naomi and Lesley’s story and then, quite rightly, ask, “What on earth happened to Mary and Harry…and what did they have to do with what just happened?!”
So that’s why Harry and Mary’s story has been left out of Pegasus Falling. Those chapters from book one which have been omitted will form the beginning of It Never Was You, which will then pick up their story again. (And what does Harry and Mary’s story actually have to do with the proceedings of Pegasus Falling, I hear many readers cry? Well, you’ll just have to read it to find out, I’m afraid!)
So, problem solved with Pegasus Falling, but by cherry picking the chapters to include in that book, I have left myself with some burning questions and problems when putting together book two. There are several loose ends which need tidying up. That’s not to say It Never Was You will be inferior to Pegasus Falling – in fact, in my personal opinion, Harry and Mary’s story is equal to, if not more emotional than Sammy, Naomi and Lesley’s – it just means that I have to make some decisions – some hard decisions in some cases – about how to thread some parts together. As with Pegasus Falling, some sections may need to go. Others will need a bit of polishing. And I have to make sure that I don’t let emotional attachment get in the way. And without William there to discuss these problems with, it’s a heavy responsibility.
I said earlier that I was dreading this. That’s probably a little disingenuous. I’m probably looking forward to it more than dreading it – it’s just that there are some difficult choices to be made, choices which I would have much preferred to make in consultation with the author. I’ll blog more about that soon, but in the mean time, I need to knuckle down with the manuscript and familiarise myself with Harry, Mary and the Liverpool docks, the main setting of this particular piece of the story.
Yeah, ok, I am looking forward to it. It’s been a long time since I read this part of the book, and I have very fond memories of the characters. It’ll be good to see them again.