Category Archives: William

#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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World War 1 memorial, Paddington station, August 2014

World War I Remembered

World War 1 memorial, Paddington station, August 2014

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the day Britain joined World War One. That day, in the summer of 1914, no one knew just what destruction, death, sorrow and sacrifice the next four years would bring to Europe.

Today is a day to stop and reflect on those events, and what brought the world to that point. I won’t be awake at 10 o’clock to observe the “lights out” event ending at 23:00 to mark the exact moment Britain declared war, but I have lit a candle of remembrance this evening. My own small mark of respect.

At least once a week, I find myself passing the World War 1 memorial at Paddington station. Situated on Platform 1, it was erected by the Great Western Railway to commemorate the war, and mark the 3312 men and women from the company who lost their lives in the conflict. It is an imposing structure, but every day tourists, commuters and railway staff pass it by, almost unnoticed, as they go about their business. I can’t help but feel humbled by it.

I discovered recently that the memorial has a connection to my grandfather, who grew up in the area around Paddington. Apparently, as a child, he could be found playing on and around the memorial. Whenever I walk past, going about my own business, I often picture a young William clambering over the huge soldier’s feet, oblivious then to the meaning of its presence, and how his own life would, very soon, be affected by another bloody conflict.

The Undiscovered Documents

A few months ago, just after Pegasus Falling had been released, my nan (William’s wife, Sheila) thrust a small, unassuming plastic envelope in my hands, proclaiming that she’d found it in amongst an old pile of Gramps’ stuff. In it were three very interesting items.

Firstly, there was a short, typed memo from Gramps to ‘Kate’. This is my mum – her real name isn’t Kate, but her initials are K.T, so Kate for short. Dated 2.10.92 (for my American readers, that’s October 2nd, not February 10th!), it introduced a short story hot off his new word processor.

Gramps retired in 1990. He soon became bored with the life of a pensioner and decided to set himself the challenge of writing a book. He called his first work simply ‘Opus 1’. I had read it back in 1992 (at the grand age of 13) but had not laid eyes on it again until now. Set in a part-Courier typewriter / part-computer system typeface, the manuscript ran to just 20 pages, loose leaf and unformatted. It was just as he had written it, un-fettered and undisturbed for many years. 


The third piece in the plastic envelope was a much larger loose leaf document – a synopsis and abstract from The Cypress Branches, the document William had sent to publishers on his brief attempt to publish.  


All three are fascinating items in themselves. I wish I had seen the synopsis and abstract years ago, when I first set out to edit the books. Although written for a different purpose, it provides an insight into how William saw the novel work. Thankfully, it looks like my changes work within the context of his vision, but a lot of difficult decisions would have been made easier with this document to hand. 


The memo is poignant, to say the least. Although it is a simple note, its style is as efficient as William’s prose, declaring that “I’m still feeling my way with this” and that he had to “exploit a direct experience”, asking for, “some objective comments please”. 


Opus 1 itself is a revelation. The memo goes on to say, “of course there is some artistic licence and more than a suspicion of hyperbole, but the tale is in general, true.” As with his subsequent work, William drew on many and varied incidents from his own life and weaved them together into a gripping and heartbreaking work of fiction. It is the story of a romance between a British Parachute Regiment sergeant and a Dutch girl whose house is taken over by the army and turned in to their HQ for the ensuing battle to secure the bridge. William was a paratrooper, and at the age of 18, was involved in the ill-fated operation to capture the bridge at Oosterbeek, near Arnhem in Holland – the fabled Operation Market Garden which ended so badly for the troops involved. William was one of the lucky few who managed to escape back home and tell the tale. Many of his friends were not so fortunate. 

Although Opus 1 was initially written as a standalone work, elements of it ended up becoming part of William’s much larger work, The Cypress Branches, which he started to write almost immediately after completing his first short story. Although it underwent a considerable amount of editing and the story was changed to integrate it into the longer storyline, some readers will recognise it as forming the basis of the first chapter of Pegasus Falling – part 1 of the Cypress Branches trilogy. They’ll also recognise the sergeant, the main character in Opus 1 who plays a smaller role in the story of Pegasus Falling

Opus 1 is a fantastic introduction to William’s work – it reflects his style and the characters are just as well-written as those in The Cypress Branches. So, I have built it into a stand alone ebook and it is now available to download for free from Smashwords, Kobo Books and acuteanglebooks.co.uk. Despite its quality, Opus 1 was never, to my knowledge, meant for publication, so William never gave it a proper title. I have named it “The Bridge” – which seemed simple, fitting and appropriate. 


You can download a copy of The Bridge from any of the following links: 
The Bridge on acuteanglebooks.co.uk (FREE downloads for epub, .mobi and PDF)
The Bridge on Amazon (77p / 99c – but hopefully they will price match soon)

Pegasus Falling on ManOfLaBook.com

Today, Zohar from the excellent ManOfLaBook.com featured a guest post written by Mike telling the story of how Pegasus Falling came to be published.

Grandfather’s Book Published – A Tragedy

The story of how Pega­sus Falling came to be pub­lished is pos­si­bly as tragic as the story within its pages.
William Thomas, my grand­fa­ther, was born in 1925. He started work as a mes­sen­ger at theBBC at the age of 14. When war broke out, he went to work with his father at a fac­tory in Har­row. While still a teenager, William joined the army and was soon recruited in to the Para­chute Reg­i­ment. By May 1945, he had been “dropped” in to a num­ber of key bat­tles and become a much dec­o­rated sol­dier. He was still only 19 years old. Fol­low­ing the war, he served in Pales­tine until 1948.
William has six chil­dren. As they were grow­ing up, he was work­ing and study­ing in shifts as a mer­chant sea­man and an engi­neer. He was one of the first stu­dents to enrol at The Open Uni­ver­sity and in his mid fifties, he decided to work there full time as a lab tech­ni­cian, remain­ing there until his retire­ment in 1990.
Hav­ing become quickly bored of the life of a pen­sioner, he looked around for some­thing to keep him occu­pied. A lover of the arts, in par­tic­u­lar music and lit­er­a­ture, he bought him­self an elec­tronic key­board (he is an excel­lent jazz pianist) and a word proces­sor, hav­ing decided to sit down and write a book…

To continue reading the guest post on ManOfLaBook.com, and be in with a chance of winning an eCopy of the book, click here.

To read Zohar’s 5* review of Pegasus Falling, click here.

1776 and all that

This date always reminds me of a story Gramps told me once of his travels in the US of A.

William spent time as a merchant seaman and an engineer, and both careers saw him travelling around the world and visiting many far flung places. The US became a favourite stop, and one year he found himself there just as the July 4th holiday was approaching.

I can’t remember exactly where he was – but Chicago always springs to mind, because he was riding the subway alone, enjoying a moment to himself. As he tells it, a woman sat down opposite him and, because the car was virtually empty, decided to strike up a conversation.

“So,” the woman asks. “What are your plans for the fourth of July?”

“Oh,” replies William, “I don’t have any plans.”

“Really?” replies the woman, surprised. “Why not?”

“I’m British. We don’t celebrate the fourth of July.”

“What?!” the woman protests, indignantly. “You guys don’t celebrate the fourth of July?! Why not?”

“Well…we lost.”

It seems that in celebrating the birth of her nation, the woman had forgotten exactly how that nation had been born, of the difficult circumstances under which the declaration of independence had been signed, and the bloody battles which had ensued to ensure the United States could shake off the “tyranny” of British rule.

I’m no expert on the American Revolution, but I do know that it was not the best of times for the British. Their attitude was almost entirely that of keeping hold of what they saw as legitimately theirs at any cost. And in their acts, they became pariahs, not only to the Americans, but also to other European nations, who soon took the opportunity to declare war themselves.

The history of the American revolution is fascinating, and a subject I’d love to delve in to more. Perhaps I will one day. After all, it’s an event which affected our history almost as much as it did the American colonists.

I’d like to wish all of my American friends, and our American readers, a very happy fourth of July. I’ll raise a toast to your independence. But I hope that you guys can understand why we Brits don’t take the day quite so much to heart as you do. After all, we were the losing side on that particular occasion, and instead of fireworks and celebrations, a moment of quiet reflection, much like the one Gramps was having that day, is more in order this side of the pond.

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

Alzheimer’s and the author: The long goodbye

As many of you will know, William has Alzheimer’s. He began showing signs of dementia shortly after finishing writing the Cypress Branches 15 years ago. Since then, his health has deteriorated steadily and he is now cared for in a home in Milton Keynes in the UK.

It has been a struggle for the family to see a man so vibrant and intelligent in life slowly slip away from us.

Browsing through some old photos a few days ago, I found three photos of William with his wife Sheila, each taken 3 years apart covering the last six years. It is both remarkable and heartbreaking to see the difference in each photo.

The first was taken in April 2006 on a holiday in Somerset.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila on holiday 2006

The next was taken three years later, at the launch of the hardback book in July 2009.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila at book launch 2009

And most recently, this one, taken in March 2012, at the launch of Pegasus Falling.

Author and Alzheimer's sufferer William & wife Sheila in 2012

Alzheimer’s is called “the long goodbye” for a reason. I was asked recently during a radio interview whether the family had said goodbye and the question floored me for a second. Although William’s personality and vitality has diminished rapidly in the last six years, there are still glimmers of him that come through. On most occasions, he won’t talk and rarely recognises members of his own family. We’re all prepared for the inevitable. He’s not going to get any better. And we’ve all been saying goodbye for a while now, but it’s so hard to do.

When, all of a sudden, he’ll fix you with a knowing stare and say, “hello mate”, instead of saying goodbye, you want to reach into that mind of his and say hello back, start a conversation, ask him what he’s been up to and share a joke or two. It would be wonderful to be able to claw back the man who wrote such incredible books, and to ask him the many questions I have about them.

Instead, the moment passes all too quickly and the understanding is gone again.

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.

William has been in the papers!

This post was originally published on acuteanglebooks.co.uk on 13th April 2012

On 5th April, the Milton Keynes Citizen ran a feature on William and Pegasus Falling. Sally Murrer wrote a lovely piece which ran on the inside cover (much to our shock and excitement!). We’d like to extend our thanks to Sally for writing such a lovely piece for us.

The article also appeared on the MK Citizen’s website – www.miltonkeynes.co.uk – and you can read the article online here.

And thanks should also go to Rachel, who attended the book launch, for her very touching comment after the article. I’m glad to hear you’re enjoying the book, Rachel!

We’re hoping for a lot more media coverage over the coming weeks and months, so keep a look out.