Lovely to welcome Adam Fitzroy here today.
What grabbed you so much about the Pride of Poppies submissions call that you had to send in a story?
The glib answer to that is ‘Julie Bozza’, who shook me warmly by the throat. Well, that’s not entirely fair, although Julie can be pretty persuasive when she wants to be. No, actually I loved the whole idea of the project from the moment it was first mooted, and everything I’ve heard about it since has only served to increase my enthusiasm. And obviously, having already written a book with a First World War theme (sort-of), I felt I was reasonably in tune with the period.
What were the particular challenges about writing a story set a hundred years ago?
In all honesty, I can’t think of many – although the thing that really worried me was the dialogue. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that speech patterns are constantly changing, or alternatively to fall into the trap of having people in the past speak in some stilted ‘King’s English’ – or, even worse, Mummerset peasant accents. Making people of a past era sound normal is always a challenge; they need to be able to understand one another, and sound authentic, while at the same time being understood by the reader, which is quite a delicate balancing act. However when even such giants of the genre as Julian Fellowes can occasionally slip up (I’m sure I caught an “As if!” in an episode of Downton) maybe there’s actually such a thing as being too fussy about detail and we should all just chill out – as I’m quite sure they didn’t say on the Western Front!
Do you have a ‘hero’ (or heroes!) from WWI? Who and why?
This is a tricky one, particularly because the people I consider heroic are rarely giant historical figures such as Lawrence of Arabia but ordinary guys doing ordinary jobs and getting very little credit. In my family, both my grandfathers (one of whom was blind in one eye but still became an ambulance driver) and eight of my thirteen great-uncles saw service of one sort or another during the war. Another great-uncle, prevented from military service by chronic bronchitis, stayed at home and helped to keep the railways running. (The rest were all too young to serve.) We were a fortunate family in that of those who went to war only one was killed and none seriously injured; the ones who came home afterwards went back to work, married, raised families and in due course died as old men. If you’d asked any one of them, they would have told you they weren’t heroes; they might, perhaps, have pointed to ‘Bunny*’, the one who didn’t come back, and told you he was a hero, but they were just ordinary men doing what they were told. I can’t help thinking, though, that there must have been times when they were terrified, or confused, or in situations they couldn’t understand or possibly didn’t approve of, but they still did their duty because they knew other people were depending on them. That’s heroism, in my opinion – and I hope that, if something similar ever happened and I had to be a very small cog in a very big organisation dedicated – at great risk to itself and its members – to a common goal, I would be able to put ego aside the way they did and do whatever had to be done for the sake of my loved ones at home.
*Private Hubert Dudley Baker, 15th (County of London) Battalion, Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles, London Regiment, killed in action 18 January 1917 at the age of 20 and buried at Railway Dugouts Burial Ground, Transport Farm, near Zillebeke in Belgium.
What are you working on at present?
My current project is a book called ‘In Deep’, scheduled for 1 August publication by Manifold Press. It’s about a retired police officer, Ted, investigating the death of his stepson Kieran on a small Scottish island. He meets Athol, born in Scotland but raised in New Zealand, a loner with something of a chip on his shoulder, and their closeness grows as together they look for answers to the mystery. I’m having a wonderful time with it; the research – as always – is great fun!