It’s a brilliant week for ‘Poppies’! We have Lou with us today to tell us…
What grabbed you so much about the Pride of Poppies submissions call that you had to send in a story?
I really wanted to write a story – but it seemed far too big a subject for me to attempt. Nothing I’ve experienced was remotely on a par with what these people went through. Months passed and I’d look at the call for submissions occasionally and think “No, can’t write this.” Then one day I thought, “But I’ve been for a joy-ride in a Tiger Moth.” A day or two later, I saw, on the new acquisitions shelf in the local library, a book with a cover picture of an FE2b in a dog-fight, with the observer standing high in his cockpit and firing over the top wing. No safety restraints whatsoever. My jaw dropped. I said to myself, “My God, did they really fight like that?” And they did. Hence, story.
What were the particular challenges about writing a story set a hundred years ago?
I expended more effort on finding out what they would eat than just about anything else in the story. I asked local friends, of all walks of life, what an Australian of the era would call a late-morning meal. Answers included brunch, lunch, dinner and tea (morning tea, presumably.) Okay, I thought, I’ll give an actual meal. In one of the books I’d read, macaroni cheese was mentioned. Perfect. Back the story came with a query; macaroni cheese is more of a Canadian dish, it seems.
So off I went to the local Armed Forces museum, and asked the question. There was a baffled silence. Then two volunteers, plus a dog, plus self, trooped upstairs to the computer room. For two solid hours we tried to find RFC day-to-day mess menus. The dog lay in a corner and sighed from time to time. But we got there in the end – basically a full English breakfast, minus the eggs. They were in short supply.
Compared with this, arranging and taking a flying lesson in another Tiger Moth, to find out what it feels like to pilot a biplane, was straightforward.
Do you have a ‘hero’ (or heroes!) from WWI? Who and why?
Every FE2b observer ever.
Also, Biggles. Okay, he never quite existed, but many of WE Johns’ stories are firmly based on fact, not fiction. Biggles introduced me to the First World War as a huge event in world history when I was seven. I was enthralled. Re-reading, I see in every story the terrible tragedy that I missed as a child; but I also see WE Johns tutoring his readers in the combat flying skills that were so desperately needed in the next war.
What are you working on at present?
An Age of Sail novel, set in the mid-eighteenth century, before Royal Navy ascendancy was established. I feel as though I’m trying to take several degree courses at once!