I recently re-visited Terrasson, the French town featured in my third novel ‘Blade Warriors’. Under a balcony, an innocuous wooden plaque describes old horrors. Translated, it reads: Here on 10th June 1944 the Germans hung Limouzy Fernand, Resistance Fighter, Picked up wounded from the field of battle.
Seventy five years later, on another June day, we ate lunch at a riverside cafe. Terrasson seems a peaceful, happy place, but the ghosts are there.
After being dropped off we had walked through Marchwood forest and soon reached the western shore of Southampton Water. Directly across from us, some three hundred yards away, lay the Royal Victoria Military hospital and the pier. It was odd to see it all from this side. I had always hoped I would get a different perspective on my last night with Freddie and the aftermath, and here it was.
From: ‘The Long White Cloud’
The brilliant turquoise of the shallow water ran out for miles, only turning into a darker cobalt blue near the horizon. The coast stretched away to my left and right so that it seemed as if the entire Great Australian Bight was within my scope. Once, back in Kalgoorlie, I felt I had been in a waiting room at the very edge of the known world, but I was wrong. That place was here; this was the edge of the world and now I was about to leave for the unknown.
From: ‘The Sudden Metropolis’
In recent weeks I’ve been trying to get my books noticed by a wider audience. It’s hard doing self-promotion. I prefer writing!
I placed an ad in ‘Private Eye’ classifieds. £147. Need to sell 245 books to recoup that. (I’m not quite sure how you can be an author alone and survive)
I’ve also sent some complimentary copies to: the London Review of Books, Mariella Frostrup (host of ‘Open Book’ on BBC Radio 4) and an Australian radio presenter on ABC, Claire Nichols (who hosts their equivalent show).
In the meantime, I’m working hard on a fourth book, which I am hoping to get published this year. More on that soon.
So, did the dream of writing a bestseller actually happen? Am I in fact writing this from my private beach by the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva, with a Mojito to hand? That’s what people who write bestsellers do, isn’t it?
Today is the one year anniversary of my book launch – that for The Sudden Metropolis – and I’m still writing. It’s been one of those hard days and I’m looking for any distraction… ‘Aha, my blog needs updating’.
Some things aren’t the same: The Forum café, where we had the launch, is no more. I often walk past the bolted doors and darkened interior, and remember the special evening when my friends packed the place out. Now, on my writing days, I sit in a small study at home instead.
The sales haven’t exactly been in the thousands, more like the hundreds, but the real treat has been the feedback – people who have read the books have really enjoyed them (see the Amazon comments). At the end of a consultation this week, the following exchange occurred:
Patient: “Can I ask you a question?”
Me: “Sure…” (Our ten minutes is up…Now what?)
Patient: “The Indian stretcher bearer who carries Freddie from Spion Kop, is that Ghandi?”
Me: “Yes!” (Very surprised to hear him referring to a scene from The Sudden Metropolis)
Patient: “I thought so!”
For a few seconds, on seeing his deep interest, I felt as if I had written a bestseller, and that I was on my private beach by the turquoise waters of Lake Geneva, with a Mojito to hand.
Recently, while driving back from a French holiday, we stayed at Talbot House in Poperinge, Belgium (or “Toc H” as it was nicknamed by the soldiers during WW1, when it was used as a special kind of social club).
Four years had passed since I was last there, researching material for “The Long White Cloud”. Toc H hadn’t changed, except for one thing – my own perception of it. Now, with the book written, I was going around pointing at things excitedly, saying: “Here’s Rennie’s office”, and “This is where they meet Patton”, and “Out there on the lawn is where they do the haka.” To me, the fiction had merged with fact to produce a strange hybrid of a place, half a stage-set from my mind and half a real brick building.
With the centenary of the armistice approaching, I would recommend to anyone interested in that era to get across the channel and visit Toc H (https://www.talbothouse.be/en/bb/home). Stay if you can get a room – it is relatively cheap. English volunteer caretakers will give you a cup of tea and make you feel welcome. Just down the road, in the main square, are some great restaurants.
The most special room in Toc H is the chapel built into the attic, accessed by some very steep stairs. In my book, two of the characters sit in this room, talking about God and worrying about what is going to happen. This time, it occurred to me just how many soldiers had trodden those same steep stairs to say their prayers, or have a quiet moment before going off to battle. Thousands must have done it. It was hard to imagine quite how scared they must have felt. No-one but a soldier would know that feeling. What you can feel though, is their collective spirit. It’s still there.
Adventurer and dreamer Sean Poole, Western Australia, 1989