Friday, 6 October 2017

Shoreham book talks on Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in the RAMC Field Ambulance 1940 -1946.

     This is a seriously busy week. Besides Tom's home-schooling and sorting out what to take to Singapore, I will be preparing two brilliant talks on my book, Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in the RAMC Field Ambulance 1940 -1946.


These entertaining and informative talks will be about the book, its theme and how I approached it.

     
Along the way, I'll be offering advice to aspiring writers.

William with Miss Alli Godfrey and two of his great grand-children at Glebe Primary School after talking to years 5 and 6.

      William Earl, the vibrant 102-year-old World War Two veteran and star of Blood and Bandages, will be joining me for Q and As. He won't fail to move you with his thoughtful views of what it was like to serve his country.
     These family friendly talks provide a rare chance to meet one of a dying breed of exceptional men and I urge you to come.
     The first talk is on
Tuesday10th October 
at
7.00pm
at 
Shoreham Library 
Pond Road
Shoreham-by-Sea
BN43 5ZA
     Tickets are £4 and can be purchased in advance from Shoreham Library or on the night.  
     The second talk is on
Saturday 14th October
at
7.30pm
at
St Peter's Church 
West Street 
Shoreham-by-Sea
BN43 5WG

     This one is slightly different because I'll be speaking alongside another Shoreham writer, Patrick Souiljaert author of Stairs of Breakfast. 

Patrick and I prior to interviewing him for the Beach News

     His talk on life with cerebral palsy and overcoming adversity will be fun and thought-provoking.
    Tickets are £5.00 (£3.00 concessions) and can be purchased here,after the 9.00am mass at St Peter's or on the night. Proceeds are going to St Peter's Church, the Church of the Good Shepherd and Adur East Lions. 
      I'll tell you more about this talk when I speak to Sylvie Blackmore on BBC Radio Surrey and Sussex at 1.15pm on Sunday 8th October .
     It would be wonderful to see you on 10th or the 14th October and don't be shy. Come and say hi.
     See you soon.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Autumn Book Talks on Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in the RAMC Field Ambulance 1940 -1946

     I'm delighted to say that since my last blog on Blood and Bandages, excellent reviews have continued to appear on Amazon Books.




     All About History has added its voice saying that, 'Blood and Bandages is easy to read and a unique perspective of WWII,' while Books Monthly described the book as a 'Superb account of William Earl's career as a Nursing Orderly in various WW2 campaigns.' There's even a waiting list to read it at the local library. 
     Talking of which, it'll be at Shoreham Library on Tuesday 10th October at 7.00pm, that I'll begin a series of five autumn book talks.





     For about 45 minutes, I'll be talking about how the book was written, the role of the field ambulance in World War Two and aspects of the Italian Campaign. William will then join me for a question and answer session before we move onto a book signing. If you would like to come, tickets can be purchased here.  
     Hot on the heels of the first talk will be a second event but with another local author, Patrick Souiljaert. 
     It will be held on Saturday 14th October at 7.30pm at St Peter's Church, West Street, Shoreham-by-Sea.  Patrick will talk about his autobiography, Stairs for Breakfast and Screw it, I'll take the Elevator, before I speak on researching and writing Blood and Bandages. The evening will draw to a close with questions and answers and a book signing. Tickets can be purchased here. 
     There will be a short break before I move onto the scarest of the five talks, the one at the Museum of Military Medicine in Aldershot. It will be held on Wednesday 1st November at Keogh Barracks Ash Vale, Surrey at 7.30pm. The Museum was closely involved in the final stages of Blood and Bandages and it was one of their dedicated curators, Rob MacIntosh, who first described the book as 'far more than a military history.' Nevertheless, it is with trepidiation that I will talk to an audience, the majority of which will be uniformed members of the regiment of which I speak. In contrast, however, I anticipate that William will feel totally at ease with those with whom he feels an instinctive affinity.  
     The penultimate talk is scheduled for the Shoreham Society on Friday 17th November at 7.30pm. It will see William and I return to St Peter's Church Hall to talk about the operation of a field ambulance and the process of writing the book. Tickets can be purchased here.
     The final talk is fittingly at my publisher's society, the 1940s Society in Sevenoaks, Kent. It will be held in Otford Memorial Hall, on Friday 24th November at 8pm. I will be talking about the role of the RAMC in World War Two and William's experience in the field ambulance.
     With the last talk over and done with, I will start saying my good-byes to England, for in December, we move to Singapore.
     Leaving my family and friends and a country I adore, will be tremendously hard. I've already been buffeted by waves of homesickness as the enormity of the move hits home. However, it is only with sadness and not regret that we will leave because for years, my gorgeous husband, Richard, has had to work abroad for most of the time. Thus, when he was offered a permanent job based in one place, we jumped at it.  Yes, he will still have postings abroad, but these will be limited to weeks not months. So, after almost eight years apart, Tom can have a full-time Dad again and I can have a full-time husband.
Richard and Tom.

     As I'll no longer be a 'single parent,'  I'll have more time to devote to Tom and my writing. I have a second book planned and will return to my beloved scriptwriting. I will continue to blog, but it'll take on a different guise and possibly a different name. 
    But this is not yet good-bye, it's just advanced warning. I'll still be around until the beginning of December so please do come along to one of the book talks and say hello. It's always a thrill to meet someone who reads my blog. 
     For now, thanks for dropping by and I'll see you again soon. 

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

The RNLI's part in the evacuation of Dunkirk May 1939

To mark last Friday's release of Dunkirk the movie, I'm re-publishing a blog I wrote in May 2010 on the RNLI's role in the rescue. It's an eye-opener and I hope you enjoy it.

Last week, I featured the Royal Escape Race, and on Friday went to Brighton seafront to watch the start. It was surprisingly exciting to see the flotilla glide from Brighton Marina, assemble, turn towards the sea as one, then BANG, race off to the west.












The Escape Race commemorates the flight of Charles 11 from England to France. Today, I'm featuring another flight, but this time going the other way; the flight of the British Expeditionary Force, (BEF) from Dunkirk to Dover. 

When war broke out on 3 September 1939, the newly created British Expeditionary Force (BEF), was sent to take up a defensive position along the Franco-Belgian border. Its Commander-in-Chief was John Gort, and by early May 1940 he had 394,165 troops, and 200 tanks in place. 

It didn't last long. On 14th May, one German army group attacked the BEF, pushing them back to the French frontier, whilst another invaded France through the Ardennes. It left the BEF surrounded on three sides and after Gort's unsuccessful counter-attack at Arras, the order was given to withdraw to Dunkirk for evacuation to Britain. 

It was a massive undertaking. On 26th May, Operation Dynamo was launched. An order was issued on BBC radio to all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30-100 feet in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty. Their role was to assist the Navy and RAF in the evacuation of the BEF and allied troops. Up to 900 vessels were involved including 39 Destroyers, 36 Minesweepers, 77 Trawlers, 26 Yachts, one of which was skippered by C.H Lightoller, a former officer on the Titanic, and some smaller craft. Between them they took 338,226 troops off the beaches at Dunkirk, including 40,000 from the French Army and 220,000 allied troops from Cherbourg, Saint-Malo, Brest and Saint-Nazaire.

Dunkirk was repeatedly described as hell by those who were there. They were constantly attacked from the land and air as they waited helplessly on the flat sandy beaches. The sea was strewn with shipwrecks and bodies. The air stank of burning oil and buzzed with the sound of Stukas. Over 5,000 soldiers were killed, 235 vessels were destroyed, 106 aircraft were lost. Over 100,000 men were left behind and the tanks and large guns were abandoned. Despite the selfless courage that was shown throughout those 10 days, on 4th June 1940 Winston Churchill described what happened in France and Belgian as 'a colossal military disaster.'

Inevitably, the lifeboats were amongst the smaller craft involved in the evacuation. They had 145 motor lifeboats in their fleet and at 1.15 p.m on 30th May, received a phone call from the Ministry of Shipping asking them 'to send as many lifeboats as possible as quickly as possible to Dover.' 1

The Ramsgate lifeboat, the Prudential, and the Lord Southborough from Margate, sailed direct to France. Another 17 lifeboats, including the Rosa Woodd and Phyllis Lunn from Shoreham, assembled at Dover.

As today, in 1940, the lifeboats were manned by skilled and experienced volunteers who knew the limitations and capabilities of their specially designed boats. Thus when the coxswain of the Hythe lifeboat, the Viscountess Wakefield, was told that he should run his 15 tonne lifeboat on to the Beaches, load up with troops and bring them back to England, he told them it was impossible. He also pressed for written assurances that their families would get pensions, should any of them be killed during the evacuation. The coxswains from Walmer and Dungeness supported him and they were in good company. This was one of Sir William Hillary's concerns when he originally founded the Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, (which became the RNLI), in 1824; that the bereaved families of the lifeboatmen should not be left destitute. 

This apparent awkwardness was just too much to bear, 'the harassed and overburdened Naval officers were organising..a complicated and perilous operation. They wanted boats. They wanted men. They wanted no more argument.' 2 They sent the coxswains packing and appropriated their boats. Fearing further arguments from the other coxswains, all the lifeboats answering the call were commandeered and sent to Dunkirk with Royal Naval and RNVR crews. 

Eighteen lifeboats worked the beaches at Dunkirk. The nineteenth lifeboat worked in the English Channel rescuing men from ships and boats sunk en route by German aircraft. 

James Hill Staff Captain, The Royal Fusiliers, recalls, "a great big lifeboat came in, a lovely one...they all got on, and looked over the top and then, of course, the thing stuck on the sand with the weight of them... the Brigadier.. and half a dozen other good chaps got out, and they pushed and shoved, and gradually the lifeboat went off." The Thomas Kirk Wright from Poole, fared better as it was a surf lifeboat with a draft of only 76cm, still, one of her motors was put out of action by a crew unused to her propulsion system. 

Turning to the two lifeboats that were manned by the RNLI, the Ramsgate lifeboat rescued 2,800 men and the Margate lifeboat crew were described as 'an inspiration to us all as long as we live' by the commander of Icarus, a destroyer with which she worked on 30/31st May. 

Apart from the Viscountess Wakefield, the lifeboats returned safely but damaged from Dunkirk. The Viscountess Wakefield did run around on the sands of La Panne and was the only lifeboat to be sunk during the operation. 

Regarding the contribution made by the RNLI to the evacuation, 'two facts are beyond dispute. The lifeboats did magnificent work at Dunkirk. But if they had been manned by RNLI crews they would have achieved even more.' 3

So, what happened when the men finally left the hell of Dunkirk? I'll let James Bradley, Gunner, The Royal Artillery, tell you;

"I fell asleep, and I don't know how long it took to get across the Channel, because I slept all the way. And the next thing I knew was a sailor standing over me shouting, "Wake-up!, wake-up! are you going ashore or aren't you going ashore?" ...Where are we?" I said, "where are we?', he said, "Dover, you bloody fool!" And I thought, "well, I don't even mind him swearing at me, it's Dover." So I pulled myself up and went off, went down the gangplank. 

And I knew I was back in England..they'd got tables there with loads of tea and buns, and so forth, and I was ravenous. I think I ate six buns, which was greedy really. But I, my stomach was so empty! And then the military police where there too, and they were saying, "Keep moving, Keep moving! And they had the train in the station.

And I said, "Where's the train going?" Nobody knew, but anyway, "Get on the train, you must get out of here, must get out of here!" - because there were masses of troops coming off, although we were now very much the tail end. And then we drove across England and stopped at side stations, and people were all waving...the WVS.. and I thought, "Oh, this is England, you're worth fighting for!" 

Ta-ra for now.

Riders of the Storm by Ian Cameron Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2002
Storm on the Waters by Charles Vince Hodder and Stoughton 1946
3 Riders. ibid

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

An interview with local speaker and writer, Patrick Souiljaert.

     I hope you enjoyed reading the inside story of Blood and Bandages.
     William and I have now moved onto the book's marketing phase and last weekend, we had great fun at the Armed Forces Day in Worthing.
William and I set up our stall. 
(courtesy of Brian Woodford)
 
While we were there we met...
the engaging Sophie Cook, ex-RAF Tornado aircraft engineer and Labour parliamentary candidate for Shoreham and East Worthing,

respectful ex-medical personnel with whom William established an instant rappour

and the fun-loving ladies from Bellydance Rocks who made William's day. 

     Our next 'appearance' is on the Mark Evans show at Seahaven FM on Friday 30th June at 7.20pm

Me, William and presenter, Mark Evans at the Seahaven FM studios.

     As promised, from now on I'll be reverting back to my previous blog style, interviewing characters of local interest. To that end, I recently met Patrick Souiljaert, beach resident, public speaker and author of ‘Stairs for Breakfast' and 'Screw It. I'll take the Elevator.'

Patrick and I gearing up for our interview

Patrick is 43 years old and has lived on Shoreham Beach since 1984. He has Cerebral Palsy, (CP).
Patrick Souiljaert

When I was born, the umbilical cord got wrapped around my neck. I couldn’t breath for four minutes and suffered brain damage. This caused my CP. CP effects my movement, co-ordination and muscle stiffness. It also means that I have to use four times more energy than regular people when I walk and talk. Like any disability, there are various degrees of severity and unfortunately my voice has also been effected.  If it hadn’t been, people would probably have been more at ease with me and just seen me as a guy who couldn’t walk properly. 
My CP does not effect my intelligence. Nor stop me from leading a regular life. I feel like I’m an able bodied man stuck in a disabled person’s body.
             In fact, I always thought I was a regular guy, but when I got into property investment, people kept telling me that I was inspirational and should write my autobiography. That was great, but they had no idea that my physical challenges were a piece of cake compared to my emotional struggles. So I spent a few years thinking about what and how I could write about my life before I actually started.
I type with one finger and to write an honest autobiography, I had to relive the very difficult and emotional times. After 15 months, I had managed to write 216,000 words, so many that I’ve split my story into two books.
The first book was called ‘Stairs for Breakfast.’  I chose that title because in 2011, I went to view a second floor flat. When the Estate Agent met me outside he saw I had CP and asked if I was OK to walk up. I told him that I ate stairs for breakfast. I’m working on the second book now. It’s called, ‘Screw it, I’ll take the elevator.’ It’s being crowd-funded so I can self-publish again.
As well as writing I’m a motivational speaker, and am currently seeking funding and support from Kaleidoscope Investments who help disabled entrepreneurs with their businesses.
In my mind, I can do anything, but I am also realistic. Having a disability is about knowing what you can do, accepting you have certain limitations and then overcoming them. And that’s what I do.
I see my CP as a gift and my can-do attitude is my greatest asset.

Patrick with his tireless PA, Maggie Paluch

On 14th October, at 7.30pm at St Peter’s Church Hall, West Street, Shoreham-by -Sea, Patrick and I will be talking about writing our respective books and signing them. Tickets are £4.50 and I will let you know how and where they can be purchased nearer the time. 
In a fortnight, I'll be featuring another local resident, Kyra Berry, who will talk about what it was like to be a Presiding Officer during the recent General Election. 
Thanks for dropping by and I shall look forward to seeing you on 7th July. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Final part of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946

So there I was, paralysed with writer's block with a deadline looming.
     Up until then, I thought you got writer's block when you ran out of ideas. Not so. It's when you feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and a complete loss of confidence. You can only think of one thing, that you were a blittering idiot to think you could do it in the first place. Thoughts unlikely to help you succeed.  Yet again, a friend came galloping to the rescue. Leia Vogelle, another screenwriter, suggested that I mix things up by tackling odd numbered chapters first or working backwards. It was a simple and brilliant idea and gave me enough oomph to leap back into the saddle.  With my confidence restored, it was time to revisit the TLC manuscript assessment in ernest.
     In his assessment, Karl French suggested four areas for improvement:-

1.     the chronology. He suggested starting with a flash forward in time to create a good hook and then flashing back to fill in the gaps. It was a more sophisicated approach than I'd intended and I had insufficient time to think it through properly. I therefore passed on that advice.

2.    the context. He advised that I needed much more and it had to be written in a clear and vivid way so the reader always knew when and where they were. He also confirmed what I already knew, that I had to move between the personal to the slightly wider context of the 214th Field Ambulance and Black Cats to the much wider context of the Fifth and Eighth Armies and World War Two. In short, the writing equivalent of playing a squeezebox. I accepted this advice.

3.      William's account. Mr French advised that all gaps in action and information should be filled with additional interview material where possible. I accepted this and there was one big gap, the reason for William's compassionate posting home at the end of the war. William had always glossed over this, but now I pressed him and discovered that it was due to highly sensitive circumstances at home. William did not want any of that information to appear in the book but some had to in order to explain the compassionate posting. After many days agonising over the right wording, we concluded that it was best told in subtext. 

4.      the edit. Mr French identified places where there was an inbalance between the space devoted to personal recollections and that to context. To correct this, he suggested that some of William's letters and stories could be reduced or condensed. He was right.

More research on context. 

    While I followed Mr French's advice, Ian Bayley of Sabrestorm Publishing worked on the book's front cover, title and price. 
     The book's front cover was crucial so Ian and I met at the Museum of Military Medicine and trawled through their photographs. One showed a nursing orderly's role at an advanced dressing station so we chose that. Ian chose other images which could illustrate the text while I asked the ever helpful Mr McIntosh, one of the curators, if he could do a technical check on the final manuscript. He agreed. 
     Next, Ian came up with two possible titles - Death without Glory or Blood and Bandages and he  decided on the book's price, £19.99. Blood and Bandages would be produced in hardback with a dustsheet and an initial print run of 1,500-2,000. With those details in place, Blood and Bandages went on pre-sale with Amazon.
     As the first deadline approached, the 'final' draft was sent to Rob McIntosh. It was nerve-wracking sending the manuscript beyond the inner sanctum of me, my closest writing friends and Sabrestorm. His response was cautiously awaited. When it came it was incredibly positive. Not only was it technically correct it was also succinct, excellent and astute. I was relieved, perhaps I really did have the ability to create the book I'd always imagined. Nevertheless, I still felt that it could be improved and Ian's patience began to wear thin as deadline after deadline slipped. 
     I finally handed it in a week after the final, final deadline. Ian gave the manuscript to his designer and shortly afterwards I received an e-version of the book. Seeing my text and William's photographs incorporated into a book was incredibly exciting. Moreover, Ian had clearly spent a considerable amount of time sourcing generic shots which were thoughtfully dotted around the text. It looked marvellous and I was comforted to know that my publisher cared about the book as much as I did.  My job now changed from being a writer to a proof-reader. 

Proofing - a ghastly job.

     It was not a natural fit and unfortunately, I went further than checking for typos and changed some of the text too! I made so many changes that the layout had to be altered and we missed the printing deadline. I could tell that Ian was not happy. While he re-submitted the book to the designer and negotiated a new printing date, I realised that I had created a problem for myself too. More amends meant more potential mistakes and when it came back, I had to weed out every single one of them. Checking every single dot, coma, hyphen, dash, capital letter, abbreviation and footnote was the most soul destroying, monotonous and exasperating part of the whole lenghty process. Despite days and days of checking, it later transpired that some typos had still managed to slip through to the final proof. 
     Unaware of this, I submitted it to Ian and once securely in his hands, things moved fast. First, I received the banner. 

William and I toasted it with a bottle of fizz.

     Next we received the first copies of the book.

 That was something special.

     There was a brief pause in action before it was time to organise the book launch. Sandra Clark, (who had been so intimately involved in the book from the outset), offered to read the script I'd based on the book with former EastEnders star and friend, Paul Moriarty. 
     
 Paul Moriarty and Sandra Clark rehearsing the script of Blood and Bandages for the book launch.

     Ian 'sold' tickets, while I organised the catering, helpers and programme. Eventually, all was set for the book launch on 28th April. 
    Over 140 people came, including representatives from the Italy Star Assocation, Surrey Infantry Museum and Mr McIntosh from the Museum of Military Medicine. Spirit FM and Juice FM sent a reporter and it was also covered in the Shoreham Herald.

 It was a joyous and moving occasion.

     After the launch, there was a flurry of media interest. William and I were interviewed on BBC Radio Surrey and Sussex, Forces TV and for a special report for BBC South East Today. I was asked to appear on The Whole Nine Yards with Roy Stannard on Seahaven FM to talk about my life and career on 8th June from 7-9pm.  Waterstones are now stocking the book. On Amazon reviews have included comments like, 'This book is fantastic', 'I couldn't put it down,' 'Rarely do you discover a book that explains wartime facts in an easy to read style without overlooking the human element of the subject.'  Movingly, strangers have contacted Bill and I to ask if William may have helped their father or could have known him. I was delighted to tell one gentleman that not only did William know his father, he appears in the book! The response has been thrilling and my next aim is to sell enough books to get Blood and Bandages onto the Sunday Times bestseller list. So, if you've already read the book, please write a review on Amazon. If not, you can buy the book here and here.
     Marketing aside, it's now time for me to put Blood and Bandages on the back burner and dust off the stories which have been languishing in my bottom drawer for almost seven years. It's been an incredible journey but I'm looking forward to returning to the world of fiction. I'll break myself in gently though by starting with a radio drama... based on Blood and Bandages.
     Thanks for dropping by and see you in a couple of weeks, when I'll be featuring another Shoreham Writer, Patrick Souilijaert, author of Stairs for Breakfast. 
     

Friday, 28 April 2017

Live Facebook feed of Blood and Bandages launch party - 28th April 2017 at 6.45pm (BST)

In place of this week's final episode of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946, there will be a live Facebook feed of tonight's book launch.

To watch tonight's events, you only need to click on the link above or copy and paste the following into your web browser...

https://www.facebook.com/events/258557037925828/

Coverage will start at 6.45pm (BST) with 

     Welcome address by Ian Bayley from Sabrestorm Publishing
     
     Script reading by Sandra Clark and Paul Moriarty

     Speech by William Earl


     Talk on writing the book by me (Liz Coward)

     Question and Answer session led by Ian Bayley

     Book signing

You can take part in the Q and A sessions by posting a question on the Facebook page. We will try to get through as many as we can. 

The final episode of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940 -1946 will appear next week. 

Thanks for dropping by and I look forward to receiving your questions.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Part five of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946

I couldn't finish the book. However, Karl French had identified one outstanding chapter. I tweaked that and prepared a pitch, synopsis and a CV. Although I had created something to show, I lacked the confidence and skill to sell the book in person. Luckily, I had my good friend, Sandra Clark, to turn to.
     Sandra was a successful actor with years of experience with the Royal Shakespeare Company and performing on TV and radio. There was nothing she didn't know about playing a role convincingly. Sandra also knew the book intimately.  In the lead up to the fair, she bolstered my confidence, coached me on my attitude and agreed to come along for moral support.
   Prior to the event, the London Book Fair (LBF) provided a directory of attendees. I took advantage of this to pitch Blood and Bandages to a number of publishers. As a result, I secured two meetings, one with Steve Darlow from Fighting High Publishing and another with Ian Bayley from Sabrestorm Publishing.
     The first day of the LBF arrived and I turned up early to get my bearings.

First impression of the London Book Fair. 

  When I entered the hall, I felt like a child on their first day at nursery. This was BUSINESS writ large and  ebay was my only experience of selling. I panicked and fled to the cloakroom to steady my nerves and remind myself of Sandra's coaching.
    My first meeting was with Steve Darlow. His reputation had been built on Bomber Command stories but he liked Bill's memoirs. In fact, he'd already spoken to his distributors, Casemate, about publishing it but they thought it inadvisable to branch out into a completely different field. However, rather than cancel the meeting, Steve listened to my pitch and gave me some tips and support. Importantly, he also introduced me to another publisher, Unicorn Press, whom he thought would be interested. They were and a meeting was arranged for the following day.
     Bouyed up with Steve's positive comments, I returned on day two with a sense of belonging.
     I met Ian Bayley of Sabrestorm Publishing first. I pitched the book and he was instantly engaged. Sabrestorm had already published another RAMC memoirs, Parachute Doctor, so Bill's story was a nice fit. I was thrilled with Ian's enthusiasm, but held back because of the Unicorn Press meeting. Ian knew when I was seeing Unicorn so just before I went in he called me and asked to meet up. When we did, he offered me a contract. I was absolutely thrilled.
     I went into the third and final meeting relaxed and confident. Unicorn also liked the story... alot. I had to pinch myself.
     Sabrestorm were the first to produce a contract, so I went with them.
     It was both fabulous and frightening to have finally found a publisher. Bill was over the moon and we each celebrated with family and friends. Then things suddenly took a turn for the worse.
     An overwhelming sense of dread floated in like a sea mist and enveloped me completely. I became paralysed by the fear of failure. I dreaded getting up in the morning because I was transfixed by the enormity of the task ahead and how poorly equipped I was to do it. I chided myself for ever thinking I could write a military memoir without being an expert in the field. So complete was my loss of confidence that I rendered myself incapable of writing a single decent word. If this was writer's block, I had it, and the deadline for delivering the final script was approaching rapidly.
     I'll tell you how I managed to get through it next in the final part of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940 -1946 - next week.
     Thanks for dropping by.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Part four of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940 -1946

     I felt upset and hurt, but it was a blessing in disguise. The book had taken over my life. If I wasn't researching it, I was thinking about it. If I wasn't thinking about it, I was writing it. If I wasn't writing it, I was interviewing William and if I wasn't doing that, I was looking after him. My husband Richard, half-joked that there were three people in our marriage, him, me and William. Our young son had got used to being side-lined because I was writing. My friends had grown accustomed to me cancelling dates because of the book or turning up and talking about it endlessly. It was no surprise, therefore, that there were few complaints when I told them that the book was off.
     Meantime, William celebrated his 100th birthday in Essex. His family and friends were concerned that we had fallen out and one of his close friends offered to mediate between us. After a few conversations, it was arranged that William and I should meet up to talk about what had happened and see if and how we could continue. It was awkward at first but after apologises and reflection, we decided that we would carry on, but not immediately.
     All this occured in May 2015 and the timing was fortunate. It was my 50th that September, and with the book on the back-burner, I re-engaged with my family, friends and scriptwriting.  I resurrected the idea of attending a residential course in screenwriting with Arvon. The thought of five days tucked away in a Devon manor house with like-minded writers and no internet; cooking and eating together and developing a script with the guidance of two tutors, was my idea of heaven.  Knowing how much I wanted to go, my husband got the time off work and brought me a place for my birthday.
     My latent screenwriting skills were nutured by the Arvon tutors during five intense and exhilarating days in Devon. When I returned home, I was ready to re-start Blood and Bandages but this time, I decided to treat it like a screenplay.
     I transposed the story into a three act structure. 

     Blood and Bandages laid out like a screenplay.

     I examined the book for a logline and found the hitherto illusive heart of the story.  I plotted the book's key emotional beats and ensured that each chapter ended on a hook (cliff-hanger).
     It was a wonderfully liberating process which gave the story an unwavering focus and natural momentum. I finally knew how to weave all the elements of the story into one glorious tapestry.  There was only one thing left to do, sell the story, and the best place to sell a book had to be the London Book Fair.  It was now March 2016, the book was unfinished and the fair was just one month away.
I'll tell you what happened next on 7th April.
Thanks for dropping by.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Part three of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946

    The story had to have a heart.
    It also had to have a publisher. To achieve that, I needed to demonstrate that the book had
1.  a unique selling point, (USP)
2.  an engaging style,
3.  an audience,
4.  and a writer with knowledge of the publishing industry.
    I knew that the book had a USP. I was developing my writing style and the audience was comprised of those interested in World War Two. What I didn't have was a knowledge of the publishing industry so it was back to school, again.  Luckily, I could call upon New Writing South, (NWS) to help.
     NWS was, (and still is), an organisation which provides support, encouragement and training to writers in the south-east. I scoured the programme for events on publishing and found Writers at Large, a one day course on breaking into the industry. I made copious notes throughout the day and pitched the story in a group session. It was led by Andrew Marshall, who generously offered to read and feedback on the first chapter. I listened carefully to his advice and followed some of it.
     It was three years before I attended another event, the NWS Publishing Industry Day. As usual, I filled several notebooks and tried to take comfort from the encouraging speeches. By then, I'd had several rejections from agents and publishers. Lack of commercial appeal was usually cited. I suspected that that was kind because they all said yes to the pitch but no to the sample chapters. Hence, it was with great interest that I listened to The Literary Consultancy's (TLC), presentation on manuscript assessments. It was a service whereby one of their experienced readers could provide a detailed analysis of what was and wasn't working in a book. That's what I required. For the umpteenth time, I re-wrote the book, had it proofread and sent it off.It was read by Karl French, a writer, editor and journalist who had worked for publishing houses like Bloomsbury and national newspapers such as the Guardian and Financial Times.
     Mr French produced a detailed 14-page report. Importantly, he confirmed that the story did have a USP and went on to say, "this book can and must get out there somehow." Overall, it was a terrifically encouraging assessment but there was a big but. "This isn't as yet a book whose promise is fully realised," he said.  To reach its potential I would need to undertake more interviews with Bill, re-structure the book, beef up some sections with more context and edit others so the story was more vivid and powerful. These were monumental changes. "Perhaps that is simply too daunting or not something that you are interested in committing to," he opined.
     Thus for a second time, I was being asked whether I would fully commit to the book. This time there was no room for fudging.  I pulled my shoulders back, took a deep breath and chose the book.
     William was happy to re-start the interviews and I recommenced my research. We were making good progress when, a few days before his 100th birthday, I downed tools. William and I had fallen out. The book was off, indefinitely.
     I'll tell you what happened next on 11th March in part four of the inside story of Blood and Bandages.
Thanks for dropping by.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Part two of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946.

I fudged it.
     I couldn't give up scriptwriting. I loved it too much but neither could I ignore my new found obligation. Pragmatism was required, so in my naviety I just added, 'write Bill's book,' to my to-do list.  I determined to give it 100% effort to match that given by those of whom I was writing, notwithstanding my intention to give the same to my scripts. Such impossible goals deserved impossible time frames and I gave myself two years to write a book and an original screenplay. I rolled up my sleeves and instructed my sub-conscious to start on the script while the rest of me worked on the book.
     I had imagined the book in terms of a stone being dropped into a millpond. Bill's story was the stone and each ripple represented context, the closer to the impact, the greater the detail. The first and closest was that of the 214th field ambulance, the next, his sister field ambulance, the next, the Royal Army Medical Corps, then the 56th (London) Division, the Eighth and Fifth Armies and so on with the history of the Second World War being the furthest from the epicentre.
    I wanted to use as much first hand material as possible, so I returned to the National Archives to copy the war diaries of the 167th field ambulance, reports from the 56th (London) Division and any other material which could shed light on Bill's story, however loosely connected. I read out of print books dedicated to the Italian Campaign like, 'The Gothic Line' by Douglas Orgill (1967), 'The Campaign in Italy' by Eric Linklater (1951) and more contemporary ones like, Norman Lewis' 'Naples '44', Matthew Parker's 'Monte Cassino' and Lloyd Clark's 'Anzio.' I constantly renewed Redmond McLaughlin's 'The Royal Army Medical Corps,' and tracked down the wonderful 'RAMC' by Anthony Cotterell (1943/4).  I also began to tackle the big beasts of military history like Max Hastings and the sublime Antony Beevor. I had a voracious appetite for knowledge, most evident in my weekly interviews with Bill.
     Bill was a perfect interviewee. He was bright, thoughtful, honest and generous. He forgave the technical problems with cameras or tape-recorders and my inexperience. Each time I asked him to recount a particuarly horrific event, he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and answered. The same questions were repeated, not because I was being voyeuristic, but because I was thoughtless. Then I remembered that when I looked out onto the garden I saw the washing line, when Bill looked out, he saw the war.
     One of the events which caused him great distress was the capture of his greatest friend, Frank Allen at Anzio. He described in detail how the Black Cats had landed with the invasion force at Anzio on 22nd January 1944; how they had wasted time building up the bridgehead while the Germans brought in reinforcements and surrounded them; how attempts to breakout had ended in slaughter and how Frank had been captured during a disasterous night mission. It was an oft repeated story but when I checked it against the records I discovered that the Black Cats did not arrive in Anzio until 17th February and Frank had been taken prisoner the previous November. I pieced together the correct version but I couldn't just hand it to Bill to read. I had to tell him face to face that his memory was false. How do you tell a man of 97 years that for the last 50 years or so he's been mistaken? That his subconscious had merged two of his most awful memories into one terrrible event. It took him a while for it to sink in.
      Alongside the research, I was drafting and re-drafting the book. It hit 20 drafts, then 25 and finally 30 before I had set every event in context. It had been a hard graft but I felt confident enough to send it out to two of my most trusted writing buddies for their feedback.  Their response was unanimous; while the book had gained the history, it had lost its heart.
   I was shattered.  As I slowly digested their comments, I realised that I had inadvertently created a second rate history from a first rate story.
     It felt like almost four years of painstaking research, effort and time had been wasted. I was exhausted and wanted to slink into a corner, lick my wounds and chide myself for ever having thought that I could do it.
     I'll tell you what happened next on 10th February in part three of the inside story of Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940 -1946.
     Thanks for dropping by. It's good to be back.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Part one of the inside story of writing Blood and Bandages - fighting for life in the RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946

I never meant to write a book.
    In 2009, the year I met William Earl, I was still basking in the glory of graduating from the University of the Arts London with an MA in screenwriting. The MA had awakened a passion for writing original screenplays and within a year of graduating, two of my short films had been made, my first ever play had been performed in Adur Arts Live and I was working with a renowned script editor on a feature film. Life was exciting and I was looking forward to a future in screenwriting.
     I met William on Remembrance Sunday when I popped in to my in-laws to watch the BBC coverage of the commemorations at Whitehall. William was a neighbour for whom they cared and when I arrived, he was reminising about his time in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War. As I had featured a war veteran in a previous blog, I identified William as a potential interviewee.
     
William in 2011 with Tom on Daisy, William's mobility scooter.

     At my request, my in-laws asked William if he wanted to be interviewed for my blog and a  meeting was scheduled for early 2010. 
     When I arrived, William welcomed me into his tidy old fashioned home and while we looked at his unpolished medals he declared, "I'm a D-Day Dodger and I still hate Mark Clark for what he did at Anzio." I didn't expect that and instantly felt that this wasn't going to be a pale interview full of facts but no fizz. For the next hour, William explained that he had been called-up to join the 214th Field Ambulance, 56th (London) Division in 1940 where he'd learnt the trade of a nursing orderly.  His job was to treat, collect and evacuate the wounded from the front line to the medical units further back. He illustrated their positions with pencil drawings and reeled off where he had seen action, North AfricaSalerno, Monte Cassino, Anzio, and the River Po. Even with my scant knowledge of the Second World War, I recognised the names of these major engagements. William was bursting to continue his story when the hour was up so we agreed to meet again.
     In fact, we met many times after that and gradually he told of more intimate and terrifying experiences. I became conscious of the fact that I was hearing a unique story which deserved a wider audience. I told William that I wanted to tell his story, not in a blog, but in a book. He readily agreed, but what he had in mind was a pamphlet which he could give to his friends. I already knew that his story should be set in the context of his field ambulance and the Italian Campaign so I rejected that idea and instead offered to write his memoir with a view to getting it published.  He agreed and I stepped up a gear.
     Firstly, I had to verify the facts. William's army records were requested and checked. They supported William's dates, role and locations. My husband and I clambered into William's loft and recovered the letters he'd sent home from the front, his love poems to his beloved wife Mary and a stash of war photos. It was an enviable collection of first hand evidence upon which I could base the book. Next thing was to delve into the Italian Campaign to check William's account of various events. They fitted. It was coming together and, at that stage, I still felt that I could write William's story while continuing to feed my passion for scriptwriting. That all changed in 2012.
    Contextualising William's story within World War Two had only taken me so far and I needed to move onto the detail to really test the strength and accuracy of his story. Hence, in February 2012, I paid my first visit to the Museum of Military Medicine at Keogh Barracks, Aldershot. There I was shown all the World War Two RAMC training manuals and as I read who did what and where, William's account of his role started to slot into the wider picture. That said, what struck me most was the fact that the manuals seemed to have been written by those who had served in the First World War for references were made to mistakes made in 1914 -18.  Next stop was the National Archives to read the 214th's war diaries. They ran to hundreds of pages and I painstakingly photographed each one.
     When I got home I started reading them. There was so much material that I split it up into periods of three months, cross referencing each month with William's interview notes, his photographs and his letters home. They confirmed William's version of events. More surprisingly, I found myself being drawn into the world of the 214th and I started to care about the men about whom I was reading.

Officers and sergeants of the 214th Field Ambulance (courtesy of William Earl)

     I laughed at the exasperation of the 214th's first commanding officer who attempted to convert the recalcitrant new recruits, William among them, to army life. I sympathised with Private Sherwood who made the heartbreaking decision to leave his badly injured friend, Private Mustoe, and save a lesser injured soldier. I cried when they found Mustoe's body the following day. I felt the desperation of Major Johnson who repeatedly tried to reach a seriously injured officer before a town was surrounded by Germans. I shared the pain of the officers whose Christmas toast was to an infantry unit that had been decimated the previous autumn.
     As I summarised and catalogued each entry, I felt a growing sense of obligation to tell their story as well as William's. However, to do that I would have to gain:-
1.     a much broader understanding of the Second World War in the west
2.     a detailed understanding of the Italian Campaign and the 56th London Division
3.     an expert level of understanding of the operation of a field ambulance, and most painfully of all,
4.    put my beloved scriptwriting on hold, let my industry leads go cold and allow the MA skills, so  diligently honed over two years, atrophy.
   I had boxed myself into a corner and I now had to choose between passion and obligation.
     I'll tell you what I did in my next blog, due out on 27th January.
     Until then, thanks for dropping by and see you soon. It's great to be back.