Friday, 13 March 2015

Writing a Sequel

I enjoyed writing my first WW1 novel, In Foreign Fields. It wasn’t difficult to write once I had completed all the necessary research. I began with a clean sheet of paper, and the main characters, Captain Wendel and Lieutenant DeBoise, developed in line with the plot.
The sequel, In Line of Fire, wasn’t nearly so easy to write. I wonder if it was the additional effort needed to complete the novel that has earned the book praise from its readers.
There was no clean sheet of paper at the start of this novel. I began with two main characters who were already well-developed. The plot had to work in tune with them, not the other way round. In addition, my research revealed aspects of the war that could not be omitted from the story. Commander Smith-Cumming, head of the Secret Intelligence Service, was badly injured in a motor accident. As he was my protagonists’ boss, I had to weave that into the plot.
At the end of the first book, set in September 1914, I left Wendel and DeBoise in Antwerp. In Line of Fire begins with their escape from the city while it is under siege. I needed to study text books and old newspapers to discover the reality of that siege. My characters had to get away from the assault in a realistic manner.
I always intended that the story would end with the Worcester Regiment’s gallant action at Gheluvelt, near Ypres. Getting Wendel and DeBoise into that action required a lot of thought, and the solution had to be credible.

When I submitted In Line of Fire to my publisher, Cloudberry, I was satisfied with it. The pleasing feedback since its release has made all the effort worth while.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Gheluvelt 1914

October 1914

What Actually Happened

The German aim was to overwhelm the British and French armies and sieze the Channel ports, but Ypres was in their way, and the British held the town. The importance of Ypres was hard to overstress. If the Germans overran it they would have a clear route to the Channel ports. Critical to the British campaign at Ypres was the village of Gheluvelt. It was the last position which had to be taken before the enemy advanced on Ypres. By noon on 31st October, the defending regiments of Royal Scots, Welsh and Kings Royal Rifles had been overcome. Loss of Gheluvelt would now open up the serious gap in the British line. The gap had to be closed.

The Worcester Regiment was the last regiment waiting to be thrown into the defence. They were located in Polygon Wood, commanded by Major Hankey. At 1300 hours, they were ordered to attack and hold Gheluvelt. All around them, they saw other defeated British soldiers drawing back. When the Worcesters moved forward, they were the only ones to do so. In front of them the ridge which hid the village was littered with dead and wounded. German shells fell all around them.

When the leading men came in sight of the Germans, the enemy guns were instantly trained onto them, but there was no going back. Hankey decided that the only way to cross the open ground in front of them was at the double. They began their attack with 370 men but 180 were killed in the advance. As the remaining Worcesters burst into the grounds of Chateau Gheluvelt, they met up the South Wales Borders who were making a last-ditch heroic stand. Amidst fierce fighting, they forced the Germans to retreat. Gheluvelt was taken and the gap in the British line was plugged. Ypres was saved, as were the Channel ports.

In Line of Fire

In Line of Fire begins with the siege of Antwerp in 1914. I wanted to end my novel with an account of that heroic action by the Worcester Regiment, but I also needed to bring in my fictional characters, Captain Wendel and Lieutenant DeBoise. I was, in short, in the same position as Bernard Cornwell when he put Richard Sharpe into the battles of the Peninsular War. The plot I devised required me to bring another regiment into the action – a totally fictional regiment which I called the King’s Own Highland Dragoons. I make no apologies for that because I have in no way taken anything from the bravery of Hankey and his Worcesters. People who have read my novel tell me it works every bit as well as any Sharpe story, but what do you think?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

In Line of Fire is finally up and running on Amazon. The publisher had problems getting it there. The Amazon system seemed to go temperamental for a while. Now it is time to think about the third novel in the series. The title will probably be, In Harm's Way. The background to the action will be the raid of the Frierichshafen Zeppelin sheds in November 1914.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

In LIne of Fire

Is the second novel in a series easier to write than the first?

I think so.

When I wrote In Foreign Field, the first of my WW1 novels, I was getting to know my characters as I went along. I knew what was going to happen to them and I knew what sort of people they were, but that wasn’t the whole story. By being so deeply immersed in their experiences, I came to know them more intimately. They became almost like real people. As a consequence, when I started the second novel, In Line of Fire, I already knew so much more about them that I was able to describe them and their reactions more easily.

In Line of Fire is now in the final stages of editing and should be released soon. I'm looking forward to it. I feel especially satisfied with this story.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Forward Planning

I like to plan my novels in some detail. The strategy worked in my favour when I designed a wonderful character for my novel, The Gallows on Warlock Hill. I planned that she would start out with the appearance of being particularly unlikeable, but would end up as the story’s real heroine. It was partly a case of the character changing her behaviour as the story progressed, and partly a case of the reader misjudging her at the start. Showing a change in her behaviour as the book progressed wasn’t easy because it had to be believable. In order to make it convincing, and keep to the story I wanted to tell, I had to enforce a tight rein on the girl’s actions all the way through the book. I allowed her to break into tantrums when the plot demanded it, allowed her to misbehave atrociously when the plot demanded it, and I allowed her to lower her guard when the time came to reveal the real person behind the mask. Most importantly, I had to carefully plan the chapters in which the various behaviour changes would occur. The changes the reader sees in that character had to come about not too soon and not too slow. There was no room for reliance upon hope and good luck. The book would not have worked had I allowed the development to occur randomly.
I had to keep to my well-defined chapter-by-chapter structure when I wrote that manuscript, and yet the story is alive with raw emotion. Don’t be lured into believing that a tightly-plotted novel will be short on human feelings. They will exist, but they will come to the surface when the writer’s plan dictates, not when the character (or the writer’s sub-conscious) dictates.
If you’re still not convinced, ask yourself what sort of theatre play would you prefer to see? One in which the characters make up the story as they go along? Or one in which they follow the script? For myself I’d prefer the one with a prepared script and a cast who act in the way the director demands. But, you may choose to do things in a different way and I respect your right to do that. After all, it’s your novel.