Two Up-to-Everything Boys
For two up-to-everything boys this is an exciting story of spies, intrigue, and attempted assassinations. It’s set in Bristol during the World War 1, which was a very different and harsher time for children. The background to this story is a tale in itself, an eye-opener, true to the period and meticulously researched.
Mar and ‘Appy, the two boys, both have fathers away fighting for their country. Money is beyond tight, the boys work and go to school, look after younger siblings and elderly grandparents, and their families live well below the poverty line of the day. We get an insight into communities of large families, their fears of illness – diphtheria was widespread - and tired and careworn mothers, who nevertheless want a better life for their offspring. In this era, coming to school late, because of taking a smaller child to the doctor’s, has the headmaster reaching for his cane. That was the standard punishment for just about anything.
None of this stops the boys. They do not even question their circumstances, and their utter, unquestioning loyalty to their country goes way beyond “doing their bit” for the war effort. Escaping chores, they have the run of city, and that brings them into earshot and ultimately danger from enemy plotters.
Bristol itself is another backdrop to the story, and on one occasion, it’s very mediocrity makes for an unusual incident that turns out to be an advantage for the boys:
“Suddenly the stillness was pierced by a single scream… a thousand rats cascaded in a torrent down Union Road and straight across to the Floody; this great stinking mass…surged down the road… their fur glistening, their eyes flashing, the stench of a hundred sewers rolled into one…I jerked my feet up, my fear enveloping me, certain they would drag me into the Floody with them…”
This time, the mass distracts their pursuers, enabling the boys to get away.
Yet the duo continue to risk danger again and again, and need all their ingenuity to foil the spy ring:
“Appy gingerly rounded the corner of a stack of crates and handed me what seemed like an enormous lump of clay with a clock face; it was ticking.
‘What do you think that is?’”
This time Mar has to think for himself - and quickly.
There is plenty of action, and unexpected twists throughout. For me, personally, the book rang with its authenticity – here’s the world of my parents and grandparents, also from Somerset. The snippets which have come down through family stories echo what I read here. The story gave me another insight, for despite the hardships suffered, here was the courage and patriotism of ordinary people that kept our country together in uncertain times.
I was born in Bristol and lived there until my early twenties. I’ve subsequently lived in a number of places in the UK and have settled in a small village near Farnham. Initially I taught primary school children but the happiest time in my working life was the years I spent teaching English and Drama to university students. My relationship with them was the best part of the job and the banter is something I miss, although I do get to see some of them still. Indeed some were at my book launch in Farnham.
I have written non-fiction for children and also academic work for adults, but in my retirement I turned to writing fiction and I’ve really enjoyed it. An avid reader myself, I wanted to write an adventure story which also drew on my love of history. I worked through many drafts, both in my head and on paper. I’ve deleted passages I loved and tried to make the story lean and exciting. I’ve adjusted characters to make them believable and stronger and adapted language to make the text open and inviting for the target age group. Now I’m looking forward to writing a sequel.
Drama is a great love of mine and I’m kept busy acting and directing for a local company. Where did all that time go that I thought I’d have in retirement?