Friday, 11 April 2014

The Lost Patrol


Living next to a cemetery can have a fairly profound effect on a boy with a vivid imagination. Living next to a WW1 war cemetery in France even more so.

When I was 9 years old I moved to France with my parents when my father got a job as a gardener with the War Graves Commission, looking after allied cemeteries from two world wars. We ended up living next to a large military cemetery on a hill, miles from anywhere, which meant spending lots of time mooching around trying to find trouble in which to get. Not that easy when all you can see is empty rolling fields… and endless lines of headstones in neat rows, with strict orders to leave alone.

It was actually a lovely place, quiet and serene - if you could appreciate it for what it was. Unfortunately, prompted by boredom, I think my brain eventually slipped into juvenile fiction mode, and saw ghosts where there were none, with vague images of battles and trenches and feats of great courage. Maybe this was the first time I was to experience the beginnings of an idea lifted from fact  that would one day transition into a story. 


Whatever it was, for years afterwards I retained the memory of shadows moving among the headstones in the evening, of men in WW1 uniform standing chatting, exchanging cigarettes and whiling away their time – of which they had a lot, of course.
This stayed with me, teasing at the edges of my imagination, until I decided to do something about it. That something became ‘The Lost Patrol’, a novel for young adults (and even old adults), about a group of soldiers lost in limbo after being caught in an artillery barrage and vaporised, presumed by their regiment to have deserted.

What might happen to these men if they couldn’t move on, trapped by rumour and dishonour? Could they effect their own transition to a final resting place? And would it work so long the event?

Well, anything’s possible, so I placed a teenage boy, Robbie Greene, on a reluctant holiday in the area and bored out of his brain, as the only person who can see these spirits wandering among the headstones and looking for somebody to help them get away before the ‘Dark Ones’ come for them and drag them down into a place where there is nothing; no Heaven and no hell... and no salvation or peace.
He has trouble believing his own eyes at first, of course, because as everyone knows, ghosts don't exist, do they?
‘The Lost Patrol’ (which has a fair bit of dark humour) is all about coming of age, of finding something deep inside, of courage and fears and facing up to something you really can't believe.
But mostly it’s about that thing we all think about from time to time: what if… ?
In a way, I'd like to think this book was conceived and written as a tribute to all those men who were lost in the misery of battle and never found, their precise fate never established.
But not in every case. As we keep hearing, some men do turn up again, their remains discovered in a forgotten corner of a foreign field. 

And maybe, in this centenary year of that war, that's something to hang onto.
'The Lost Patrol' - available on Kindle wherever you are .

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