This story started to come together in my head when the US and the UK invaded Iraq and I saw George W Bush on the TV news down on the ranch in Texas. He was wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots and looked every inch the all-American hero. It got me thinking about how the legacy of the Wild West still informs our current notions of bravery and heroism.
As a boy, in the 1950s, all I ever wanted to do was play Cowboys and Indians. And that’s the way it is with the young hero of The Brave, Tommy Bedford. The story starts in 1959 when he gets sent away to a brutal boarding school, bristling with bullies and sadistic teachers. His only comfort and escape is his fantasy world of cowboys. When his sister, a rising movie star, falls in love with one of his screen heroes, the suave TV cowboy actor Ray Montane, Tommy gets to live in Hollywood and all his dreams suddenly seem to have come true – until a shocking act of violence changes everything.
This story runs in parallel with the present day story of Tommy (now Tom) as an adult. Living alone in Montana, he’s divorced, lonely and estranged from his only child, Danny, a US Marine serving in Iraq. When Danny is charged with murder, the two parallel stories come together. Both father and son are forced to confront the terrible secrets of the past.
There was a lot of research involved in writing this book. The most enjoyable part was doing a lot of reading about Hollywood in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The most chilling part was finding out what life is like for a young soldier fighting in Iraq.
The Brave is about the fallibility of heroes, about the nature of bravery and about the devastating effects of family secrets.