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Hello at last!
I’m acutely aware of how long it’s been since my last newsletter – and, more to the point, since my last novel. Some of you will probably know the reason. Almost exactly two years ago on a visit to Scotland, I ate some poisonous wild mushrooms that had been wrongly identified. It was a close call for the four of us who ate them. We thought we were eating ceps, but they were in fact Cortinarius Speciosissimus which are supposed to be deadly poisonous. The toxin in this mushroom attacks the kidneys and unless you get promptly diagnosed and treated, you’re dead. Thanks to some brilliant doctors and nurses in Aberdeen, we got the finest treatment available – all courtesy of the much maligned but absolutely wonderful British National Health Service. We owe it our lives.
All of this had a pretty drastic effect on the progress of my new novel, The Brave. The manuscript lay untouched for many months while I got used to life on dialysis. Having no kidney function, I have to be hitched to a blood cleaning machine for five hours, every other day. For a while I found even the idea of working too tiring. But at last I managed to get down to it and finished the book. It’s being published this autumn, first in the UK in September, then a month later in the US, Italy and Holland. Other countries will follow next year when translations are finished.
Let me tell you a bit about it.
When I was a boy, in the 1950s, all I wanted to do was play cowboys and Indians. And that’s how it is with the young hero of The Brave, Tommy Bedford. When we first meet him, it’s 1959 and he is being sent away to a brutal boarding school. His only comfort and escape is his fantasy world of cowboys and, in particular, his number one hero and imaginary mentor Flint McCullough from the TV show Wagon Train.
Tommy has a big sister whom he adores. Diane is an up and coming actress and when she gets her first big break in Hollywood, she falls in love with one of Tommy’s greatest heroes, Ray Montane, the suave star of the TV western Sliprock. Tommy gets to move to California and, for a while, all his dreams seem to have come true. He meets Steve McQueen, Charlton Heston, gets to ride horses and shoot real guns. Then the sinister side of Tinseltown casts a shadow and things start to go wrong.
Running in parallel with this is the present day story of Tommy (now Tom) as an adult. He’s a lonely, troubled character, living on his own in Missoula, Montana. He’s divorced and estranged from his only child, Danny, a US Marine fighting the war in Iraq. When Danny gets charged with murder, both father and son are forced to confront the secrets of the past and the parallel stories of the book come together. And that’s all I’m going to tell you – except to say that it’s quite an emotional journey, with some big twists and surprises thrown in along the way.
I don’t know whether it’s anything to do with having a little brush with death, but life at the moment seems pretty good. The last two summers here in Devon, where I live, have been wet and miserable. This summer, however, has been the kind one remembers from childhood, when it was always sunny and warm. We’ve done a lot of swimming and canoeing in the river and gone to the coast to surf and windsurf.
Last winter was harsh and one of our worries that the kingfishers down on the river might not have survived. It wasn’t until June that I saw one, a bullet of blue neon, streaking upstream ahead of the canoe. Suddenly another splashed into the water right beside us then flew to an overhanging branch with a minnow in his beak. I feel blessed to live in such a beautiful place.
I recently had a big birthday (that’s right, 39 again) and had a blissful weekend with all my children. My daughter, a zoologist who works with elephants, even came back specially from Kenya. The sun shone, the river glittered and all was right with the world. I hope it’s that way for you too.
That’s all for now. Watch out for the publication of The Brave. And if you get a chance to read it, I hope you enjoy it. And… be sure to check out my newly redesigned website where you can also see a video in which I discuss The Brave. Also, I hereby promise to get out another newsletter soon.
P.S. You can now view my Facebook page.