Based on a true story. Ted and Florrie were childhood sweethearts who in 1936, married at the church on top of the Hill where they both lived, unaware of the dark rumblings from Europe, which in a few short years were to change their lives forever. Ted is called up in 1940 and joins an elite Airborne glider force tasked with attacking, capturing and holding bridges in enemy-held Normandy vital to the success of the D-Day invasion. His war continues, across the bloody Rhine Crossing, across Germany until finally meeting the Russian Army on the Baltic. Casualties are terrible. Ted is demobbed and returns to Florrie and his young family unscathed or apparently so, for Florrie doesn’t know the man who returns. Soon the constant horror of death and battle takes its toll on him and both have to struggle to understand and come to terms with a problem that could destroy them both in the buttoned-up society of the 1940s and 50s. Pegasus to Paradise is an ode to both the extraordinary efforts of ordinary men and women during WW2 and a social commentary of the lives of real people from the grey fifties with the horse-drawn baker’s van and black footprints of the coalman to a society recovering from the devastation of war. A moving portrait of trauma, survival, humour and the power of love in post-war Britain.
In the virtual studio is the author of Pegasus to Paradise, Michael Tappenden!
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in the middle of an air-raid with my first yells competing with the sound of air-raid sirens and anti-aircraft fire. The fact that this occurred in Kent, the Garden of England, whose very name implies bucolic gentleness and little strategic importance, seemed lost on the Luftwaffe, who regularly deposited bombs, doodlebugs and burning aircraft onto it, when they were not enjoying themselves, machinegunning cows, sheep, fields and the odd hop-picker. In addition, the war in April 1942 was not going well, particularly in the Pacific for which I somehow felt personally responsible, rather like a bad luck charm arriving and now apologise profusely to the Forces of the United States.
Somehow my father survived the war, despite both Allies and Axis laying considerable odds against that happening and so I had the good fortune of having been brought up by both of my parents (that’s one of each gender in those less enlightened days) but also a brother, which of course, unfortunately, meant sharing.
I spent a great deal of my childhood reading, which of course made Christmas and birthdays easy for my family. They simply had to get together and remember which book they hadn’t already bought me. I also spent my time listening to a radio (there was no television to begin with until Mrs A just up the road got one on Hire Purchase and the entire street queued patiently to have a look). The advantage of radio was that it both stimulated the imagination and allowed you to tune into a whole host of exotic places around the world, so developing a sense of adventure and curiosity (and geography).
At a tender age, I passed what turned out to be a life changing exam and found myself complete with school cap, uniform, hymn book and a shiny new satchel in a 1950s grammar school where I was assaulted daily with lashings of schoolwork, discipline and rugger. The teachers wore gowns, carried canes (which they used whenever the mood took them) and the boys doffed their caps in the presence of their elders and betters. It was stultifyingly narrow, socially exclusive, but gave the few boys lucky enough to be there, an entrée into the academic world of the university and the professions. So, accordingly, I left, academically successful, and began work with a gang of Irish labourers on a building site… and so my education really began. I had decided to join the real world (as the blisters on my hands soon indicated) and rapidly discovered that my ability to decline Latin verbs was of little value. I had however discovered English Literature and the beauty of the English language. So, thank you for that school.
It may have been that radio and all those exotic place names or the fact that my father had been something of a hero (amongst heroes) in WW2 (he had been one of the first Allied soldiers to crash-land behind enemy lines in a flimsy glider on the eve of D-Day, 1944) that convinced me to make my next move. By now, I had promoted myself from labourer to the role of gardener and junior grave-digger (as well as seasonal fruit and hop picker) and one lunchtime, found myself volunteering to join the Parachute Regiment of the British Army. I won’t bore you with the selection process, except to say that of my intake, sixty per cent failed to make it. So, I became a fully-fledged paratrooper, serving my country for a year in the mystical deserts of the Middle East and later in a rather bloody civil war in Cyprus. And, not only did I keep a diary, but I began to write. Write home… about a strange, mysterious and at times potentially life threatening world, whether from thirst or bullets. About the spiritual beauty and isolation of the desert and mountains, of the people and later of abject fear and hatred and terror. And my mother kept all my letters. Of course she did.
Three years later, I found myself in England again, a civilian, with the strange urge to settle down. I applied to a college, became an art student and then a graphic designer based in London. (Very exciting in the 1970s). Later, I took those skills and became a Course Leader and Principal Lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts, giving me the opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experiences to young people. (Also, more travelling, this time to exhort the advantages of the English University system in Europe, Africa, Far East). It was now, that I also first became involved in the professional process of writing by having research papers published. A very specialist form of writing but I can still remember the thrill.
Then, I left. (Teaching is so important but can also be highly stressful. Big cheer for all those teachers out there). So, I left, retrieved the bucket list I had made out when I was eighteen, ticked them off – OK I wasn’t going to play for England now – and became a writer.
2. Do you recall the moment you first conceived the idea for your novel?
Initially I attended evening writing classes, which I found hugely useful. It’s one thing writing home to your Mum, another entering the world of the professional writer and it was there that I settled on the theme of my first novel (or at least I thought that I had). I decided to write about my family, in particular my mother, Florrie, a very feisty, eccentric, rather bonkers woman and my father, Ted, the D-Day hero. Theirs was, I knew, a fascinating life, within which, war had a terrible impact. And that’s where the problems started.
I set up a writers group with two writers I met at the class. This turned out to be invaluable. We were all at the same stage in our writing careers and capable of giving each other honest appraisals. We also acted as a common catalyst (useful when the will to write lags a bit). We also became friends.
3. How different is the final product (the book) from your original vision? That is, did the structure and content of the novel change with the passage of time?
There were so many issues and problems:
- What was the truth? Not only the factual details but the truth that happens between people, in their private lives, often hidden or deflected or minimised or even exaggerated.
- The enormous amount of research needed.
- The temptation to include all that juicy research.
- The skill in including factual details seamlessly and not obviously.
- How honest could I be? These were my parents after all. Could I tell this warts and all? Would that be a betrayal?
- If this is based on a true story, how much can I add/fabricate? What rules did I need to determine beforehand?
- Mother and father yes, but what about the kids in the family? Hang on, that includes me. How do I write about me? (That was so difficult. Not so much from a factual point of view but I found myself jumping from the first to third person and back again. Am I writing about me – the writer – or me the character as well as being the narrator? In the end, I had to change my name to make it work).
- What would the structure be? I had no idea and eventually I had to read other books on a similar theme to understand how to structure it. It didn’t help that because of the subject matter this also had a chronological content that had to be considered. At one point, I wrote a cv of each character including their dates of birth and death, and made sure that their age was relevant to key points in the story. They really couldn’t retire aged six.
- What about the language. This story covered most of the twentieth century. Things change let alone the wallpaper.
- What genre would this be? Would it fit neatly into some marketing concept? And who was the book aimed at? I really had no idea (even when it was finished). I just knew that the classics I had read were just brilliant stories and that had always been enough for me.
- How long should it be? I discovered that nowadays, some peoples’ attention span is rather gnat-like. Will they be bothered to read the extra thirty thousand words above the average length recommended?
- How well written should it be? I grew up on the literary giants. Should I aim for the Booker prize or just dumb it down? I was amazed at how some people found it too difficult to understand. What?
- Was I aware of the emotional trauma that I the writer, was going to put myself through?
I realised quite quickly that my thoughts and opinions which I thought were well determined, were actually like shoals of little fish, one moment bright and silver and the next darting for the deep shadows. My pen on the paper however left physical marks (yes, pen on paper back then) which I was forced to confront – they were staring me in the face – and often took me to places that were dark and difficult. My father had been a war hero – no doubt about that – I had read the official accounts many times, seen the film, even visited the ‘set.’ He fitted the black and white war films of my childhood perfectly. Handsome, square-jawed, resolute, prepared for sacrifice, defeating the nation’s enemies, steeped in glory. I even knew about the concept of ‘horrors of war’ – that was part of the package – although never expressed. But how had he really felt, this strong man, my father? Was the outer calm really a protective barrier? Had he felt fear? Yes of course. But had he trembled with terror, wanting to run and hide away? Had he felt satisfaction at killing the enemy? These were powerful emotions for me to deal with.
My mother, overwhelmed with joy on his return, quickly realised that she no longer knew the person who now inhabited his body and certainly didn’t understand for nothing was spoken about. Why did he (and countless others) refuse to say a word? But she coped, stood by him, even though she was saddened and dismayed by her exclusion. So, was she the strong one after all?
I shouted angrily at them. Laughed aloud at them. Was astonished by them. Admired them and wept openly for them.
The discipline of writing was not a problem (I knew all about discipline) and having started very late in life; the clock was ticking. And so, I gradually worked out what was best for me. I think that somewhere in my past there might have been a druid ancestor or maybe an Aztec priest. Why else did I relish the wonder of dawn and feel concerned when night arrived. Not frightened of the dark, but uneasy. So, I started early. Sometimes as early as five thirty am. I had no deadline other than the one I determined but decided that a thousand words a day was a good goal. (I think I read that somewhere – probably Stephen King’s excellent book on how to write) and it was a good goal to aim for. You certainly feel as if you have done a day’s work when you achieve it and at times you need all the morale boosting you can get. Especially when you are on your own – exactly why am I spending a year of my life, writing something that nobody may read? But you decide. What suits you. I am still very thoughtful about what I write, which slows down the process. Sometimes I will stop, take a large sheet of paper, a pen and work the next problem out. Lots of scribbles, arrows and re-workings. Old habits die hard.
I soon discovered that rather like my days as an art student, initially covering the canvas was important. Painting the detail could come later. My thousand words covered the canvas. To begin with, it was unlikely that any of them would see the final draft. They would be deleted, re-written. So important to be honest and ruthless (hence the writing group) and to be prepared to spend hours working and then to be able to ‘kill your darlings.’ I also had to be alone. No distractions. And no music.
Now I love music. In fact, I have just exchanged one of my children for a 1950 Buescher tenor sax, complete with original case from which, on opening, drifts the smell of the last sixty six years. Hand made in New York it makes a sound which curls ones toes. But not when I’m writing. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Access to music was not that easy in my early teens. You needed money. Now it pours into young (and not so young) ears all day long. Maybe it’s that. Maybe the truth is that now, I can only do one thing at a time. (The bit about exchanging my child was not true. Just seeing if you’re still awake).
So, one hundred and twenty thousand words later (and with sore finger tips from two finger typing) I felt at last I had begun for the first time in my life to know my parents and myself. Where I had come from, who I was, and how I had been affected by a World War that I could barely remember. And I had a book. All I needed now was a professional editor.
4. How do you feel about self-editing?
I know that increasingly you can publish your book entirely on your own. I know that employing an editor costs money. I also know of the frustration from readers faced with books that are not only structured poorly but are full of typos, poor grammar, poor design and with appalling typography and layout. The choice is yours.
5. Tell us a bit about your book’s title.
Always tricky and very important. If you are a famous author (or artist or musician) then you could probably call it anything you like. Have a look at just about anything by Frank Zappa. For example, Weasels ripped my flesh. Or T Rex – Prophets, seers and sages, the angels of the ages. Or, Captain Beefheart – Lick my decals off, baby. Or closer to home, how about Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami. If you’re not famous, then far more difficult. If you want more, then have a look at Goodread’s list of popular book titles.
The word ‘Pegasus’ refers to the symbol of the Airborne Forces of the British Army in WW2 (it has just been reinstated for today’s Forces) i.e. the flying horse ridden by Bellerophon with his lance, going by air into battle. The original cover included that symbol as an image. This obviously covers the military content of the book.
Paradise? Refers to the ending of the book (which the reader won’t know) but hopefully is intriguing and trips of the tongue as a nice piece of alliteration. The book is often called P to P.
6. Does your book have a moral?
What is fascinating is how different readers found so many different moralities and conclusions and aspects, including those that hadn’t really occurred to me and how it touched the hearts of women in particular. It was as if I, the author, had not really been that involved in the process but simply offered one hundred and twenty thousand words for others to disseminate and for me to discover.
Taken from reviews on Goodreads and amazon. Read on…
Crippling family saga of misunderstanding and missed opportunities/ deeply moving/ I enjoyed the humour and pathos/most riveting and well-crafted book I’ve read in a long time/unique and powerful word choice/attention to historical detail/gorgeous prose and vivid descriptions/like a close friend was telling me this awesome story that I didn’t want to stop listening to/some surprising twists – some shocking, some sad/action, romance, drama, politics, struggles, war, humour and sadness/ seamless narrative transitions/ riveting, emotionally endearing/ stays with you a long time after you are done.
For me, it was the absolute tragedy of war. The need for men and women not only to sacrifice their lives but also their emotional core. For them to be haunted by what they had witnessed and done. For their loved ones to be damaged by their damage. When Ted arrives home to his family, Florrie is overwhelmed by joy but soon realises that she doesn’t know who he is anymore.
For me, it was that the absolute sense of duty and resolve that had won the war, that now turned against them in the stiff upper lipped, buttoned up society of the 1940s and 50s and beyond, that almost destroyed them and lost them the peace.
For me, it was their unconditional love that saw them through and kept them together.
7. Using five words or less, describe the protagonist in Pegasus to Paradise.
War, war, war, war, war and war (sorry that’s six)
8. Could you talk to us about the process of creating your book’s cover?
As a graphic designer, the imagery is so important to me and that includes the typography – what you have never thought about the typography as imagery? Oh dear. Have you never picked up a book, opened it, looked at the dense, tiny, grey, difficult shaped words and said… don’t think I can be bothered? See what I mean. Believe me, the typographer’s art is complex, skilful and largely unsung. Let’s have a cheer for all good typographers.
I have two covers for P to P. The first a collaborative effort with the publisher and the second, a creative collaboration between me, the writer and a highly talented illustrator (Neil Breeden, former Head of Illustration at the University for the Creative Arts). Yes, I know. I am very lucky to have such a mate.
I suppose in the excitement of my debut publication, I lost sight of its credibility. Strange when you consider the professionalism and attention to detail of the editing and proofreading process and the considered approach of the publisher to design, layout and typography, that the front cover should largely be an off the shelf image. Worse still, when you consider that the author practised as a graphic designer and worse still as a design lecturer. Shame on me. OK, my sales director (if I had one) would point out the need for a cover that attracted readers and sold books and my marketing director (if I had one) would point out the need to direct the cover at a specific audience and all that’s true but for me it’s more than that.
There is a potent history of book cover design. Look at Alvin Lustig in the 1940s, Ben Jones’ design for Orwell’s 1984, the iconic Female Eunuch by John Holmes in 1970, the quality of Picador covers (see American Psycho, 1991) and the history of Penguin under the leadership of designers such as Germano Facetti and Jim Stoddart – he of the Clockwork Orange cover – and the fearlessness of the Fear of Flying (yes, the one with the zip) and much more. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?
The current aesthetic for royalty free, off the shelf, ‘that’ll do’ images with over loud type shouting at you is not pretty; it’s not even very thoughtful (and a bit of an insult to the reader as part of the instant, sensationalised, in yer face culture we often have to tolerate today). Not all of it of course. Look hard. It’s still out there.
My new book cover now tells a story. Ask questions. Looks good. Sets the decade. I like it. It feels like my book is now complete. I can sleep at night and the original (painted onto wood) is now on my wall. And then there’s the video.
The cover includes Florrie’s bridal bouquet of white flowers shedding tears/petals of red. Sign that all will not be well even though Ted stands tall and proud beside her. Great opportunity for the animator (yes, another professional – well what’s the use in having friends if you don’t ask). Actually, the animator was my daughter. Brilliant of course. Have a look at White Rabbit Animation. She’s based in Bristol. Might do something for you. Yes, I know it’s a shameless plug.
9. Of the characters you’ve created, which one is your favorite?
It feels as if being a writer is a summation of everything I have ever done being funnelled into the act of writing. Some of it I look back and clearly see the link: the love of the English language from my grammar school (although to begin with there was the tendency to pour every word I could think of into the mix). My career in art and design gave me a visual take on the world, initially via sketchbook exercises and then through the sketchbook I keep in my mind. I also learnt as a designer that less was more and simplicity was everything. But do not confuse simplicity with leaving things out. Oh no. This was a simplicity that said everything and required a great deal of creative and lateral thinking.
My love of film. If you want to understand how people tick, watch a very good actor (sorry, I’m old fashioned enough to include the word actress as well. Yes, I know that they do the same job, but they are different). Watch the moods cross their face, a simple movement in response to a situation. That’s what you the writer have to convey in words.
And in between read, read, read. Anything that takes your fancy (and sometimes things that don’t – you never know what you may be missing).
In addition, it seems important to really understand and accept yourself. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The act of writing is often a reflection of the writer. The strengths and weaknesses, the light and shade. Draw upon it.
Finally listen to your characters. If they are weighty enough they will know where they are going, how they are going to respond. It is a strange experience to sit down and begin to write a dialogue which you intend to go from A to C and somehow it goes from A to F. It’s almost as if you are simply the scribe writing down what your characters are whispering (no, sometimes shouting) in your ear.
But back to the question. My favourite character…
The obvious ones are of course Ted and Florrie, particularly Florrie, because of the interest in the book of so many female readers. Florrie who is tough and strong, who struggles against war, the reticence of her husband and her own mental health problems, but who never gives in. And it is true. But for me, her son… too close. Which leaves two others:
I worked with Patrick. He was an Irish labourer who wielded a spade with consummate skill and pride. That made me realise that great skill could be found in the simplest of tasks. (If you want to understand more, then read the poem ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney).
Patrick had always been a labourer and as he got older, he moved away from the building site to the much easier life of a gravedigger. He told stories of life in Ireland, drank and gambled his wages away (I have seen a similar scene, where two grown Irishmen, engaged in hard physical labour, have shared a single cheese sandwich as their meal for the day. The rest of their money had gone on booze). Patrick also, from time to time, set out to return to Ireland. He never made it.
I described Patrick in great detail. I could remember him in so vividly and as always I was looking for that simple detail that said so much. He always wore an old flat cap, sweat stained and frayed around the peak. He never took it off. When he briefly removed it to mop a perspiring brow, he revealed a pure white strip around his hair line, below which the rest of his face was tanned like an old chestnut.
Patrick was a gentle man, who asked for very little. His life was so different from mine and I felt a great empathy towards him. I often wonder what happened to him (although I guess I really know).
The approach to Darkie was very different. First of all he was an imagined character (well as far as I know, he mainly was). If that sounds weird, just ask yourself where your characters do actually come from? From the same place as those unknown people in your dreams?
We know quite a lot about Darkie’s background. An orphan, called up into the army alongside Ted. Generally picked on because of his small stature and the fact that clothes and he didn’t get on too well (the army had trouble kitting him out). A very private person but one with an extraordinary skill that he used very successfully one night. He was a talented fairground booth boxer.
So, there is little physical description apart from that and his name of course (which is not dwelt on). The readers are then left largely with his personality and background and are invited to fill in his physical description themselves. This seems to be a powerful tool and in addition offers a large degree of ownership to the reader’s imagination. Darkie becomes their Darkie.
10. Are you for or against outlines?
Didn’t use one. OK Pegasus to Paradise is a true story essentially and chronological in nature (historical fiction) but I had no idea of the ending until I got there. My second novel (when can we get hold of it, I hear you clamour) is entirely fictional (as far as that is possible) and has no outline. It does however have a number of issues to be explored and exploration is what has happened. I had no idea of where it was going until I got there. People ask me what the title will be. No idea yet except it kept on changing as the story changed. I would not like to be straightjacketed by an outline unless I could change it at will and then I suppose it’s no longer an outline.
11. Any project in the works?
Mature couple re-meet by accident after forty years of being separately bashed about by the culture of their time and life in general. Do they really want to get together? Maybe, but this time governed by their own rules. They discover an enormous freedom particularly erotically. But their past is never far away and threatens to destroy them. Will they let it? Will they be able to stop it? How much control do any of us have with their lives?
12. What is your favorite book?
Easy. I recently purchased a new copy of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson from the Folio Society. WOW!
Black slip case with matt foil blocking illustration, curved to allow access to the book. Book cover bound in buckram and blocked with wonderful illustration. Traditional case bound book with wonderful typography reminiscent of the time. Full colour illustrations. It looks wonderful. Feels great. Smells divine.
And the story!
Stevenson was also a traveller (partly through ill health) and this undoubtedly influenced his writing. From a treasure map drawn for a young relative came the adventure story of Treasure Island, published in 1883, a story of the sea and travel, of pirates and buried treasure, of good and evil. Over one hundred years later, it is still vivid and exciting. OK it is a boy’s own adventure story, but a wonderful piece of storytelling that has stood the test of time and made me, as a young lad want to be Jim Hawkins (and maybe in a way I was). Jim Hawkins? Read the book and find out. Smell the sea, feel the danger.
13. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
- Be able to write English. You know spelling, grammar, punctuation. If you can’t do it, then get an editor who can. It is highly unprofessional and irritating to churn out stuff that is riddled with errors. And don’t give me that bullshit about a living language or the need to break rules or having your creativity denied. That is an impoverished excuse. We are after all, talking about the writer’s craft.
- Have something to say. Something original. Something you know about. Don’t just copy your version of the latest successful fantasy/sci-fi/thriller/TV series (unless you want to be the sort of writer whose books are read on beach holidays and then confined to the nearest dustbin).
- Don’t expect any financial reward (then if you get some, it will be pleasant surprise).
- Never give up. If one stranger reads your book and tells you how much they enjoyed it, then you are a writer.
And now for a game of “Which Do/Would You Prefer?”
1. Dogs or cats?
Did you know that wild dogs (wolves, jackals, dingoes etc.) rarely bark? So, domestic dogs have developed a language with which to communicate with humans and humans (certainly doggy humans) can interpret that language. Seems a shame after all that effort by our canine friends not to do so.
2. Summer or winter?
‘Summer afternoon – summer afternoon: To me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.’ Henry James.
3. Cake or ice-cream?
Ice cream every day but has to be cake on birthdays.
4. Ebook or physical book?
You can feel, smell, visually enjoy and hear a physical book. Even put it under your pillow (without breaking it). Did you know that papermakers used to put straw into the pulp mix to give the paper ‘crackle?’ That lovely sound you get when you turn the pages over. Books were the first multi-media item. Long may they live.
5. Living in the city or living in the country?
There are stars in the country. In the sky I mean. Just look up. Millions of them. There are very few over the city when I look up. Presume they’ve gone to the country because it’s cheaper there.
‘If you would be known and not know, live in a village.
If you would know and not be known, live in a city.’
Charles Caleb Colton
6. To find true love or to win the lottery?
True love is a lottery
7. To speak using ONLY rap lyrics (from songs released in the 21st century) or to speak using ONLY quotes from Austen’s books?
A lot of Austen’s writing is about the misuse of language as a way of indicating a social position or class. Which assumes a very correct way of speaking. I wonder if we do that now or are we now more accepting? It certainly would be fun to have the spoken ability to conduct quite scathing attacks but within the realms of polite behaviour that you witness between Elizabeth Bennett and the initially arrogant Mr Darcy. Polite, intelligent, witty, biting, clever, never resorting to anger or oaths. How many people are able to do that today?
8. Losing your ability to speak or losing your ability to hear?
My wife became deaf after an attack of septicaemia and it rapidly became clear that her deafness isolated and excluded her from the rest of the world. Initially I found it difficult to understand why deaf people said they would rather be blind. However after attending classes in lip reading with her and experiencing the same feelings of anger and panic and despair at not being unable to comprehend (and I still had my hearing) I understood. Your ability to understand and communicate when you are deaf is severely limited even with deaf aids and inplants.
9. To never again eat a piece of chocolate or to never again drink a cup of coffee?
It’s obvious now that both coffee and chocolate have good health properties (as long as they are not laced with sugar and taken in moderation) so the choice is a difficult one. I suppose it would have to be coffee on the grounds (sorry) that it is so available. One bag of coffee will last for many more bars of chocolate. No, that assumes not eating the whole bar in one sitting. Yes, I have… occasionally. Yes, I know. Anyway, aren’t you supposed to only have one square a day, of the darkest chocolate/cocoa you can manage? Mind you, if you live in Brussels as I have done, on and off, then a cup of Belgium chocolate will blow your mind, saturate your sips with sin, tantalise your taste buds and make your knees go all funny. Pardon café.
Thank you for joining us, Michael!
Readers: want to connect with Michael? You can find him on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Smashwords. Also, be sure to check out his author website. Interested in reading Pegasus to Paradise? U.S. readers, click here. U.K. readers, click here.