Friday, 1 July 2011

Guest Blog! Pat Kelleher (Author of 'No Man's World: Black Hand Gang')

Going back to June last year, I said that Pat Kelleher's 'Black Hand Gang' was 'a thoroughly entertaining tale that promises great things for the future' (check out the full review Here if you like). 'The Ironclad Prophecy' (sequel) will be with us imminently so I thought that now would be a great time to ask Pat if he fancied sharing with us where some of the ideas and inspiration, for the series, came from. Pat was happy to oblige (thanks Pat!) and gave us the following piece below. I'm looking forward to 'The Ironclad Prophecy' even more now :o)


The No Man’s World series is about a battalion of British Tommies, the 13th Pennine Fusiliers, on the Somme in 1916. They go ‘over the top’ only to vanish along with a huge section of the battlefield, leaving behind a huge hole that became known as the Harcourt Crater and an even greater mystery. The battalion, on the other hand, find themselves and their section of trenches displaced to an inhospitable alien world and have to struggle to survive while searching for a way home.

Why World War One?

It came about through a swirling coalescence of ideas that slowly drew in more and more influences, but started with a few core inspirations with enough mass in my mind to kick-start the headlong rush of ideas.

I first became aware of some of the conspiracies and mysteries of the First World War back in the early 1970s through World of Wonder, a sister magazine to Look and Learn. They had a regular ‘Strange Stories’ feature. That was where I first came across things like the Piltdown man, Spring-Heeled Jack and the Tunguska explosion. It was there, too, that I first learnt of Percy Toplis, as well as the WW1 regiment that vanished into a cloud. But I was also reading comics and among the usual Battle Action stories of World War 2 daring do, was Charley’s War, a World War One story written by Pat Mills and drawn by Jack Colquhoun, following the experiences of young Charley Bourne during the Great War.

Those stories stayed with me and having to study Goodbye To All That, Robert Graves autobiographical account of his experiences in the First World War for ‘A’ Level, along with the War Poets, ensured that World War One became indelibly engrained in my head one way or another.

The Monocled Mutineer

Percy Toplis reared his head again in 1986 with Alan Bleasdale’s The Monocled Mutineer, starring Paul McGann. It retold the story of the small time criminal who volunteered as a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corp and had a penchant for desertion and impersonating officers. He was also an alleged ring leader of the 1917 mutiny at the Etaples training camp in France when several hundred men ran riot, protesting at the cruel treatment of their trainers. He managed to avoid capture until 1920, when he was shot by police. There is, however, evidence to suggest he was nowhere near Etaples and was in fact with his regiment on the way to India at the time. The truth may not be known until the Government records are opened in 2017, an extraordinarily long time for such records to be sealed. It was a great starting place for a protagonist like Jeffries.

The Lost Regiment

There was also a book called All The King’s Men, by Nigel McCrery that came out in the early Nineties and detailed the true fate of the Sandringham company, formed from volunteers working on King George V’s estate in Norfolk. As part of the Norfolk Regiment they were dispatched to Gallipoli to fight the Turks. They were sent into battle and never returned. Contemporary eye witness reports claimed a cloud descended onto the battlefield and when it lifted the men were gone. After the war, it turned out that the eye witness reports were wrong; wrong day, wrong direction and the truth was much more tragic. The survivors of the Sandringham Company had been captured and executed by the Turks, their bodies dumped in a mass grave. But rather than let the unpalatable truth get out, the King and Queen decided that perhaps it was for the best that the mystery be allowed to remain and the myth to stand. So the Sandringham Company joined other World War One myths like the Angel of Mons; where the vision of an angel in the sky was supposed to have rallied the retreating British Expeditionary Force, and the Phantom Bowman – actually a short story by Arthur Machen, about the ghosts of Agincourt archers leading Tommies into battle, which was told and retold so often that the origin of the story was lost and it became real in the minds of many. Surely one more myth, like the disappearance of the Pennine Fusiliers, would be in good company.

Lochnagar Crater, La Boiselle

The creation of the Harcourt Crater, too, was also forged in the heart of a real event.

Prior to the battle of the Somme, the British had spent some time digging deep tunnels under the German stronghold on Hawthorn Ridge and filling them with sixty thousand pounds of explosives. At 7.28am on the morning of the June 1st 1916, the mine was blown. Earth was thrown almost four thousand feet into the sky and the resultant crater was ninety feet deep and three hundred feet across. To that date, it was the loudest human-made noise in history and the explosion was heard in London. Named after the trench where the mine had begun, the Lochnagar Crater has been preserved as a memorial and can be visited in France, today. Unfortunately, even that wasn’t big enough for me, so I drew further inspiration from Meteor Crater, near Flagstaff, Arizona.

Here Comes the Science Bit...

Having decided to use the First World War as a setting, it seemed not only natural but necessary to reference the Scientific Romances of the time, rather than contemporary science fiction, for inspiration. H.G. Wells was the first port of call, along with Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edwin P Arnold, if not in specifics, then certainly in spirit. Then you can throw the net wider to include Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, W Somerset Maugham, Edward Bulwer Lytton, William Hope Hodgson and to a lesser extent, Jules Verne among others.

The sense of wonder they engendered was irresistible, depicting as they did a time when the world was still full of mystery and harboured dark corners beyond the reach of the sun that was slowly setting on the British Empire.

And don’t worry, the War poets leave their mark on the novels, too. Each chapter title of the books is a phrase or line from a war poem or song of the time. I like to see them as some kind of perverse Easter egg for anyone who, like me, had to study them at school. ; )

Thanks Pat!  Everyone else  - look out for 'The Ironclad Prophecy' in July, read 'Black Hand Gang' in the meantime :o)

1 comment:

lcfcgary said...

No Man's World was an interesting work; well-researched, and with enough of a back-story to allow the characters to develop over the course of more books. I look forward to the follow-up