Photo courtesy of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
via Tim Atkinson
Regular readers of Linda’s Book Bag will know that I’m obsessed by WW1 following my grandfather’s involvement, injuries and blinding during the Battle of the Somme. When I was told about a new novel by Tim Atkinson, The Glorious Dead, based in the aftermath of the Great War and with an unusual route to publication, I had to find out more.
The Glorious Dead
What happened when the Great War ended and the guns stopped firing? Who cleared the battlefields and built the great monuments to the fallen? And why did so many men who served – and survived – in France and Flanders end up living and working among the ruins of the war they’d fought?
The Glorious Dead is the fictional story of a group of soldiers who remained in France and Flanders following the Armistice, who served their King and country with a shovel and who found and buried the thousands of bodies abandoned on the road to victory. It is the story of men living among the destruction, death and decay of the so-called ‘war to end all wars’. It is the story of an uneasy peace as over 15,000 ex-servicemen remain abroad working in the former theatres of war, burying the dead and rebuilding their own lives. The work of these men is one of the most original yet neglected aspects of this most compelling era in our nation’s history.
Theirs is a story worth telling.
You can watch Tim’s video about The Glorious Dead here.
An Interview with Tim Atkinson
Hi Tim. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your book The Glorious Dead and its unusual journey to publication.
Firstly, please could you imagine we are on a one minute speed date and tell me a little about yourself?
Like Ed Reardon but without the anger or the pipe. Or a cat called Elgar.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
When I was ten I sat down at the dining room table and wrote an article about my model railway for a magazine called the Railway Modeller. They published it and sent me a cheque for £12 (which was about three months pocket money for me back then!) and that was the moment I knew I wanted to be a writer.
The Glorious Dead is yet to be published. Could you explain a little bit more about why this is please?
It’s being published by Unbound (the world’s first crowd funding publisher) so it’s currently on their website gathering support. Although Unbound selects books like any other publisher, once accepted it’s up to the author to pitch direct to the reading public. The public then gets to decide what is written. It’s very exciting. The process also means there’s a unique opportunity for me to exchange ideas and share elements of the writing process with supporters, which is already proving really interesting.
Could you tell us a bit about The Glorious Dead (but without spoiling the plot please!)?
When the guns top firing, Jack starts digging – not trenches now, but graves. Although the war is over, Jack Patterson remains in Flanders searching the battlefields and burying the bodies of thousands of his former comrades. But there’s a secret keeping Jack in Flanders, a secret that is only revealed when a visitor to the battlefield cemeteries arrives – in search of Jack’s own grave.
What drew you to the idea of exploring the time after WW1 as opposed to the war itself?
I’m fascinated by the Great War and have always secretly wanted to write a war book. But I also wanted it to be different. When I discovered the strange, untold story of the men who served their King and Country first with a rifle, then a shovel, I knew I had my subject.
Secrecy is a major theme in The Glorious Dead. Why did you decide to explore such a concept?
Everyone has secrets. To a greater or lesser extent we all decide what to share and what to hide and with whom. We shape the story of our lives to suit different audiences and that’s what’s being done in The Glorious Dead. At the level of national policy, there’s secrecy shaping official remembrance of the war and the creating the iconic battlefield cemeteries – which were to remain abroad partly to hide the visual scale of the losses from the British public. And there are the secrets of the individual soldiers – men like Jack, who served and stayed abroad, doing a terrible job, but hiding from something much more terrible at home. And the work that men like Jack did – clearing the battlefields, burying the dead and rebuilding their own lives – is itself the Great War’s great secret.
Much of your writing seems to champion those with mental health issues and I know you have suffered from depression yourself as you explain on your blog. Did you set out deliberately to bring these issues to the public’s attention or did they arise naturally in your writing?
Both, really. As a teacher I was alarmed by the increase in mental health problem among the young, which is why my novel Writing Therapy was written in support of the mental health charity, Young Minds. But I also had my own personal reasons for exploring the subject, as you’ve said. There’s a lot more written about mental health issues now than there was even eight short years ago. I’m glad to have played a small part in bringing the subject to the public’s attention.
If Linda’s Book Bag readers would like to get involved in supporting The Glorious Dead on its road to publication what do they need to do?
They need to pledge, please. Take a look at the book’s page on Unbound – click here – read the synopsis, watch the video: there’s even an extract from the book to read. If people like what they see it’s a simple matter of clicking the ‘pledge’ button and instantly becoming involved in the creation of a new book. It’s very exciting.
I know you’ve had a range of other books published more conventionally. Would you tell us a bit more about them too please?
As a former teacher it seemed natural that I should write a couple of school textbooks, although they happened to be on a subject (geography) that I hadn’t actually taught for some time. But a publishing deal’s a publishing deal; I wasn’t about to turn it down! Writing Therapy, my 2008 novel, was the big project I wanted to complete for all the reasons outlined above and I was delighted that it seemed to strike a chord with so many people. But I also write a parenting blog, and a spin-off book called Fatherhood: The Essential Guide (A Book for Dads) was published as a result of that.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
For The Glorious Dead I’ve spent hours and hours reading, trawling through the archives at the Imperial War Museum but – most useful of all – walking the ground in an around Ypres in Belgium, where the book is set. Although the landscape has changed beyond recognition in many ways, walking in the footsteps of the men whose story you are telling is probably the most useful way of getting under their skin.
Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?
I like writing that involves research and demands plenty of reading. Because then, if I’m stuck for words, I can simply have a break, pick up a book, but still be working. And vice versa, of course. It’s a good balance. The hardest job of all, of course, is editing!
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I’m lucky to have a room of my own since we moved house a couple of years ago. I’m surrounded by books and I can shut the door and get on with it. But I find I’m always doing something – either reading or making notes (on scraps of paper or on my phone) anywhere and everywhere.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?
When I’m not reading for research I love contemporary literary fiction. But my tastes are really quite catholic. At the moment I’m reading The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell; before that, Viral by Helen Fitzgerald had me gripped, as did The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan. But I think the single most enjoyable book I’ve read in the past year was A History of the Rain by Niall Williams. There’s a trend here, isn’t there, one I’ve only just noticed? I enjoy female narrators/protagonists.
What is next for Tim Atkinson after The Glorious Dead?
There’s so much material I think I could probably write at least another two books about the characters and situations from The Glorious Dead. Maybe it’ll become a trilogy?
Is there anything else we should know about you or The Glorious Dead?
I could go on about this bee I’ve had in my bonnet for the last five years for a long time. But I’d urge readers to simply look at the project page on Unbound. Watch the video (sorry about the bags under my eyes – the kids had been ill!) and read the extract. I hope that speaks for itself.
If you could chose to be a character from The Glorious Dead, who would you be and why?
I think I’d probably be Blake – partly because I’m not sure I could have served as a combatant.
If The Glorious Dead became a film, who would you like to cast?
That might not be too big an ‘if’ as an indie film-maker I know has already said it would make a good movie. If I had any say in casting, Carey Mulligan would definitely be Francoise and I’d like to find a part for Hugh Bonneville – maybe as Lt Col. Goodland of the Army Directorate of Graves Registration and Enquiries. Damian Lewis would make a great Lt. Ingham and Jack himself would almost certainly be played by Stephen Waddington – a Yorkshireman with just the right ‘look’ for the part.
If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Glorious Dead should be their next read, what would you say?
Why did so many soldiers stay among the shattered ruins of the war they’d fought?
Thanks so much Tim, for featuring on Linda’s Book Bag and taking the time to answer my questions.
About Tim Atkinson
Responsible for adding to the world’s population, blogging about it, then writing a book telling others how to do it, Tim Atkinson has accidentally become both something of an author and an alleged authority on fatherhood.
Having given up full-time paid employment to stay at home and keep an eye on the children, Tim was casting around for part-time, work-from-home opportunities when a publisher approached him and asked if he’d like to write some text books.
The rest, as they say, is history. Or it would be if the books hadn’t been geography text books. And if he wasn’t still doing it. Current projects include a novel about post-WW1 battlefield clearances and the establishment of the monumental World War One war cemeteries.
Tim Atkinson has an MA in Education and a Diploma in Creative Writing. Oh, and a certificate for swimming.