The initial seed of this latest trilogy was My Dear I Wanted to Tell You, about a London boy in WW1, and love and death and the early days of maxillofacial reconstructive surgery. It became apparent, as I drew towards the end of writing it, that it wasn’t going to be enough just to tell of the dramas of war and damage. You need also to look at the return from war and the dealing with the damage: the healing, if you like. So in The Heroes’ Welcome I follow my battered heroes, disfigured Riley Purefoy and drunk Peter Locke, as they take their own Odysseys back from the Western Front through bitterness and guilt and loss towards some kind of peace and acceptance with their families and their selves.
I’ve never been one for the car-chase or the explosion – what happens afterwards is much more interesting to me. I’m certain that this is because, contrary to general perception, terrible things never happen to just one person. They also happen to everybody around that person, everyone who loves them. Remember that bit in Austin Powers, where for the first time is film history, when Dr Evil’s anonymous henchman is run over by a steamroller we cut to his wife and stepson hearing the news, weeping softly as she says: ‘People never think how things affect the family of a henchman!’ Basically, my books are this to WW1, only serious. You can see it here.
It is a very touching scene.
So my soldiers’ wives and children and relatives, Rose and Nadine, Julia and Tom, each of whom has suffered in their own way during the crisis of war, are also trying in their own way to win the peace in 1919. Everybody is doing their very best to be worthy of each other, and of course failing. In the end what becomes apparent is that even if you can’t save other people, sometimes you can let them save you – which perhaps turns out to be the same thing.
And by the end of the third book, which is coming out next year, the children of the WW1 heroes are just the right age for WW2 to do to them what WW1 did to their parents. My grandparents fought in the first war; my parents in the second. I am of that generation which grew up and remains profoundly grateful that those wars did not – so far – develop into a trilogy.