SUNDAY 26TH MAY 2013
I would like to wish a warm welcome to the lovely Mike Harris, whose grandfather is the author of ‘Pegasus Falling’ which was a Best Indie Book Finalist and who has just released the fab new book ‘It Never Was You’.
Hi Mike and welcome! It’s great to have you here.
Hi Gemma, it’s great to be here. Thank you for inviting me on to your blog today!
Tell us more about It Was Never You. What is its connection to Pegasus Falling?
It Never Was You is part two of the Cypress Branches trilogy, and it’s the follow up to Pegasus Falling. I hesitate to call it a sequel, because we switch to a new set of characters whose storyline runs parallel with that in the first book. There are connections, though, and eventually we do find out what happened after the dramatic climax we read in Pegasus Falling.
Set against the backdrop of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, It Never Was You follows the story of Harry, a quiet, studious merchant seaman and his relationship with the exuberant Liverpool waitress, Mary. They are two people from very different backgrounds who might never have met had it not been for a chance encounter, and as their love for each other grows, they struggle to overcome the class and social barriers that existed at the time. It’s a fascinating look at the post-war period and how it affected everyday people from all walks of life.
In Pegasus Falling, we met Sammy, a world war two paratrooper, and followed his storyline from battlefield to concentration camp to Palestine. In It Never Was You, we follow Harry, a merchant seaman, from the freezing Arctic ocean to the war-torn Liverpool docks and eventually to post-war London. They’re very different settings, very different storylines, and very different characters, but there is definitely a common theme and thread running through the books.
They’re both, after all, love stories at heart, and have their origins in the war, which profoundly changed people and their attitudes and outlooks on life. I’m amazed that there aren’t more books set in the post-war period – most authors concentrate on the war itself, but in my opinion, the 1940s and 50s are just as fascinating from a historical and social point of view, and these two books explore the era brilliantly.
I couldn’t say if there was a particular book that inspired my grandfather, as there are well over 1000 books in his library! He always had a book or three on the go and if he wasn’t reading, he was browsing through a local bookshop looking for his next read.
He began writing the Cypress Branches after he retired. I can’t recall him ever showing signs before then that he wanted to write a book, then all of a sudden, he bought himself a word processor and started writing.
William led an incredibly interesting life. He was a paratrooper during the war, and spent time in the merchant navy afterwards. He studied for two university degrees (he’s a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Art) and had a successful career as an engineer. He took a keen interest in world and local politics, as well as history, science and the arts (particularly music, film and theatre).
Although The Cypress Branches is a work of fiction, his voice and his experiences come through in many ways. He was profoundly affected by what he witnessed during the war and the time he spent in Palestine and then at sea. For a long time he wouldn’t talk about it, so I think writing his book had a cathartic effect. It allowed him to face some demons he had been avoiding dealing with for some time.
I remember the period in which he was writing very clearly, because at the time we hardly ever saw him! Visits to his house took on a strange air. We’d wake up in the morning to hear him tapping away on the keyboard of his word processor. He’d make us all breakfast (he made the best porridge ever!) before disappearing back into his room to write until lunchtime.
Again he’d make lunch (not even writing could keep him away from his beloved kitchen for too long) before heading back to the book for the afternoon. After dinner, he would spend the evening with us, sometimes printing off what he’d written that day to share it with his wife, Sheila.
We would all then head to bed, but as we were getting to sleep, sometimes we could hear the faint tapping on the keyboard again.
As you can see, he was very disciplined about his writing during that period, very rarely taking time away from the keyboard. I asked him afterwards how he managed to create such a long book without getting completely swamped. He told me that when he started, he knew where the story would begin, and where it would end, but didn’t really know how he would get from one end to the other. But once he started writing, it just flowed naturally.
He also said that the characters took on lives of their own, that he could hear their dialogue clearly. It was like they were in the room with him, talking to each other. All he had to do was listen in and write it down. That makes sense to me reading the books, because the dialogue is so incredibly natural.
It took William about two years to write the first draft of the Cypress Branches. Considering he wrote over 350,000 words, I’d say that was pretty speedy!
Where was your grandfather’s best ‘writing space’; the place where he felt comfortably locked away from the world and able to let his creative juices flow?
William wrote on a portable electric word processor which he had set up on a desk in his bedroom in his house in central Milton Keynes. Although he lived in the middle of the city, the room overlooked the small garden dominated by a large apple tree, behind which was a wide, open green space with lots of trees, so it was quite a peaceful place to write.
That’s where he wrote the majority of the book, but the fact that the word processor was portable meant that he could take it with him wherever he went. He even spent all day typing when he came to visit us on one occasion!
He became completely obsessed with his book and his characters, and it was all consuming at one point. I don’t think it mattered where in the world he was (he could have been in Australia or the Arctic, for all it mattered) the story flowed so easily from him, I think he would have written it anywhere as long as he had his word processor to hand.
And finally, tell us an interesting fact about William that not many people know.
One thing I never get to talk about in interviews usually is my grandfather’s wicked sense of humour.
My memories of spending time with him are filled with laughter. He was always cracking jokes, giggling at his own quips or having a good belly laugh at someone else’s. He loved comedy in all its forms and had a large video collection containing Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen, stand up routines from Billy Connelly and Robin Williams, to name but a few. The sillier (and sometimes the ruder) the better!
And that sense of humour does come out in his writing. Despite the books being set during one of the most appalling periods in history, there are comical moments – especially in It Never Was You, when Mary’s Scouse humour had me in stitches on more than one occasion.
Although he’s now in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and has difficulties communicating with his family and carers, he still enjoys a good laugh to this day.
By far his favourite was The Goon Show, which is still hilariously funny even today. To give you an idea of the kind of humour William likes, here’s a YouTube clip featuring his favourite sketch:
Thank you for being here today Mike.
My pleasure, Gemma! I’ve enjoyed talking about William!
Catch up with and follow the rest of the It Never Was You blog tour on acuteanglebooks.co.uk: http://bit.ly/YxZDcU
Connect with Mike, William and the Cypress Branches trilogy online:
William’s Goodreads Author page: http://bit.ly/129cxiu
William’s Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/15TL4sD
Pegasus Falling and It Never Was You, the first two parts of the Cypress Branches trilogy are available to buy in paperback and ebook
Where to buy Pegasus Falling:
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/PXbf5X
Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/R4IdCG
B&N Nook: http://bit.ly/Sytq6Y
Where to buy It Never Was You:
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/12HSoE5
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/11BS6gO
(Other retailers coming soon)
Love Missuswolf xxx