Author’s Inside Track: None Stood Taller

Following my previous two books, it was very tempting when considering a new novel to continue with the same characters. However, I wanted to write something different, a new challenge. I decided upon World War Two as the backdrop to my story, and a young woman as my principal character. My initial idea was a scene where Lily is lucky to be alive following a bombing raid on London during the Blitz in 1941.  I had nothing in mind beyond that. I laboured for a couple of weeks until quite suddenly Lily stepped off the page, and I walked into 1941 with Lily at my side.

From that moment on, the character developed spontaneously. She is a woman of enormous talent and determination but had always been held back by the expectations of her social class. Lily is an East End girl from a poor background. This gave me enormous scope to develop her personality. She goes on to achieve incredible things, but all the while I want the reader to be aware that this is about the triumph of the individual. 

Her journey from the East End gave me a wonderful opportunity to lay out both her past and her present. My intention is that Lily grows in stature throughout the novel, and I have structured her development around several pivotal moments. As a victim of the Blitz, she stands with nothing but the clothes on her back. By the time she is on the train going to Middlebourne, I hope the reader has a sense of anticipation that Lily is walking along Destiny’s path.  Her arrival at Middlebourne is another pivotal moment when I expand her story significantly, introducing Gran and the family, as well as Dotty and Fiona.  I hope the reader loves these characters as much as I do; I think Dotty is worthy of a novel of her own! The ongoing story is determined when she is interviewed by Lord Middlebourne. This was the moment for me when everything fell into place. For the first time I could see where Lily was taking me, and once again the story takes on a much broader landscape.

My favourite chapter is “His Lordship Returns.” This is possibly the most significant moment in Lily’s life. I loved the challenge of the interaction between the aristocrat and the East End girl. Not only is Lily introduced to the world of secret intelligence, for the first time she sees His Lordship as a man. The unlikely relationship between Lily and Edward was a joy to embrace. Her other relationship with the estate manager took even me by surprise! I saw him originally as a philanderer who Lily would quickly side-step but somehow, he developed into a lovely man, and Lily becomes deeply involved with him. It may be an age-old story but I think the torment Lily feels, torn as she is between the two men in her life, provides a nice human dimension, a foil against the serious backdrop of war.

My novel depends on one thing – how convincing is my principal character? Is Lily’s eventual triumph credible? I also hope I have made the military background and SOE operations credible, not to mention my cameo role for Winston Churchill. There was so much detail in the story to research, I found it all very challenging but also immensely rewarding. The ideal balance between fact and fiction is difficult to define. I have tried to tread a thin line between the factual and sometimes harrowing detail of the war, combined with a fictional representation of those people who lived through it. I hope I have succeeded.

I would welcome the reader’s opinion.

4 thoughts on “Author’s Inside Track: None Stood Taller”

  1. I just read None Stood Taller and it was a great and fun read. I loved the characters. Is there any place where you share what part of this story is true? Did such a place exist whose sole responsibility was to plan D Day? Also it would seem Lily never did make a final decision…?

    1. Hi there Lori. The “None Stood Taller” trilogy is entirely fictitious; however, all the historic detail is accurate. Although Lily and SOE Station M are fictitious, the characters and setting are inspired by similar real persons and events. Specifically, Lily is based upon Vera Atkins CBE. Atkins was recruited into the SOE and played an immensely important role in the formation and operation of SOE F Section. She worked in close collaboration with Colonel Maurice Buckmaster. I am not aware of any romantic connection between them, but in all other respects I have mirrored her story in Lily. From what I have researched, Atkins was an incredible woman; I have tried to cast Lily in the same mould, but despite her (fictitious) achievements, I doubt she actually compares to the real-life achievements of Atkins. As with a lot of historical fiction, truth is often stranger than fiction.
      Regarding Lily’s indecision: it would appear that you have only read Book One. Book Two follows on directly from D-Day and concludes on VE-Day; Lily’s indecision is finally resolved. Book Three is Dotty’s story, told in her words. Although it tells her story as an SOE agent, it also gives the reader an insight into the other characters as seen from Dotty’s perspective.

  2. Peter, you did a fantastic job with None Stood Taller. I have read each of your books twice. While reading them, I feel as if I am right there with the characters. Keep writing and I will keep reading. Can’t wait for the sequel to None Stood Taller!!

    E-mail doesn’t work!!

    1. Hi there Noreen – check your Inbox; I’ve just replied. Many thanks indeed for your kind comments – the new one won’t be many weeks now!

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