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Suzy Henderson

Historical Fiction Author

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August 2015

My Year in Writing, USAAF and Limping Home on a Wing and a Prayer.

As we slip into autumn, the end of 2015 is nigh. This year I was determined to have my debut novel completed and ready for publication, whichever route I decided to take.

Well, I was fortunate to become a member of the Romantic Novelists Association in January, joining the new writers scheme. I’m now awaiting my critique of said debut and I already know I have more revisions to make. My book is not ready. It has been a mammoth task, one that has and continues to be enjoyable, but fraught with hurdles along the way. Being historical fiction, there has been an enormous amount of research to undertake, not only to establish accurate facts but also on a deeper psychological level. Trying to get into the mind of one of my characters has been so challenging, especially as he was a real person. For a first novel, it’s true that I’ve been overly ambitious.

So often a writer pens several novels, puts them away before hitting on the one. It’s rather like a practice run. Well, for me, I’ve been going for so long, making this the one because it’s such a great story and I’m compelled to tell it. The characters are crying out to be heard. That’s the way it is. My only problem is to tell it well and that remains a work in progress.

So, spring delivered me my first rejection in the agent world. Having brushed that off I’m glad of the experience. I’m saddened (and I would not be human if I denied it) that I lost the opportunity of having a great agent, someone I admire and would have loved to work with but hey, it goes with the territory and that’s okay. On a positive note, I feel truly blessed to have come across such wonderful, warm and interesting people so far in my writing life.

And so as I wait for my critique to come back, I’ve made a few minor revisions – things I suddenly realised I’d forgotten to include – it’s true what they say, novels are made up of layers. In between writing hours, I’ve learned quite a lot about marketing, branding and all the essentials of self-publishing. Whether I’m successful in securing a traditional publisher or not this will be beneficial.

Aside from my own writing, I’m writing freelance for others and it’s fantastic. The muse is constantly calling and now the pressure is on for me to get cracking with my next book – the followup. This is so exciting and I’ve already done a lot of the research as it was originally going to be the first book. Somehow the characters took over, guiding me and helping me to see that it was not the right time for this story. So, a change in direction and a tonne of additional research and I have book one of my duology. I have somehow managed to write almost 110,ooo words and so I feel I need to do more ruthless cutting as I have additional information to include. Around 90,ooo would be a good place to be. Stephen King’s words are ringing in my ears, ‘Kill your darlings.’

Finally, a little tale of a badly wounded B-17 originally named Twentieth Century, then re-named Mojo Jr. On her way back from a bombing mission on July 4th, 1944, she was wounded by anti-aircraft fire and fighters and limped to the Channel on two engines. One crew member had also been injured. Just as she approached the English coast, a third engine failed and pilot Lt. Cliff Blue made the decision to land asap. They were not going to make it home, this time. He managed a perfect belly landing behind houses in Felpham, Sussex, breaking through the back garden of one in particular. The wing tip was reported to be less than six feet away from the back door of no.18 Downview Road. The lady of the house made cups of tea and twenty five years later, on the same day, American Independence Day, Cliff Blue made an emotional pilgrimage back to no. 18 Downview Road to take tea with the same lady. How beautiful is that?

In this picture, you can see just how close Mojo Jr is to the houses.

Mojo Jr B-17 42-32000
Mojo Jr B-17 42-32000

In this picture you can see Lt. Oswald J Masoni of the 379th Bomb Group, the navigator from Pilot Cliff Blue’s crew that day, pictured with a little girl from no.18. Oswald (called Ozzy) has such a beautiful smile and I’d guess it’s infused with relief at making it back. He looks so pleased, happy and young, not forgetting handsome.

Lt. Oswald J Masoni of the 379th Bomb Group
Lt. Oswald J Masoni of the 379th Bomb Group

They were stationed at USAAF Kimbolton, Cambridge. After the war, Lt. Masoni returned to his home in the USA and became a lawyer. He kept in touch with the man of the house, at no. 18, the two men exchanging letters yearly. Oswald died in 1988. This is a stunning picture of another great man, a hero of the sky, one of those lucky enough to return home. It’s just one example of limping home on a wing and a prayer. Often it was far worse.

I’ve researched USAAF over the last few years and have some fabulous stories and if you’re wondering, yes, I have American pilots and B-17s in my book but I also feature Bomber Command.

When I first stumbled across this picture the other day I was struck by something I could not explain – still am. I read many stories, gaze at numerous old pictures of the Second World War, but not many have struck me in the way this one has. One thing I then noted was the date – July 4th is my birthday. From the stories I stumble across I have to say that writing is many things, but it is most definitely spiritual and that is something I find to be so reassuring.

THE INFLECTIONIST INTERVIEW: REGINA JEFFERS

REVISITING DAPHNE DU MAURIER’S MANDERLAY

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