One of the most regular questions I am asked on schools visits is: Where do you get your ideas from?
It’s a good question with more than one answer. It is also a question I like answering because it allows me to talk about how I like to write and how the children could get into writing.
This is a list of ten places where I got my ideas for FlyBoy, the first book in my new Wings series.
FlyBoy launches today.
FlyBoy is about a Sikh boy from today who goes back in time to fly a Sopwith Camel during the First World War. His time-slip is caused by his interest in the early airman, Hardit Singh Malik, also a Sikh.
One. The two RAF museums in Hendon and Cosford have First World War centenary exhibitions on at the moment. There are planes, including a Sopwith Camel, as well as pilots’ artefacts that help you into the mind of the men who flew the first air war.
Two. Making Airfix kits with my daughter. Sitting down to glue together plastic planes with my child, telling her about what the plane and its pilots had done, were the first times I started to tell the stories of the RAF’s great pilots.
Three. In 2011 I wrote a book about footballers who fought in the First World War. This made me realise that there are infinite stories from that conflict, stories that I wanted to investigate further.
Four. Hardit Singh Malik was the first Sikh pilot in the RAF. He battled racism in the air force to even be allowed to sit in a cockpit and battle the Germans. His autobiography is both humble and awe-inspiring. I wanted to spread his story further.
Five. A school friend of mine called Jatinder. He is someone I always remembered as kind and gentle. He helped introduce me to Sikhism thirty years ago. Something I have never forgotten and was keen to include in this story about Malik. That is why the book’s hero is called Jatinder.
Six. The sky over Mons. I visited Mons in Belgium recently. It was the setting of some of the first battles of the First World War. In the sky over the town the first significant RFC (the predecessor of the RAF) took place. Seeing that sky – even though the sky does not exist in the same way the land does – helped me to think clearly about the story.
Seven. The real story of several Sopwith Camel pilots in the Osprey Publishing book, Sopwith Camel. I read about dozens of pilots and what they achieved and suffered in Sopwith Camels. That was the first source book of ideas for FlyBoy.
Eight. The seventies TV series, Wings, is about First World War fliers. It helped me check the ideas and research I’d gathered from dozens of books. It was good to see how airmen from 100 years ago had been portrayed by another storyteller.
Nine. Biggles. The ultimate hero of pilot fiction. I read several of the books and learned a lot. Very much because the author of the Biggles books – W E Johns – was a pilot himself, making you take his descriptions of events and emotions more seriously.
Ten. My editor at Barrington Stoke, challenging my ideas and helping me get the best out of the real events of a hundred years ago.