Finding out what I need to find out

Rugby Academy
Rugby Academy

Being a Patron of Reading at a school is a two way thing. It’s a relationship.

Take my relationship with Stewart’s Melville in Edinburgh.

I go in. I talk about reading. I try to get the boys to see themselves as readers – even if they don’t think they are. I explain why and how I write. I try to inspire the boys to write themselves.

That’s what I give. But Stewart’s Melville give too.

When I stated writing my Rugby Academy series I didn’t know as much as I needed to know about rugby, about boarding schools or about what it is like to be in a forces family. And you can’t make those things up.

I needed help.

The librarian at Stewart’s Melville – Mr Wright – delivered that help. In abundance.

He introduced me to the housemaster at one of the boarding houses at the school. I was given a tour of where the boys live and the housemaster answered the dozens of questions I wanted to ask.

That is where I got the setting for the first book in the Rugby Academy series, Combat Zone.

I also discovered aspects of my characters lives: their places, their things, their routines.

Then Mr Wright invited me to rugby on a Saturday morning. I watched the boys train and play. I met their parents. I saw the rugby coaches in action.

Invaluable. Combat Zone would be even more authentic. Because my rugby team would train like, play like and behave like the boys I’d watched in training.

Verisimilitude. That’s what you need.

I already had most of the help I needed regarding being in a forces family from Albrighton Primary School next to Cosford RAF base. I’ve blogged about that before.

But not all of it. I’ll never forget meeting one boy on the way back from the boarding house at Stewart’s Melville. Mr Wright stopped him and asked if he’d speak to me.

He said he would.

The boy’s dad was in Afghanistan, Mr Wright explained.

It wasn’t easy, the boy told me. And, yes, he watched the news. Sometimes. But at other times he didn’t watch the news.

The boy was quiet about it, so, after a short while, I left it there, said thank you.

I shall never forget the look in that boys eyes. A look that said it all. It helped me a lot. The main character in Combat Zone was born that day. Woody. The son of a fighter pilot in the RAF. A boy whose dad is on active service in dangerous skies.

The look. Calm. Accepting. Stoical. But something unnameable just beneath the surface. Something you have to be shown, not told about.

My two-way relationship with Stewart’s Melville is not unique among Patrons of Reading. Other do it too. You can find out more about the scheme at

Combat Zone is book one of three in the Rugby Academy series. The idea is that a British rugby school team plays in the UK, then European and finally world schools ‘rugby finals, as their RAF parents are involved in an unfolding and dangerous humanitarian mission.