How museums help me write

My new series of children’s books – Wings – would not have been possible without the help of the RAF Museums at Hendon and Cosford.

Here’s why.


There are three books in the Wings series. Each is about a different RAF plane: the Sopwith Camel, the Spitfire and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The idea of the books is that modern day children – through a time-shift brought on by engaging with the RAF’s history – find themselves flying one of those planes as it fights in its most famous battle. Such as the Spitfire during the Battle of Britain.

When the RAF celebrate their centenary in 2018 their logo will feature the Sopwith, Spitfire and Eurogfighter. These are the planes they feel represent our air force at its most important points in history. That is why I chose them for my books.

Once I had chosen the planes to write about, I needed to know more about them. Much more. And the best way to do that is to look at them. So I did.

I went to the spectacular First World War in the Air exhibition at Hendon. I saw planes, artefacts and some excellent multimedia. At Cosford RAF Museum, I stood on a step ladder peering into the cockpit of a Spitfire for an hour.

We are very lucky to have these planes available for us to look at. It’s impossible really to know what it was like for a man aged 19 or 20 to fly in little more than a motorised kite over the trenches of the First World War. How can we imagine that? Really?

But I had to give it a go. It’s my job. To help the child reading my book feel like they are pilots in a major world conflict. To feel the cold, the fear, the exhilaration. Their hand on the control stick, their feet on the pedals.

Once I had looked at the planes I was able to see the clothes the pilots wore, their papers, then go on to read information about them. For instance, I found an interpretation board about the Sikh pilot, Hardit Singh Malik at Hendon. I read it. It blew me away – and suddenly Malik just had to be a character in my book

These are the journeys I go on when I write. They are nothing like the journeys those extraordinary young men made as pilots for the RAF in the First and Second World Wars. But, by going on the journey I did, as a writer, I hope to be able to inspire, educate and excite children about the history of the RAF. And – of course – to encourage them to visit the museums.

Flyboy is published by Barrington Stoke on 15 March 2015.