There's just a week to go for our double signing and there's double the questions too.
There is copious detail about the town of Chipping Norton of the period. How was this researched?
I’ve lived in Chipping Norton for a few years, and the house in which I live is Jacob’s house – even if it’s larger in fiction than I could manage in reality – so I know its moods, I know the setting. In terms of the historical detail, I did plenty of reading on the internet, visited the local museum, spoke to neighbours, referred to books of old photos, went for walks around town.
The characters in the book, particularly the country characters, are very clearly defined. Were they based on real people?
As mentioned before, Jacob’s experiences are to a significant degree based on Jackie’s, so in that sense there must be similarities between them – but I never met Jackie, of course, so I can’t say to what degree their characters overlap. The Norman character is very much based on my grandfather and shares many of his character traits and life experiences – a simple, good man, strong as an ox, strapped to a plough in a brown-clod northern field when nine years old, a farm-worker from that day on, a victim of bastard taunts and injustice, losing his father under the wheels of a bus and losing his inheritance as a result, a contract on a farm for 364 working days a year, dawn till dusk, Christmas day the only holiday. The real Norman loved his animals too, but never left the north, working in his native County Durham and neighbouring Northumberland until he retired. Incidentally, the real Norman loved coming to Chipping Norton, even though he never lived here. In real life, Jackie looked up to Norman – just as Jacob looks up to Norman in the book – and hoped when he was a boy that he would grow up to be just like him, but concluded during his time in Bomber Command that there was not much chance of that happening any more (it is unclear from his letter whether he said this because he felt that Bomber Command and the war had changed him to the point that he could no longer be like Norman, or simply because he did not expect to live long enough to grow to be like him). In another letter, when writing about a girl he loved, Jackie compares her to Norman, says she ‘has his ways and his kindness’ and that this has a lot to do with ‘the way I love her so’. In the book I have mirrored this relationship, and have added the fictional Norman, when putting the young Jacob to bed at night, wishing that he too could have been a boy just like Jacob – loved by his family – when he was growing up. So while the central love story in Lost in the Flames is between Jacob and Rose, there is another one too, between Jacob and Norman, the man Jacob loves ‘like a father or a brother or something in between’.
All the other characters are fictional, though many of them must share an amalgamation of the characteristics of people I’ve known in real life.