The Background Story of Valentines Cup
I bought this wonderful sepia photograph in Switzerland many years ago. As we can see, it depicts two skiers traversing the mountains above Wengen in the 1930s. A moment frozen in time: two men recreationally attired; their wooden skis attached to their mountain boots with stout leather bindings. There is nobody else in sight; skiing has yet to be invented as a leisurely pastime.
One evening before bed, I looked at this photograph as if seeing it for the first time. It was more than a look; I was bizarrely captivated by it. Questions sprung to mind: Who were these people? What was the world they lived in? More specifically perhaps, how was the photograph taken? Technically not easy: the two were certainly moving at a fair lick.
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I Went To Bed and Thought No More
The following morning, I travelled on the train from East Anglia down to Bristol.
I was meeting the UWE (University of the West of England) team to discuss recording my audio drama ‘Brunel’s Vision – One Single Ticket.’ I took out my notebook and pen. The journey was a blur. Liverpool Street Station, the London Underground, Paddington and the GWR. By the time I’d reached Bath Spa, I had hand-written eighty pages.
My skiers were two brothers named Alistair and Freddie Valentine. They lived at Chalet Monte Rosa in Zermatt, although they had been born in England. They lived with their mother Christina and a mysterious character always known as Herr Seiler.
It was clear in my mind; this sepia photograph had been taken before their careers kicked into action. Alistair would work in the wine trade in London, before being recruited into British Intelligence by Professor Brimblecombe.
Freddie would join the RAF; but his service as a Spitfire ‘ace’ pilot would be cut short because of ridiculous accident. He too would become a spy, like his brother.
As the train pulled into Bristol Temple Meads, I was now looking at eighty pages of a fast-paced story. It was brisk because I was writing at speed, anxious to commit everything to paper.
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Photography copyright © Fritz Lauener
The Journey Home
The four days with my ‘Brunel Team’ was fabulously productive and enjoyable. I forgot all about Alistair and Freddie … until the train journey back. I re-read my scribble, making notes and deletions. Once home, I typed up my story and gave it to a trusty few. Feedback was positive. Points were raised: anachronisms and mistakes addressed. But I knew I had a good plot that had possibilities.
A week or so later, I attended the Frinton Literary Evening which was hosted by our local bookshop. One of the guest speakers was an author called Fergus McNeill, a canny Scot who’d just had a book published. During the interval I got chatting to him: Get it read,’ he said enthusiastically,‘by a local library reader group. They can be brutal, but the exercise is important: reading is what they do!’
And I did. Their response showed incredible insight. I followed some of their suggestions. The lockdown gave me a chance to sit down with a friend – a retired teacher and linguist – to read the whole draft out loud and hear how it sounded.
Did the narrative capture the same pace as my original handwritten draft on the train? I can only hope it did and that you enjoy sharing the lives of those two skiers in the photograph.
What Readers Think
Surely this will make a great film!When war or the threat of war is “over there”, we care, sure, but then we grab an ale and decide on dinner. When we face an invasion HERE, though, every citizen becomes a bit of a hero. The boy delivering an apple to the old woman next door. The young girl helping to sew blackout curtains. The lorry driver making his or her vital rounds under threat of another bombing run. This is a novel with a hero, or two, but the large picture is that every man and woman had a part to play in preserving the freedom of a country and a continent. From the start, this story conveys that sense of time and place, blending actual characters from our history with fictional, but wholly plausible, characters. It does not detail the horrors of war; there are no close ups of trauma, so to speak. We have seen enough, I say. A great beauty of Mr. Wallace’s writing is that those details aren’t required. This not to say that the trauma isn’t there. It is, but we are placed in a world where wartime is implicit, along with an optimism that simply must exist. As you read this book, try to imagine what actors could play the lead roles in a major motion picture release. Surely this will make a great film.
A fast paced WW2 spy thriller that combines credible characters with the Nazi notorious. Chapter 2 of the book is called "hooked" and by then I was! The twists and turns in the plot kept me engaged throughout and I'm looked forward to the next book in the series.
5.0 out of 5 stars Can’t wait for the next book!I really enjoyed the book , the brothers characters were convincing and likeable. The way the story draws you in and the terrible plan that starts to unfold makes it an exciting read . I’m looking forward to the next book .
You have given the book extra depth ...
... with this narration of your adventures during the writing of Valentines Cup.
The book itself gives such detail as to imagine yourself there with them, the whole package is such a pleasurable read, fabulous
1943 Alastair Valentine, a covert operative for British intelligence in Nazi Germany, discovers a threat to Britain so deadly that he must risk his life to get the information back to his spymaster in London.. From London, Brimblecome the spy master controls and manipulates his agents, but all is not as it seems and deception is found in the most unlikely places - Alastair discovers that he is not the only one good at keeping secrets.... This is a fast moving and meticulously researched plot - a good read with unexpected twists that make you keep turning the pages. Don't read before bedtime if you want a good nights sleep!
Brilliant! One of the best books I have read for sometime.I enjoyed reading this book immensely, right from the first page to the last – would highly recommend. What a movie this would make!
This thriller is a convincing, well-researched account of a Nazi plot to demoralise Britain through the use of poison gas. Two brothers find themselves involved in the fast-moving narrative. In order to act effectively together they need to resolve a misunderstanding which has soured their relationship. The other members of the brothers' team are similarly charismatic: outwardly charming, but deadly. The book's historical background is authentic, revealing dissent among the Nazi leaders and the crucial role of German industrialists in financing their terrifying plans for Britain. The plot involves a pleasing amount of bluff and double bluff, culminating in a spectacular showdown in Windsor. The "Royal" episode is an inspired touch. Robert Harris had better look to his laurels!
What a wonderful book, loved every second of it. Very much looking forward to now reading One Single Ticket by the same writer