Friday, May 16, 2014


Today we welcome Heather Rosser to tell us about the history behind her novel, In The Line of Duty.

I hadn’t set out to write a First World War novel as such. In the Line of Duty was inspired by the house on the Tal-y-fan mountain above Conwy built by my great-grandfather in 1912 and remained in the family for 60 years. My mother claimed the house was cursed because a builder was killed during its construction but my childhood memories are of carefree holidays exploring the beautiful mountains and coast of North Wales.

My great-grandfather was a railway police detective with offices in Euston and Llandudno Junction. For part of a chequered career his son, my grandfather, was a locomotive engineer. I chose my title, In the Line of Duty, to reflect the romance of railway journeys as well as the conflicts between duty and desire ever prevalent in war-time.

            There was a mystery surrounding my grandfather’s service as a sea plane pilot with the Royal Naval Air Service which I was determined to unravel. When I telephoned the Fleet Air Arm museum to find out why my grandfather had lost his commission as a Flight Lieutenant I was told that, according to a copy of the letter sent to him in 1917, ‘he was a very good pilot but had some reluctance to engage with the enemy’. Once I started researching the RNAS I began to understand my grandfather’s point of view. Pilots were the ‘eyes of the fleet’ and it wasn’t hard for me to imagine my young forebear, who had obtained his civilian pilot’s license in 1912, being excited about signing up and turning his glamorous hobby into a job. I never found out the exact circumstances leading to my grandfather losing his commission but my research, combined with family myths, enabled me to weave the facts into a credible story.

            However, his time with the RNAS wasn’t the only mystery surrounding my grandfather. Far more intriguing for the romance novelist was his illegitimate son. My mother dismissively referred to her elder half-brother as ‘a product of the First World War’. He was brought up and apparently spoilt by my great-grandparents. The parentage of his mother is unknown to this day. But, not long before she died, my mother told me she thought his mother was her own mother’s sister. Her mother had died when she was three, her father had re-married and this was the first time I had ever heard her mention her mother’s family. I was driving when she announced this bombshell and was too shocked to say anything. Sadly my mother died soon afterwards and it was too late to ask questions.

            The idea of turning some of my mother’s reminisces into a novel came very soon after her death. I became fascinated with places she had known, particularly the Welsh churchyard where her parents are buried. I desperately wanted her mother to be Welsh but, when I found out that she wasn’t, I lost interest in genealogy and wove my own story around family myth although the characters in In the Line of Duty have taken on a life of their own.

  William’s story is told through the eyes of his mother, Alice, and his sweetheart, Lottie. William and Alice are very loosely based on my grandfather and great-grandmother who lived in Belsize Park but Lottie’s family in Llandudno Junction come entirely from my imagination. During my research I became interested in the iniquitous custom of giving white feathers to men of all ages and abilities and I have used several such incidents to further the plot. Five years is a lot to cover in one novel and so each chapter begins with a quotation from The Times. This enables the reader to know how the experiences of Alice’s family in London and Lottie’s in North Wales relate to the wider events of the war.

Thank you, Heather.

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Anne L Harvey said...

It sounds wonderful, Heather, I shall add it to my TBR pile. Hope it's a great success.

Jean Bull said...

Thank you for your very interesting post, Heather. I'm certainly going to read In the Line of Duty!

Alison Morton said...

Excellent post, Heather. Congratulations on publishing your book. I wish you every success with it - you deserve it for persistence alone. ;-)