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Listen here to Vee Walker in conversation with Jassa Ahluwalia on 'Major Tom's War' - UKPHA bookclub 1 June 2020 (UK Pujab Heritage Association)
Vee Walker still has the first ‘novel’ she wrote, aged about 8, at Inchmore Primary School near Kirkhill. It features a sizzling blockbuster of a plot involving a boy called Smoo who lives in a cave and goes forward in time; a cross between the Narnia Chronicles and Stig of the Dump.
The itch to write a novel never went away and for many years Vee scratched it with non-fiction, earning her living working in interpretation – so writing exhibitions, guide books, plays etc - for the Imperial War Museum, the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland. In 1999 she jumped ship and started her own consultancy, Interpretaction.
Vee dipped her toe into the publishing world with a self-published reprint of an old family recipe book, the 1810 Cookbook, back in 2011. This provided authentic facsimile recipes with a small snippet of family history alongside them - and made her vow never to self-publish again. Vee’s mentor, the veteran award-winning novelist Elizabeth Sutherland (author of Lent Term, The Seer of Kintail and Highland Cathedral which Vee edited) commented that Vee had now found her genre - and to forget about recipes and get on with writing a family history-based novel!
Vee’s début novel Major Tom’s War started life as a simple transcription of her grandfather’s WWI war diary album, which is stuffed with letters, photographs and period documents from 1914 - 1919. As she transcribed, she read the content more closely than anyone else before her, translating documents it contained in French and German. She learned of a family mystery and then noticed one page in the album was thicker than the others. When she steamed off the top layer, she found a hidden document beneath it which revealed a secret her grandmother, who assembled the album in 1919, had thought better of leaving on public view. These two discoveries combined to form the basis of her plot.
Major Tom’s War is fiction but is also factual, rooted in real people, places and events. It became fiction because of a need to give people other than just Tom a voice – in particular, the Indian Army soldiers alongside whom he served. Tom was born in India and fought with the Indian Cavalry for almost the whole of the Great War. The story of the war unfolds through the eyes of four main characters whose lives interconnect in unexpected ways and not just Tom himself.
Fortunately for Vee, the London-based Indian-interest publisher Kashi House were looking to move into fiction with a mainstream novel at just the right time. Kashi House published Major Tom’s War in September 2018, exactly 100 years to the day since the wedding of her grandparents Tom and Evie.
Since the launch, the first edition has almost sold out, Major Tom’s War has been named a prizewinner at the national Military History Fiction Awards 2019 and Vee has also won the Hugh Miller Writing Prize (Fiction, 2019). In December 2019 she travelled to India (Punjab and Delhi) for a memorable three-week book tour as a guest of the Chandigarh Military Literature Festival and the United Services Institute in Delhi to launch the Kindle edition of Major Tom’s War. You can read about her adventures in India in her blog, beginning with ‘Preconceptions’ and ending with ‘My Regimental Family’.
Lockdown means that a book tour of Canada in the autumn has had to be cancelled but the paperback of Major Tom’s War should be launched in time for Christmas 2020. In 2021 it should be published in French under the title of ‘Grande Guerre, Petits Destins’ (Great War, Small Destinies).
Vee is hard at work on her second novel, based on her second set of grandparents, working title Brother Joe. She enjoys working with creative writing pupils interested in improving their memoire and genealogy-based work and has written an illustrated children’s book - about a dragon.