Launch of Major Tom's War
This is a warm invitation to all Highland writers to the launch of an epic novel of WWI, Major Tom’s War, at Highflight Books in Dingwall on Weds 26th September. This is following hard on the heels of its national launch at the National Army Museum in Chelsea a few days beforehand. To be fair to all who wish to attend, the Highland launch event is ticketed (although tickets are of course free).
The author Vee Walker will be reading from her novel, telling the story of how a large pile of family papers has become an 150,000 word work of fiction; and how against all the odds she managed to secure a commercial publishing contract.
She will also be talking about why her family has decided to digitise the entire archive and offer it to readers as an open resource at www.majortomswar.com Here’s the link for tickets (including timings) so book soon if you would like to attend as they are going fast. Wine and samosas are rumoured too! It should be a really good evening. You can also just go to eventbrite.co.uk and search under Major Tom’s War, it’ll pop up.
Those who are interested may also wish to follow Vee on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MajorTomsWar or Twitter at @veewalkerwrites. You can also email Vee at
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 has 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, giving fervent thanks for never having to endure another performance appraisal again. She runs many community Facebook pages, including Rosemarkie Beach Café, Chanonry Point and the Black Isle Gathering (which she founded in 2005), but will be taking a breather from most of this while she is launching her new novel, Major Tom’s War, in 2018/19.
She 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 and The Seer of Kintail) commented that Vee had found her genre - and to forget about recipes and get on with writing a family history-based novel! 2000 copies were printed and sold, allowing Vee to run the Black Isle Mozart Requiem, a community music event.
You are likely to have seen examples of Vee’s professional interpretation work scattered around the Highlands without realising it: she coined the phrase ‘the Dolphin Mile’ and developed the exhibition at Rosemarkie Beach Café, where her other half works, and where she wrote some of her novel; the poetry benches and monoliths within the forest at Culbin are hers (FCS/RSPB); the understated panels and waymarking within the landscape at Spinningdale were the result of a favourite project (Woodland Trust Scotland), as were the stunning artist-commissioned panels within the RSPB Bird Hide at Udale Bay. On the west, she has worked at Applecross (the interpretive bench at the top of the Bealach na Ba is as a result of the planning she undertook) and more recently the slate quarry at Ballachulish (Highland Council) has been the subject of an app and other new panels (working alongside Helen Smith at Rowan Tree Consulting). Most recently at Merkinch Local Nature Reserve and Carnarc Point she has commissioned a young artist for a delightful new crannog-based panel installed there, plus interpretive benches carved by chainsaw champion of the known universe Iain Chalmers.
Elsewhere her clients have included Canals and Rivers Trust/British Waterways, Royal Armouries, Historic Royal Palaces, Scottish Natural Heritage (the exhibition on the Isle of May is one of hers), the National Trust for Scotland, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and various national/local museums and local authorities countrywide plus many clients in France (Vee’s first degree was in modern languages, her Masters in heritage management). She has lived in France, Italy and England before coming home to the Black Isle.
Vee’s 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 more people than just Tom a voice and now tells the story of the war through the eyes of four characters whose lives interconnect in unexpected ways.
Vee had just begin to look for an agent (and isn’t that a thankless task!) when Penguin Random House and Faber & Faber, through personal contacts, invited her to submit the MS to their reader piles. She then responded to a chance post on a museums and heritage e-list to which she subscribes and found herself with an almost-instant offer to print Major Tom’s War from the niche Indian-interest publisher Kashi House in London, which publishes the historian John Keay among others (read the Tartan Turban if you have not already done so, it’s a gem). Tom was born in India and fought with the Indian Cavalry for almost the whole of the war and Kashi House were looking to move into fiction with a mainstream novel. Unlike the other two larger publishers interested, Kashi House were able to guarantee publication this year – Vee felt it appropriate to aim for publication before the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. And she liked and trusted the Kashi House team when she first met them.
A few months later, the contract is signed and Vee is still pinching herself in disbelief! She is also slogging through some very detailed MS edits with her gimlet-eyed content editor Bikram Singh Brar. Major Tom’s War will be published on September 21st 2018, a sharper and more polished novel thanks to Bikram’s efforts. A novel is a collaboration, not a solo venture.
2019 will lead to book tours in the UK, France and possibly India, book festivals and the production of a French edition of Major Tom’s War (La Guerre du Major Tom has already been translated).
Vee will be spending the 11th November 2018 with her friends in the small town of Bavay in Northern France which her grandfather Tom liberated on 7/8 November 1918. As well as this she is also project-managing and editing Elizabeth Sutherland’s new illustrated children’s novel, ‘Growing a Cathedral’ and hopes to spend the rest of her future writing more books or helping others do so.