I have a passion for thrillers. I love reading about men and women facing the ultimate test under fire – and I love writing about them. It must be in my blood.
Born in Dover, Kent, and raised in various outposts of the world while my father served in the Royal Navy, I grew up hungry to become a writer.
I worked for many years as a national newspaper journalist. But I always dreamed of switching to novel-writing – and on moving to Norfolk in 2007 I found the perfect spot to achieve my ambition. There is no great rush here. You have time and space to think, to chat and to imagine.
So why thrillers? Well, it might have something to do with my family history.
My great grandfather was George William Valentine Clements, a captain and quartermaster in the Royal Dragoons. A carpenter’s son from Norwich, he signed up aged 15 in 1846 and fought in all four major battles in the Crimean War, taking part in the Charge of the Heavy Brigade and winning promotion to officer. He died in March 1916, aged 85, having come out of retirement because he didn’t want to miss out on the First World War. Although he did not see action, he was considered the oldest soldier ever to have died on active service and his grave is still tended by the War Graves Commission in Earlham Cemetery, Norwich.
My grandfather George Weston Clements fought in the First World War and won the Military Cross in the Middle East. The citation says he led a small party of men, cutting the wire under heavy fire. He proceeded to capture an enemy machine gun and killed two enemy with his revolver. On Armistice Day, I find myself thinking about those two unnamed men. They, too, were fighting for their country.
My father, Noel Clements, served in the Royal Navy in the Second World War. He was torpedoed in the battleship Ramillies by a Japanese mini-sub. His two brothers were also Navy officers – George serving in Naval Intelligence alongside Ian Fleming. Brian, the youngest, was killed aged 22 while second-in-command of the submarine Turbulent, winning the DSC. The skipper Tubby Linton was awarded the VC.
My great grandmother was Jane Elizabeth Weston, the second wife of George William Valentine Clements. She died long before I was born but I see a lot of the present generation in her features. Mary Enright was my father’s mother. She died in 1924 giving birth to her sixth child, John, who also died. Men went to war, but women faced dangers of their own. My maternal grandmother Margaret was a tennis champion in the Far East in the 1920s and worked as a teacher. My mother’s names were Jean Margaret.
My generation of the Clements clan is the first since the Crimean War not to have seen active service in a branch of the military. I feel extremely fortunate that this is so but I believe my history has given me a keen understanding of valour and the stoicism of those in peril – whether from enemy agents, at sea, in the air, or in the battlefield.
These are the essential qualities of my protagonist Tom Wilde, a Cambridge history professor. He may spend much of his life with his nose buried in dusty archives or in the lecture hall, but when he is called on to act, he does so without question.
Thomas Wilde, usually known as Tom, is a history professor at Cambridge University. He has rooms in college, but he also has a small house to the north-east of the city, next door to the rather grander property of his good friend Lydia Morris.
He rides a 500cc Rudge Special motorbike, a fabulous machine capable of 100mph.
His great passion is the spy network of Queen Elizabeth I’s Principal Secretary Sir Francis Walsingham. He also has an abiding interest in 20th century intelligence gathering and espionage.
When not delving into archives or supervising undergraduates, he enjoys boxing, Scotch whisky, listening to jazz and bird-watching.
Tom’s mother is Irish, born in Galway but now living in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, long dead, was American. Tom Wilde, however, endured the English public school system and considers himself a man without borders.
While my father, grandfather and great-grandfather survived fierce and deadly fighting in three major wars, I fear I would not have measured up. Psychoanalysts might wonder whether I am trying to make up for this by weaving stories around those with more courage than myself – and they might have a point.
(c) Rory Clements
June 1939. England is partying like there is no tomorrow, gas masks at the ready. In Cambridge the May Balls are played out with a frantic intensity – but the good times won’t last… In Europe, the Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, and in Germany he persecution of the Jews is now so widespread that desperate Jewish parents send their children to safety in Britain aboard the Kindertransport. Closer to home, the IRA’s S-Plan bombing campaign has resulted in more than 100 terrorist outrages around England.
But perhaps the most far-reaching event of all goes largely unreported: in Germany, Otto Hahn has produced the first man-made fission and an atomic device is now a very real possibility. The Nazis set up the Uranverein group of physicists: its task is to build a superbomb. The German High Command is aware that British and US scientists are working on similar line. Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is where the atom was split in 1932. Might the Cambridge men now win the race for a nuclear bomb? Hitler’s generals need to be sure they know all the Cavendish’s secrets. Only then will it be safe for Germany to wage war.
When one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is once more drawn into an intrigue from which there seems no escape. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin and from Washington DC to the west coast of Ireland, he faces deadly forces that threaten the fate of the world.
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