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Peter Turnham

Location: On top of the English Cotswold Hills, near Cheltenham

Bio

An accidental novelist, I was always very active but a ruptured Achilles tendon incapacitated me for several months. For some reason, I decided to write a book, which seemed a ridiculous idea for a dyslexic who only read factual and scientific publications, and didn’t read novels. Perhaps surprisingly, I find the whole process of creating a believable and generally fast-moving storyline totally fascinating. So far, I have published four books with more success than I ever expected, firstly the “Autumn Daffodils” series, then the “None Stood Taller” series, and the third book in the None Stood Taller series is on the way! I’m hoping to publish that one in Spring 2022.

Current project

My current project is third in the “None Stood Taller” series, one of the greatest love stories of WW2, which is set in time between March 1941 and 6th June 1944.
The new one is the story of another one of my major characters, Dotty, during the same period of time, covering her exploits into occupied France as part of the SOE, much of which we touched upon in the previous two books in this series, but now in far more detail. I hope to publish this third book in the Spring 2022.

Writing sample

Extract from “None Stood Taller”, the first book in the series, Chapter One:

Stepney London March 1941
I stepped outside the front door to see if there was any sign of Linda, but it was virtually dark; the road was deserted. I was becoming increasingly concerned; we should have made our way to the shelter of Stepney Green Tube Station an hour ago. Finally, I could just make out a lone figure in the fading light running towards me.
“Your Mum’s here, boys,” I shouted.
“When are we going to the station, Aunty Lily?” asked little Adam.
“We’re going now boys; quickly, get your things together.”
Linda burst through the door, breathing heavily. “I’m so sorry Lily, it was a broken gas main; there was nothing I could do, the bus just had to wait.”
“You’re here now, we must go to the Tube Station right away.”
“I know, but thanks for waiting, I couldn’t bear being parted from them down the Tube.”
As I stood by the front door waiting for her, it was eerily quiet; nobody wanted to be walking the streets during the blackout. Suddenly the velvet silence was broken; starting slowly, the wailing sound gradually became faster and louder. The air raid warning siren instantly filled you with fear, my
heart jumped in my chest. I stepped back through the door to be met by Linda and the boys coming towards me.
“Oh no,” Linda gasped, “they’re so early tonight; what do we do?”
“It’s too late, I think we’d better stay here,” I replied, trying not to frighten the boys.
Following such a terrible journey home, Linda was already stressed; I could see it in her eyes. She was much more than just my next-door neighbour. Our husbands worked in the Docks together before they both joined the Navy; the four of us were the closest of friends.
“We’ll be fine, they won’t bomb the Docks again tonight,” I said as calmly as I could manage. “Now, who wants to help me make a nice cup of tea?”
“I will, Aunty Lily,” said Johnny.
“Can I have a biscuit, Aunty Lily?” asked Adam.
“You’ve been good boys this afternoon; you must ask your Mum, but I think you both deserve a biscuit.”
“Can we, Mum, can we?” they asked in unison.
“Of course you can, but only two each.”
“You sit down and get your breath back, Linda,” I said, trying to appear unconcerned.
I made the tea while the boys stared at the biscuit tin in eager anticipation. All the while, my concentration was elsewhere, listening for the sound of approaching bombers and exploding bombs.
As Londoners, we had lived under the threat of falling bombs from day one of the Blitz. We were all terrified, but by March 1941 everyone knew exactly what to expect. It seems incredible to me now when I look back but somehow, we tried to continue as normal during the Blitz. That perception of normality was an illusion which shattered the moment I heard the first sounds of distant explosions. Linda looked at me with wide eyes as the explosions grew louder. A mother’s dread when her children are in harm’s way is like no other fear a woman can feel.
“What do we do, Lily?” she asked in a raised voice.
“We’ll be fine, but just to be sure, let’s all sit under the
stairs.”
Linda’s under-stair cupboard was like mine next door, just
large enough for us all to get into. Like everyone else she had
cleared away some items previously stored there, just in case.
The boys were only four years old and didn’t fully realise what
was happening, so we tried to make it feel like a game for
them.

“None Stood Taller The Final Year”

We walked away from St Thomas’ and towards Westminster Bridge. With Big Ben always in our view, we walked towards the Houses of Parliament. I paused on the bridge to look at London, my home town, which had never looked finer in the morning sunshine.
For those who chose to see it, there was bomb damage everywhere, but for me London looked magnificent. The Thames flowed beneath our feet, as it always did. The glittering ribbon of water extended upstream to where Lambeth Bridge spanned its banks. The sun shone down on the Palace of Westminster and it had never looked finer, Big Ben standing there as defiant as ever. A red London tram trundled across the bridge in the other direction, while two army lorries drove past us. The guard in the sentry box gestured to the army drivers. People walked in both directions over the bridge enjoying the sunshine. I just stood smiling at what for me was the most magnificent sight in the world.
“What are you so happy about?” asked Edward.
“This is what we’re fighting for, Edward. We’ve taken everything Hitler has thrown at us, we didn’t surrender, London carries on as it always has. Look at it, look at these people, isn’t it wonderful?”
“You’re right, it is. I shouldn’t take it for granted.”
“No, you shouldn’t. Don’t you feel proud, Edward? I do, this is my city, I’m a part of it, and it will always be a part of me. People are giving their lives to keep London standing like this, I’m so proud to be a Londoner.”
“I am proud, Lily, I’m proud of you.”
“Me, why are you proud of me?”
“I shall never forget what Winston said that day at Middlebourne. Do you remember, you had just told him in no uncertain terms that Hitler made a terrible mistake if he thought he could break the will of the British people. He reacted strongly; do you remember, he said ‘Hitler has unleashed a mighty spirit, I can see it sitting here before me now.’ Winston was quite right, Lily, you are a mighty spirit.”
“Is that a compliment?”
“It’s a statement of fact, Lily.”
“Not the way you’re saying it, it sounds more like a compliment!”
His face lit up with the most beautiful expression. He reached out and held my hands as we stood looking at each other. I didn’t know what to say, I don’t think he did either. Still holding my hands he drew me closer, I’m quite sure his intention was to kiss me. The look in his eyes was unmistakable, in that moment there were only three words he was desperate to say. But those words always come with a commitment, and when that realisation dawned, I could see the sadness writ large across his face. I felt his anguish as if it was my own, and I shared the burden of his sadness in equal measure. Ours was truly a love that must not mention its name.
“So, it was a compliment! I told you it was,” I said light-heartedly, trying to lift the mood.
“There is not a compliment I could pay you which could do you justice. You burst with pride when you talk about London, I burst with pride when I talk about you, Lily.”
He might not have said in words that he loved me, but in his own way, he had gone as far as his five hundred years of tradition would allow. I realised more than ever that Edward was a deeply emotional man. His wonderfully expressive eyes left him with little option but to wear his heart on his sleeve. Somehow his towering intellect and strength of character could coexist with his warm heart, combining to make him the very exceptional man that he is. It took me quite a time to respond.
“I’ll never receive a greater compliment, will I? I don’t know what to say, Edward, I’m overwhelmed. That was a lovely thing to say and made all the more lovely because I know what lies behind those words, thank you.”
“Perhaps we should continue towards our appointment.”
“You’re right, Edward, but I’m taking this moment with me. Do you ever have the feeling that a moment is so precious, you’ll never forget it?”
“I do, and I shall never forget the sight of you standing on Westminster Bridge bursting with pride!”
Neither of us has ever forgotten that day. Edward did so much more than cross over the river, he crossed something much wider than the Thames. He took another giant stride across the social divide which stood between us. We were like two sticks dropped from the bridge, each swept away by the swirling current, but always together.

We searched around the confinement of our under-stair
hideaway, looking for something to amuse them. Linda put a
coat over the floor mop so it looked like hair spilling out over
the collar. I put the handle of a tennis racket up one sleeve and
we pretended the mop man was chasing the boys. The drone
of distant bombers grew ominously louder, so we used the
mop man to full advantage, making as much noise as possible.
It sounded like the Docks again; the explosions were
making the windows rattle. I blamed the mop man for shaking
the windows – Johnny and Adam thought it was a brilliant
game and pulled at the sleeves excitedly. A stick of bombs fell
close enough for us to hear them whistle through the air – it
was terrifying. For a moment we sat there on the floor, frozen
in silence, just looking at each other with fear in our eyes.
Linda instinctively grabbed Johnny while I held Adam as
tightly as I could.
An explosion blew out the rear windows and we heard
some crockery on the dresser crash to the floor. The boys were
now screaming in terror. Then we heard the whistle of falling
bombs again. In those final few seconds, we both knew what
was going to happen.
There was a tremendous explosion, shaking the house to
pieces. Things came crashing down onto the stairs above us. As
terrifying as it felt, it wasn’t a direct hit and for that awful split
second, I allowed myself to think we were safe. Then I realised
I could still hear a falling bomb! That was my last memory.

-o0o-

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