A SHOCK discovery in her grandfather’s war diary prompted a Ross-shire writer to dramatically revise the book she was writing – sparking interest from three different London publishers in the process.
For the last seven years, Verity Walker, well-known for her heritage consulting and community activity, has been working on a book based on her own family’s past.
Until around five years ago, Verity envisaged Major Tom’s War as a serious work of non-fiction based on her cavalry officer grandfather’s papers from the Western Front.
That all changed with a chance discovery: "One day I noticed a page in my grandfather’s war diary which was thicker than all the others. I got hold of a kettle and gently steamed apart two layers, cut the top one in two and peeled it back to read what was written underneath. What I found there shocked me so much I had to sit down and use the rest of the kettle to make a cuppa!"
While not prepared to reveal the precise nature of the family secret she uncovered without revealing her plot, she said: "I think my grandmother Evie was very, very wise to think twice at the time and cover up what Tom had done."
Her grandmother was "a fleeting suffragette and a most unlikely bride". A desire to give Evie a voice transformed the book from a short work of non-fiction into a 140,000-word novel.
She is publishing under the slightly altered name of Vee Walker to keep professional and personal life separate. Major Tom’s War has been snapped up by the niche publisher, Kashi House, which specialises in lavishly illustrated books with connections to Indian life and culture.
Verity explained: "Kashi House could guarantee to publish the book in time for the Armistice commemoration in November, which none of the larger publishers could. They even paid me an advance, so I am still pinching myself! They are an amazing team which works very hard to help edit and polish their books. They liked Major Tom’s War because Tom was a cavalry officer with a reserve regiment in Calcutta, where he was born, even before the First World War began. In many ways he understood and respected his devoted Sikh ‘sowars’ (cavalry soldiers) far more than he did the impoverished English gentry he stemmed from."
When war breaks out, Tom bolts for the Western Front without consent ahead of his regiment, for a disturbing reason. The action sweeps readers from India to England and Scotland, then on to France and into Germany, through the eyes of four narrator characters, among them Tom and Evie.
Verity describes it as "a book about how ordinary people survive extraordinary times, and how they are changed by them, for better or worse". The committed community stalwart moved back to the Black Isle where she grew up in 2002 and has since been working non-stop for her local community, both professionally and voluntarily.
Professional projects have included managing the community engagement for the restoration of Kirkmichael churchyard, designing panels and exhibitions for Udale Bay bird Hide and Forsinard for the RSPB and developing new interpretation, routing and poetic interpretive benches for Culbin.
She founded the Black Isle Gathering in 2005 and also ran two international-calibre classical music events for local singers, the Black Isle Messiah and the Black Isle Mozart Requiem.
She is now also hugely involved in the running of Rosemarkie Beach Café on the publicity and social media side on behalf of Rosemarkie Amenities Association, and acts as the co-administrator for many other popular Facebook and Twitter accounts including Chanonry Point, Explore Fortrose, Discover the Black Isle and HeartHighland.
A hectic schedule will see her take a step back from almost all her community and professional activity for the next year to focus on the forthcoming book.
She admitted: "It is quite hard for me, but I think the time is right. A couple of things have happened recently, including my daughters becoming unwell, which have made me reflect in the next year or two. I simply won’t be able to keep everything going to the standard I would wish if I try to do more than I should. I have already stepped aside from the Black Isle Tourism Team, which I have been involved with since its beginning and I am so pleased it is thriving in my absence.
"It won’t be me running the next Black Isle Gathering either, if there is one, in 2019. And hardest of all, I must start gradually to step back from supporting my beloved ‘other half’ at Rosemarkie Beach Café."
She said: "I think I am proudest of having coined the phrase ‘The Dolphin Mile’ with the café as the starting-point. That’s really taken off now, we regularly have visitors come to the café to ‘walk the Dolphin Mile’ rather than driving to Chanonry Point."
She’ll still be doing what she can to help her café manager partner Philip Eley in her spare time and says she’s delighted that Rosemarkie Amenities board member Susan Williams has offered to co-administer the café Facebook account alongside her, with a view to taking it on completely from November.
First edition copies of Major Tom’s War can be reserved direct from www.KashiHouse.com ahead of publication on September 21. Future readers can keep up with latest news on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MajorTomsWar