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Opening a new chapter for Major Tom

By Hector MacKenzie

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Verity Walker from Fortrose launches the paperback version of the book inspired by her grandparents' love story, Major Tom's War. Picture: Callum Mackay
Verity Walker from Fortrose launches the paperback version of the book inspired by her grandparents' love story, Major Tom's War. Picture: Callum Mackay

Delving into her grandfather Tom’s Great War scrapbook saw Black Isle author Vee Walker embark on a journey that has taken her so much further than she could ever have imagined when the seed of a writing project first took root.

The paperback launch of an expanded and revised version of the award-winning Major Tom’s War has seen that journey come full circle at the tail end of a very challenging year.

The author, better known locally as Verity Walker Eley, acknowledges that its genre-hopping storylines make it the ideal lockdown read.

She set out to transcribe a war diary but saw it evolve “into the story of the wars both of Tom and of my would-be-suffragette future grandmother Evie”.

She describes it as “an accidental epic”. She said: “It is equally an historic novel and an unusual true love story, not to mention a murder mystery – Tom becomes a military policeman and has to establish the motive for the killing of a Woordi major, an adjutant – let alone the equal mystery of what happened to Tom’s own first wife...”

When released in hardback two years ago, it picked up a prize at the Society for Army Historical Research Awards but went on to entice a much-wider readership.

She said: “There are the separate storylines about the invasion of Bavay and the heroism of its mayor Gaston Derome, and the behaviour of my west coast baddie, James Macbane of Lochdubh. I think I would describe Major Tom’s War more as a story about survival through terrifying and unpredictable times than as any one genre.”

The second edition includes a whole new section and fresh photographs. It also carries book group notes, some relating to Lochdubh, a “nasty piece of work” composite of three different dubious characters Tom encounters. She teases: “An attentive Highland reader will be able to work out the identity of one of the real men on whom he is based.” Next stop she hopes will be the audiobook.

And her next book, about her second set of grandparents, will take her – “sadly this time in imagination only" –to Punjab and Assam in India, to Afghanistan, to Australia and Canada as well as the UK. Its working title is Brother Joe.

The revised and expanded paperback second edition of Major Tom’s War meanwhile will be available from all good booksellers (including its publisher www.kashihouse.com) priced at £9.99.

Sales of Major Tom’s War directly benefit the UK Punjab Heritage Association, a charity which celebrates the rich history and culture of Punjab and of Punjabi Sikhs in particular.

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