Well, hello there! I’m kicking off the week with a guest post by author David Taylor for my stop on the blog tour for The Man Who Lived Twice. My thanks to David and Anne Cater at Random Things Tours!
Here’s what the book is all about.
Author : David Taylor
Title : The Man Who Lived Twice
Pages : 432
Publisher : Matador
Publication date : October 31, 2017
The Man Who Lived Twice is a panoramic novel that follows the exploits of Colonel George St Leger Grenfell, a courageous but deeply flawed Cornish cavalryman who was the highest ranked British officer in the Confederate army in the American Civil War.
A hero to General Robert E Lee and a legend to the gullible hillbillies under his command, Ole St Lege charged with the Light Brigade in the Crimea, hacked his way through the Opium War and defended the bullet-strewn barricades in the Indian Mutiny. Yet the mercenary that performed these feats of derring-do was a wanted criminal, a fraudster who bankrupted his own father.
In his search for redemption, Grenfell faces the raw realities of late nineteenth century America. He is frequently shot at and brutally tortured by prison guards, soars precariously over enemy lines in a balloon and rides the rails to the Old West, meeting the characters who made, marred and mythologised the American century: the beautiful spies and back-shooting gunslingers as well as the business tycoons and Lincoln conspirators. And somehow he survives to lead a better life.
DOING THINGS THE HARD WAY BY DAVID TAYLOR
Writing words on a page seemed a fairly uncomplicated form of communication until I read Stephen King’s book on the subject in which he claimed that the relationship between writer and reader was a paranormal activity. ‘All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree,’ King stated, ‘but I believe that writing is the purest distillation.’
Well, there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth, and you cannot argue with a man whose books have sold more than three hundred million copies. But if, through thought-transference, you are sending your readers a flurry of feelings, sensations and imagery, there must be a strong connective thread which brings you back to the age-old question of where authors get their plots from.
Is there a moment of truth perhaps, a blinding light of creativity? For some very distinguished writers, blessed with vivid imaginations, the answer seems to be yes. Stephenie Meyer dreamed about a vampire meeting a high-school girl, woke up, and started to write the Twilight series. JK Rowling was travelling alone in a railway carriage when Harry Potter entered her head. All Kazuo Ishiguro needed to jump-start The Remains of the Day was one of his wife’s little jokes. The actual flashpoint for JRR Tolkien was the discovery of a blank page in an exam paper he was marking. On it, he scribbled, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’ and the rest was history.
Most of us, however, have to struggle to find our inspiration. In my own case, it took a 4500-mile journey and a large slice of luck before I had a compelling outline for The Man Who Lived Twice. It happened like this. My wife and I were on holiday in Key West when we noticed a dockside advertisement urging us to board a high-speed catamaran called the Yankee Freedom III and ‘escape to the secluded islands and tropical beaches’ of the Dry Tortugas where we could snorkel to our heart’s content in ‘crystal blue waters.’ We left the next morning for our ten-hour trip through the Gulf of Mexico.
As we voyaged west, the first of the Tortugas came into sight, an acre of coral reef covered in thick brushwood, mango and prickly pear. Our guide explained how such reefs were built out of the cup-shaped skeletons of small coral animals. But what he didn’t prepare us for was what came next. Out of the dancing heat haze, a weird-looking vessel loomed up. Although her outline was blurred by the thickening air, a turreted battleship seemed to lie in wait. As we got nearer, the battleship morphed into an immense fortification, a three-tiered, six-sided brick castle that appeared to rest on the surface of the sea.
‘Welcome to the Fort Jefferson National Park,’ said our fact-happy guide. ‘Consisting of over sixteen million bricks, it is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas.’ I was utterly astounded. Why build such a massive fortress on a coral atoll in the middle of nowhere? It beggared belief. Everything must have been brought by ship: all the skilled artisans and labourers, all the timber and cement, every last brick and nail. And to what end? The guide had the answer. ‘To stop you from invading us,’ he said. ‘After the War of 1812 when the British set fire to Washington and the White House, we built a chain of coastal forts to protect ourselves. Fort Jefferson was designed to be the ultimate defence system.’
To take a closer look, we crossed the imposing drawbridge and went into the fort. The walls were eight-feet-thick and fifty-feet-high with embrasures for hundreds of heavy guns. And it wasn’t even finished. A guide in a National Park T-shirt explained what had gone wrong. ‘The fort took too long to build,’ he told us. ‘Technological advances in warfare rendered it obsolete. During the Civil War, it became a military prison, mainly for deserters. But its most famous inmates were the Lincoln conspirators who were given life sentences for plotting to assassinate the president. Would you like to see their cell?’
How could one possibly refuse such an invitation? Instead of snorkelling happily among the tropical fish and sponges in the azure shallows we found ourselves bent over in a dark dungeon, above which someone had scratched the words, ‘Whoever enters here leaves all hope behind.’ The National Park historian talked about one of the four men who had been locked up here in irons. Dr Samuel Mudd had had the misfortune to set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg shortly after he had shot Lincoln. ‘People say Mudd was just an innocent country doctor but don’t you believe it. He knew what he was doing. Not that he was a bad man. There was a yellow fever epidemic in the fort and the surgeon died. Mudd took over the doctoring and saved many lives. He was helped by one of his cellmates.’ And who might that be? ‘Oh, an English spy called Grenfell. He was a strange guy; volunteered to nurse the sadistic officers who had tortured him months earlier.’
I sat up and took notice, banging my head on the cell ceiling. Why was he tortured? ‘Grenfell managed to get an anonymous letter published complaining about the casual brutality of the prison guards. Finding out who had written it, they strung him up on an iron grating, naked to the waist and without water, exposed to the burning sun and the mosquitoes for almost a day, before dragging him down to the quay and dunking him in the water several times with weights attached to his feet. But he was as stubborn as a mule. He wouldn’t die.’ What happened to him? ‘Oh, a year later, in 1868, Grenfell bribed a prison officer and escaped in a small boat, never to be seen again. They say he died at sea but there were several later unconfirmed sightings of him in Cuba.’
That was all the guide could tell me but I wanted to know more. This is what I eventually learned. Colonel George St Leger Grenfell was the highest ranking British officer in the Confederate Army. A mercenary by trade, he fought for the South without any payment. He was an incredibly brave man who rode with Morgan’s Raiders, trained the Confederate cavalry and was with Lee at Gettysburg before being arrested trying to break into a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in Chicago. Sentenced to death by a military tribunal, he eventually ended up doing hard labour in Fort Jefferson. But what made him even more remarkable was his chequered past. Born into one of Cornwall’s most influential families, George Grenfell had bankrupted his father and been disowned. He was wanted for fraud in France and mosque desecration in Morocco. A man of infinite resource but no firm convictions, he had gone to war all over the world, seeking to redeem his reputation.
Here was the perfect antihero for my novel. Living as I do in Cornwall, I might have found him by going down the road to Penzance instead of crossing the Atlantic. But I rarely do things the easy way.
David Taylor was educated at the Royal Grammar School Newcastle and at University College London where he read history and was president of the students’ union. He has won national and international awards for print, radio and television journalism. His book Web of Corruption was published by Granada.
He wrote for the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, reported for Panorama and World in Action, presented BBC2 series on defence and civil nuclear power, edited Radio 4’s current affairs programme File on 4 and BBC2’s Brass Tacks and On The Line, produced several series of Great Railway Journeys and of the Wainwright and Fred Dibnah programmes and was head of BBC Features before forming an independent production company called Triple Echo which has won scores of awards, mainly for adventure broadcasting.