Why I wrote the Billy Day and Kevin Knight Trilogy
I was nineteen on a cycling holiday with a friend in Wales. It was Easter, so we had a good five days to enjoy the countryside: mountains, moorlands and small towns where we'd stay each night. My friend and I talked about this and that: endlessly. On a long stretch of quiet road, we became reflective. This was my life I told my friend. Everything had been set in stone. I couldn't see it changing. I had a job, a couple of mates, I identified with the city of my birth, and I had a reasonable job. And most of all I enjoyed my weekends cycling. Why would my life change: I saw no reason for it to be different. But it did change: unexpectedly. Life became fuller, infinitely varied by possibilities I never dreamed of as a child. As an adult I realised we can all change our life for the better: some do easily, others need a little more encouragement. Yet another group appears weary of taking leaps into what they might consider the unknown. The Billy Day and Kevin Knight Trilogy is aimed for anyone who's ever had doubts about change: for these two imaginary characters to believe is to achieve.
The Billy Day and Kevin Knight trilogy began during a summer holiday in France. One night I decided to write a story for my daughter; an adventure to help her understand the dilemmas people, especially the young, face, as they mature and take their place in the adult world. I wanted to explore how two young teenagers from very different backgrounds become lifelong friends. I also wanted my readers to identify with Billy and Kevin and, more importantly, for readers to have come across characters such as them: they might, in fact, be them. Adventurous and honest, innocent of the sophisticated world, though peppered with street wisdom. Normal guys far removed from the fantasy world of super heroes. Ordinary people who can achieve extraordinary things when called upon to do so; and who are open to change and possibility.
As much as this, I wanted an adult to play a significant role. Not an adult who was on a pedestal, nor successful in how we understand the term, merely a plain speaking guy who was a survivor and an optimist. A man struggling against the odds to provide for his only son. A person who'd known difficult times: through circumstance and by his own deliberate actions. A single parent, one time prisoner, whose first employment was as a soldier. A person outsiders might denigrate, look down upon, write off as of little worth. One, however, with strong moral and ethical codes which he was determined to pass on to his son. Nor did I want Billy himself to be a 'model' person. He's damaged, and occasionally, certainly in When the String Breaks, all too readily, reverts to destructive delinquent behaviour. Yet he's brave, resilient, resourceful in all of his three adventures. Daring when challenged, and a true fighter when the odds are stacked against him. As is, of course, Kevin.
I never intended to write three stories, but with The Billy Can Bomb ending positively I thought I could take Billy and Kevin's unlikely relationship further. A small cemetery in a tiny French hamlet and a Commonwealth War Grave provided the perfect setting for their second adventure: The Monesse Mystery. More complex than their first it introduces Billy and Kevin to the consequences of history: personally remembered and assumed. Firstly, unresolved questions are laid to rest through Billy's father's personal history in Northern Ireland, sparked by him being re-united with Shelagh, his only true love. Secondly, how the Second World War affected several individuals in a small part of France: a Black South African soldier, a high-ranking British officer and a French Resistance leader.
The first two stories are positive as the two friends learn about each other, discuss how they wish to relate to life, and the reasons they give for their beliefs and actions. Ending on emotional highs it might be assumed that the pair's third adventure would be similar; but no. There are areas of contemporary society where I wanted to test Billy and Kevin to the utmost in their friendship and shared ethical values. If you want, to shake up their every assumption, and write an adventure much more hard hitting than The Monesse Mystery. Few lives, if any, follow a trajectory of smooth inevitability without self doubt. No one is honest if they've can't admit of experiencing the pain of making profound errors of judgement. Kevin's strength is assisting his best mate develop by helping
him focus his mind on maximising his abilities. Tapping his arm, cautioning him, suggesting a less confrontational approach to the difficulties they face together. Kevin's qualities run clear through all three adventures, and never more so than in When the String Breaks.
Despite Kevin playing back stage in this story his contribution is in his profound common sense and mature judgement when called upon to intervene as the adventure reaches its shocking climax. If The Monesse Mystery is based on facts which I outlined in the Afterword, When the String Breaks is a psychological exploration of what might lead a young man to take extremist views and consider deadly actions. What Billy thought would be a steady progression from college to studying medicine is ambushed by disappointing exam results. Excluded from realising his ambition prompts a crisis of faith in his own abilities. Aware of his success in two adventures Billy searches for explanations to explain his failure to achieve his long time goal.
I am currently working on a fourth volume, which will be completely different from the Trilogy. In this I intend to explore how a woman entering into the life of Billy and his father feminises the pair, enabling them to see the world in a more rounded and positive light. More part of the human community, more connected to life beyond their narrow interests. Let me quote two sections of this, yet, unnamed story:
“Dad was desperate for some stability and normality in his fractured life. Human warmth and love to ease away the trauma of his army life: and there was plenty there. Oceans of the stuff. No wonder he nearly drowned in his nightmare tears: thrashing his arms like a man slipping into the depths of an ice cold ocean, even when in the warmth of his bed. See, sometimes I did sneak a look at him after Mum deserted us, in the space between the door and the door frame where a slither of light from a single bulb in our hallway lit his sleeping body ....
“Shelagh's utterly confident, probably from the day she was born, she knew she had something important to say. A reassuring confidence resounded in her voice. More importantly she knew people would take notice of her. Dad and me missed that at birth. 'Praps it'll always mean we'll be unsure of ourselves, that we'd only connect when we knew others wanted us. Respected us. Or were like us. Yeah, it was a disadvantage .….”