Q&A with Frederick Petford, author of The Ghosts of Passchendaele

Contributed by Fredrick Petford


Fri 17 Jun 2022

This week we talk to new author, Frederick Petford

Q: Hi, Frederick Petford, how are you doing? What have you been up to so far this year?

It’s been a busy combination of promoting my first novel, a supernatural crime thriller called The Ghosts of Passchendaele and working on the sequel, The Death of Conscience. I’m also an avid gardener, and this time of year is hectic. We’re lucky to have a large vegetable patch and are self-sufficient in veg for nine months of the year, so I’m out there quite a lot. Probably too much, as I prefer gardening to marketing books!

Books2All blog: Q&A with Frederick Petford, author of The Ghosts of Passchendaele
The Ghosts of Passchendaele published by The Claverham Press Ltd (2021)

Q: You are a recently published new author. What made you decide to self-publish?

I like the idea of being in control of my work and am aware that it is very tough for new authors to find representation. I was also told that publishers ask new authors to do their own marketing anyway, so I thought I’d try self-publishing and see how far I got. I’ve made mistakes, but by and large, it’s gone pretty well.

Q: Your novel, The Ghosts of Passchendaele, actually has some truth behind it. Can you tell us more about that?

The story is set in 1919, right after World War One, and is inspired by a document I stumbled across in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission archives. It was a report from an officer in charge of a burial party about something extraordinary that he and his men witnessed while exhuming bodies in a temporary cemetery in Flanders.

There’s no doubt the account is true, and as I dug deeper into it, I started re-imagining the lead-up to what had happened and its consequences as a piece of fiction. The narrative flowed from that.

Q: What made you decide to combine World War One with the supernatural?

There are several quite well-known ghost stories about World War One, understandably perhaps, considering the number killed on the battlefields. But my interest is also personal. The Ghosts of Passchendaele contains events that directly mirror my own supernatural experiences. I’ve often thought about setting them down, and the book gave me a chance to do that through my characters. I really enjoyed that element of the writing.

Q: Do you intend to continue writing, and if so, what topics interest you?

Yes, I will continue to write. I get enormous satisfaction from getting words down on a page and seeing a story appear. I am very interested in the ancient landscape of Britain, and that, coupled with my pagan approach to life, will steer my future work, I’m sure. We are also likely to hear more from Great Tew, the village where The Ghosts of Passchendaele is set. I’ve become quite attached to the characters.

Q: What advice do you have for other aspiring authors to help them get started?

Just do it. Short stories, novels, poetry, whatever you want. And read books. As many as you can. Good or bad, each one is a writing education. If you get stuck on a grammar question or how to lay out dialogue, pick up a decent novel and look how they’ve done it. It’s generally better doing that than googling, I’ve found.

When you start, don’t worry too much about it being good. Get the fundamentals of the story down, then edit it hard, leave it for a month and then edit again. Repeat as necessary! And, if you’re planning to self-publish, it’s essential that you employ an editor to check it for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Everything else you can do yourself on Amazon.

Q: 1 in 8 schools across Britain do not have a library – have you had experience of the educational inequality within the school system or met anyone who was?

Not specifically. My daughters went to a comprehensive school where there was a library. If there are no books in a child’s home (sadly quite common these days, I believe), then the school can play a vital role in sparking an enthusiasm for reading. If life events stress a child, reading a book can give them important downtime. Escapism is vital for young minds, and it is a crying shame that not all schools can offer that facility.

Q: What book or books do you think all children in schools should be given to read?

For older primary readers, the books about Paddington Bear are still brilliant, but I’ve consulted my bookshelves and will go for early secondary age and pick three terrific books. The first two begin a series, which is great. First, I would suggest The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, which needs no introduction. Then, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which introduces us to glorious 11-year-old Flavia De Luce, mystery solver and master poisoner.

The third is a stunning factual book called Deep Country by Neil Ansell, which documents the five years he spent living alone with nature in the Welsh hills. It is a perfect introduction to the British countryside for teenagers interested in the environment.

Books2All blog: Q&A with Frederick Petford, author of The Ghosts of Passchendaele
Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills published by Hamish Hamilton (2011)

Q: Ok, so the final question Frederick Petford – if all the libraries in the world were burning and you could only save three books, what would they be and why?

I’m going to cheat here and say the Lord of the Rings trilogy for its sheer imagination, storytelling and ability to transport the reader to a completely convincing other world. I’ve read them half a dozen times over the years, and they never fail to captivate on so many levels. Extraordinary writing.

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