Honouring the incredible true story of a friend’s flight to freedom during WW2
A chance encounter with a Polish immigrant in the 1980s triggered an unlikely chain of events that would consume the British author Allen Walker for the next 30 years.
In the early eighties, I was a car mechanic at a local garage. Within walking distance of the workshop lived a Polish man, who at that time had recently lost his wife; his family had, I presumed, never moved to England.
He owned an unreliable Renault 18 which was particularly troublesome in the inclement weather. Consequently, I was often required to walk to his home with a minimal set of tools and coax his vehicle into life. This is how I came to know “Jedrek” the teenage lead character in my book and the true inspiration for ‘The Strength of Wills’. Jedrek’s incredible story was intricately relayed to me by this wonderfully enigmatic Polish man. Few people could fail to be emotionally stirred by Jedrek’s escape across war-torn Europe. Perhaps even fewer would be inspired to write a novel based on this remarkable story, but for me and my fertile imagination, it was my continual aim to do so.
Who would not have been moved by this young, recently orphaned lad making his escape from Nazi-occupied Poland; via the horrors of an early concentration camp and with the ever-surprising help of a man four times his age whom he’d only just met? Revelation after revelation that he recounted to me, I stored in my memory for over half my life. I wanted to impart these events to as many people as possible. Attempting to do this without having visited Poland, and completing all the research myself, was a daunting project.
In part one of the book, I rely heavily on the recollections of the older ‘Jedrek’ that I met all those years ago. I hope that I have managed to portray the unique relationship between Jedrek and Viktor, as it evolves from a reluctant alliance to a close friendship; told in a way that is faithful to their lives at that extraordinary time.
I’ve always been blessed, some people might say cursed, with a wicked sense of humour. Friends of mine have noticed I’ve used this particular ‘gift’ to punctuate the horrible scenarios in which the main characters find themselves. I’ve also included within the narrative, memorable cameos to provide emotional relief.
From the great reviews I’ve received so far, I’m becoming more confident that I’ve achieved my ambition to write a book that is faithful to the harrowing experiences of this gentle character and will serve as a fitting tribute. I pray that all current and future readers of my book will witness the power of the human spirit – The Strength of Wills.
Interview with Allen Walker
Q: You describe your debut novel, The Strength of Wills, as historical fiction that draws on real-life events. What proportion is fact and fiction?
A: The book is divided into three parts – roughly one part per country their route takes them. The majority of Part One is inspired by the stories from the Polish gentleman I met all those years ago.
Q: You completed the book to mark your 60th birthday. How did you celebrate the book’s completion and subsequent publication?
A: Having had 250 books printed, I had arranged to hold a book signing in a hall in the local town on Saturday afternoon. This event was mainly attended by friends and acquaintances who bought at least one signed copy at a specially reduced price. Most of these people stayed to chat about the book and enjoy cake and refreshments which was brilliant and unexpected. In the evening of the same day, I hired a cheese and wine bar in Wimborne to which I invited close friends and relations. Everyone had a wonderful time and was happy to celebrate my achievement and my sixtieth. I was both exhausted and pleased to have sold thirty-six copies in the afternoon event and another twenty-eight in the evening.
Q: What single piece of advice would you give to other first-time novelists of historical fiction?
A: Whatever route you choose, you need to remain confident and believe in yourself and the book on which you’ve spent so much time.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: I’ve already begun writing my next book which is intended to be a sequel to The Strength of Wills. Presently, it’s entitled ‘A Greater Strength’.
Q: You have a rare day to spare. How will you spend it?
A: Driving in France with excellent company, good wine and a magnificent picnic.
Q: Name the three items you wouldn’t be without on a desert island:
A: I’ll give you six: Physical health; a book and dementia [so that when I walk anywhere on the island, it will all seem new to me. Same goes for reading the book]; helicopter; helicopter’s operating/instruction manual; GPS
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