I’m joined today by an author who doesn’t live that far away from me. Ken Lussey’s novel Eyes Turned Skyward is fiction but based on a real life mystery – it sounds very intriguing. Thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours for having me as part of the tour. You can buy a copy of the book here: Eyes Turned Skywards
First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
I spent my first 17 years following my family – my father was a Royal Air Force navigator – around the world, a process that involved seven schools and a dozen different postal addresses. I went to Hull University in 1975, spending my time there meeting my wife Maureen, hitch-hiking around Great Britain, and doing just enough actual work to gain a reasonable degree in that most useful of subjects, philosophy.
The next step seemed obvious. I researched and wrote A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Great Britain, which was published by Penguin Books in 1983. An inexplicable regression into conformity saw me become a civil servant for the next couple of decades, during which time I fulfilled the long-held ambition of moving to Scotland. In more recent times I have helped Maureen establish the website Undiscovered Scotland as the ultimate online guide to Scotland. The urge to write never left me. Eyes Turned Skywards, published by Fledgling Press was my first novel and The Danger of Life my second.
What inspired you to start writing?
Initially it was the sense that there was a need for a guide that allowed others to travel as freely (in every sense of the word) as I had while hitch-hiking around Britain. The result was A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Great Britain, which was published by Penguin Books in 1983.
It took a further 35 years for my first novel to appear: but it had been bubbling away beneath the surface for most of that time. It was when I stumbled across the real-world story of the crash of the flying boat carrying the Duke of Kent, the king’s younger brother, on a remote hillside in Caithness in August 1942 that the pieces began to coalesce into something more tangible.
Tell me about your journey to publication
It was very mixed. Back in the mists of time I persuaded Penguin to buy into the hitch-hiking guide on the basis of an introductory chapter and some samples of the intended content. They were the second publisher I had approached.
The world had changed a lot by the time I was looking to publish a thriller set in World War Two. If I may borrow from the Beatles, that was in every way a ‘Long and Winding Road’. After a couple of rounds of approaching agents listed in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, I tried approaching individual Scottish publishers instead. Fledgling Press liked what they saw, and things moved on from there.
In a nutshell, what is your latest book about?
Eyes Turned Skywards is a thriller set in World War Two. It revolves around the real-world air crash in Caithness on 25 August 1942 that killed the Duke of Kent, brother of King George VI. The book follows a fictional investigation into the cause of the air crash and draws in some of the many theories that have developed over the years to explain it: while adding in a few of my own. All the action, barring the prologue and epilogue, takes place during a single week in September 1942.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
By making lots of searches through possibly suitable aviation quotes that fitted the theme of the book. When I found, ‘For once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will always long to return.’ I knew I’d found what I wanted. The quote is invariably attributed, including in some highly reputable sources, to Leonardo da Vinci. When you dig more deeply, however, it appears to be a more modern misattribution. It still works as a title, though!
How did you celebrate publication day?
In pre-lockdown days, a meal out was enjoyed and Champagne was drunk!
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Yes. It’s a total change of pace from anything I’ve done before and is a young adult novel set in Scotland during the isolation and social distancing brought on by coronavirus. I’m writing it with advice and input from my 10-year-old grandson Alistair.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
Possibly not the kind of answer you are looking for, but Skye’s Cuillin Ridge Traverse by Adrian Trendall and published by Cicerone is an absolutely magnificent little book. Beautifully produced and utterly inspirational, it’s also small enough to fit in your pocket!
What are you reading just now?
I’ve just (May 2020) started reading Gears for Queers by Abigail Melton and Lilith Cooper and published by Sandstone Press. It’s the story of a long bike ride across Europe. It’s early days yet but, to use a Top Gun quote, it’s looking good so far.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
If we assume mine were excluded, then the book that would be at the top of the list is Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. That, without doubt, is the book that has stayed with me always. There are not all that many words in it, but each one is exactly right; and for me the result is deeply moving.
Is there a book you’d like to see made into a film? Who would be in your dream cast?
This time I’ll not exclude my own books. Eyes Turned Skywards would make a great film, though it might not be cheap to make. As for my dream cast, Emilia Clarke would be perfect for Monique Dubois with Tom Hiddleston as Bob Sutherland. An alternative cast, if you ignore minor details like the actors involved being no longer with us, would see a young Ingrid Bergman as Monique Dubois and a young Ian Bannen as Bob Sutherland.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
I tend to keep up a reasonably regular public commentary about my writing, on my website at http://www.kenlussey.com/ This is backed up by fairly frequent posts on Twitter at @KenLussey and on Instagram at instagram.com/kenlussey/
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
That is a very difficult question! How about David Balfour in Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson? I would have loved to have taken his journey across Scotland, if only to see how much the country has changed over the 270 years since it was set.
From the back of the book
This novel reflects on the rumours and theories surrounding a number of real-life events, including the death of the Duke of Kent and the aircraft crashes of Short Sunderland W4032 and Avro Anson DJ106.
Wing Commander Robert Sutherland has left his days as a pre-war detective far behind him. Or so he thinks. On 25 August 1942 the Duke of Kent, brother of King George VI, is killed in northern Scotland in an unexplained air crash; a second crash soon after suggests a shared, possibly sinister, cause. Bob Sutherland is tasked with visiting the aircraft’s base in Oban and the first crash site in Caithness to gather clues as to who might have had reason to sabotage one, or both, of the aircraft.
Set against the background of a country that is far from united behind Winston Churchill, and the ever-present threat from the enemy, we follow Bob as he unravels layers of deceit and intrigue far beyond anything he expects.
About the author
Ken Lussey spent his first 17 years following his family – his father was a Royal Air Force navigator – around the world, a process that involved seven schools and a dozen different postal addresses. He went to Hull University in 1975, spending his time there meeting his wife Maureen, hitch-hiking around Great Britain, and doing just enough actual work to gain a reasonable degree in that most useful of subjects, philosophy. The next step seemed obvious. He researched and wrote A Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Great Britain, which was published by Penguin Books in 1983. An inexplicable regression into conformity saw him become a civil servant for the next couple of decades, during which time he fulfilled the long-held ambition of moving to Scotland. In more recent times he has helped Maureen establish the website Undiscovered Scotland as the ultimate online guide to Scotland. Eyes Turned Skywards is his first novel.