"I loved it so much, I acquired the publishing rights!"
Back when I first read the fictionalised historical biography, Pegasus to Paradise, I really wanted it to succeed as a novel, and to find its many deserving readers. Not just because it was written by my good friend Michael Tappenden, but because it was a story with so many important messages - of courage, of hope, of regret... but more than anything, of love.
Don't get me wrong, it went on to receive some great reviews, but as the years went by, I still felt it wasn't getting the attention it warranted. What I didn't realise almost 7 years ago, is that I would get the opportunity in 2020 to republish it for Michael under my new publishing imprint, Eden Park Publishing Limited, and to offer it a new lease of life. So, here's what I said about it on 11 October, 2013... but I'd love for you to re-discover this little gem for yourself in this wonderful new edition.
TRAUMA, SURVIVAL & THE POWER OF LOVE IN POST-WAR BRITAIN
★★★★★ A rich 20th century social history
At times dark and disturbing but frequently warm and humorous, Pegasus to Paradise is not simply a poignant family album of times past but a rich social history of 20th century England; a sensitive commentary on wartime stoicism and duty, and of post-war culture in the suburbs of south London and northern Kent; and an enlightening portrait of mental illness in its various forms, conditions now recognised and better understood as post traumatic stress disorder and bi-polar disorder.
The semi-fictional characters, sympathetically embellished versions of the author's parents and their neighbours, come to life as we witness a story of promise and love through the ominous lens of 1930s tranquillity, of separation, survival and heroism during World War II, and of the war's devastating legacy that festers behind the veneer of assumed obligation for the rest of their lives. The relentless cultural upheaval through the fifties and sixties provides the backdrop for many fabulously evocative vignettes of urban and rural life, illustrating the great strengths of duty, family and neighbourliness prevalent at the time: the big society that we are all so keen to get back to! But viewed through the soft focus of nostalgia, it's easy to forget that such qualities tend to come to the fore through adversity and who would want to return to such times?
The central character fills the pages with her acts of eccentricity and fun, but behind the façade is a tormented soul who wants the world to stay as it was, for people to be pleasant and know their place within it. Wants to blot out the horrors and have back the young man she married before the devastating experiences of war brought home a different person. But if Florrie was always centre-stage, the place she always felt most happy, then her husband Ted was surely one of life's great cheerleaders. Thrust unprepared, as any would be, into the limelight of wartime heroism that he just considered to be his duty, he was thereafter destined to take only a supporting role in the drama that was Florrie. But it is his story that adds the real weight to this novel - his unrelenting sense of duty, honour and loyalty that on one level overcame so much but on another suppressed and stifled so much more. Florrie was right to think that Ted left something behind when he came back from the war. He lost his potential and spent the rest of his life, often against his better judgement, trying to help his wife achieve hers.
The writing style is poetic, free flowing and vividly embroidered - often quite literally a feast for all the senses - at times sentimental and structurally unconventional. But then surely that's the point of this novel isn't it? Florrie wouldn't have had it any other way! There is a diverse audience for this glimpse back into a better time and not just those of us who can (just vaguely) remember the cake van, the travelling knife sharpener, the horse-drawn rag and bone cart and the ghostly black footprints of the coalman down the garden path.