John F. Hanley

  • Welcome to my New Blog

    Apart from promoting my novels what else can I offer?

    Well, I’m the father of two daughters who each have a young son so I’m ‘grandpa’ as well now. I learn more from interacting with those two little charmers than I did from 38 years of teaching or is that just my memory failing again?

    I started writing this series of books in the dim and distant past sometime in the mid-eighties. Those who specialise in coping with old age will probably inform me that I shouldn’t be surprised that my memories of the Sixties are a lot clearer. But how do they explain my empathy for and knowledge of the Thirties though?

    It’s always been with me and out of that grew the characters who have been my friends now for over thirty years. Jack, Saul, Caroline, Rachel and Miko have developed their own lives and often resist ideas I have for their stories. So much so that they have often led me by the proverbial nose down pathways I hadn’t realised existed. But I’ve embraced the unexpected and let them have their collective heads. The challenge has been to make sense of it afterwards.

    I taught myself to type when I was fourteen as I’d reached the stage when I could barely understand my own writing as my hand couldn’t keep up with my thoughts. You can imagine how well those scribblings were received by my teachers and examiners who wouldn’t accept typescript. Frustrated by my own shortcomings on paper, I focussed on verbal and physical means of communicating. This led me to Drama school in London during the Sixties where the unexpected was a daily occurrence.

    Though I can easily knock out 5,000 words a session subsequent editing of this frantic prose can take several days. I research endlessly before I start those typing sessions, picture a starting point and let whoever is the lead character for that scene loose, then try to follow.

    This is a technique I deployed with my 14-19 drama students. After initial training in story building, avoiding blocking, and developing trust, I would throw them into the deep end of spontaneous improvisation. Picture it: black-box drama studio, lights dimmed, a student takes centre stage, I give them a word or a phrase, bring up the lights and it begins. Sometimes, the ensuing drama has lasted over thirty minutes with others joining in to build the story, at other times the scene has collapsed within minutes. The successful ones have then been worked up into polished performances. I know it’s only one small part of a drama teacher’s role but it was the one I enjoyed the most.

    So setting my characters free on the printed page was no great leap of faith.

    But why the Thirties? I was lucky. Born in 1946, I avoided the war and was too young to be called up for National Service. Denied a military career because of poor eyesight in one eye, my only experience of ‘warfare’ was with the Sea Cadets on night exercise when stalking an empty oil drum with a Lee Enfield rifle loaded with blanks was the height of danger and sleeping under a bush the depth of discomfort.

    The only moment of fear occurred when a group of us, wearing camouflaged jackets and face paint, surrounded an old tin hut where three members of the Parachute Regiment, who were on an escape exercise, where holed up after a night of evading our noisy search. One of our officers, a bank clerk by day, thought it would be good idea to demand their surrender. They told us to go away – not those exact words – as they wanted some kip. Ignoring their advice this officer threw a flash-bang into their less than adequate lair. This prompted the windows to blow out and the door to fall off. It also provoked an extremely hasty retreat by our group of twelve gun-toting cadets, none of whom managed to fire a blank in the direction of the charging Paras as the chased us away with dire threats. All fit and young, none of us managed to catch our officer as he led the retreat from the front.

    Apart from a couple of fists fights and over forty years of playing water polo that is my sum personal experience of ‘warfare’. I’ve had to rely on my characters to teach me about the reality.

    I’ve set the opening book in what became my spiritual home during the Sixties. Here’s a picture of it during the Thirties.

    It’s still there and remains the largest tidal swimming pool in Europe. It’s been completely refurbished, is no longer a club and is now free to the public. There are some other pictures of it under Background Detail on this website.

    During the height of the summer the club used to produce ‘water shows’ with underwater lighting and a floating stage in the natural arena to the left of the diving boards. The highlight of each show was a late night torchlight parade around the 400yd circumference where young club members would await the signal to douse their flaming brands in the black ocean contained within the concrete walls.

    Before the advent of cheap overseas holidays the island was always full of visitors each summer. For these shows they would queue up all the way along the promenade and down the bridge patiently clutching their admission fee.

    I played all the sports and represented my school at most of them but swimming was always my favourite. Where else could I spend the summer with a tribe of near naked girls? Nothing else could compete with that. It also provided a theatre in which I could perform.

    Modesty precludes me from showing my face but I’m in lane two at the start of the 110yd backstroke race against Guernsey in the annual inter-insular. Oh to be as slim as that again! By the way, I came second, beaten by the ‘Guernseyman’ in lane one who we later discovered was a South African spending the summer in our sister isle and had been ‘co-opted’ into their team. It was the only race they won that day!

    Many of the older swimming club members had been there before the war and had left the island to fight in 1940 though none ever mentioned their experiences. I always wondered what it would have been like if instead of leaving my home for Drama school when I was eighteen, I had left on one of the last boats before the Germans arrived and spent the next five years at war. It was that age group which bore the brunt of the fighting on all sides and suffered the greatest casualties. Would I have coped? I knew for certain that I wouldn’t have survived German occupation as, at that age, my brain wasn’t always in charge of my tongue.

    I didn’t want to create an alter-ego for the main character as I needed someone with the right mix of skills to sustain a series of stories which would engage and entertain an audience. Jack Renouf and I do share some attributes and experiences but he is not the man I wish I’d been. We’re essentially very different and his dilemmas are ones I never had to face.

    So I hope you will enjoy the series. I intend to update this regularly to keep you informed about the progress of the other novels. I’ve also agreed to let Jack Renouf tell his story on Twitter through the device of a time portal.

    I’ll have to make sure that he doesn’t discover the future and his part in it though as he might decide to drop Drama and take up Design Technology instead!



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