Marshall's Family is the story of Richard Marshall (just Marshall to his friends) who flies a plane for EASAMCo Aviation in Africa.
Marshall is a reserved, unassuming man who wants nothing more than an quiet life, but this isn't always possible when you are married to a woman like Fiona. Social standing and other people's opinions are high on Fiona's list of priorities with Marshall and daughter Kate coming lower down on that list. Fiona has her own way of doing things so that others will look up to her and respect her and heaven forbid that either Kate or Marshall should do anything to show her up.
When Kate arrives home from boarding school with her new boyfriend in tow, Marshall is quick to realise that David Wilson won't be accepted by Fiona as he's black. So between them Marshall and Kate decide that it's better not to mention this until Fiona has been sounded out. Things go as expected and Fiona is soon pushing Kate towards an old ex-boyfriend who is far more socially acceptable. It's no wonder then that Marshall is secretly having an affair with Donna, a coloured nurse who he met through his work and that the secret about David isn't the only one he's keeping.
When a group of soldiers show up at the airfield Marshall soon becomes aware that times are changing in Africa and not for the better. He soon finds himself in a very compromising position but his quick thinking means that he's able to wriggle out of a sticky situation, but it's the first of many.
I loved Anson's writing style, it's a clever blend of thriller and adventure with a little touch of a love story thrown in for good measure.The clever combination of the character's background running alongside the story as it happens is superbly done and it's hard to believe that this is a debut novel as I felt the writing was very accomplished. As the story builds I found I was reading faster and faster to reach the end but at the same time I didn't want the story to finish. Some of the descriptions are brutal and somewhat horrific but they are essential to the story and are in no way gratuitous and if anything they are a true reflection of the world we live in today.
This was a truly thrilling read with a high octane ending and I would highly recommend that you give this debut author a try, I honestly don't think that you'll regret it and I'm already looking forward to reading more from Anson Welsh.
I'm delighted that Anson agreed to have a chat with me and you can read below what he had to say.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I was born and raised in a South Wales mining valley. My father worked for the Health Service and my mother was a homemaker. We were not terribly well off, though certainly not poor, but money was always tight.
When I was about ten years old someone lent me a copy of ‘Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor,’ though hardly great literature, it did have a huge impact on my life. By the time I had finished the book I had decided that I was going to be a pilot. And that was that, I never once changed my mind.
I started my flying training when I was nineteen, and worked full-time as a pilot from the age of twenty-one until my retirement from airline flying, when I hit the buffers at sixty-five.
I had a modest but varied and enjoyable flying career. Though most of it was spent as a short-haul airline pilot, operating around the UK and Europe, in my younger days I did a season as a glider tug pilot (unpaid - I needed the flying hours), I also worked as a Flying Instructor, a photo-survey pilot, a Flying Doctor Service pilot in Africa for two years, and as a pilot for the oil industry, in the Malaysian state of Sarawak, for eight years.
I met my wife in Africa. She was doing Voluntary Service Overseas, working as a nurse in a children’s hospital. We live in a small market town in Devon, near the moors and not far from the sea. Our three children are all grown up and leading their own lives, though we see them regularly.
I still do some flying, at a flying club in Cornwall, as a part-time instructor. I also own a share in a quaint little aeroplane that is one year older than myself.
How are you feeling about the upcoming release of your debut novel, Marshall’s Family?
Well, getting this far has been a bit of a long haul, but now that its publication is imminent I am naturally getting rather excited.
What inspired you to write a novel based in Africa?
Actually, I originally had the idea about the story when the Cold War was still on, so Marshall’s Family was going to be set in a Europe that was being invaded by Russia. The rapprochement between East and West shot that particular fox, but after a little thought Africa seemed an obvious alternative. Apart from having lived and worked there I have always maintained an interest in what is happening on that continent, so it fitted in quite naturally.
How long did it take you to write it?
From a standing start to the first complete draft probably took about six years, but I had the idea a long time before I started bashing the keyboard, and it has been through several re-writes since I first wrote THE END at the bottom of the last page.
Some parts of your novel are quite graphic but are required for the story. How did you feel writing this?
There has been, and still is, a lot of quite unnecessary cruelty in the world. People chop each other up over trivial differences in skin colour, religion, politics and almost anything else that can be recognised as a difference. It is the supreme failing of the human race and is quite likely to eventually lead to its downfall. Torture, rape, mutilation and murder are everyday occurrences in some parts of the world, but though we don’t see it, Marshall did, and readers will see it too, through his horrified eyes, and maybe think about, as I did when I wrote it, and still do think about, even now.
What was the hardest part of writing Marshall’s Family?
Keeping my bottom on the seat and my fingers on the keyboard. There was always something else to be done…
Marshall’s character is extremely heroic. Did you have his complete story in your head before you started writing it?
No, is the quick answer. I actually started with the opening scene and the final scene and not much in between. However, I did have a very clear picture in my mind about Marshall’s character: essentially a good man, not naturally courageous but able to find courage when the need arose. The rest grew organically as the story progressed.
Did you consider any alternative endings for your novel?
Yes, I did think of making the ending happier, and there was originally a much longer closing scene, involving Fiona, that eventually fell under the ‘delete’ button.
When did you first realise that you wanted to write a book?
Probably when I was in my thirties, but I could never find the time. However, I did write some articles for an aviation magazine that were well received, which gave me hope that perhaps, when I did have time, I could produce something worth reading. When I started to spend quite long periods away from home, because of my job, I decided there would never be a better opportunity. I often had hours before or after a flying duty with not a lot to do, so I began to write Marshall’s Family. Most of it was written in hotels dotted around the UK and Europe.
What do you like doing when you’re not writing?
My wife and I love walking so we often go on longish walks on Dartmoor or along the coast. We have also been walking in India, Ethiopia and the United States, as well as many places in Europe. Of course the flying club takes up two or three days a week, when the weather is suitable for flying little aeroplanes, and I read a lot, enjoy television dramas, the cinema and the theatre.
Are you a full or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
Well, I am very much a part-time writer, though I think about writing a lot, particularly when I’m walking. I would say that I spend more time writing in my head than in front of a screen. However, I feel that with one completed novel under my belt I really would like to get on with the next one. I have set myself a deadline, which I shall probably miss, of having it ready by this time next year. It is quite well advanced so we shall see…
What do you think makes a good story?
I think well defined characters are very important, combined with good plot, full of incident, which builds up to an unexpected ending.
What author’s do you read and why?
I actually read quite a lot of non-fiction. History mostly, I’ve just finished The Santa Fe Trail, by David Dary, which I read because I was about to visit Santa Fe. I was interested to know why such a small town was so important in the early history of the Southwest United States. I also read quite a lot of popular science, nothing too heavy my brain can’t cope. I am a huge fan of Graham Greene and re-read his books from time to time. My aviation literary heroes are Ernest K. Gann and Antoine de Saint-Exupery, I know chunks of Wind, Sand and Stars by heart. Right now I am going through an ‘American’ phase, reading A. B. Guthrie Jr., Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Paul Auster and Paulette Giles. The ‘why’ is difficult to answer, but I think it is because the United States is very different from the UK, where I live, more different than we often realise. The common language makes us forget that it is a foreign country to us, where the people have attitudes and lifestyles often quite different to our own. Fiction helps me to explore the differences.
Do you have any strange writing habits?
Not really, except that I write at a little round table that once belonged to a Chinese coffee shop.
I believe you’re currently writing novel number two. Can you give us any clues as to what we can expect?
Yes, it is set before, during and after World War II, and concerns a young boy who falls in love with a German girl who is temporarily living nearby. She returns to Germany just before war breaks out. The story follows his experiences as a rear-gunner on B17 bombers raiding Germany, and the terrible life she leads in her homeland, both as a victim of the state and of the bombing. At the centre of the plot is a coincidence, involving them both, which profoundly affects her life.
Is there anything you would like to say to the readers?
Only, that I hope you enjoyed, or will enjoy, Marshall’s Family and that a little of it will stay with you for a while. Thank you.
I'd like to say a very big thank you to Anson Welsh for taking the time to answer my questions and I'd like to take this opportunity to wish him every success with his debut novel.
Anson can be found at the places below