Final part of writing  Blood and Bandages – fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946

Final part of writing Blood and Bandages – fighting for life in a RAMC Field Ambulance 1940-1946

This blog first appeared in 2017. I’m re-posting it for the book’s many admirers and to give an insight into the writing process warts and all.  As I discovered, there’s no magic formula and passion, resilience and determination are essential in order to reach the finish line.


     So there I was, paralysed with writer’s block with a deadline looming. Up until then I thought you got writer’s block when you ran out of ideas. Not so. It’s when you feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and a complete loss of confidence. You can only think of one thing, that you were a blittering idiot to think you could do it in the first place. Yet again, a friend came galloping to the rescue. Leia Vogelle, another screenwriter, suggested that I mix things up by tackling odd numbered chapters first or working backwards. It was a simple yet brilliant idea which gave me enough oomph to revisit the TLC manuscript assessment in earnest.

In his assessment, Karl French suggested four areas for improvement:-

  • The chronology.  He suggested starting with a flash forward to create a good hook and then flashing back to fill in the gaps. It was a more sophisicated approach than I’d intended and I had insufficient time to think it through properly. I therefore passed on that advice.
  • The context. He advised that I needed much more and it had to be written in a clear and vivid way so the reader always knew when and where they were. He also confirmed what I already knew, that I had to move between the personal to the slightly wider context of the 214th Field Ambulance and Black Cats, to the much wider context of the Fifth and Eighth Armies and World War Two. In short, the writing equivalent of playing a squeezebox. I accepted this. 
  •  William’s account. Mr French advised that all gaps in action and information should be filled with additional interview material where possible. I accepted this. There was one big gap, the reason for William’s compassionate posting home at the end of the war. William had always glossed over this, but it was time to press him.  It transpired that it was due to highly sensitive circumstances at home. William was reluctant to explain in detail but agreed that some information had to appear to avoid confusing the reader. After days agonising over the right wording, we thought it best to disclose what we could in hints and subtext.
  • The edit. Mr French identified imbalances between the time devoted to personal recollections and context. He suggested that some of William’s letters and stories could be removed or condensed. It was painful to delete some of William’s love letters but Mr French was right. 

     Meanwhile, Ian Bayley of Sabrestorm Publishing worked on details like the book’s front cover, title and price. The book’s front cover was crucial so Ian and I met at the Museum of Military Medicine to trawl through their photographs. One showed a nursing orderly at an advanced dressing station. It was perfect. 

Front cover image
(courtesy of the Museum of Military Medicine)
     Next, Ian suggested two possible titles – Death without Glory or Blood and Bandages and he decided on the book’s price, £19.99. It would be produced in hardback with a dustsheet and an initial print run of 1,500-2,000. With such details in place, Blood and Bandages went on pre-sale.
liz coward writer blood and bandages
Ian created the front cover. 
     As the first deadline approached, the ‘final’ draft was sent to Rob McIntosh, one of the curators at the Museum of Military Medicine, for a technical health-check.
     Rob had helped me with my initial research, was my ‘go-to,’ and an expert on the history of military medicine. It was nerve-wracking sending the manuscript beyond the inner sanctum of me, my closest writing friends and Sabrestorm but his response was fantastic. Not only was it technically correct, it was succinct, excellent and astute; “a ‘full story,’ factual yet interspersed with the human element that evokes the raw emotions both on and off the battlefield. This was far more than just a ‘military’ history.”  I was overjoyed. Pehaps I did have the ability to create the story I’d imagined. Nevertheless, I felt it could be improved and Ian’s patience began to waver as successive deadlines slipped. I finally handed it in a week after the final, final deadline. Ian gave the manuscript to his designer and shortly afterwards I received an e-version.
     Seeing the text and the photographs incorporated into a book was incredibly exciting. Ian had clearly spent a considerable amount of time sourcing generic shots which were thoughtfully dotted around the text. It looked marvellous and I was comforted to know that my publisher cared as much about the book as I did.
     My job now morphed into that of a proof-reader.
Liz Coward, writer, author, playwright, uk, singapore, William Earl, Blood and Bandages book, 104 year old WW2 veteran in RAMC, Gary Lineker: My Grandad’s War BBC documentaryProof-reading – the most soulless job in the world 
     It was not a natural fit and unfortunately I went further than checking for typos and changed some of the text.  I made so many changes that the layout had to be altered and we missed the printing deadline. I could tell that Ian was not happy. While he re-submitted the book to the designer and negotiated a new printing date, I realised I had created a rod for my own back. More amends meant more potential mistakes and I had to weed out every single one of them. Checking each dot, coma, hyphen, dash, capital letter, abbreviation and footnote was the most soul destroying, monotonous and exasperating part of the whole writing process. Despite days and days of checking, it later transpired that some typos had still managed to slip through.  Unaware of this, I submitted it to Ian.
     Once securely in his hands, things moved fast. First, the banner arrived.
Liz Coward, writer, author, playwright, uk, singapore, William Earl, Blood and Bandages book, 104 year old WW2 veteran in RAMC, Gary Lineker: My Grandad’s War BBC documentary
Then, the advanced copies.
     That was such a joyful moment. Six years of work had finally reached its fruition.There was a brief pause in action before it was time to organise the book launch.
     Rather than reading an extract, I decided to write a short script to give a flavour of the whole story. My dear friend and accomplished actor, Sandra Clark, (who had been intimately involved in the book from the outset), offered to play the role of narrator. She enlisted her friend and former EastEnders star, Paul Moriarty, to take William’s part. Ian ‘sold’ tickets, while I organised the catering, helpers and programme. The date was set for 28th April. No room for mistakes because it was going out on FB Live.
     Then tragedy struck. William broke his hip. At 101 years old, he was going under the knife for a hip replacement. If he survived the operation there would be weeks of rehabilitation. 

The final part of this story will appear on 28th April, the 5th anniversary of the book launch.

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