Title: Red Fox in the Heather
Author: Robert N. Story
ISBN or ASIN: Paperback ISBN 978-1-514-87768-5, Hardcover ISBN 978-1-329-49010-9
Page count: 416
Genre: war, historical, biographical fiction
Price: $16.50 paperback from Amazon.com, $19.50 signed paperback ordered from author (includes shipping), $5.99 Kindle and Nook, $4.99 eBooks, $36.00 signed hardcover ordered from author (includes shipping), $27.24 hardcover ordered from Lulu (plus shipping, unsigned)
Robert N. Story is a native mid-westerner who began writing fiction late in life. But since the day he cut the bonds of his latent sense of creativity and let his imagination run amok, he has published four highly acclaimed novels.
Leading up to his more ambitious full-length fiction projects, Story (yes, that’s his real name) authored numerous magazine and e-zine articles, exclusively on the subject of boating and boating safety. On occasion, the magazine editors would wryly inquire as to whether he had ever considered a major project, such as a novel. Although the thought of writing fiction had not entirely eluded his attention, the time and task had always seemed dauntingly intrusive. But once the seed had been planted, it was bound to take root. With the magazine editors watering the seed with compliments and praise, he sat down and wrote his first successful novel, then followed it with three more.
His latest, “Red Fox in the Heather,” is a painstakingly-researched work based on the period beginning in the late 1800’s and spanning several decades through two World Wars. It follows the adventures of a fictional British lad, Percy Witherspoon, who enters the world reluctantly, goes to work in the coal mines at age twelve, and joins the British Royal Marines in WWI as a Commando. Following the war, Witherspoon finds himself drawn to NYC, where he “bounces” at a speakeasy, later landing a posh job as chief of security at a swanky Park Avenue apartment building. Homesick, he returns to bomb-ravaged London during WWII, and continues to pursue his boyhood dream of going to sea. Percy soon discovers that it won’t be his own dream that will be ultimately fulfilled, but that of his beloved sister, Sarah.
Story’s first novel, “KABA 1330,” was the fictional account of a young man in the late ’50s who loved the radio business almost as much as he loved his childhood sweetheart. His second novel was steeped in darkness, exploiting the subject of solipsism, and one man’s struggle to determine which side of a fine line his life was straddling – – between sanity and madness. The story line of his third novel takes place during the depression, the dustbowl, and “dirty-thirties.” Interestingly, the main character in “Red Fox in the Heather” is a breakout character from “Put a Nickel on the Drum.” In “Red Fox,” the main character is skillfully woven into the fabric of his minor role in “Nickel.” It was a challenging task and yet superbly done so that those who have read “Nickel” will be delighted to see the irony emerge, and those who have not will still find the characterization equally appealing.
The author lives in Southern Wisconsin. He was born in Chicago, but at age five, when his father entered World War II, he was dragged off kicking and screaming to Iowa. But he recalls adjusting surprisingly fast to the loss of his childhood concrete alley playground, and to the gain of a large, grassy yard on the Seven Day Hill filled with chicken ploppings. He graduated from high school in a town about seven miles to the south of “the Hill,” attended a nearby Junior College, and there met a gorgeous young lady who continues to share his bed in marriage 56 years later. They have one very special daughter who has mentored and inspired them in countless ways. Along the pathway of his life, Story was a drummer in an Iowa R&R Hall of Fame band in the ’50’s, played semi-professional baseball (a good catcher with a sub-standard batting average), worked as a radio station DJ, and spent thirty years in his chosen career, retiring as a corporate senior marketing officer.
Story’s vivid imagination comes to life in his words, style and writing voice that has been described in reviews as “smooth,” “flowing,” and “gripping.” That pleasing combination should hold any reader’s attention captive from the beginning of the book to the end.
Tell us about your book:
The year is 1898. In the small coal mining town of Birtley, in northeast England, a sixth child is born to Jonathon and Elizabeth Witherspoon. He will be the first and only boy in a family previously dominated by five female children. It is clearly an auspicious start to a challenging youth, but his birth is much more than that. It is the beginning of Percy Stanley Witherspoon’s eventful life of adventure, hardship, and pain.
Much to the displeasure of Percy’s closest sister, Sarah, her younger brother is forced into the coal mines at age twelve, due to his father’s illness. A close brush with death as a young WWI Commando, his migration to New York City following the war, his job as a bouncer at a Manhattan speak-easy and later chief of security at a swanky Park Avenue apartment complex, and his return to bomb-ravaged London during WWII provide a remarkable backdrop to discovery, romance, and tragedy. Along the way, Percy experiences heartbreaking personal loss. But he also savors the many delicacies that life places before him – – his family in Birtley, the Royal Marines, nurse Nellie Bowman, and a gifted daughter. He befriends a cherished Russian veteran and compatriot named Ivan, Donnie and Jacob Brewster from somewhere in Oklahoma, the tolerant crew of a fishing craft dubbed the “Golden Lily,” and an oft-bewildered twelve-year-old apparition who brings him hope, strength, solace – – and even a discomfiting premonition.
Through it all, Percy holds fast to his childhood dream of going to sea. When the opportunity finally presents itself, his near-death war experience comes full circle, bringing him to the realization that ironically, it may be his sister Sarah’s life-long dream he’ll ultimately fulfill instead of his own.
A story that spans several decades and two World Wars, “Red Fox in the Heather” is a closely researched fictional novel of the period that will hold the reader captive from the opening paragraph to the closing line.
Share any thoughts you’d like the readers to know about you and/or your book:
The book is the result of two years of intensive research. Although this is not a non-fiction documentary, it smacks of enough historical detail that the reader will often wonder whether he or she is in the midst of a fictional novel or a historical tome. The main character, Percy Witherspoon, had haunted the author from the time he took a minor role in “Put a Nickel on the Drum.” The turning point was when the author decided to give the character a life of his own. Originally, the working title of the book was “Witherspoon,” but as the story developed, the title was changed to a perfect blend of theme and consequence.
Where can we go to buy your book?
The book is available at Amazon.com, Kindle, Nook, Oyster and other eBook outlets, and from the author, signed, by emailing him at email@example.com.
Any other links or info you’d like to share?
Follow me on Twitter @cdrbob2
Excerpt from book:
Percy felt his body beginning to give in to it again, but as always, he was incapable of doing anything to stop it. He despised it and the way it made him feel. There was no pain with the convulsions, but they always left him lethargic and deeply depressed. The most bizarre characteristic of his seizures was the sensation of being trapped in an intense electrical field, with loud snapping sounds and strong tones of black noise ricocheting through his brain. He fought with all his strength to will the convulsions away, but he always lost. And now again, in an effort to remind Percy that he had no control over his own limbs, the large muscles of his body were cramping.
This seizure was his third in two hours. The first happened just as the sun was breaching the horizon outside the barred window of London’s First Southern General Hospital. Each time he began to feel the seizure approach, Percy would brace himself and pray that this newest seizure would be the last. He begged God to bring an end to the convulsions, but he knew that God could agree to grant his wish only if Percy would agree to give himself over. And there were times when that seemed to Percy to be a fair bargain.
The staff of military nurses reacted to his convulsions precisely the way in which they had been trained. They spoke to him in calming tones. They placed a wooden stick wrapped with gauze between his clenched teeth so that he wouldn’t bite off his tongue, just as they had been taught. But ever so often, one of them would break from her training and have to turn away.
The First South General Hospital was never intended to be a hospital at all. The facility had been built to serve as “The Great Hall” at the University of Birmingham. Before the war had even begun, a number of facilities had been identified to be used for the treatment and care of the wounded Territorial Forces. The list of facilities was made up mostly of existing hospitals, but also included other buildings that could readily be converted for that purpose. Non-hospitals meant that they did not exist as such in the years leading up to the war, other than for training nurses, but were mobilized in August 1914. All were expanded when the war broke out, with the addition of Auxiliary Hospitals and annexes. So, even though many of the facilities didn’t start out as hospitals, the personnel and volunteers who worked at facilities like First South General were first-rate. They were completely devoted to duty, and gave as much of their lives to the war effort as any front-line soldier. One of the nurses rushed forward and cradled Percy in her arms. She rocked him to and fro as one would tend a baby, but she was barely able to hold him still because of the wracking convulsions coursing through his body. As the seizure finally began to subside, she stayed close to him, still stroking his face and the back of his head while softly humming a lullaby. She wore the insignia of a second lieutenant in the British Navy, and her name was Nellie Bowman.
Nellie Bowman was born and raised near the Solway Firth, an area of the British Isles forming the border between England and Scotland. Scottish by birth, British by upbringing, Nellie’s genes encompassed the best and the worst of both countries. She could drink Scotch whiskey like a sailor on leave, and no man could ever boast besting her in a bar room game of Skittles. Her beauty was in her totality. She always held her chin high, and there was more than one dandy-gandy who had fallen head over heels in love with her beautiful, slender neck. She was thin, but not skinny, and her eyes said come hither whilst at the same time holding you at arm’s length. Some had made the mistake of misjudging her personality and comeliness for licentiousness. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Nellie Bowman was warm, loving, and compassionate. She had been blessed with a fiery spirit, a face and body of graceful definition, a rosy complexion and deep, brown eyes, and in any gathering would be considered one of the loveliest. But beneath it all was a heart so tender that it was nearly overflowing with the suffering of those around her. She’d been blessed, or cursed, with such extreme empathy that it made their pain hers. She felt the loss of every amputated limb as if it were her own. Her temples ached with the agony of every head wound, and she shared their traumatic nightmares.
And so, just to be able to find peace between endlessly long shifts, Nellie Bowman secretly relied on morphine, quietly requisitioned with relative ease from the hospital stores.