Author: VH Folland
ISBN: 978-0954122775 (Paperback)
Page count: 300+
VH Folland is a British author with a lifelong interest in aviation and engineering. On a school trip to Kew Gardens most of the class were looking at the plants, and one small child was staring up at the planes on Heathrow approach. A career spanning media, defence and engineering gave this interest plenty of time to grow.
Tell us about your book:
Fire Season is my first novel, an adventure story set on a remote airstrip.
Built on bedrock, safely upwind, Matt’s airstrip is protected from the fires that threaten the local communities. As he sees it, volunteering to fly fire prevention missions is just being a good neighbour. Then a rash of fire bugs, unseasonal conditions, and the sheer scale of the fires leave the emergency services stretched beyond the limit, and the crop-sprayer pilot and his flying club find themselves in a situation they never expected.
How long did it take to write the book?
Writing it? About six weeks. It was a story that just seemed to flow, so I wrote it down and worried about fact-checking later. Once I’d finished the first draft, editing it, doing the research, and correcting facts all took rather longer.
What inspired you to write the book?
There were a mix of sources. A report of forest fire reaching a gated community a few years back made me wonder what it would be like if the peat fires I’d experienced growing up reached such an isolated village. Then a friend mentioned the eerie experience of packing for evacuation while in the distance she could see the fire front creeping slowly but visibly down the hillside towards the houses. She wondered why they never used cropsprayers for firefighting, and it started me thinking. When I looked into it, it turned out to be more complicated than you’d expect which added a lot of twists and turns to the plot.
Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?
The writing part was the simplest. That usually involved going to a café or sitting on a train and thinking up some challenge to put the characters through and then scribbling down their reactions and what happens next. The research was more in depth but more interesting, since it involved talking to people who had actually been there in those situations, watching videos of the aircraft in flight, checking procedures and then seeing how it changed the story.
Researching the Shackleton gate guardian could have been more difficult. I was very lucky as the Gatwick Aviation Museum has two of them, so between the information they provided and a chance to actually have a look inside one I got a better idea of the aircraft.
I ended up toning down a lot of the technical detail to avoid slowing the story, but hopefully there’s enough in there to give people an idea of what the club goes through, and what the risks are.
What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?
I hope they enjoyed it. It’s an old-school adventure (one reviewer described it as a “romp”) and meant as escapism for a few hours. Ideally I’d like them to want to turn back to page one and read it again!
Where can we go to buy your book?
Fire Season is on bookshelves at Waterstones and in the independent bookshop Farthing Books.
Online, the obvious place is Amazon, although the book is available from most online stores in the UK. If you want to support your local independent bookstore, the book is Nielsen-listed so they can order it from anywhere.
The Bookdepository offers free shipping on Fire Season worldwide.
Any other links or info you’d like to share?
Fire Season has received favourable reviews, e.g. Clover Hill Book Reviews or CR5 Magazine.
http://www.fireseason.co.uk – a mini-site about the book, with order details.
http://www.vhfolland.com/ – The author’s website
Excerpt from book:
“Just remember, the spray is start and stop. That’s one use.”
“’kay.” They had flown out beyond the valley entrance, now at almost a thousand feet. Both pilots paused for a moment and stared. At this distance, the air above the fires danced and shimmered in a heat haze that ran across the sky. Only the plumes of smoke rising to form black and grey clouds showed where the individual blazes were. As the winds drove the smoke clouds towards the valley, they could only hope that the flames below them would not follow.
Matt swallowed for a moment, trying not to think of Rob out there in the chaos. Jim obviously had similar thoughts.
“So, how does this spray work?” Jim asked, trying to divert the conversation back to their current flight. Matt collected himself.
“Usually you’d do it at fifteen feet above the fields.” As Jim spluttered, Matt grinned wickedly. There was a small element of jealousy in his comment, as Matt well knew. He would have given his eye-teeth for a chance to fly the large four-engined military transports that were the younger pilot’s bread and butter, and it was nice to have something he was better at. “But we won’t ask you to do that, and treetops are a bit uneven. Drop to two hundred feet and fly the pattern I showed you. I’ll talk you through it.”
Radioing his intent, in case anyone else was flying, Jim pulled a low turn and descended to bring himself at the right angle to fly across the valley entrance. As he approached, Matt settled himself more comfortably and began to issue instructions.
“Now’s the best time. Turn the spray on. Straight ahead. Now turn right, little faster, good.” Matt paused to let Jim finish his second run. “Now, turn left, not quite so hard, she’s pretty responsive. Too far, don’t worry, just correct. Good.” The next run was completed to his satisfaction, but he knew what Jim had forgotten, simply from the way the aircraft was handling. “Turn the spray off. Don’t forget your trim control. Wider curve to the left. You’re aiming for the gap. Try to line up parallel to the big green trees.” The big green trees – two large conifers towering above the forest – were a landmark known to all the Vale pilots. Positioned across the entrance to the Vale, forming a neat cross with the road, the two green trees in the middle of the gold forest were on the course they needed. Jim struggled slightly, and then Matt felt the aircraft lift away from the treetops.
“Sorry. I need to go around.”
“Don’t apologise for flying safe! Do a wider turn right round to the right and you can get back in position to get your approach lined up.” Matt already knew his instructions were not necessary. Jim probably had more flying hours than he did, just not with this type of aviation. If Matt had not been confident in Jim as a pilot, he would never have let him near his beloved cockpit in the first place.
“Right,” Jim said. “Lined up on the trees, approaching at two hundred feet, spray…” Matt waited as Jim paused.
“Turn it on,” Matt confirmed and Jim did so, before he continued the pass, matching the crop sprayer’s movements to his words.
“So we cross the valley at a steady two hundred feet and then turn left again, tighter turn to bring us back over this bit and then final pass to spray the bit we missed, and then finish and lift away.” Jim completed his monologue proudly. A moment later he remembered to turn the spray off as Matt coughed.