By Emily Price
The Silent Owl is a YA adventure which highlights the post war mental health of soldiers who have lived through the most traumatising of times. Written by former television executive and national newspaper journalist Glen Williams, this exciting page turner sends the message that life is for living, not just surviving.
World War II veteran David lives on the outskirts of a village buried in the beautiful valleys of South Wales and he’s respected by his neighbours as a hero after his bravery in Normandy, France, twenty years before.
David’s reclusive lonely time as a hermit torments his mind with terrible memories of combat on the front line. Life-threatening experiences at war have left him with post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. As David drowns in his own damaged mind, he believes he is not worthy of friendships or relationships so spends most of his time alone trapped in a never-ending loop of forced repetitive tasks and haunting flash backs.
Tom and Beth live in the village nearby and after the pair hear about a mysterious letter, the ten-year-old pals begin a journey to help save David’s happiness and mental health. But what begins as an adventure quickly turns into jeopardy and the children need a hero to step in and rescue them.
The Silent Owl looks back on simpler times in the picturesque Welsh Valleys in the 1960’s when quaint communities reached out to those in need and supported one another. The lilt of the Welsh accent can be heard in the writing and the powerful early pages featuring David at war are poignant and soul stirring.
In order to further delve into what inspired the switch from journalism to fictional writing, Glen Williams kindly took the time to answer some questions for The DiffDaff…
After so much time working in news media, what made you decide to write a YA adventure story?
I’ve always dabbled in writing fiction, but in the past it was just a hobby. I sought out an agent and found someone who pushed and encouraged me to take things seriously. Working with professionals to create something worthy of publication takes things to another level and you certainly get to learn more about the craft of writing. The idea for the book came from themes and thoughts which interested me. I chose the 1960’s as a setting because today’s grandchildren will be able quiz living relatives about those days which were so different from now. I also wanted to interest young people in the Wales they live in.
The Silent Owl explores the impact of living with PTSD and OCD, how did you research these mental health conditions? Similarly, how did you research post war living in Wales?
I think we are all more aware of mental health issues these days and it’s a subject people aren’t afraid to talk about. So much is now written about these issues that the research was quite straightforward. Lots of digging about online. The 1950’s and 60’s are in touching distance of our present lives. It seems so near but there were really some distinct differences about life back then. That fired my interest and I went from there. I love to think of young readers asking their elderly relatives that question; ‘That was it really like?’
Where did you get the idea for David’s character?
David just arrived in my mind. He has elements of many characters from my past. We have now reached a time when there are only a handful of World War II veterans alive but in the Sixties there were many. You and I can only imagine the awful memories of war some of them carried throughout their lives.
The story really immerses the reader into the rugged Welsh Valleys back to a time when life was simpler, were you writing based on your own experiences growing up?
I grew up in the 1960’s and, on reflection, I realise that those days had so much in common with previous eras. The world was changing in the Sixties but for a boy in the Valleys there were visible reminders of what life was like in the 50’s, 40’s and even the 30’s. That’s a fascinating link across time.
The Silent Owl is a sequel to The Phantom and the Crown, would you say they can be read as stand-alone novels though?
The books can definitely be approached as stand-alone reads. Many of the characters are the same in both but the stories are quite distinct and different. The Phantom and the Crown weaves a story between today and the events in the same location but in the 13th century. The Silent Owl all takes place in one time zone.
How hard is it to bounce between journalism and fiction and what advice would you offer a journalist looking to find a new path in fictional writing?
Anyone can write so being a journalist doesn’t necessarily make it a simpler transition. I do find that my journalistic training means I want to gather as many facts and details as possible before I commit to writing. Perhaps there is also a link between the journalistic practice of shaping words into a meaningful form which helps the fiction writing process. There’s no mystery to the process of bouncing between journalism and fiction. It starts with a blank page and the determination to fill it. Like most things in life you learn through experience and the more you write the easier the process will become.
What is your writing schedule like?
I work to a schedule of writing a minimum of 1,000 words a day, but when things are flowing it’s possible to achieve much more than that. I write in the mornings and the hours can fly by you are working well. I guess it took my about three months but I could have finished a lot quicker if I had been prepared to work a little harder. One of the problems with writing at home is that it is very easy to find a distraction. There’s always a cup to wash or a room to tidy. It’s an advantage having a writer living in your home: chores get done!
Your real name is John Williams, why do you use a pseudonym for your fictional writing?
That was easy! Wherever I have travelled or worked I seem to come across someone named John Williams. It has to be the most common name around. My middle name is Glen so I grabbed that as my chosen pen-name instead to try to avoid confusion.
Are you working on anything now whether it be journalism or any other type of writing? Will we be seeing Beth and Tom again in a new story any time soon?
I am working on the follow-up to The Silent Owl which will give Beth more of a central role as well as starting to craft an adult thriller again set in Wales but with an international element. We’ll see… Early days but the idea is taking shape and I have started writing!