What gave you the idea to use the Chelsea Pensioners in your latest book David? Well, I'd always been fascinated withChelsea Pensioners because when you see Chelsea Pensioners on TV, especially onRemembrance Day, and you are often thinking “I wonder what their story is?”and then I found out a bit more about this place and its incredible historyand it's been around for over 350 years indeed, 326.
Ok, 326 years I should havedone my research properly.
So it has been around for 326 years and so it just felt right in my story to use them and also I thought it was great to havethem as heroes the story because obviously generally think the Chelsea Pensioners, you know, their heroic days may be behind them but I thought this was a great story where the Chelsea Pensioners can be at the centre of it and be the real heroes of the piece.
How long did it actually take to write the book and focus it around the Chelsea Pensioners? Well it normally takes; as soon as I finish one book I start thinking about what the next one is going to be and then I start making notes, it takes ages and ages until I sort of start writing and then it takes about four months.
The books are getting longer and longer this is my longest book ever but Ialready wanted it to be an epic adventure because the story startsoff in London and it comes to here; Royal Hospital Chelsea where we are rightnow and then involves the stealing of HMS Victory, Nelson's warship.
Takingit down the Thames out into the oceans it goes up to the North Sea and goes to the Arctic so I really wanted it to be kind of an epic story a bit like a boy's own adventure really.
I gather that one of your relations fought in World Two? Yeah, I've got a fair bit of history, as I guess most people have, with a great grandparent who was in World War 1 who was shell-shocked and then spent the rest of his life actually very sadly in a mental institution and then I had; lucky enough to have two grandfathers who I knew, one of which was in the home guard and the other which was in the RAFand I actually was thinking of him I'm not really using his experiences exactly because he wasn't a Spitfire pilot but in one of my books 'Grandpa's Great Escape' it's all about a grandpa who wants to get back behind the controls of the Spitfire because he used to be a Spitfire pilot it's about thefeeling of a Spitfire from the Imperial War Museum and so I was thinking of mygrandpa when I was writing it but I was also thinking about all those great war films that I grew up watching.
I was thinking about The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky Reach for the Sky, amazing wasn't it? Yeah The Longest Day, Battle of Britain and I grew up watching all those movies so I wanted that adventure to have a taste of that soit's something I'm certainly really interested in I've never thought of being a soldier myself I'm actually too much of a coward Not at all but obviously you know it really interests me.
World War I, World War II history does and I think it's quite afun way also to teach kids about history you know not exactly saying this isgonna be a history lesson but this is going to be an entertaining book with some historical parts in it.
oh that's good, that's good I gather you on your previous visit, youmet a number of my colleagues, what was your impression of them? Well they were all competing to kind of give me the right information so they were quitecompetitive about who knew more about the Royal Hospital Chelsea, because actually this place is dripping in history isn't it? and I mean everywhere you look there issome kind of incredible detail which brings you closer to its history youknow kings and queens of England.
Amazing stories of heroism andit's also just unlike, it's basically the best old people's home in the world isn't it? Without a doubt.
I think I would like to come here, but without.
You'd have to join the Army! Yeah, that's the bit I'm not keen on.
I was briefly interviewed for a BBC Two programme: “What would you do if you lived after 100 years old?” and they said if you were granted another 20 years, what would you do? Would you like another 20 years; i.
live to 120? and I said I would with one condition, and they said what's that? I said I could spend it here in the Royal Hospital because without a doubt it's the best.
It is incredible and the staff here are wonderful, and the people.
The reason why I came in was the comradeship Yeah I bet that's great actually From half past 6 in the morning to nine o'clock at night, it's constant.
Yeah, I bet because soldiers always have; there's almost a shared language isn't it whenever I've ever spent any time with soldiers it's alwayslike there's always just phrases and you know the information that only soldiersreally know so, fantastic.
What is your experience of being in theArmy? 34 years.
I was asked by a local magistrate to join the army at 17.
Right, what had you done to be asked by the magistrate? I was a naughty boy.
What did you do? Look in the old sweetie shop and one thing or another.
You stole some sweeties? Just generally annoyed the local police force, and he said to me what am I going to do with you? It's the fourth time in as many months that you've been in front of me.
I'm considering sending you somewhere where you'll be out of harm's way.
What do you want to do with your life? and I said; I'd like to join the.
I'm not sure I said, and he said: have you thought about the Army? I said no your honour but if you let me off this time, I'll join the Army.
And he said, why don't I believe you? and I said well I'm telling you, and he says right suspend this case take him from court to the recruiting office So I go to the recruitment office.
I could barely, read but couldn't write because I was asked to leave school at 13 and the big recruiting sergeant there said, you got some questions to answer So I said; I can't read, I can barely read and he says; I'll ask the questions and I'll write the answersdown for you if you tell me the answers.
So they were the sort of questions, very hard ones; snow is white, coal is black.
Rain is wet, Sun is dry.
He says you're clever enough to drive a tank.
I didn't know it was that easy, I'd like to have a go at driving a tank.
Absolutely, and I joined and I worked my way up through the ranks and became a regimental sergeant major.
got commissioned from the ranks and ended up as a major 34 years later.
Congratulations Not bad for someone from Ireland and then I left the army and tried civvy street and found I couldn't work with civilians.
So I ended up on the canal, on a narrow boat for ten years, nearly ten years.
Then went back to work and then suddenly found out about the Chelsea Pensioners, and here I am.
I know you're looking resplendent, I love the uniforms.
I mean they're actually world famous aren't they? Oh they're unique they are, they areunique.
It was great coming round actually and just getting all the right phraseology because the coats are called Scarlets aren't they? and of course, my first draft of the book I was just saying their distinctive red coats but it seems a real shame not to call them Scarlets because that's what you guys call them.
That's something they've been called from from day one.
It is a fascinating place, and we're so pleased and honoured that we're getting in your latest book, that I gather is top of the top of the charts.
Well, it is at the minute let's see whathappens.
But no I mean it's great, it's great and I've been so welcomed here so Ithank you guys so much for showing me around and given me loads of detailsbecause all of these things, all those little details, you know will all getinto the book and then they make it richer.
For example, I didn't know thatyou all slept in what was called berths.
Yes and they're called berths because they're made of wood that came from French ships that have been captured.
Absolutely, you know, in battles 300 years ago.
I mean, incredible! It is, incredible it's the tradition this placeis steeped under.
Yeah, well long may continue.
I hope so too, and I hope to be around to hit the 120, you'll have to come back if I hit 120.
How old are you now? I'm 70 and a half Right okay, fifty years.
Well if I'm still here in 50 years, I'll come to your 120th birthday.
Have you any plans to write, obviously, other books? I might do yeah yeah seems to be goingquite well I might write another one.
No, I'm writing another one at the moment.
But what would be fantastic is if this film was turned into a movie, that's what I'd really love.
What, this book? This book, The Ice Monster, because I think.
How does one go about getting.
Well, you sort of give it to people in the film business and hope they'll read it and hope they come back and say; we'd like to make it.
Michael Morpurgo, do you know, he was the writer of War Horse.
Yes, he was here a couple of weeks ago.
He's a great guy.
really like him and he told me that he'd always had a rule in his household the he wouldn't answer the phone at the weekend, just because he didn't want to get into work things at the weekend he said, unless it wasSteven Spielberg calling and then one day it really was Steven Spielbergcalling who made the movie of War Horse.
I put a plug in, I know you Chelsea Pensioner is called Titch? Yes.
I'm a bit tall for titch, but.
You would like to be in it? My goodness me.
Well that would be great wouldn't it? Yeah, well he was inspired by a real soldier because around the time I was writing the bookthere was a story of a soldier who'd served in World War II, who had beengiven the nickname titch because he was the shortest soldier he was under 5 footyeah and it just was a great little detail to give a character.
Yeah, so I'mpicking up things all the time, all the time I'm you know reading history books, meeting you guys, looking at the news, whatever and just you know soaking up things and some times things jump out as something right for a story Why did you concentrate on children's books? Because, I suppose I'm like a big kid really.
I'm sort of, I'm probably still about 12 years old really.
And I like reading, I like children's books, I think they can be often really imaginative and fun and, I dunno, I just felt like it was something I could do.
Somehow I just followed my instincts really.
I don't question things too much, I just think oh I've got an idea for a story, it feels like a good story for kids, I'll write it.
That's very good, very good.
Well thank you so much for having us here.
No, thank you, It's my pleasure andhonour.
Arthur, thank you, thank you.