The influence of my father’s stories on ‘Little Pieces of Sophie’ and ‘Eating the Heart of the Dog’
My father was born in Manchester in 1904. When he was eighteen years old, his father questioned him about receiving a tie from his auntie. Believing that my father stole the tie that was meant for him, my grandfather told my father to leave home. My father joined the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, a cavalry regiment that was deployed in 1923 to Risalpur, India. After a long march, my father’s horse died from exhaustion. He had developed a strong attachment to his horse and was devastated. But he was even more horrified when he found out his colleagues had served him the cooked heart of his horse. Because Harry, the character that appears in both novels is twenty years younger than my father, I adapted this story so that it would be relevant in a Japanese POW camp. Harry, an internee at the camp is tricked into eating a stew made from his pet dog. Eating the Heart of the Dog is a metaphor for the theme of the story – to be betrayed into enjoying something only to find out the horror of where it came from.
After attending night school in Manchester, my father taught himself the principles of electronics. During the war, he worked on radar research at Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company in Trafford Park. He married his first wife and had a daughter. After the war, he was disillusioned with his prospects as an unqualified electronics engineer, and decided to look for work in Africa with his wife and daughter. His daughter wrote a memoire of their journey, which was used as a source in writing ‘Eating the Heart of the Dog’. They bought a Canadian Army Chevrolet van, and with information from library books, he learnt how to equip it for long distance travel across deserts. In October 1946 they left Manchester. They travelled to Oostende, through France to Marseille and took the boat to Algiers. From there they travelled via Tunis, Tripoli, Benghazi, Cairo, Khartoum and eventually Nairobi.
My father found work with the East African Power and Lighting Company and moved to Nakuru in the Rift Valley. His daughter was sent to boarding school in Nairobi. A few years later, he and his wife were divorced, and my father took his daughter to Kampala where he secured a post with the Uganda Electricity Board. Before the war my father had received subsidised basic flight training in a de Havilland Tiger Moth. In Kampala he got to know a man who owned a plane and offered to share costs on a trip to South Africa. They stopped at a mine in the Congo. Weeks later my father found out that the man had been arrested for diamond smuggling.
My father met my mother while working at the Electricity Board and I was born in Kampala. When my father returned to England, he brought with him a variety of taxidermized feet from ostrich, rhino and elephant that were made into a range of receptacles, mostly associated with smoking. As a child I was fascinated with these artefacts and was naïve as to how they were obtained. When I began writing Little Pieces of Sophie I was keen to make use of them. In this novel much of the relationship between Jack and his father is autobiographical.