1917 Private Daniel Dawkins fights at Messines Ridge and Passchendaele. He writes home to his true-love Joyce, but reveals little of his extreme bravery, his kindness, his loyalty to his comrades and the horrors they experience on the Western Front.
1920 Captain Peter Harding is tasked with a secret mission to assist in the selection of a body dug up from the battlefields of Flanders to be buried in Westminster Abbey as the ‘Unknown Warrior’. Events take place on that expedition that come to haunt him for the rest of his life.
2011 Sarah Harding discovers Daniel s letters and Peter’s diaries. Together with historian James Marchant she pieces together the hidden truth behind the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior and must decide what to do with it. Values are challenged and characters are tested in this gripping novel which asks what if the identity of the Unknown Soldier was discovered – and should that secret ever be revealed?
Q&A with Robert Newcome
Who is your perfect reader?
I’d say someone who is looking for some fairly weighty subject matter but wants a bit of a page turner.
Perhaps someone who prefers their books to be on the literary side but needs a good story to keep them involved.
Of course, I’m really referring to myself!
What books are on your bedside table?
I’ve just finished Bernard Cornwell’s ‘The Fort’. The first of his books I’ve read and really enjoyed it. I have Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ waiting to be read and also Robert Harris’s ‘Fear’.
I also read a fair bit of non-fiction and have recently read three books by Jon Ronson. My daughter’s reading ‘Invisible women’ by Caroline Criado Perez and keeps reading me fascinating extracts so that’s also on my list.
Where do you write best?
To the consternation of my family on the kitchen table! I can write with a racket going on all around me and don’t like being hidden away.
I often also write in bed in the mornings which drives my wife to distraction as she heads off to work.
Where did your inspiration for The Name Beneath The Stone come from?
I read an article on the burying of the Unknown Warrior and became rather fascinated by the event. Like many people I knew a bit about the unknown warrior but hadn’t realised what a massive thing it was for the country in 1920. I remember well Princess Diana’s funeral and the grip it took on the country but it seems the burial of the Unknown Warrior was on an even greater scale. And the more I read up about it the more I thought ‘this is one of the great abiding mysteries: whose body is it buried in Westminster Abbey?’ And the more I thought about it the more I wondered ‘what if someone does know, and if they do, what should they do about it? Gradually my story developed of a woman who thinks she’s found out who it is and then must deal with the enormous implications of this. Which then led me on to writing about this individual serving in WW1 with the extraordinary poignancy of fighting in impossible conditions, the camaraderie, the impact on emotions and the effect on relationships back home.
What are your hopes for reader’s to take away from reading The Name Beneath the Stone?
First I’d like them to feel fully absorbed in the characters and come away having been emotionally involved in some of the scenes. I’ve tried to write about WW1 through the eyes of a small group of men and hope that brings an enormous subject into dramatic focus. My wife wept near the end and, to me, that meant she had really engaged with the story and the main individuals.
But I’d also like to think people will have learnt something about the Unknown Warrior, which will make the centenary on November 11th 2020 that much more significant for them.
What are you working on next?
On the assumption that readers might want more from me along the historical fiction line I’m currently researching events at the end of WW2 in Greece when the British army became involved in the fight to prevent the communists taking over the country. My Grandfather served there at the time and it was a challenging period which bought up many moral dilemmas. A few years back I wrote a book called ‘State of Nature’ (on Amazon!) that had a war theme so perhaps military conflict is where I find inspiration.
Having said that I’ve also written a book called ‘Naxos’ (not as yet published) about a detective on a Greek island called Inspector Karabadis who becomes involved in all sort of adventures much against his desire for a quiet life. Very different in tone from ‘The Name Beneath The Stone’ but great fun to write (humorous page turner) and I’m working periodically on a plot for ‘Naxos 2’.