A familiar face from the Coventry Telegraph’s letters section has put pen to paper to write his debut novel, and it promises an action packed tale guaranteed to thrill.
Peter Surtees is a well known name in the paper’s letters section, often submitting photos of local beauty spots and the occasional musing, “but never anything political” as he put it.
But after some local encouragement, he felt there was one big tale left to tell, one that warranted a book of its own.
The inspiration for Peter’s book, ‘Save Your Last Bullet’, came from a chance encounter he had in 1955 with French soldiers returning fresh from the first Indo-China war.
Speaking to CoventryLive, Peter said: “I was living in Switzerland with a Swiss family [on a school exchange] for three months, and I had to learn French, it was quite good and in the end you think in French and you dream in French.
“On the way back I was on the overnight train home to Coventry, and three soldiers got into my cart and started speaking French. It turned out they were Legionnaires from the Foreign French Legion. You have to be a foreigner to join it, no French people could join it.
“[Fighting] is a very tough life, and a lot of French people do join the Foreign French Legion because they want to get away, it’s a protection and an escape.”
For 14-year-old Peter, a Woodlands school student at the time, sharing a train cart with Foreign French Legion soldiers was a surreal experience.
The memory stayed with him as he went on to settle down into married life in Coventry with his wife Pat, and eventually their three children, Guy, Helen and Mandy.
And it came to form the basis of his book, ‘Save Your Last Bullet’, a fictional tale about three desperate men on the run, who seek refuge from their pursuers by joining the French Foreign Legion.
After accidentally killing an NCO bully, they decide they must desert, but soon encounter trouble as they go on the run.
Stay on top of the impact of Covid-19 on Coventry and Warwickshire through our daily email newsletter.
For a free daily bulletin direct to your inbox, sign up to our email newsletter here.
The emails come out twice a day, at lunchtime and in the evening, with the latest news, what’s on and sport from across the county.
When offered for ransom to the authorities while awaiting trial for murder and desertion, a unique opportunity presents itself and the Legion plan to mount a daring rescue mission. Unfortunately, the attack does not go as planned.
The tale is far from the quiet life Peter now leads, living in Bedworth with his wife Pat. They now also have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A tough audience to please, so what did the family make of the book?
“My daughter Helen said she couldn’t put it down, my wife Pat is going to read it again.” Peter said.
Adventure has always followed Peter, who was born as the bombs fell down in Coventry during World War Two.
His mother was evacuated to Leamington when she was due to give birth, but had a few close shaves before that.
Peter said: “When she was pregnant with me, my mother worked at the Empire Theatre and during a raid, she only just escaped [injury] because they told her to go down to the air raid shelter but she and her friend decided to go down to the cellar, and there was a direct hit on the air raid shelter. If they had gone to the air raid shelter it would have been a different story.”
After he left school, Peter wanted to become a journalist, but he ended up pursuing a career as a draftsman, designing and drawing machinery and spinning equipment in Coventry’s Courtaulds Factory.
He then moved to the automotive industry, working at Massey Ferguson, Humber and the various other car factories in the city.
After strikes and lay offs, and with a family to provide for, Peter decided to make another career move. “In the 1960s there were redundancies all the time, if you were the last one in you were the last one off” he said.
After a short stint delivering bread across the city, he settled on becoming a market trader, something which he did for 25 years, travelling around markets across the region selling leather wear.
By the 1970s, he and his wife Pat set up their shop S and S Leathers, in the then newly built Canon Park shopping centre.
“[Running a market stall] was a hard life, but it was really interesting, you had some great friends, two people I knew on the market ended up millionaires! You get that camaraderie, it’s a different life.” he said.
And ever since, everywhere he has gone, Peter has written down his experiences, which led him to the Coventry Telegraph’s letters section.
“I did a few letters and I sent one or two pictures, and [ex-Coventry Telegraph journalists] John West and Alan Harris asked me to do a local blog on the local area, after a while you run out of things to say! They ended up giving me centre pages, they made some fantastic displays, and they said whatever you do, don’t give up your writing.”
Twelve years later, his novel has hit bookstores worldwide, stocked in Buenos Aires, Holland, Denmark, New Zealand, as well as online.
Speaking about the early encouragement he had from ex-Coventry Telegraph journalists John West and Alan Harris, Pete said: “I’ve gone through all the processes and finally come up with a marketable product.
“This is all down to the experience I had with the Telegraph, and the encouragement from your journalists. They may say they had nothing to do with it, but without a little encouragement, I doubt if I would have started the project.”
There has been much local support too. Luke Stowe, a digital lecturer at North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, helped Peter design the book cover, which incorporates a picture taken by Peter himself.
Peter already has plans for book number two, a collection of short stories.
“Once you feel that book in your hand and you can see your writing, just like when I’ve written things in the Coventry Telegraph, it is fantastic seeing your writing and photographs in print, it gives you that kick, you want to get more, it’s wonderful” he said.
You can buy ‘Save Your Last Bullet’ by Peter Surtees online:www.waterstones.com/book/save-your-last-bullet/peter-a-r-surtees/9781839750939
You can write to our letters section by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org