Some readers here will (hopefully) be more familiar with my genre fiction published under the pen name of Leon Steelgrave through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. You might then find yourself asking what exactly constitutes a D. F. Robertson novel. In part, like one of my literary heroes, Neil Gunn, it is a Scottish connection, and more than that, a tendency to defy classification.
Although the more snobbish element of the literary establishment might take a different view, I have long held that good writing is good writing, regardless of whether it is genre fiction or mainstream literary fiction. Writers set out to write the best book they can; sometimes we are successful, other times not, but either way we prove Iris Murdoch’s assertion that “every book is the wreck of a perfect idea”. I suspect this is why the majority of us continue to write, striving towards the chimera of executing our ideas perfectly. I have yet to succeed, but my decision to publish this book under my own name and in physical form indicate its status as a favoured son.
The genesis of On The Wire lies as far back as 2005, when the idea detached itself from another, as yet unpublished, novel. It took me until 2012 to complete a draft I felt equal to the idea. I completed several other novels during this period, but always knew I would come back to this one. In many ways, it was simply the process of allowing my skill as a writer to develop to the point where I felt confident with my ability tell the story as it demanded to be told. The killing fields of Flanders demand respect, while the dead are owed the truth. Twin objectives not always easy to reconcile.
The central conceit of the book is the seeming invulnerability of Davy Geddes, a mysterious loner who volunteers for Kitchener’s New Army to atone for some unspecified sin. Here we have the juxtaposition between an army of men fighting to live and a single man hoping to die, which allows us to explore the concept of heroism and the ever troubling issue of faith during war. As one would expect, themes of revenge and justice are never far away. This is also, predominately, a story of the working class, of farm workers, labourers, shop assistants and factory workers. Ordinary folk compelled by extraordinary circumstances to participate in the greatest slaughter of the modern age. As such, it is no place to be concerned with the justness of either side’s cause. Neither shall I offer any apology for what some readers might view as unnecessary brutality within the prose. War is a dirty, dehumanising business and it should ever be portrayed as such within the pages of fiction.
The setting is, of course, one of great social upheaval, with socialism and women’s suffrage sweeping through Europe. Both have their roots in class and equality issues that continue to dog modern society. We have come a long way in the last century, but not nearly far enough, judging by the images on our television and computers screens. And that brings us back to why we write; if our world were perfect few of us would feel the need to hold up a mirror, black or otherwise, to it.