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Lavenham author launches Suffolk-based Brexit thriller

PUBLISHED: 13:30 12 January 2019

The gates of Downing Street in real life   Picture: DAVID LAWS

The gates of Downing Street in real life Picture: DAVID LAWS

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Exit Day is the edgy new tale from Lavenham writer David Laws, who says ‘if you have a theory on Brexit, I bet you won’t have thought of this one’

David Laws takes to the skies of Suffolk. All in the name of research… and fun    Picture: DAVID LAWSDavid Laws takes to the skies of Suffolk. All in the name of research… and fun Picture: DAVID LAWS

I’m really here to talk about Brexit, treachery and an assassin stalking the Prime Minister, but a little nugget is just too tempting to ignore. David Laws mentions a near-calamity involving EIGHT THOUSAND apple tarts. What’s all that about?

It was when his children were young. David, a national newspaperman, was also doing a part-time trucking job for a bakery to help cover school fees. It was one of many extra jobs he did, over the years, to boost his salary.

Anyway, this episode occurred at about 5am one dull and cold winter morning. He was late driving the bakery van to London Airport. His cargo: 8,000 apple tarts earmarked as desserts for airline passengers.

“Half-way there, I was speeding towards a staggered-junction road crossing, the traffic lights went to amber and I put my foot down, twisting right then left. As I did so there was a dreadful banging and crashing in the back of the van.

“Foolishly, I pulled up by a bus stop where a queue of half a dozen disconsolate people was waiting for the first bus. I went to the side door of the van and whipped up the slatted slide to see what had happened.

Part of the cover of David'’s book. Eye-catching, isn’t it?Part of the cover of David'’s book. Eye-catching, isn’t it?

“A mountain of broken apple and pastry poured out onto the street. I sat on the pavement with a tray, trying to rescue the good ones and tossing the bad ones over the hedge behind me.

“Suddenly I realised with even more horror that I had an audience. The people in the queue had come to life, giggling, laughing and pointing at my predicament. And when I turned around, there was a herd of cows at the hedge... munching a meal they had never been fed before.

“Amazingly, I didn’t get the sack. But the airline rejected the whole consignment.”

That was then. Now, David is the proud father of a judge and a headmaster, he’s swapped the frenzy of the south-east for the medieval delights of Lavenham, and he’s semi-retired (though still does work for the Sunday Express). And he’s turned his hand to writing fiction.

His first novel – Munich: The Man Who Said No! – came out last year. It’s about an American foreign correspondent who gatecrashes the pre-war Munich Conference. He’s protesting against British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain rolling over before Hitler.

The Cabinet Office in Whitehall… the kind of territory that features in Exit Day     Picture: DAVID LAWSThe Cabinet Office in Whitehall… the kind of territory that features in Exit Day Picture: DAVID LAWS

More than seven decades later, he’s disappeared into thin air and his protest seemingly never happened. His granddaughter, a Cambridge history graduate, determines to uncover the truth.

David’s new tale is a timely and edgy conspiracy thriller with a strong Suffolk flavour.

Exit Day is set now, pretty much. Britain is lurching from crisis to crisis (sound familiar?) as the clock ticks down to the March deadline for Brexit. The Prime Minister is poised to sign the final deal, but is in the sights of a would-be assassin.

Things aren’t going brilliantly professionally for Suffolk journalist Harry Topp, either. An ex-lover arrives with a present: a scary list of hostile secret agents buried deep in the British Establishment, and some of them very, very big names. Plus someone who’s featured in Harry’s life.

What can a Bury St Edmunds-based journalist and amateur pilot do but speed hither and thither – often in his Tiger Moth plane – trying to track down these spies while keeping himself safe? Of course, there’s a twist he doesn’t see coming…

David Laws: An Expressman who now loves his non-urban life in Lavenham    Picture: DDavid Laws: An Expressman who now loves his non-urban life in Lavenham    Picture: DAVID LAWSDavid Laws: An Expressman who now loves his non-urban life in Lavenham Picture: DDavid Laws: An Expressman who now loves his non-urban life in Lavenham Picture: DAVID LAWS

So, why did history-enthusiast David decide to pen a fictional tale about a very current affair?

“I’m always looking for the ‘what-if?’ What if I have the conspiracy to end all conspiracies around Brexit? After all, this issue is a huge mystery. Why, two years on from the referendum, are we still in such a state of chaos?”

It seems even the application of thumbscrews won’t persuade David to reveal where he stands personally on the B question. He’s remaining schtum. Why so reticent?

Well, he doesn’t want to divert attention from the story by taking sides. “I’m sitting on the fence politically, because my character is just too busy chasing a ring of spies determined to sabotage the whole operation. And if you have a theory on Brexit, I bet you won’t have thought of this one.”

In the past – the distant past, even – he hasn’t been afraid to tackle contentious issues of the day.

Writing and quasi-journalism “really all began as a young teenager when I published my own magazine called Opinion, printed illicitly by a cousin on her firm’s Gestetner duplicator. It sold to school chums and I remember getting told off for writing critical pieces on the Korean War – not quite the done thing at the time.”

He might keep his Brexit views under his hat, but David’s more voluble about the quest for authenticity within his fictional story. Take his research for the main character in Exit Day.

“A friend, Tim Mobbs, gave me two flights and lots of wonderful detailed background information on piloting his bright-red Jodel, a light aircraft built to a French design by a group of enthusiasts in Germany in the ’50s. One of them had a clutch of ‘kills’ in the war.

“‘Are you feeling brave?’ he asked before we took off from a grass strip at Rougham, an old wartime airfield close to Bury St Edmunds. Fortunately, no-one with a machine-gun was on hand to intercept before we landed at another wartime airfield at Seething, Norfolk.

“Then we flew back again, using a compass device on his mobile phone. I think I might just about have been able to manage straight and level and keeping her on course…”

* The Exit Day paperback is £9.99 (bookshops, Amazon or www.troubador.co.uk (eBook also available, at £3.99)

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