Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Too Much Blood and Guts?

Readers of this alas too infrequent blog will know that I have decided to make a temporary departure from the adventures of Simon Fonthill & Co in the Victorian wars of the late nineteenth century to write a different novel, set against the background of the first world war.

Much of the action will take place in the killing field that lay to the east of the little Belgian town of Ypres. For four years it was known simply as The Salient as the Allies (mainly British) faced - uphill - superior German forces. In an area of probably no more than six square miles, the shells rained down as first one side, then the other, gained territorial supremacy.

The result was that the battleground became a quagmire, with, often, the British front line consisting only of a series of water-filled craters linked only by a few yards of deep mud. The misery of fighting in these conditions was compounded by constant rifle and machine gun fire, of course, but the main horror was caused by the constant shell fire that fell from the heights held by the Germans.

My reading of eye witness accounts of these events has produced some terrifying anecdotes that seem to be almost beyond belief. An advancing Tommy, for instance, saw his comrade sliced horizontally in half by a razor sharp shell fragment and watched in terror as the disembodied legs of his pal continued to march on for at least five paces before folding and falling to the ground. Even more disturbing was the experience of a section, also advancing across No Man's Land, who skirted a shell-hole at the bottom of which was a British infantryman caught up to his waist in mud. As they watched, he struggled to free himself only to sink further into the slime. The tried and failed to rescue him and, as the mud advanced up his body, he pleaded with them to shoot him. But no-one could bring himself to do so and eventually, heads down, they were forced to leave him, his screams sounding even above the gun fire as they trudged away.

To include or reject these horror stories? I have always believed in basing stories of combat on fact, but this sort of fact does seem beyond belief and one doesn't want to be accused of over-writing - of pouring on the agony - something of which even that splendid writer Bernard Cornwell can be accused (his Agincourt made me wince).

Yet war has to be portrayed in all its inglory if a writer is true to himself and the period about which he writes. So these and other, similar incidents, are going in. What do you think?


  1. Think the Fonthill novels are fantastic. Keep up the good work John! ;)

  2. It was only by chance I came across your book "The Horns of The Buffalo" when I typed in "Zulu" on the W.H.Smith Book site. My interest in Zulu's goes back 46 years. When I got married 46 years ago, we couldn't afford a Honeymoon instead we went to the Picture House in Canterbury (the ABC) and watched the film Zulu.
    Most of my reading over the years has been non-fiction, but I recently read the book "Zulu Hart" and really enjoyed. In my search for more fiction is how I came across your book.
    I understand that "The Horns of the Buffalo" is the first book in the Simon Fonthill novels. I am over midway through this lovely book, and like Zulu Hart I find it hard to put down as each chapter leads you onto the next one. I have already built up a picture of Simon,352 Jenkins and all the other fictional characters.
    I started reading the book 5 days ago and I've just starting chapter 14 so I think I had better see if W.H.Smith have got the remainder of the Fonthill novels.
    Many thanks, Colin

  3. Dear John,

    My wife Julie and I are great fans of the Fonthill novels. On a recent tour of South Africa we made a special visit to Isindilwhana and Rorke's Drift which really brought Horns of the Buffalo to lfe for us. We were both very moved by our visit.
    I'm really looking forward to The Shangani Patrol. Please let us know if you plan any promotional book signings in Essex. Thanks again for so many hours of reading pleasure. Best Wishes David Slater

  4. Peter Macmillan24 May 2010 at 18:15

    I have just obtained a copy of "The Shangani Patrol."

    I first read of this event in "The White Men Sang" by Alexander Fullerton. I then managed to obtain a copy of "The Shangani Story" by AJ Smit which was kindly sent to me by the headmaster of The Alan Wilson School.

    Wilbur Smith referred to the event in his novel "Men of Men."

    I also have a DVD "The Shangani Patro,l" produced by the Rhodesian Broadcasting Corporation.

    I am looking forward to reading John Wilcox's novel.

    Peter Macmillan (Australia)

  5. Just read on your blog that you are to make a temporary departure from the Simon Fonthill series. Please please please come back to them though, they are superb and Mr Fonthill and 352 have unfinished business to attend to, what with the Boer War just around the corner! :-)
    Your idea for a book about WW1 sounds interesting, especially given your family connections to this bloody conflict. I would suggest reading this book before writing (this is a great revisionist account of the Great War which certainly made me see things from a different perspective, say than perhaps the account given in the brilliant black and white Great War BBC series. Forgotten Victory by Gary Sheffield was one of the few books I enjoyed reading whilst an undergraduate in Modern History!

    I read on your Q&A section on your website the following:
    What's next for Fonthill, Jenkins and Alice?
    Maybe the Boxer Rebellion in China at the turn of the century. I am researching this at the moment. Then perhaps the second and most remembered Boer War.

    So please please please come back to these as I need another Simon Fonthill fix asap! :-)

    I just finished reading the Shangani Patrol and again loved it to bits. I particularly like the way you weave in actual historical events with your fictional characters. I am so glad I stumbled into one of your books (The Horns of the Buffalo) by chance at a discount book shop in Colchester whilst on a holiday, from there on in I've been hooked and brought or borrowed from the library every one since and lent them to my a couple of my friends and my Dad who loves them too.

    You have a certain style which comes out in your books and I very much like it. I would like to read some other books based on the same period if there are any you could suggest. Perhaps your work was inspired by other novels from the same period? If so what authors have done similar work that I might enjoy please? Just something to give me a fill in until I can get my next Fonthill fix lol! :-)
    All the best John. I'll definitely be looking out for your Bombs and Betty Grable book too. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK...
    CHEERS - Paul Taylor (

  6. In the last year I have become an enormous fan of the adventures of Simon Fonthill, Alice and 352. I can't get enough, please, please give us more Mr Wilcox!

    How soon can we expect our heroes on the silver screen? Please don't keep us waiting long!

    Best wishes,

    Pete Talbot (