This morning, Tom Palmer visited The Imperial War Museum North for the launch of his novel, Over the Line, which tells the story of a group of soldiers who formed the famous Footballers’ Battalion during World War 1.
To kick off (ahem, excuse the pun) the event, Tom Palmer read the opening page of Over the Line, which begins, of course, with a game of football. After reading from the book, Tom showed the audience some historic “cigarette cards” he had brought along. These cards used to be given out in cigarette packets and each card features a different footballer. Tom also showed us more modern versions of the cards, which, nowadays, are often sold in collectable packs. Tom went on to tell us that during World War 1, soldiers were often led to believe that they were “going away for a glorious adventure”.
We also learned a little about Tom’s fascinating writing process. To ensure that his book was believable, Tom visited battlefields in France, and even found the grave of one of the characters in his book, Cid Wheelhouse. “I stood at his grave and realized that my book wasn’t good enough,” Tom told us. He said that originally, Cid had been a two-dimensional character. “I went home and re-wrote the whole thing. Seeing his grave, I felt I owed him more. I didn’t even know he was married with two children.”
Aside from visiting France, Tom also did a lot of research with help from The Imperial War Museum, which was why he chose to hold an event there. Tom showed us some photographs of the Footballers’ Battalion, along with a sign-up form from the war, similar to the ones he would have looked at when researching Over the Line.
During a Q&A session, one guest asked Tom how much his novel changed during re-writes. “It was third person, but I changed it to first,” said Tom, “I felt that it was more immediate and helped me get into the heads of my characters.” Tom also told us that he did three completely different versions of the book in order to get it right.
Tom also held a “football reading game”. The first half included quiz questions based on football, followed by a penalty shoot-out. The winning team was a father-son duo who called themselves “Daddy Leo”. They won a gold trophy, and the runner-up won a Tom Palmer novel.
Shortly after Tom’s launch event, the Trench Tweet-Up took place in one of the large galleries downstairs. The idea behind the event was, “What would soldiers in WW1 say if they had Twitter?” A stream of fake tweets written by school children was read out, creating a shocking performance that really hit home. The “account deleted” sections – for the death of a soldier – were particularly powerful.
Both events were repeated in the afternoon at The National Football Museum.