The influence of the Dead Man’s Penny

I admit to being haunted by the First World War, and I believe that many British share my fascination and horror of the ‘War to End All Wars’. We are constantly reminded about the War with the annual Remembrance Day in November (a tribute to all recent wars, but dominated by the memory of 1914-18), the war memorials in every village and church in the country all of which were erected after the First War and sometimes added to after 1945. The War was a watershed in British history, the end of a long period of peace and stability and the start of a century of conflict and uncertainties.

Many years ago I bought a First World War memorial plaque then known as a ‘Dead Man’s Penny’. These plaques were made in the years after the war to commemorate the fallen. I found one in an antique shop and bought it for very little. I subsequently researched the soldier’s name and where he was buried and one late summer, driving back from a holiday, in France I stopped at small military cemetery near Albert. My wife and children stayed in the car as a storm was brewing and I entered the cemetery alone. There were rooks in the trees making a noise not unlike men screaming, lightning and thunder were coming closer, the sky having turned deep violet and black and I was surrounded by ghostly white gravestones. I found the experience very alarming and wanted to capture some of this horror in the story of ‘Lieutenant Leaman‘ in my book of modrn ghost stories When Reason Dreams.

‘Friends for Life’ is also based upon the aftermath of the Great War but set on the East Anglian coast which I knew well as a child as my family often sailed from Burnham-on-Crouch and Maldon. We later visited friends in Aldeburgh and got to know that part of the Suffolk coast well. There is a wildness that I like but also constant reminders of the recent past with old boats rotting in boatyards as well as old photographs of the great days of sailing. The central question to this story is about what is real, what is imagined and actually happened.


You can buy When Reason Dreams from independent bookshops , Winstone’s, and Amazon.