A journalist who worked for the national press in London for nearly forty years has written his first novel about a stowaway living near Canterbury.
Tony Bassett was inspired to write his crime novel Smile Of The Stowaway by a news story he wrote for the national press.
In the real-life event, in September 2014, a couple returning to England from Calais were stunned to find a strange man emerging from beneath their motor home when they reached Ashford. They handed him to the police.
But Tony, from North Kent, began wondering what would have happened if, instead, the man had been harboured by the returning holidaymakers and given a job.
As a result, he spent three months writing his fictional account, which was published this month by The Conrad Press in Canterbury.
Set in Canterbury and the villages around the city – an area Tony knows well – the book tells the story of an English couple, Bob and Anne (a teacher and librarian) who discover a man beneath their motor home.
Instead of handing him to the authorities, they provide the friendly stranger with shelter and find him a job on a farm.
Then their new friend is arrested by police and accused of murder. Could this man from 6,000 miles away be guilty of the horrific murder in an idyllic hamlet close to Canterbury? Or is the real killer still at large?
Anne turns detective, battling against circumstantial evidence and police bungling, in an effort to uncover the truth.
Tony, 68, a divorced father of five, said: “The inspiration for the story came after I wrote a story for the national papers in September 2014 about a couple who found a stowaway beneath their motorhome when they returned to Ashford.
“In the real-life incident, the pair handed the man over to police. But it got me thinking: what if the couple had befriended him and defied the law by harbouring him? The idea progressed from there.”
Tony, who has worked as a reporter in Sidcup, Worcester and Cardiff as well as London, said he had always wanted to write crime fiction, but had never found the time until he gave up full-time work.
“I have wanted to write books since editing my school magazine,” he said. “Bob Shaw, who finds the stowaway as he gets out of the vehicle, works as a schoolmaster.
“I think various facets of his character must be drawn from the various personalities who taught at my school in Tunbridge Wells.
“Once the three main characters had been established, I found the story developed naturally.
“I’ve met so many different people and encountered so many different situations as a journalist, I’m sure this helped me in creating the characters and portraying the events.”
He added: “I enjoyed depicting the beauty of my home county of Kent with its apple orchards, hop gardens and rolling hills.
“But I also enjoyed describing the main incidents that occur in the novel – such as the murder of a man in a secluded cottage – and outlining the various clues that helped Anne identify the killer.
“I have also tried to make the book thought-provoking. It shows how immigrants are exploited by traffickers and questions whether Britain is a less welcoming country than it was once was.”
The first part of the novel explores the relationship between the married couple. Initially, the teacher is more prepared to let the stowaway stay with them while his wife is more reluctant. This creates tensions in their relationship.”
Tony went on: “I wrote to four publishers and I was fortunate enough to receive a response from The Conrad Press, whose director James Essinger was very enthusiastic about the book. He has been a tower of strength. If it were not for his faith in the project, the book might not have seen the light of day.”
Tony was on the staff of the Sunday People newspaper between 1980 and 2002. He worked both for the news desk and the investigations department. Later he worked as a freelance for most of the national newspapers in the UK.
Since writing Smile Of The Stowaway, Tony has written three other novels which he hopes will be published soon. They concern a fictional detective who works in the West Midlands.
Smile Of The Stowaway is available from Amazon UK, Waterstones and other established outlets. It has been out of stock at many outlets for part of December and the book is being re-printed to cope with the demand.