Friday, 1 April 2011


At last I came to Gdansk (known as Danzig in 1870, at the time of my story). Recent history, during the 1970s and 1980s, had seen it as the centre of the Solidarity movement  (Solidarność) which, with Lech Walesa at its head, had been the force that eventually led to Poland becoming a post-communist state. But I was looking for details of life in this Baltic port a hundred years before that, when my young hero, Leo, and his friend Tomasz were heading there, dreaming of catching a boat to the USA.

I walked the rivers and tributaries down which the boats would have sailed with their cargoes of grain and timber and amber. I strolled along the docks, imagining the boys filled with hope, and driven to find a boat across the Atlantic.

Scenes of the docks in Danzig as
Leo would have seen them in 1870.
Note the rafts of logs, like the ones
the two boys rode down the Vistula.

Then, on my last day in Gdansk, I walked up the hill to the old Napoleonic fort and looked down at the railway station and the distant spires and cranes and buildings. It is covered with grass and crumbling now but in 1870, with the Franco-Prussian War being waged, it must have been bustling with activity. As I wandered round an idea began to form in my mind of a tragic scene that Leo witnesses near the end of the book.

And then my journey was at an end. I had visited all the places that my Grandfather must have seen if, as I believed, he had made this journey from his tiny village, Wilhelmsdorf, along the Bromberg Canal to Bromberg and then down the Vistula to Danzig. I had made the journey, thinking of him, and yet imagining another boy making that journey. Leo. He had become real to me, this brave boy facing dangers and carrying on when all must have seemed hopeless. And his companions, too - his friendTomasz and their dog, Bel - were alive in my mind. I loved them.

Now I had to return to England and my desk. Now I had to find the right words which would make my readers share that journey. The words which would make them Walk The Wild Road in step with my young hero. And if I could do it right, I felt I would be honouring my Grandfather who had walked that road when he was no more than a little boy all those years ago.

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