Chris Bridge is the author of Back Behind Enemy Lines, a novel inspired by his mother. Though Chris has his own compelling backstory. After being expelled from boarding school, Chris studied English and Philosophy at Nottingham University. He then followed a successful career of teaching and management. Since retiring, Chris has worked as a consultant helping schools in difficulties. In his professional life he never abandoned writing. Until he became a Headteacher, Chris used to write school shows which often involved tailor-making a script to the students involved. One of his pieces was a musical called Cotton On which he took the the Edinburgh Festival Fringe; it sold out and earned a good review from The Scotsman. Back Behind Enemy Lines is Chris’ first novel.
We asked Chris some questions about the novel and his writing experience. It was fascinating to find out that personal guilt is what inspired him. This is what Chris told us: “When I was fifty-eight and my mother was ninety-five I was confident that I knew what was best for her. There were signs that she wasn’t coping and yet she claimed to be managing perfectly well. I was busy and lived a long way away, also people who knew her began to phone up and tell me that she wasn’t really able to manage on her own, so I began to spy on her. I remember I contacted the vicar’s wife to ask how she thought Mum was coping. It simply never occurred to me that Mum wanted to die in her own house and didn’t mind if she fell down the stairs and lay there until she died. Mum was perfectly fine with it; she just prized independence more highly than safety or comfort.” Any older readers may appreciate the challenge of knowing how to care for aging parents. Out of this topic, and the spying Chris had found himself doing, he got the idea that being old was similar to being behind enemy lines; you are always being watched to see if you make a mistake or to see if you can cope. Chris explains it as “for some people in this situation to go in front of a firing squad (the wartime danger) is better than going into a home”.
Chris took it upon himself to research the period of World War Two before creating Back Behind Enemy Lines. As he began writing beyond the age of 60, he already had some relative experiences to name, such as visiting the Normandy beaches and cemeteries, as well as reading They Live For Danger and The Spy Wore Red (the memoirs of a spy), both of which feature in the acknowledgements. This meant that almost all of the protagonist, Anna’s experiences have really happened to at least one agent in time. A feature of Anna’s experience is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She is seen to suffer from this before it was recognised; Chris noticed that few characters in fiction are linked to the illness, so research was conducted once more.
What may not appear obvious is how much of the novel is Chris’ direct experience. He told us that the content of infirmities were borrowed heavily from his mother; “the way Anna’s body gives up on her happened to my mother. The house is my mother’s house”. But also, he has used his individual life experiences such as teaching; “the small school-based sections and what 18 year olds can be like came easily”. Though of course one man cannot write a fiction novel entirely self-inspired, the rest was down to imagination.
Finally, Chris explained to us what he hopes to achieve with his first novel, from entertaining by engaging and raising questions about how old people are treated to honouring those incredible women from the Special Operations Executive.
Chris Bridge Disclaimer:
“Please remember that Back Behind Enemy Lines does ask a really tough question. It has the capacity to offend, particularly those who have had to put one or both of their parents into a home.”
Back Behind Enemy Lines is published by Peach Publishing and recommended by the Sheil Land Literary Agency.