Every spark of inspiration has a start point. It is often the case that the start point is forgotten or becomes a mere blur of memory, especially as at the time it was nothing more than the rough outline of an idea. The true significance of the inspiration is often not realised until much later. This is true of many of my moments of inspiration but there are a few that I remember exactly, and how I discovered Bletchley Park is one of them.
It was exactly September 1995..
I know this because it is the month and year that Enigma by Robert Harris was first published and my copy is a first edition.
I was browsing in my local WHSmith bookstore, which was the only bookstore in my town at the time. I remember taking the hardback book off the shelf and bought it without even reading the blurb. All that mattered was that it was by Robert Harris and I had devoured his previous book, Fatherland.
I read Enigma in a few days. I was totally fascinated by the idea that somewhere like Bletchley Park had existed during World War 2. I had to find out more, I had to visit and I wanted to be part of it.
The date I first visited is completely lost in time and I have little memory of the process I undertook to finally decide to become a volunteer. It must have been 1999 or 2000 that I first started driving to Bletchley Park every other Sunday. I started as a room attendant and moved to the Archives, where I met John Gallehawk. I spent my time cataloguing photographs and documents.
For reasons I won’t go into here, I had to stop travelling down after about a year but carried on working for the Archives remotely. I then began working on a project independent of Bletchley Park with John Gallehawk, which drifted along as my career changed and my family grew. Eventually we quickly cobbled together the research into a book of tables called Figuring It Out at Bletchley Park 1939 – 1945. It was produced quickly to be ready for the Veteran Reunion weekend of September 2007.
I look at the book now and can recall my sense of pride but I can also see all the mistakes and lack of publishing experience. It was such a learning curve and finding all the information was time consuming. It was at a time that self-publishing was still a dirty word and unlike today, there was not the mass explosion of information, resources and service providers to help a newbie at publishing their work (well, there were those shady vanity publishers demanding thousands of pounds).
Figuring It Out at Bletchley Park is now undergoing a revision to develop the text and regularise some of the formatting quirks. As each chapter is revised I will publish it as an ebook. To me, it is still the best book ever because it became a significant spark of inspiration in itself.
From Figuring It Out at Bletchley Park came BookTower Publishing and a desire to research, write and publish more about Bletchley Park. BookTower Publishing is a small independent publisher of local history books. The focus of its launch is, you guessed it, Bletchley Park, but as my day job is researching local history with a view to investigate the existence of public rights of way, I want to help bring relevant stories about local communities into the public domain. Things are progressing nicely and I have been fortunate to be able to assist other Bletchley Park writers to publish their work and have several new projects in the pipeline.
I am also writing my new book about the first occupation of Bletchley Park and the man behind the cover name, Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party. It’s been an ongoing project for a long time. but watch this space.
The Bletchley Park Research Blog is also part of this journey. It is a place I want to share my research and bring it to others with an interest in the Government Code and Cypher School’s codebreaking operation during World War 2. I want other like-minded people to contribute so that we can develop a community of researchers and research.
The project is in its infancy but I find that I don’t want this site to be a beautifully polished blog from the outset; I want it to evolve, change, grow and be a real extension of how I develop into the project.
Who knows what new sparks of inspiration may come of it…