Army wife's novel fundraising idea
Book funds for Poppy Appeal
Bristol-based army wife Amanda Prowse has written a novel called Poppy Day that will raise money for the Royal British Legion. Suzanne Savill meets her and her husband, Major Simeon Prowse. Pictures: Gavin Crilly
Amanda Prowse is wearing a corsage in the shape of a poppy on the lapel of her grey cardigan.
It seems like the perfect accessory, given that Amanda is having her photograph taken as part of publicity for her book, Poppy Day.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
But then she begins talking. And it becomes clear that to her, the poppy is far more than an attractive adornment.
"I wear a poppy every day," says Amanda, who is married to Major Simeon Prowse, MBE, and lives in an army house in Bristol with their two sons.
"I've got loads of poppies in all sorts of different styles. It's my way of acknowledging all that our servicemen and women do."
Amanda is hoping to provide even greater support to serving and former military personnel by donating every penny of profit from her book to the Royal British Legion.
The idea came from her best friend, the television presenter Carol Vorderman, who had already read her novel, which tells of an army wife called Poppy Day who sets out to rescue her husband after he is captured in Afghanistan.
The two women have been friends since Carol moved to the Bristol area a few years ago, and they can often be seen having coffee together in their favourite cafe.
Amanda, 43, recalls: "Simeon and I had been talking about how if only we had enough money we'd love to make a difference and help provide support for serving and former military personnel – there are so many things that the money could go on, such as bereavement counselling, rehabilitation or pastoral care.
"Then we realised that the Royal British Legion has been doing all this brilliantly for 90 years and started thinking about ways of making money for them.
"My best friend then said why didn't I use my book, Poppy Day, as the means for getting money for the British Legion.
"Carol is the person I go to for good advice. She has been so supportive of me, and she's a great supporter of the armed forces – particularly the work she does with the Pride of Britain awards."
Amanda has followed Carol's advice. The first page of the book reads: "All royalties due to the author shall be donated to The Royal British Legion for the support of troops returning from recent conflicts and also the families of those who sadly lost their lives. Many will need the support of the Royal British Legion for the rest of their lives."
On the following page there is a foreword from Carol, part of which reads: "Mandy is an army wife who has written about an army wife, and while Poppy Day is a work of fiction, she understands life beneath the uniform; what it's like to be the one left at home, ticking off the days until your loved one returns, and what happens when there is the knock on the door that every Forces' spouse, parent and lover dreads...
"The times when Simeon is deployed in areas of violent conflict (and those times are frequent) are tough for Mandy and the boys. I witness her pain and worry; the anguish she has to bear, concern that most of us will never have to live through."
We are sitting talking in the cafe where Amanda and Carol regularly meet. Amanda and Simeon make a striking couple: she with her mane of blonde hair and a poppy corsage, and he in his army fatigues.
But what is most noticeable about them is the way they both radiate happiness and are clearly devoted to each other.
It comes as no surprise when Amanda says it was love at first sight when she saw Simeon, 44, a former pupil of Parson Street Primary School and Churchill Secondary School, who joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) 26 years ago, and worked his way up through the ranks while also completing a degree in IT and systems and a masters in technology, and was awarded an MBE for his courage and leadership during the conflict in Sarajevo.
"I just fell head over heels, madly in love with him," says Amanda.
"I thought all that stuff about love at first sight was a load of pants until I met Simeon.
"I was a single parent with my son Josh, and Simeon was on his own with his son Ben, and we met on a touchline watching them play rugby for their school team.
"I already knew Ben as he was in the same class as Josh and I used to have him over to stay, so I knew Ben before I knew Simeon!"
Both boys were then aged about eight. They are now aged 14 and still attend the same school.
Meeting Simeon gave Amanda the opportunity – and the self-belief – to follow her dream of becoming a writer.
She explains: "I've always written, but I didn't have the confidence to follow my dream, and because I was a single mum my focus was on earning as much money as I could to look after my child."
Amanda was working as a management consultant, advising companies in America and Europe, but what she really wanted was to be at home with Josh.
"I was this person in a suit, but it didn't feel like the real me. I would come back and spend a couple of days with Josh and then have to leave again. I would sob all the way to the airport," she says.
Now she stays at home while Simeon goes away – something she admits she finds very difficult.
"Simeon goes away a lot and he has a very dangerous job. Every time he goes away I exist rather than live. I just have to plough through it," she says.
"Not much has ever been written about what it's like for the person who is left back at home – what it's like for the wives and partners, and that's one of the things I've tried to do in Poppy Day."
Amanda started writing Poppy Day in 2008 when Simeon was about to be deployed to Iraq.
"I always get a horrible sense of foreboding when he goes away," she says.
"IED's weren't such a big thing in Iraq as they are in Afghanistan but there was a big fear of a Western soldier being taken hostage.
"There was an interview with the father of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas militants, and he said that he wished he could be the one to bring him home.
"That really struck a chord with me. I said to Simeon 'If anything happened to you when you were away, I would come and get you'.
'He said to me 'I know you would'. He knows that I would go to the ends of the Earth for him.
"I was well over half way through writing it by the time he came back. I said 'What do you think of it?'. Simeon said he thought it was fantastic."
And it is: a compelling, poignant story with intricately observed characters, a dramatic plot, and clever sub-plots.
I ended up carrying the book around the house with me one evening, reading it as I was making supper, and sitting on the stairs reading it while my children were getting ready for bed, because I didn't want to put it down.
Amanda observes: "We are all so busy. Everyone has got deadlines and demanding jobs and things to do.
"But if the phone rings and someone on the other end tells you that your child has had a serious accident or your father is very ill, you'll drop everything to go to them. Poppy Day is about that sort of emotion magnified – about getting to someone no matter what."
Simeon, who is currently training soldiers who will be going to fight in Afghanistan, says: "For the first time I really realised the emotions that are gone through by those left behind. The book really brings it home to you."
Poppy Day by Amanda Prowse is published by TIP Limited. Normal price is £8.99 paperback, but there is currently a promotional offer of £4.50 while stocks last on www.amazon.co.uk. Poppy Day is also available online direct from the Royal British Legion via their Poppy Shop site at www.poppyshop.org.uk/poppy-day.html.
Amanda Prowse is publishing Poppy Day through the Royal British Legion, despite having the opportunity to be signed up by a bigger publisher.
"It means the British Legion will get a greater share of the royalties," she explains.
The Royal British Legion is spending £30 million on creating and running a state-of- the-art facility called the Battle Back Centre, which will be opened in 2012 and will use sport and adventure activities to assist the recovery of wounded, injured and sick service personnel.
Amanda says: "Every copy of Poppy Day sold is a brick towards building the centre – that's the way we look at it.
"Fifteen books sold mean some more bricks can be laid in the walls."
Doesn't she mind that she won't make any money from her book?
"To be honest, we've got everything we need. We've got healthy, happy kids and we've got each other," says Amanda.
"If you are given a skill or a talent I believe that you have to use it for good, and the money raised from Poppy Day can really make a difference, as for every soldier who is killed there are also five or six who suffer life-changing injuries."
Simeon adds: "We're not very materialistic. We've got a battered old VW Golf, but the people who will be helped at the battle Battle Back Centre need the money more than we need a new car."
Amanda has written other books, all yet to be published, which are connected to Poppy Day.
"They are all interlinked, and little characters from some books will become big characters in other books," she says.
"Some books are prequels, so in another book readers will be able to see Poppy before she became an Army wife."
To Follow Amanda Prowse on Twitter go to @PoppyArmy Wife. Poppy Day is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com and there is a website at www.poppyday.co.uk.