Sky’s the limit for pilot after debut novel
It is only fitting that airline captain-turned-author Mike Edwards should arrive in Bermuda tomorrow night at the controls of BA2233 as he prepares to speak about a book hailed as “the aviation biography of the year”.
Mr Edwards has been flying the London-to-Bermuda route with British Airways for more than 15 years and he and his family are regular visitors to the island, where his sister-in-law, Sally Sedgwick, lives with her family.
Spitfire Singh: A True Life of Relentless Adventure is his first foray into literature, and judging by the reception it has received in India, where the story is set, it may not be his last.
The inspirational tale has its origins in a remarkable discovery made by the former RAF officer in 2007 when he stumbled across an astonishing collection of old Second World War aircraft locked away in a Delhi hangar.
The find sparked a huge restoration and research project that later led Mr Edwards to a chance encounter with an oil company boss and his own collection of memorabilia tracing the life of Harjinder Singh, who was responsible for accumulating the fleet of aircraft more than 50 years earlier.
Mr Edwards said: “It's been a massive labour of love. That discovery took place more than ten years ago now when I was in India to re-establish the Vintage Flight for the Indian Air Force.
“Five years later, I returned again for the 80th anniversary of the Indian Air Force and was asked to take part in the display in one of the open cockpit Tiger Moths we had restored.
“It was after that flight at a party that I met a man called Nanda who asked me about the discovery of the old planes. He asked me if I knew about their origins and the story of Harjinder Singh.
“He explained that his uncle, with whom he had lived, had been Singh's staff officer in the Indian Air Force and that he had kept all of Singh's diaries and journals tracing his life story hidden away in a safe in his office.
“That material makes up about 80 per cent of the book. The rest was a lot of historical research and factchecking.”
Spitfire Singh tells the incredible story of Engineer Harjinder Singh who climbed through the ranks of the Indian Air Force to become a pilot, at a time when colonial powers claimed “Indians will not be able to fly and maintain military aeroplanes”.
During the Second World War in Burma, one of Singh's many exploits was to help convert a whole squadron of spotter planes into bombers that successfully took on invading Japanese forces.
Mr Edwards said: “The book is about this remarkable man and his life, but it's also about the British relationship with India between the 1930s to the 1950s.
“I spent a lot of time in the archives in London reading about the politics of the time to ensure the book was set in the right context.
“I wanted to make it of interest to everyone, and The Times of India review has said it read like a film script. We have actually had some interest from a production company that has a base in Los Angeles, but as always that will come down to funding.”
Spitfire Singh was released a year ago in India and is now on a second print run. It went on general sale in the rest of the world at the end of last year.
Mr Edwards said: “To see it finished and on the shelves was quite a relief. I'm quite proud that this forgotten story of the underdog is now being told, as it should be.
“This is my first book, but if I find the right topic there could be more.”
Mr Edwards will hold a book signing at Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute at 7pm on Monday and his talk on Spitfire Singh will begin at 7.30pm.
Tickets for the talk can be bought by calling 294-0204 or visiting BUEI's Oceans Gift Shop.