Julian Nott, Jim Woodman - Flying with the Greats

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about flying here on this blog.  Last time it was about my dreams of flight, but this time it’s flight itself.  It’s a subject that runs through my novels.  It’s there in ‘Mad Dog Moonlight’s river running through the sky between the planets and stars; there in the boy in black’s leap into flight on his motorbike in ‘The Candle House’; there in Frankie and Charis’s balloon flight in ‘Flying for Frankie’; and there in my first novel, ‘Midnight Blue’, when Bonnie peels back the rim of the sky and passes straight through. 

Yesterday I was privileged to have a fascinating email conversation with none less than the founder of the modern ballooning movement, and one of its greatest, most creative exponents, Julian Nott. This is the man who broke ninety-six British ballooning records and seventy-nine World ones; who designed and constructed the first ever hot-air balloon with a pressurized cabin, which he piloted to a world record altitude; and whose achievements are celebrated in the London Science Museum and the offical Space Visitor Centre at NASA headquarters in Houston, USA

Julian Nott’s other - considerably lesser, of course - achievement is that it’s thanks to him and the adventurer and author, Jim Woodman, that I ever came to write my first novel, ‘Midnight Blue’.  Back in 1977, the two of them built and flew a smoke-filled hot air balloon above the desert in Nazca, Peru, to prove, Kon-Tiki fashion, that the technology had been in place for manned flight to have happened in that region thousands of years ago.  The photograph accompanying this piece shows them doing just that.

For many years I’d been convinced that ballooning would make a fascinating subject for a children’s novel, especially a fantasy one where the balloon had magic powers.  However, the mechanics of modern balloon flight sat uneasily with what I envisaged, and it was only when I read about this flight, with its firepits, smoke pits and dramatic launch at dawn that my imagination finally conceived the book which became ‘Midnight Blue’.

Jim Woodman's book about the Nazca flight is called 'The Flight of Condor I'.  Do look out for it.  And look out, too, for Julian Nott’s website [www.juliannott.com].  It makes for fascinating reading.  In fact, it’s worth looking up alone for the shimmering silvery-blue balloon on the home page. What a beautiful sight! 

On his website, Nott talks about the intellectual courage to dare to fly - to ‘dare to invade the territory of the angels’. Well, ‘Midnight Blue’ is all about a young girl who dares to do just that, with nothing but a bag of cloth powered by smoke and fire to transport her. In our conversation, Nott wrote, 'Please continue to inspire children.  We live in an absurdly over-protective age.'  Well, I hope the magic world to which Bonnie's smoke-filled hot air balloon takes her, along with her courage in making the flight, does indeed inspire, as does what she learns about herself in the world she discovers on the other side of the sky.

The publication date for 'Midnight Blue's 21st Anniversary e-book edition is 18th November.  Do look out for it. A major celebration and website make-over will be taking place here on this site.  Look out, too, for ‘Fear of Flying’ - another feature by me on the subject of flying, published today on www.authorselectric.blogspot.com.

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