Billy thought wartime was fun: fiery skies, playing amongst the rubble. Then a bomb falls on the shelter where he and his mother are taking refuge. Waking in hospital horribly burned, he longs for death until a precious gift from a soldier similarly disfigured gives him hope and a reason to live.
James Riordan grew up during the war in his chimney-sweep grandfather's house in Portsmouth. After school he was a barman, waiter, railway clerk, commercial salesman, and dance band musician. During his National Service in the RAF he learned Russian and went on to become Professor of Russian Studies at Surrey University. Besides novels, he has written folk-tale collections, picture books and over 20 academic publications. His first novel for children, Sweet Clarinet, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book Award and, like his other novels The Prisoner and When the Guns Fall Silent, is based partly on his own wartime experiences.