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Bali Rai on Tom Palmer’s Wings: Flyboy


March flew in with the exciting release of Tom Palmer’s Flyboy, the first in his new Wings trilogy. The story follows a young Sikh boy named Jatinder as he struggles with confidence issues, but a slip in time and a chance encounter with real-life fighter pilot hero Hardit Singh Malik might just turn everything around for Jatinder. In this post, Tom’s friend, fan, and fellow author Bali Rai shares why there’s more to love in this book than high-flying action.

Bali Rai and Tom Palmer

Bali Rai and Tom Palmer

I must begin by stating that I am a big fan of Tom Palmer and his work, and of Barrington Stoke’s unwavering commitment to providing great stories for reluctant readers. So, when I received an email enquiring about a quote for Flyboy, and I saw the early PDF, I was delighted to offer one. I was genuinely taken by the story itself, and by Tom’s desire to give Hardit Singh Malik some belated exposure. I was vaguely aware of Malik through my own research, but knew very little of his story, and it is a credit to Tom that he chose to bring that story to life. I’m doubly happy to add this blog too, about a project that resonates for me on a personal level, as a campaigner for greater diversity of voices in British fiction.

“I hope that more authors can be as brave and fair-minded as Tom Palmer and diversify the backgrounds of their central characters so that every young British reader can feel part of books, and of literary culture.”

It is a sad fact that young British readers from minority ethnic communities rarely see themselves in books, even in 2016. Back when I was at school, it was nigh on impossible. But I left school in 1988, and you’d think times would change. Although there has been a little progress, it’s still the case that boys like Jatinder are rarely the protagonists. They might get to be the best friend, the next-door-neighbour, or the son of the newsagent, but they are rarely the heroes. Flyboy changes that and I am absolutely thrilled to see it. I hope that more authors can be as brave and fair-minded as Tom Palmer and diversify the backgrounds of their central characters so that every young British reader can feel part of books, and of literary culture.


Flyboy‘s Jatinder meets his hero, Hardit Singh Malik.

Tom’s desire to highlight the role of so-called “empire soldiers” during World War One is also very welcome. In Britain’s hour of need, countless people from across the world answered the call to arms, and chose to give service for the greater good. I know that the British Armed Forces have always commemorated that sacrifice, and that they have kept alive and honoured the memories of these people. However, as a society, it is still a sacrifice relatively unknown, and often, completely ignored. The service Hardit Singh Malik gave was as noble, as brave, as worthy as any of his white, British counterparts, and Flyboy enshrines that notion within a superb story.

Wings Flyboy

And it is just that. Ignoring the other issues, Flyboy is first and foremost a cracking read. Jatinder is an engaging protagonist and his voice is expertly written and completely authentic. The support cast, from Rachel and Greg to Steve and Esther, are also great. And then we have Hardit Singh Malik himself, and the atmospheric old house that Jatinder and his friends find themselves staying in. I love the way football is worked into the story too, or perhaps the story fits the football? It doesn’t matter really – it’s excellent either way. In fact, it’s hard to say more without giving too much away, but the part where Jatinder is drawn into danger is brilliant – tense and dramatic, just as it should be. Every aspect works, and each chapter ends with the reader asking questions and eager to turn the page. It doesn’t shirk the realities of war either, but without being sensational. Flyboy is a wonderful, warm and engaging tale.

Stories highlighting both diverse voices in modern Britain, and the diversity of British troops during both world wars are extremely rare. This one does all of that, and is a cracker, to boot. Even the cover, with its “cut out and make your own Sopwith Camel” is awesome. Flyboy is a tale that needed to be told and deserves a wide audience. If you love football and history, and great books, grab this fast!

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