In later life Len attempted – and mastered – the difficult art of short story writing.
Others thought so, too – which is how he managed to take both first place in two successive national short story competitions organised by the RNIB! (Since his poetry had achieved similar eminence in another RNIB competition, they eventually asked him to become a judge – the only fair way to rule him out of the contest…)
Len wrote twenty stories in all, a collection he entitled Women and Soldiers based on his experience of wartime conditions in North Africa and Italy. In his own words, writing to literary agent Hilary Johnson:
‘Last year the Royal National Institute for the Blind (I am registered blind) set up a short story competition with a first prize of £100. By this time I had written 20 short stories – all dealing with aspects of the war as seen by me during my five years of military service in Britain, North Africa and Italy. I submitted Christmas Story and took the prize. I was delighted and surprised. More so when, by chance, I was able to talk to one of the panel of judges – Jill Dawson (author of ‘Wild Boy’, ‘Watch Me Disappear’ etc.). She told me that the judges had experienced only one problem – the second and third awards.
‘I am sure there will be a flood of books, TV documentaries and radio features in 2009 dealing with the war. My stories strike an unusual, less-explored note. None are concerned with gung-ho heroics or famous battles. It has been said that it takes ten men and women to put one fully-trained soldier into the firing-line. These are the cooks, clerks, medical staff, engineers, electricians, chaplains, field security officers, the men and woman of the Air Transport Corps (who flew unarmed Spitfires from the factories to the RAF airfields during the Battle of Britain) and, yes, Army Education Officers. My stories are concerned with these obscure people. I have called the collection Women and Soldiers because they focus on human relationships – those born at home and those born amid the chances of war.’
The stories are by turns witty, gritty, harshly documentary and emotionally charged. Some are not for the fainthearted (or those with week stomachs), most notably one that documents, in detail, the torture, degradation and execution of a 20th-century Joan of Arc in the hands of the Gestapo. But they are – as you would expect – superb stories, and we are proud to bring some of them, at least, to a wider audience.