Colin Cossor left school at 15 without any qualifications after his headmaster labelled him a dunce. This month he’s launched his first novel, On Wings of Song, which is proving a hit with fans of historical fiction all over the world.
“The headmaster said to my mother ’you cant do anything with him, he’s a dunce’,“ remembers Colin, who lives in Bush Hill Park. “It stays with you, right in the back of your mind.
“I left school without any qualifications. It was typical of that age. It was a case of – if you don’t pass your 11plus you’re only good for cleaning out lavatories and they push you onto the heap.“
The 75-year-old, originally from Salisbury, went into the printing supplies trade after school, but always found time to write. Proving his early critics wrong, at the age of 40 he studied for O and A levels, later attaining a BA in English Literature from the University of Hertfordshire.
On retirement, Colin studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University.
“Nowadays it’s totally different – there’s so much opportunity, in my day there was nothing,“ he says. “I just thought – I’ll have a go at that.“
Set in the 1920s, On Wings Of Song tells the story of Prudence Osmond, who at the age of 16 is wrongly committed to an asylum, the victim of a hate campaign by a wealthy woman who wants revenge because her late husband had an affair with Prudence’s mother.
In the asylum, Prudence is subjected to cruelty and sexual abuse but with help from an unlikely source she learns to conquer her nerves and become stronger. Her beautiful voice is set free, a talent she uses to influence her new-found grandmother and the matron of the asylum.
The asylum of Colin’s story is based loosely on Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum in Barnet after extensive research into the treatment of patients.
“I once had to put in printing machinery at Colney Hatch. The miles and miles of corridors really struck me. The people wandering about in there – you’d be walking along a corridor and somebody would suddenly jump out on you. All quite harmless but it was quite an eye opener. It stuck with me for quite a while.“
Colin’s research unearthed a shocking catalogue of abuse and maltreatment.
“It surprised me how bad it was,“ he says. “It was shocking. An awful lot of people got put in them when they should never have been. A lot had breakdowns and they just put them away and that’s where they stayed.
“There were people in Colney Hatch, before it was closed down, that had been in there for 30 years and all they’d done was upset their parents.“
There was a particular case that had special resonance with Colin – his own aunt was institutionalised.
“It was a story that was passed on to you as a child but it was because she was acting irratically. These days they would give her some drugs and that would be it – she never came out. The idea is quite horrific.“
The book is receiving rave online reviews and a sequel has already been written. All these years later, the grandfather-of-four has certainly proved his doubters wrong.
“Being labelled a dunce, it’s just that feeling that wrangles with you,“ says Colin, “it’s always irked me. But I had a go and here it is. It’s been downloaded all over the world – it’s mind boggling.“
On Wings of Song is available in paperback and for Kindle from Amazon.co.uk. Details: www.colincossor.com