Tuesday, September 7, 2021

FLYING SOLO: Guest Post by Stanley Trollip

Stanley Trollip: Flying Solo

If my flying logbook were with me in Minneapolis, and not in my flat in South Africa, I would know the exact date that I first flew solo. That I don’t remember it is not surprising because it is irrelevant. It was probably in December 1968 or January 1969. 

On the other hand, there are many things about that flight that are forever etched in my memory. 

The airport was Rand Airport in Johannesburg. The plane was a brown and white Cessna 150 with call sign ZS-EDH. The flight was scheduled in the morning in order to avoid the normal summer-afternoon turbulence. 

After completing all the necessary preflight checks, my instructor and I took off, and I completed several take-offs and landings. When he was satisfied that I wasn't going to kill myself, we taxied to the apron, he climbed out, and I was on my own. I don't remember exactly how many hours I had under my belt at the time, but my hazy recollection is that it was around ten. Only ten!! 

Even though I had previously done everything required to complete a take-off, a circuit, and a landing, including all the necessary radio communications with the tower, my adrenaline was flowing because I couldn't just throw up my hands and yell 'you've got it!'. For the first time there wouldn't be anyone to rescue me. 

'Rand Ground. Cessna ZS-EDH request taxi, remaining in the pattern.' I suspect my voice was at least one octave higher than normal. 

It was a good thing that we'd already completed a few circuits that day, because I didn't have to decipher the ground controller's instructions to get to the end of the active runway. 

When I reached the end of the taxiway and had checked the various instrument readings, the magnetos, and so on, I switched to tower frequency and requested clearance for a take-off and landing. 

In my head, I was running through rotation speed, climb speed, circuit altitude, radio procedures on each leg of the pattern, and, scarily, what to do if the engine quit. 

 'ZS-EDH cleared for take-off.' There was a pause, then 'Good luck.' It was my instructor who had gone to the tower so he could calm me down if I panicked or remind me of procedures if I suffered a brainfart. 

I taxied onto the runway, advanced the throttle, applying some rudder pressure to counter the torque, and headed down the runway, trying to keep right on the centreline. Ahead of me were several of the ubiquitous mine dumps containing the tailings of the crushed ore from the gold mines. 

I lifted the nose and adjusted the pitch angle to settle on climb speed. At one thousand feet above the ground, I made a left ninety-degree turn onto crosswind leg. When an appropriate distance away from the runway, another left ninety-degree turn onto downwind leg. I remember extending the downwind leg farther than recommended so that I wouldn't be rushed. Another left ninety-degree turn onto base leg, then another one onto final. 

Reduce power, I thought. Now for the tricky part - maintain landing speed while keeping the runway in front, which is sometime easier said than done when there is a crosswind. Then establish a glide path that ends on the runway and not a hundred metres short. It is truly a three-dimensional problem with the added issue of not getting too slow or too fast. If too slow, the plane may fall out of the sky; if too fast, a hoped-for smooth landing may result in multiple bounces on the runway. 

Speed, heading, glide-path. 

Speed, heading, glide-path. 

'Looking good, Stan. Cleared to land.' It was my instructor in the tower. 

Just above the runway, I pulled the power off and let the plane settle. No bounces! I had made it. Every sense in my body was in acute mode. I was elated. MY FIRST SOLO! 

A couple of weeks ago, I experienced my second solo, with many of the same emotions, exhilaration, and nervousness. 


Because White Sun Books published my first solo book, titled Wolfman.

Most writers know all too well what it's like to publish a book written only by themselves. That’s how most writers write – alone, by themselves. It is a new experience for me. I had written four non-fiction books with friends before I turned to fiction. Then I wrote seven mysteries in the Detective Kubu series with Michael Sears under the pen name Michael Stanley. We used that pen name also to write a rhino-poaching thriller - Shoot the Bastards in North America, (Dead of Night elsewhere). 

Having written all those books before with someone else is very much like flying a few touch-and-goes with an instructor before the big solo moment. I knew the process well, but suddenly everything rested on my shoulders. Every decision was my decision, just like the first take-off by myself. And the first solo landing. Every word was my word. Aaargh! And I had no one to blame but myself. 

And now I am experiencing all the uncertainties of that first solo. Will the book make a smooth landing, or will it land short or go bouncing down the runway? Only time will tell. We have had publishers for the Michael Stanley books, which is helpful for publicity. But now, how will readers get to know about the book? It turns out many reviewers don’t touch ‘self-published’ books, even when written by an established writer. And I am not skilled at marketing and publicity. 

How will anyone find out about Wolfman

Of course, I’m trying social media – Facebook and Twitter primarily. My Facebook ‘friends’ were very kind, with over 150 liking my post about the launch, with many leaving kind comments. But how many will end up buying it? And does anyone read tweets? I’ve no idea. It’s a bit like final descent to land. I sort of know what to do, but the outcome is still uncertain. 

I asked some writer friends to give me feedback before publication. That was a painful experience – they were harsh in some areas, which is what the book needed. However they all liked the book too and gave me some great blurbs. That’s a bit like the instructor in the pre-solo warm up. Critical and supportive. Trying to get me ready. 

The biggest uncertainty, of course, is when readers eventually find the book, will they enjoy it? Will they leave reviews online? Any review is actually a helpful review. But bad ones cut to the quick. 

The next month is crucial. 

So what is Wolfman about? And who is it’s protagonist? 

There’s a story about that… 

When Michael and I were starting to write a stand-alone thriller about rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling, we decided to stretch ourselves by having a protagonist very different from the one in our Detective Kubu series. Kubu is a Black man in the Botswana CID. So, we decided on a female protagonist and, to stretch us further, she’s a Vietnamese immigrant into Minnesota. Her name is Crystal Nguyễn. 

We started writing and hit a wall at about 20,000 words. So we put the pages aside and wrote another Kubu mystery. When that was done, we returned to the rhino thriller and tried again. The same thing happened. We tried all sorts of tweaks, but nothing gelled. Eventually I suggested to Michael that the problem was that we didn’t really know much about Crystal, or Crys as she is called. I undertook to write a few chapters about her life as an investigative reporter on a Duluth, Minnesota, TV station. 

Those few chapters became a novel of 60,000 words. And the effort paid off. We returned to the rhino book and sailed right through to the end. It is called Shoot the Bastards in the USA and Dead of Night elsewhere. 

 A year after Shoot the Bastards was released, it occurred to me that I had a solo book that I could publish. I revised it totally, and White Sun Books (www.whitesunbooks.com) released it in August this year. 

Crys has just been hired part-time as an investigative reporter in Duluth, Minnesota, specializing in environmental issues. However, her boss doesn’t tap her expertise and gives her trivial assignments. 

This is not what she was looking for as a reporter, so she decides to create her own news by sabotaging the snowmobiles and other possessions of people poaching gray wolves, then reporting on the incidents. After several of these sorties, she speculates when she’s on air that someone whom she nicknames Wolfman may be responsible. The idea goes viral, and the station’s ratings skyrocket. 

Needless to say, someone latches onto the idea – a copycat, if you like – and starts attacking the poachers themselves. Crys now has to reverse course and try to persuade whoever the live Wolfman is to back down. Of course, he doesn't. 


Stanley Trollip was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has lived in Minneapolis for the past 38 years. He and Michael Sears write the Detective Kubu series set in Botswana under the pen name Michael Stanley. They also wrote a thriller (Shoot the Bastards) about rhino poaching and rhino-horn smuggling, set in South Africa and Vietnam. Wolfman is his first solo novel.


Unknown said...

I would fly with you anytime!!!

Unknown said...

I have read Wolfman and recommend it. Crys is a complex character with a strong sense of justice. She has some pretty interesting skills--like biathlon experience. She is worth meeting. Wolf hunting and poaching are in the news these days in Minnesota, Wisconsin and other areas, so this thriller comes at the right time!

Mary (M. A.) Monnin said...

Great description of your solo flight. For the glide path, did you use ILS, or have to calculate it on your own? Asking as a former Navigational Aids Repairman in the Air Force.

Good luck with Wolfman. It sounds exciting.

Ray Pace Writes said...

Nicely done. There's nothing like the third dimension.

Stan Trollip said...

In reply to Mary, everything was visual when it came to glide slope. No ILS. However, there was a VASI (visual approach slope indicator). This comprises two sets of lights on the ground that give you an indication of whether your approach is good, high, or low. If you are too high, both sets are white; on the glide slope, the top set is red and the bottom white; and both are red if you are too low. It's obviously important that you can land without any aids because the small strips I like to go into rarely have any VASI lights. Cheers, Stan

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Looking forward to Wolfman. I logged 30 hours of lessons in a Cessna 150 in the 1970s and was relieved I ran out of money before I ever had to solo, though I still occasionally dream with pleasure about taking off. Writing fiction is sometimes hard but not at all scary! ;)