The Story Behind Telegraph Island by John Milton Langdon

It is true to say that I had no ambition to become an author, even ‘though the poet John Milton was an ancestor, but circumstances dictated otherwise.  In 2004 when I was working in Abu Dhabi, my wife and I visited a small Omani town called Khasab which is located close to the Straits of Hormuz.  One of the attractions is an area known as the Fjord because of its similarity to Norwegian scenery.  The transliterated Arabic name for the fjord is Khor as Sham.  We sailed into the fjord on a dhow and moored at an island located about half way along the waterway.

The island is named Telegraph Island and anyone with Google Earth on their PC will be able to locate it quite easily as the co-ordinates are 26° 11′ 43.13″N and 56° 20’ 34.31″E

I discovered that a small group of British telegraph operators had lived and worked at the repeater station on the island in the middle of the eighteen hundreds and also that it was one of the links in the chain of repeater stations on the electric telegraph between Britain and India.  This was at the very beginning of the age of electronic communication that we take for granted these days.

Standing in burning sunshine on a barren lump of rock, surrounded by a sea edged with equally barren but precipitous mountains, I could only marvel at the fortitude of men who could live and work under such appalling conditions.  Water, food and all the other essentials of life had to be supplied by sea.  They lived in Arab style huts made of barasti and must have suffered enormously in the heat and humidity.  The operators spent long hours listening to incoming messages in Morse code which they then had to retransmit along the next section of the cable.  It was small wonder that many became ill and the phrase ‘gone round the bend’ was coined by sailors recovering mentally sick personnel from the island which is beyond a bend in the inlet.

I felt there was a story to be told about these men, with the development of the telegraph system as a background theme and consequently an unplanned visit to a remote and uninhabited island provided the inspiration for my story, and my retirement from full time employment gave me the time I needed to write it.

When I completed the first chapter I gave my late wife a copy of the text to read and her verdict was, “I like the story but—-.”

When I had received the same opinion for each of the first four chapters, I realised I needed advice and sent the text to a professional reviewer.  His report was long and detailed but the first line provided the key that solved my problem.  He wrote, “I like the story but you are writing a report not a novel.”  He was correct.  After more than 40 years working as an engineer it was not a surprising conclusion; it was the only way I knew how to write.  Initially it was quite difficult to persuade my practical engineer’s brain that it was now acceptable to use my imagination and describe my characters more fully and to include conversation and emotion.

I anticipated writing only one book; it would begin in England and end on Telegraph Island.  I didn’t have a specific plan to follow and allowed the characters and events to develope logically and essentially the story wrote itself.  I noticed quite often that a particular situation in the story could have several different outcomes depending on the personalities of the characters involved.  I would choose one of the options and continue writing.  If I liked the way the story continued to develope I would keep the text; if I didn’t I would try another option.

As I was writing the final chapters of the book I started to search for an agent or publisher.

I don’t remember exactly how many letters and samples of text I posted but it must have been about a hundred and the extremely frustrating result of this intense activity was the almost total lack of response.  Those few who were courteous enough to reply, simply informed me that they were not accepting new authors.

I started researching on the internet, discovered Tate Publishing and was very happy to receive a positive response from them.  I was prepared to contribute to the costs of publication because my writing had become my retirement hobby and had never been an attempt to make money.  I reasoned that my hobby could have been model railways and I could have spent money on locomotives and track instead.

My next problem was the length of the book I submitted to Tate Publishing.

It was about twice the length of the maximum work they normally produced and consequently it was unacceptable.  That was an extremely disappointing outcome and initially a reason for abandoning the whole project.  However, and after some thought, I realised the existing book could be modified slightly and divided into two volumes.  This was acceptable to my publisher and as a result Against All Odds was published in 2005 and Telegraph Island in 2006.

I had accumulated a great deal of data whilst researching for the first two books and realised that I had enough information and ideas to write another book.  In actual fact I was able to write two more and Full Circle was published in 2007 and Ring of Gold in 2009 by Tate Publishing.

My writing activities came to a halt when my wife’s cancer returned in 2009 and I have written very little since her death in 2010.  Hopefully the desire to finish the two books I started to write in 2008 will return.

Author John Milton Langdon is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers and has a master’s degree in maritime civil engineering.  Langdon retired and became a professional writer after an active and rewarding engineering career.  Initially he worked in Britain but from 1972 until 2008, he dealt with project development in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Nigeria.  Langdon lives in the Austrian town of Klagenfurt which has a history stretching back to mediaeval times.  Langdon has three children and five grandchildren from his first marriage and two step sons from the second.  Langdon has many interests including travel, the British canals, music and literature but hiking in the mountains surrounding his home is a preferred leisure activity.

His latest book is the historical fiction novel, Telegraph Island.

You can visit John’s  website at


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