Anyone who regularly uses the bus probably has at least one good story to tell.
Stories of forging friendships, finding future fiancées and forgetting favorite items are common. But Simon Herbert spent seven years of his daily commute doing something else: crafting a whole new world based on the World War II stories his father told him as a child.
The son of a Royal Air Force navigator, Herbert would scribble into several thick, spiral-bound notebooks — then later a laptop — during his 40-minute daily bus ride from his home on the east side to downtown Tucson.
The stories his father told him of serving in North Africa in a two-man, long-range heavy fighter/bomber known as a Bristol Type 156 Beaufighter are weaved into a fictional story set in England and Eygpt.
The main character of the book is Jack McClelland, a hotshot young pilot who finds himself forced to choose between the woman he loves and orders to take part in a suicide mission.
His father is not named in the book, but there is a navigator in the story named Philip du Quesne.
Tucson-based Fireship Press recently published “Wings Over Cairo” this month. It is now available on Amazon as both a paperback and in an electronic format.
Herbert’s father, however, never had a chance to see the book. He died in 1989, before Herbert even began thinking about writing a novel.
“Wings Over Cairo” may be historical fiction, but Herbert chose to include a less glamorous side of the war — how young men suffering from post-traumatic stress were treated by the military.
Herbert used his father’s official military record, the few pages that were released to him, to research the history of the Royal Air Force’s 272 Squadron when it was deployed to Egypt during the war.
He learned his father eventually lost his navigator’s badge — a story his father never told his family — after a series of hospitalizations. One sentence hinted at the sole reason.
“There was a line in there, ‘Classified as a waiverer, forfeits his badge,’’ Herbert said.
Researching the topic, Herbert said, he found the air force had developed a policy for hospitalized airmen.
“They wanted to put them back into action as soon as possible, so they coined a term that called them ‘cowards’,” Herbert said.
Rather than really deal with the psychological damage, the RAF had men choose to live with the label of being branded a coward or to climb back into the aircraft, he said.
Writing the novel, his first, was an excellent use of his time.
“The Sun Tran bus experience for me was really good. The buses were on time and they are clean,” Herbert said. “Once the new express buses came, they offered more room to people doing other things than looking out the window.”
Herbert also spent his lunch hour at the county, where he works rehabilitating historic buildings, jotting down scenes.
His contract with Fireship Press calls for more books, but Herbert will not be writing them on the bus any longer.
A recent transfer from the county’s offices in downtown Tucson to county offices off River Road have put an end to daily commute on the bus.
“Unfortunately, Sun Tran doesn’t have an express bus that goes from my home to this office,” Herbert said.