Forty-five years ago the author bought a picturesque cottage alongside the Kennet and Avon Canal in Berkshire only to learn that the writer Richard Aldington, a WWI veteran, had lived there in the 1920s. In his autobiography Aldington pointed the 'curious reader' towards his novel, The Colonel's Daughter, that was set in the village. Wilkinson was that curious reader and in 1978 he set out on what proved to be an eventful quest. Over the next six years he traced people from servant girls to army officers who knew and talked freely about Aldington's time amongst them and the worrying effect that his novel had on the lives of those about whom he had written. In his 1929 novel, Death of a Hero, Aldington mourned the loss of a generation of young men in the First World War. In The Colonel's Daughter he set out to show the effect of that loss on the young women left behind. In a splash across the dust jacket his publisher declared that The Colonel's Daughter was not a 'nice' book but that Aldington's heroine, 'for all her unattractiveness, deserves to be as memorable as Tess.'
Aldington had moved on by the time he penned this best-selling novel, but with a bitter-sweet alacrity the story was in many ways closer to the truth than was easily palatable. One woman in particular was immediately recognisable and had to live with the consequences of Aldington's story for the remainder of her long life. Wilkinson's research led him to shoulder the uneasy truth of those findings and the mantle of assumed guilt followed him as he discovered, first-hand, the uncomfortable effect of the novel on the village and the distress suffered by three women in particular.