Finding Susan Part 3

Paris - next stop Hollywood

Susan soon warmed to the idea of writing a book about her life, in particular revealing her secret love affair with her French Foreign Legion boss, General Koenig. The first task was to find a writer. I didn’t want to attempt it myself because, frankly, I wasn’t remotely good enough to do her story justice. This was a woman’s story and it needed a woman’s touch and understanding. After a couple of failed attempts to find the right author, with the help of our Los Angeles literary agency, we finally found Wendy Holden. I gave Wendy a teaser over the phone and, eager to know the rest of the story she travelled to Paris to meet me. Wendy agreed there and then to write the book with Susan and I introduced them to each other.

A few months later Wendy produced the first chapter and our agent used it to set about finding publishers around the world. We had no problem getting interest in the book and it was eventually picked up by more than a dozen territories. The book is called Tomorrow To Be Brave by Susan Travers and Wendy Holden. 

After the book was published I visited Susan on several occasions. I always arrived in time to take her to lunch because Susan thoroughly enjoyed a glass of champagne and foie gras de canard which was not available at the nursing home. One day I arrived there was an ambulance outside. I went up to her apartment to find her being attended to by a medic. She’d had a heart attack. She was conscious and quite aware. The medic gave me a look and shook his head as if to say she wasn’t going to make it. They wheeled her downstairs and into the ambulance. Susan was her usual stoic self and we said goodbye to each other as if for the last time. She’d told me more than once over the years that she was tired of living and was quite happy to die. I believed I’d never see her again.

Susan was to be disappointed that day, as far as dying was concerned, because she was soon back in her apartment, cleared to continue living as normal. She was a lot weaker though and the head nurse told me I would not be able to take her out to lunch anymore. The next time I arrived she was sleeping and I left without seeing her.

The last time I saw Susan was in hospital. She’d been transferred to a ward after another heart attack. I brought her flowers and we chatted for a bit. After so many years of getting to know her, when talking about her life, I came to recognise a particular sadness that often came over her. I put it down to nostalgia but I don’t think it was. Years later I got to spend some time with one of her sons, Tom, and after hearing his particular take on aspects of her life I think I understood the meaning behind those sad looks. I don’t believe she had the happiest of years after the war for reasons that were complex and quite personal.

She hung onto life for another year after our last meeting. I kept meaning to see her again but Paris was a long way to go for what would have been a brief visit and she was very frail. I learned of her death from Wendy Holden. Much to Susan’s consternation, she had made it to 94.

The day that Susan agreed to write the book I told her I wanted to make an epic movie of her war story and love affair. I was disappointed I had not achieved that before she died. It certainly isn’t easy getting a movie made, no matter how great a story it is.

I can report that I recently signed a deal with a huge Hollywood player to make Susan’s movie. But agreeing to make it and actually getting it on the silver screen are not the same thing. Fingers crossed.

16 thoughts on “Finding Susan Part 3”

  1. I just finished reading the book. I’d heard about Susan Travers before, but didn’t realise she’d told her full story in such (graphic) detail. Within a few pages one is thinking, “This should be a movie”, but there’s so much in there… how much would be cut out? I really hope it’s done well, if it happens. Good luck!

    1. I felt the same about a movie by the end of the first day I interviewed her. Sometimes I think a multi-part TV series would do better justice to her story. A movie would have to be a couple hours long. There is a screenplay that deals purely with her love affair with Koenig, focusing on events leading up to Bir Hakiem and ending with her officially joining the Legion. I hope it will happen too!

      1. I agree that a TV series might work better for this epic story, especially as such high quality WW2-set TV is being made these days (e.g. The new ‘Das Boot’, or ‘SAS: Rogue Heroes’), with convincing sets and vehicles, excellent acting and direction etc. Multilingual dialogue is common now too, which would be essential for this story. It ‘just’ needs a great script.

        I’m thinking:
        Pt 1. Childhood up to joining Free French in London.
        Pt 2. Sailing from Liverpool up to end of Bir Hakeim break out.
        Pt 3. Everything post Bir Hakeim up to the medal ceremony with Gen Koenig.

        Could easily do three 90 minute episodes. Would be totally epic!

  2. I am a writer from Los Angeles. I am researching the famous zoologist Gerald Russell and his mother Gladys Crocker. I am wondering what you know about Susan’s love affair with Gerald. Kevin Taylor.

    1. Hello Kevin. Apologies for my slow reply. I’ve done a quick google and I can’t accurately find who you refer to. Do you have the right Susan Travers? Anyway, I have not come across those names in my talks with Susan.

      1. Gladys Crocker is the American friend Susan Travers was staying with when WW2 broke out. She does mention having a brief affair with Gerald too. She describes him as sweet and kind, but obviously wasn’t particularly attached to him (in typical Susan style!)

  3. Hello Duncan
    I’m looking forward to firstly reading about Susan Travers, who was an amazing woman, and seeing the film one day. I don’t think we have many such brave, adventurous ladies around nowadays. I did hitchhike around Europe and the middle East in 1977 carrying an army Bergen. I put a photo on the Who Dares Wins Facebook page and had a few likes. A Duncan Falconer was one of the names and I now wonder if it was you. If so, I’m rather thrilled. It was a great adventure though not up to Susan’s level but slightly dangerous at times. Anyway I look forward to reading more about Susan.
    Kind regards

    1. Gillian. Thanks for getting in touch. I seem to remember liking that page – I don’t ‘like’ too often. Susan was indeed a great lady. I’m certain there are just as many great women out there today. It’s often just being in the right time and place to provide the opportunity to be yourself, which can often be just as great!

  4. I would like for you to contact me regarding this famous woman … it will definitely make a great movie …it is fantastic news

    1. Yes, indeed it would make a great movie. The natural structure of the true story doesn’t require much adapting to a movie structure.


  5. I’ll be looking out for this book, Her life was amazing.
    Got to admit, your first book transported me back to January 1964 and my first day in Deal Barracks.

  6. Hope a movie about this amazing lady gets made. All the best, Duncan. If you are in CT, I’ll shout you a Guinness or three.

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