Three people in three countries in three different eras. Ursule in 1864 lives the life of a kitchen skivvy in Paris. Dexter in 1965 is an American GI in Vietnam. Dante in 2015 is a Catholic priest in Palermo, Sicily. For Ursule the Prussians are closing in. For Dexter it’s the Vietcong. For Dante it is the mafia. How can they escape but, more than that, how can misery become rapture? In contemporary Britain a fourth person holds all the strings in his hands as he rises silently and gracefully above the earth. In this tour de force of imagination Stuart Campbell follows the brilliant John McPake and the Sea Beggars with a tale that defies time and gravity and takes the reader to a place few have ever been and fewer still come back from.

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I had missed the flight. The happy occupants of the basket waved to those of us on the ground, not realising that I was meant to be one of their number. Despite my annoyance I waved back. How could I write about balloons if I had never been on one?

The Satnav had failed me completely. The post code had led me through several housing estates and dumped me in a supermarket car park. I almost managed to convince myself that balloons were often launched from such places and that it was, at that very moment, being inflated beyond the industrial waste bins and would soon materialise above the cars like a sulking genie from the Arabian Nights.

I had read many accounts of early pioneering flights and wanted to experience for myself the small intimations of rapture that seemed to be a recurrent theme of the early pioneers. Thomas Baldwin in his Narrative of a Balloon Excursion from Chester in 1785 was so carried away by a sense of euphoria he could only write about the experience in the third person, ‘A tear of pure Delight flashed in his Eye! Of pure and exquisite Delight and Rapture.’

As an antidote to chronicling the squalor of Victorian London’s poor, Henry Mehew treated himself to a balloon flight from the Vauxhall Gardens with Charles Green. He describes floating through the endless realms of space, and drinking in the pure thin air of the skies, as you go sailing along almost among the stars, free as ‘the lark at heaven’s gate’ and enjoying, for a brief half hour, at least, a foretaste of that Elysian destiny which is the ultimate hope of all.’

Not only Mehew but Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, both Shelleys, Jules Verne, H G Wells and Ian McEwan had all somehow managed not to miss their flights.

My own experiences of anything approaching rapture had been confined to endorphin rushes after sustained exercise and pleasurable moments attained during my earlier flirtation with Buddhism. I was too much of a coward to emulate Aldous Huxley and R D Laing and chase the dragon or whatever it was that drug addicts do. I did though have a residual memory of a brief morphine-induced euphoria prior to a knee operation many years back. Auto erotic asphyxiation held little appeal. Not at my age, and anyhow I vaguely recalled that it was mainly Conservative politicians who resorted to such measures.

It had to be a balloon flight. If my characters were to have a hard time, which is the lot of most characters, then perhaps their fictional tribulation could be resolved by a shared all-absorbing mystical experience that sucked in and transformed the reader. Anyway that had been the hope. Immodestly I thought that I could write a conclusion to my narratives that would be transcendently beautiful, and which would conjure the sort of pleasurable afterglow that can accompany a half remembered dream.

The man’s dog tugged at my trouser leg. ‘Lovely, isn’t it?’ said the man pointing at the multi coloured balloon as it hovered above the houses on the edge of the park.


"Three balloon stories make up this novel. Central to each is a need for escape encapsulated in a moment of rapture as the individual begins to ascend to the skies. With a structure and a quirkiness reminiscent of Yann Martel’s 'High Mountains Of Portugal' this could be literary Marmite – a case of love it or hate it, but it manages to work for me."

Nudge Books

"Campbell’s perpetual touch of whimsy and the genuinely likeable protagonist make this a deeply engaging exploration of guilt, loneliness, desperation and ingenuity."


"Three stories from three different places, widely separated in space and time. And three utterly compelling central characters, who have much in common as they seek to escape the circumstances in which they find themselves and somehow carve out a better future."

Undiscovered Scotland

"Darkly comic, menacing, violet and fanciful. Well written and atmospheric..."

Aerostat Magazine

Title: The Aeronaut's Guide to Rapture
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Published by: Sandstone Press Limited
Release Date: 19/05/2016
Pages: 323
ISBN13: 9781910124932