The best thing about being a journalist is that you never know what is going to land on your desk'', says Claire Allan. Claire, a Derry Journal reporter and author, is explaining how she came to write her latest book, The First Time I Said Goodbye, which is about to be published by Poolbeg.
The book, her seventh novel, is about GI brides and in particular about the local girls who fell for the US Marines stationed in Derry in the 1950s and 1960s.
Although fiction, the book is inspired by a remarkable love story, a true story full of emotion and heartbreak that had to wait nearly 50 years to find a happy ending.
"In July 2011 an email popped into my inbox from a local woman, who had moved to the States years ago, to say she was back in Derry on a visit and had a great love story to tell me," Claire says.
"I was intrigued and I agreed to meet her in a local hotel. It was a beautiful sunny day. She said hello with a smile as radiant as the day and then introduced me to her companion – an American man who was the object of her affection!
"The pair had dated in Derry in the early 1960s, when she was a local factory girl and he was a marine stationed in the American naval base near the city. They had fallen in love and were due to be married but a bad case of cold feet had got in the way."
The story that intrigued Allan started on July 11, 1960 when US marine Bob Faunce, stationed with the US navy at Campsie, just outside of Derry, was celebrating his 20th birthday.
That was the day Bob first set eyes on local girl Avril Lappin – and fell completely in love.
The couple became inseparable and spent the following year together every moment they could.
'We would do a lot of walking, or going to the movies. Or maybe going out to the base. Bob would come back home to have tea with my family," Avril said.
The pair had decided to get married, but were separated when Bob's stint in Derry finished and he had to return to the States.
"I was to follow him," Avril said. "I had the money for my passport.
"He had sent me money for a wedding dress. I was all set and it was then I got the letter."
With tears in both their eyes, Bob recalls how he simply got a bad dose of 'cold feet'.
She left Derry and travelled to Chicago intent on finding him again, even though she didn't have an address for him.
"I figured once he saw me again he would realise how he loved me and everything would be okay," Avril said.
Working as a nanny for a family with five children she settled into American life and eventually contacted Bob's mother to tell her she was looking for him.