As some of you who read this blog may know, with the possible exception of the myriad spammers who plague my site (though who likely keep my stats up—good work, guys!…?) I am self-publishing my first novel, a war novel, an excerpt of which is available on this site under the heading War Novel (Just look up…)
But, a question begs to be asked. War is not the most pleasant of subjects, as oft I’ve been told. So…..
Why a war novel? This is a good question. Another question that begs to be asked: Why a novel about the Second World War? Isn’t this war in its grainy black and white “These Are Our Boys!” newsreels trumpeting from auld long ago (66—72 years ago, to be precise) terribly out of fashion, you ask? Wasn’t the last great revival of World War Two: Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You back in the late Nineties, with the release of movies like Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, riding, or perhaps triggering, a wave of praise of The Greatest Generation? (Another question: Were members of that generation always old? I sometimes picture a bunch of bentbacked grandfathers piloting tanks and bombers and leaping out landing craft into the fray, canes clenched firmly in hand. Maybe that’s just me.)
The answer is, unfortunately, yes. I guess I missed the landing craft on that craze, too young and immature was I to complete a war novel in time to cash in on Normandy Nostalgia. Though, admittedly, I had coincidentally started an early draft then.
Well, the answer is that I wrote this novel because I felt I had to. Something about that time and place seemed compelling as the setting for a story. It seemed like some sort of weird calling, like an Enigma-coded call to literary arms. Okay, that’s stretching it, and the Enigma reference makes me sound like I was working for the Nazis. I may have been, nominally, but only to betray them to the Allies. Honest. (This would never have spared me from the noose at Nuremberg….I digress.)
I think historical fiction is a good medium through which to explore the past. That, and suffering and misery (once removed) make for great subjects in art and entertainment.
To write this novel, I used what knowledge I had already absorbed from a childhood of reading Time Life war books, atlases, history textbooks and coffee table books about the Second World War. I added a dollop of heavy research at the National Library and Archives of Canada during a stint of Dickensian penury in Ottawa about 7 years ago, and read through hundreds of wartime letters, leafed through personal scrapbooks donated by veterans and their families. I was so broke I actually transcribed letters by hand and drew things like decals and insignia and the like as a means of recording them.
A couple years later, in financially kinder times, I actually went to Italy and walked through the streets of San Giovanni, Besanigo and Coriano, where much of the action takes place (and where there is a large cemetery of Commonwealth war dead.) After seeing this place, it was smooth sailing. I was able to finish writing the novel in mere months instead of chipping and chiselling away at it with uncertainty for years (though I am proud to say I had mostly gotten it right. However, seeing the place allowed me to just charge ahead and not worry.)
If you made it to the end of this blog post, feel free to check out the link for my campaign to build support for the publication of said novel, here on the Indiegogo crowdsourcing site. Thank you very much to those who have contributed, and feel free to pass it on. Cheers!