Friday, 30 December 2011


PATRICK WHALER, an aging American mercenary, began his fictional life as Jacques Salois: a 30-something Belgian legionnaire. How did one morph into the other?

As a writer one of the things that fascinates me is archetypes. Amongst the most popular is the old wise man or mentor, a character that instructs the hero in the ways of the world. As I was developing The Afrika Reich it occurred to me that my narrative lacked this figure. I had two central good guys in the shape of Burton and Salois but they were matched as equals, both the same age and with similar skills. I realised I would have a stronger relationship to explore if Burton had a mentor-figure with him… but I didn’t want to make it quite that straight forward!

So Patrick can’t be entirely relied upon. He’s prepared to abandon Burton to save himself, even threatens to shoot him at one point; as a mentor he’s ambiguous. Actually Patrick is one of a number of father-figures Burton encounters in the book from his real father to Hochburg, none of whom offer much safety or stability: a subtle undermining of the concept of Fatherland so cherished by the Nazis.

Up to this point I was still using the character of Salois albeit an older version than initially conceived. It was my agent who suggested I make him American in the hope that it might give the book more appeal State-side. There was no particular reason why Salois had to be Belgian (indeed in an early draft of the original version of the book he was Asian!) so I made the change. I don’t think it had an effect on my US deal but as an unforeseen boon it gave me an easy route into explaining America’s role in my alternative history.

For some reason I’ve had more suggestions from readers as to how they depict Patrick than any other character, everything from George Peppard to an aging Harrison Ford. Personally I always half-saw him looking like Richard Burton in The Wild Geese. There was the aging-warrior-in-Africa connection, but most of all I liked the link with Burton’s character in Where Eagles Dare... it was like catching up with him twenty years later to see what had become of the man.

Two other pieces of trivia. 1) Originally his surname was Whalen – but a lot of the time when I typed it ‘Whaler’ came out, till eventually it stuck. 2) Patrick is trying to get back to his daughter who’s living in Baltimore and hates it. Why Baltimore of all cities in the US? Because while I was writing those scenes I was watching The Wire.

As for Jacques Salois... well the name didn’t go entirely to waste. He’s one of the main characters in Book 2, back in his Belgian form.

P is also for PREQUEL

While Afrika Reich was being rejected by publishers I began looking for a new project. If the book wasn’t going to make it into print it seemed a shame to squander the characters so I began to think how I might use them elsewhere. I was drawn to the idea of Patrick’s lapsed idealism and wondered what it would be like to see him as a young man full of conviction. Since I’d made reference to the Spanish Civil War that seemed the most obvious line to take… and so I developed an unrelated PREQUEL.

Called Seven Bridges to Toledo, it’s about a bullion heist during Spain’s war. Highly influenced by the Spaghetti Western (more of which another time) it tells the story of Arch Stanton, a British engineer and the hero, Patrick and Tunscher (another of the main characters in Book 2) as they try to wrestle the gold across Spain. The plot was full of twists and double-crosses and also featured ‘cameos’ from Hochburg and Cranley.

I never actually wrote the book but do have it planned out. Whether it ever sees the light of day will depend on the continuing success of Afrika Reich and if I want to go back and revisit the story. Time will tell...

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Another break from the blog – this time due to a back injury (I’ve torn a muscle) which means sitting to write is painful. Actually, it’s not only a physical issue; I’m currently working on Book 2 and it’s difficult to write about one-time legionnaires involved in all sorts of rough and tumble when just sitting down hurts! Anyway, enough of my ailments and on with the A-Z.

If my alternate history begins with the divergence point of Dunkirk, it consolidates with the CASABLANCA CONFERENCE of 1943 where Hitler and Prime Minster Halifax meet to carve up Africa. The obvious inspiration for this was the 1884 Berlin Conference where the 19th Century powers met to divide the continent (the so-called ‘The Scramble for Africa’) . There was also a real Casablanca Conference, also in 1943, also at the Anfa hotel (pictured below) where Churchill and Roosevelt met to discuss opening up a second front in Europe. This is one of things I enjoyed doing most with the book – taking real historical moments/facts and bending them to my story.

By the way – watch out for a literal reference to ‘Casablanca’ in Book 2 which will help explain the symbolism of Hochburg’s and Eleanor’s relationship... in case you’ve overlooked it.

The Casablanca Conference leads to a decade of uneasy peace before my story picks up in 1952. But why did I choose that year? There were two main reasons, one of which I’ll come back to in ‘F is for...’. The second is that I wanted a date that was significant, iconic (if I dare use that most over-employed of words). 1952 was the beginning of an epoch that lasts to this day; it was the year Elizabeth II came to the throne. Indeed the majority of people in the UK have known no other monarch. Just as a period of real history began in 1952, so does my alternative one. Like I said: I enjoy bending reality!

Sunday, 23 October 2011


If you’re writing an alternative history sooner or later you have to settle on a ‘DIVERGENCE POINT’ – i.e. the moment when real, recorded history ends and a new, alternative one begins. In SS-GB it’s the successful invasion of Britain by the Nazis, in Fatherland when Hitler defeats the Soviet Union in 1943.

I settled upon Dunkirk and instead of giving the British a miraculous escape, I had them slaughtered on the beaches. Why did I choose this point?

One of the themes of the book is the myths we cling to (think of Burton and his mother) and I wanted to echo this in the larger structure of the narrative. Dunkirk is often seen as the epitome of British pluck; a defeat that has somehow morphed into a victory and is seen as one of the country’s finest hours. Indeed, newspapers still refer to the ‘Dunkirk spirit’ in a whole variety of situations – from Brits abroad coping with crises to the dreary comebacks of our national soccer team.

I was intrigued by debunking this notion and having Dunkirk as a disaster. Instead of being a narrow escape it was a coup de grace that led Britain to negotiate with Nazi Germany, leaving us with peace but less national pride. Of course, once I had changed this, other aspects of the alternative history fell into place as a consequence. With Britain out of the war much earlier there was less need for American involvement; having to fight on only one front meant Germany could concentrate all its forces against the USSR and win (though as a nod to Harris, I kept the same date of 1943).

In reality, the reasons behind Hitler’s decision not to annihilate the British at Dunkirk remain a mystery. Some historians think it was down to incompetence, others that it would appeal to Britain’s sense of fair play, making them more amenable to negotiation. In my world there’s a very specific reason why Hitler doesn’t attack... though you’ll have to wait till the Prologue of Book 3 to find out!

D is also for DAMBE

In action adventure stories the hero often has some skill in martial arts. I wanted to give Burton the same but felt something like kung fu or karate would be impossibly crass. So I went looking to see if there was an African equivalent. As it turns out there were several including: kokawa, musangwe, ‘nuba’. In the end I opted for dambe, a West Africa form of boxing because a) I’d already place Burton’s upbringing in that part of the continent b) it just looked vicious and chimed with the character’s more violent streak.

You can see an example of dambe on this clip from CNN.

Curiously both I and Burton seem to have out-grown dambe... so it may not be back in Book 2. What does everyone else think?

Thursday, 13 October 2011


Followers of The Afrika Reich on Facebook will know that I’ve recently returned from a research trip to Germany. The main purpose was to visit a site that will play a key role in Book 2. I’ll tell you about that sometime next year as I gear up for the publication of the sequel. In the meantime (and before the A-Z resumes) I wanted to share some thoughts about my visit to Dachau – the first of the Nazis’ concentration camps, opened as soon as they came to power in 1933.

I had expected it to be a place of quiet reflection and reverence, but was surprised – you could even say shocked – at some of the behaviour I saw there. The first jolt came as I got off the train at Dachau station to find a McDonalds. Doubtless fearing bad publicity they have at least been tactful enough to make sure you can’t photograph the word ‘Dachau’ with the golden arches behind them, nevertheless it wasn’t quite the sombre arrival I expected.

From the station it’s fifteen minutes by bus to the camp itself. The entrance to the museum is tasteful and discreet – which is more than can be said about the groups of German school kids waiting to go inside. Again, to my utter surprise, they were laughing and joking; it could have been any ordinary school-trip. (In fairness I should add such behaviour wasn’t just the preserve of Germans: I also saw an American tourist posing for a thumbs-up photograph by the ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign).

What should we make of this? Talking to other people who’ve visited the camp, mine is clearly not a unique experience. Perhaps it’s the laughter of nerves. Or a lack of empathy. Maybe just indifference. I know historians have written about this, calling it a process of ‘normalisation’: how events of the Third Reich have no more resonance to Generation Z than, say, the reign of Caligula. Perhaps as someone who has written an entertainment about the period, I’m in no position to criticise.

Enough of other people. How did I find the experience?

It was all relentlessly grim. An assault on the psyche. Not just in the broadest sense of man’s inhumanity to man but in the details of the daily degradations inmates were subjected to. It was that I felt the most: one’s privacy and dignity constantly assailed. And assailed by a group of inadequate, sadistic bullies. Touring the camp there was no respite. Even the memorials (including the extraordinary sculpture on the parade ground; detail pictured) had a harrowing quality to them.

I stayed for five hours and couldn’t face all of it; I gave the punishment block and crematorium a miss. And on my way back to Munich (and the security of a comfortable hotel and decent dinner) I kept thinking of a line by the Indian poet Tagore. Nothing sums up my visit better:

When I go home, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unimaginable’.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


And here it is, the book the Telegraph is calling, ‘Fatherland for an action movie age’ and The Times, ‘An horrific reimagining of the Dark Continent’:


This is the name of Arnim’s operation to invade Angola in my book. Although plans for a Nazi occupation of Angola were discussed as early as 1937, no official operation name was ever designated to it (unlike Operations Banana and Sisal the proposed conquest of, respectively, West and Central Africa).

Despite having to make up a name for the operation, I wanted it to have some historical resonance. In 1974, there was a coup d’etat in Portugal that eventually led to Angola’s independence (and later civil war). This was known as the ‘Carnation Revolution’ because no shots were fired; instead flowers were put in the barrels of rifles. I liked the irony of that in relation to my alternative history, hence ‘Nelke’ – the German for carnation.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


One of the concepts for Afrika Reich was to make it an action thriller. Obviously this requires action! Lots of it. Beyond individual chases and fights, however, I wanted to put in a couple of big set-pieces, sequences that would last several chapters. The first of these, where the Burton and Neliah strands connect, is the TUNNEL scene.

I wrote in a previous blog how writing is as much to do with logical deduction as it is with inspiration – so it was with the tunnel. I didn’t start with the tunnel battle and work the plot around it, rather the other way round. Early on in the planning of the book I introduced the concept of the PAA (Pan African Autobahn). However, I wanted it to be more than just a background idea; I wanted it to be integral to the story.

Initially I planned to have a battle set on the tarmac itself but soon realised I needed something more claustrophobic, something from which the characters couldn’t easily escape. And this is where the logical deduction bit comes in. The most obvious way to combine roads, battles and claustrophobia was with a tunnel.

As for the TRAIN sequence, well, this proves the maxim that nothing is ever wasted for a writer.

Back in my teens I wrote a screenplay called Fortress Europe. This was set in the last winter of World War 2 and was about a heist of Nazi gold. The climax of the film was a big action set-piece on a bullion-loaded train hurtling through a frozen landscape (itself inspired by the Monet picture above). Obviously nothing came of the screenplay but the idea stuck with me... even if by the time I used it again snow and ice had been replaced with the heat of Angola. The helicopter gunships were a later addition inspired by Apocalypse Now (again!).

T is also for TRILOGY

Trilogy – the unmentionable word. From the outset Afrika Reich was conceived as a three part story with a definite beginning (Book 1), middle and end.

I’m often asked how much of it I’ve already planned. I’d be exaggerating if I said I had every nuance of the three books sorted, nevertheless I know all the key moments and the general arc of the story. The final chapters of the final book have been worked out in detail...

But there’s a twist.

For commercial reasons my publisher only committed to the first two parts (i.e. they want to see how successful they are), so I need to keep selling in decent quantities if I’m to finish Burton’s and Hochburg’s story. Which is why I’m always grateful when readers recommend their friends to buy a copy!

Monday, 29 August 2011


If you’re reading this blog there’s a high chance you’re interested in alternative history. If you’re interested in alternative history then there’s an even higher chance you’re read Robert Harris’s Fatherland. In my opinion it’s the apogee of the genre and a damn fine thriller to boot.

(As a quick aside, I should say a word about alternative history. The ‘definitive’ novel of the genre is The Man in the High Castle and it’s noteworthy that this is a work of science fiction. Purists would argue that Fatherland isn’t really alternative history, only its milieu is. I tend to agree – which is why I see Afrika Reich as foremost a thriller, not alternative history.)

One of the reasons Fatherland is such a satisfying read is because of the main character: XAVIER MARCH, an investigator with Berlin’s criminal police (and a God send for author’s writing A-Zs and wondering what they’ll do with those tricky last letters of the alphabet). It was a lesson for me. If Afrika Reich was going to succeed beyond the setting and plot, the characters would have to be people readers cared for.

That said, there’s no Xavier March equivalent in my book. March is a more morally straightforward character than Burton. Although a member of the SS, he’s motivated by a desire to know the truth about the world he lives in, and uncovering corruption and murder at the heart of the Reich. In many ways he’s a crusader. Burton’s motives are entirely personal; he’s indifferent to the Nazis’ plans for Africa apart from when they intersect his individual needs. As I once said to my editor: ‘the bad guys are bad, but the good guys aren’t necessarily good’. I’ll come back to this subject in ‘E is for...’.

Returning to Fatherland, in essence it’s a crime thriller, you could even go so far as to say a whodunit. Harris’s book followed in the tradition of Len Deighton’s SS-GB which is an espionage thriller. It occurred to me that the victorious Third Reich element of these books (although intrinsic to the plot) is a backdrop to variations on thriller. Since the crime and spy sub-genre had already been done, I wanted to do something fresh with Afrika Reich – hence the reason I chose to make it an action/adventure thriller, more of which next time...

PS – just in case you’re wondering why I’ve included a picture of Rutger Hauer here dressed in black, he played Xavier March in the HBO adaptation of the novel.

Monday, 22 August 2011


Names are very important to me. I can’t write a character until I have his or her name. With BURTON I wanted something monosyllabic and hard sounding, hence COLE. It was also important that I find some connection with Africa. I immediately thought of the great African explorers – Livingstone, Stanley – but considered their names too obvious. Luckily, years before I had read the biography of a more obscure figure: Sir Richard Burton, amongst other things: a linguist, spy and discoverer of the source of the Nile.

One of the questions I get asked most often is whether Burton is based on me. Of course it’s impossible to distance yourself entirely from your creations but in essence there is no connection between us. He’s certainly not an autobiographical character. So where did he come from?

Good question. And I’m not entirely sure of the answer. Apart from the name, he’s very different in temperament and background to the character in the original, unpublishable Africa Reich. The person he is now simply emerged as I was planning and researching the new version. As a hero he’s also an amalgamation of my influences, so there’s a sprinkling of the heroes from Greek mythology, Japanese chanbara tales, the spaghetti western, John Buchan, Graham Greene and maybe a certain Dr Jones. This is not an exhaustive list.

As for everything else, writing is a combination of inspiration and logic. So although the idea of him liking mango juice, for instance, came on a whim, other things – such as the character being a mercenary – were the consequence of logical deduction. I didn’t want Burton to be a German soldier and if he was identifiably a British officer this would cause problems for the plot, so this presented me with an obvious choice... which in turn made me think where he was trained. I wanted him to be part of an elite fighting force, and again I wanted an African connection, but all of this had to be in the context of him being an outsider. It wasn’t long after this that I reached for a copy of Beau Geste (a famous novel about the French Foreign Legion). That he is a Major is a little reference/in-joke – which you may or may not get.

The quality I admire most about Burton is his single-mindedness. He’s not interested in the trivia that seems to overwhelm our lives. I certainly can’t imagine him indulging in small talk at a party (here there is definitely an autobiographical element!). All he wants to do is survive. Survive, get back to Madeleine and be a quince farmer. I can understand that...

B is also for BK44

In preparation for the conquest of Africa, the Nazis began to develop an assault rifle that could function in the humidity of the tropics. However, as the war turned against them, and it was clear they weren’t heading towards the equator, the designs for this rifle morphed into the StG44 (pictured). Later these were appropriated by one Comrade Kalashnikov. My fictitiously named weapon – die Bananen Kanone – draws on all these elements. The ‘B’ refers to the banana shaped magazine; the K is a nod to the AK47; and the 44 refers not only to the StG but also the year Congo is invaded in my alternative history.


If Burton seemed to emerge from the ether, then WALTER E HOCHBURG was based on Kurtz from Heart of Darkness – at least to begin with. I wanted a character who was a mixture of the messianic and murderous, a man with an obsession to ‘civilise’ Africa. Unlike Conrad’s character, however, and because of the genre I was writing in, he is much more clearly flagged as the villain.

That said, I wanted to create a carnivalesque villain, one who combined the elements of mass murderer with all the best jokes. I also wanted to portray his backstory as sympathetically as possible. Some readers have commented on their moral queasiness about this – but that’s exactly the effect I was aiming for.

Physically, my initial instinct was to play against type with Hochburg and make him a slight man (I always had in mind the British stage actor Michael Pennington). I was intrigued by the idea of so much energy, power and violence emanating from such an inconsequential figure. However, when I wrote the book and pictured Hochburg in my mind, he was always a bigger, broad-shouldered character; the type of person who fills a room with his physical presence. I resisted this depiction of him for ages, till finally – in the fourth draft of the book – I relented and changed his description to what we have now.

His baldness comes from Brandon’s Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, another source for the character. This is also where he gets his first name (never mentioned by Conrad) and initial. The latter was an in-joke between John Milius and George Lucas (the writers of Apocalypse) and was a reference to Walt E. Disney. I like this type of layering of references; in fact my book is packed with them which I’m sure discerning readers are picking up on.

As for the name Hochburg... well, I don’t want to give away all my secrets! But if you look up ‘Hoch’ and ‘Burg’ in a German dictionary I’m sure you’ll get the allusion. (NB – please don’t post the answer in the comments section.)

Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Before I start, a quick apology for not replying to people’s comments until today. For some reason Blogger kept locking me out of the system – hence my silence. I think I’ve sorted it so hopefully will be able to respond from now on. Anyway… M.

When I say I had to start from scratch, I mean it. The only elements I kept from the original version were the title (see also ‘K is for...’), setting and two character names: Burton Cole and Walter Hochburg, more of whom shortly.

I began by jettisoning the idea of Burton as a journalist looking for a scoop. It worked in the original version of the book but was insufficiently dramatic for a thriller. An obvious alternative suggested itself. Instead of going to interview Hochburg, Burton should plan to assassinate him. This in turn lent itself to a ‘MEN ON A MISSION’ (MoM) plot, something in the vein of The Wild Geese or Where Eagles Dare, two of my favourite MoM books/films.

MoM plots have an established structure. The hero is offered a mission (usually by an enigmatic figure); he recruits his team (a combination of old friends and new blood who squabble incessantly); they train, then are dropped behind enemy lines. At this point something goes terribly wrong (often involving a double-cross). The team now have to ‘overcome and adapt’, some are killed, before finally – impossibly – they pull off the mission. Then it’s back home for tea and medals.

This is how the new version of TAR originally began... then I had a flash of inspiration.

Instead of following the old clichés, wouldn’t it be more interesting to subvert the genre? Rather than ending with ‘mission accomplished’, what about beginning the book that way? MoM stories rarely show you how the heroes get home (think of that last scene in Where Eagles Dare when Smith and Schaffer just doze off in the plane). What if the journey home took up the majority of the narrative? What if all the twists and betrayals and action followed the assassination of Hochburg – rather than leading up to it?

It was a moment of inspiration and the start of more than two and a half years of work.

M is also for MADELEINE

In the past couple of years I’ve noticed a lot of Madeleines appearing in fiction. I wonder if this is to do with the publicity surrounding Madeleine McCann. My Maddie was christened many years before and drew her name from Madeleine Albright (former US Secretary of State) – although she didn’t look like her! I often get asked who I’d cast in a film version of TAR. The honest answer is I don’t really think about it... apart from Maddie who I always saw being played by a Romanian actress called Alexandra Maria Lara. Indeed I used to keep this photo of her on my desk and every time Burton flagged in his journey home I’d look at it and urge him on.

Monday, 1 August 2011


After the 2002 version of Africa Reich was rejected I wrote another two novels (one on Barbary pirates, the other a dark love story about forgery) neither of which found any success. Every time I looked around for a new project, however, I kept coming back to TAR. Should I rewrite it as a thriller? Surely the idea was full of potential? In the end, the impetus to start again came from a totally unexpected event.

YOUWRITEON.COM (YWO) was set up in 2006. Funded by the Arts Council, it was the first of the peer-review sites for writers. The idea was (indeed still is) that you upload the first 10 000 words of your novel for others to review and score. The top five rated chapters of each month then receive a critique from an industry professional as well as being selected for the ‘Book of the Year’ award.

I joined YWO a few months after it started. I didn’t have a WIP at the time (sorry about all these acronyms!) so thought I’d upload TAR just to get a sense of the site and see what others thought. To my surprise it made the top five books of the month and then, to my even greater surprise, won ‘Book of the Year’. Some publicity followed, including a piece on the BBC for which I garnered additional notoriety due to a penchant for sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats and jungle backgrounds (see photo).

Then something strange happened: a rare occurrence in the world of publishing. An editor at Orion came to me. She read the book and although her response was the same as those who had rejected it in 2002, she thought the idea was strong and that I should re-write the book as a straight thriller: i.e exactly what had been in the back of my mind for the past four years. I talked it over with my agent but with the interest of a major publisher it seemed a no brainer.

My original idea was to turn it around quickly: take the existing manuscript, cut out the literary elements, beef up the thriller bits and have it read for submission in a couple of months. I soon hit a snag, however, what I came to describe as the apricot-and-peach-lattice-pie conundrum.

Imagine you serve a beautiful apricot and peach lattice pie to someone only to be told they don’t like apricots. You head back to the kitchen, thinking it will be no problem to remove the apricot pieces and then you can get on with dessert. The problem is that to get at the apricot you have to break through the lattice pastry – and by time you’re finished all you’ve got is a mess. So it was with the book. I couldn’t remove the literary elements without damaging the rest. I struggled for a month before realising it was hopeless. Then I took a brave decision. I decided to start again. From scratch...

PS – when I said A-Z, I hope you didn’t think I meant in order.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Books, like wars, rarely have simple origins; rather they are a confluence of events. So it was with The Afrika Reich (TAR). Although the book was published in February 2011, the first stirrings I had for a story set in Nazi-occupied Africa go back to the 1990s. I began with a title.

I remember a day shopping in London. I was browsing in Dillons (a defunct book store) and came across a new edition of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Half an hour later I was in Dorothy Perkins in Oxford Street - though can I add not shopping for myself! Inside the store there was a huge TV screen with the BBC news playing. Some story from Africa came on and the newscaster said (I recall this vividly), ‘Now over to our Africa correspondent, Tim Hewitt’.

Africa correspondent. The Third Reich... Somehow the two fused in my mind – and I had ‘The Africa Reich’! I thought it would make a good title and so duly scribbled it down in my note book (I don’t go anywhere without one).

Jump forward a couple of years and I was on the beach in Rio de Janeiro (where I used to live) reading Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. On page 17 of my Penguin edition there is a fleeting reference to Africa: ‘He thought of Africa, and the Nazi experiment there. And his blood stopped in his veins...’ What could ellicit such a response? The thought intrigued me and I remembered my Dorothy Perkins moment.

Gradually an idea for a novel took root and somehow grafted itself on to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, one of my favourite books. I imagined a character journeying up river though Nazi Congo to find a Kurtz-like character waging a war of genocide against the native population. As I began sketching out a plot it was a simple progression from Heart of Darkness to APOCALYPSE NOW (which I’m sure you’ll know is loosely based on Conrad’s tale). At that point the engine of my imagination began to rev up.

Inspired by Coppola’s masterpiece I created a hellish and hallucinogenic version of Nazi Africa, interspersed with journal entries from a world-weary war correspondent called Burton Cole. He was going up river to find the scoop of the century: an interview with the enigmatic Walter Hochburg, architect of the Africa Reich. After more than a year’s writing I submitted it to my agent who said it was brilliant: a fusion of the literary and thriller, philosophical musings and big action sequences.

It was also utterly unsellable.

And so the manuscript joined that pile of other rejected books I have stored away in my office. It was the end of 2002, but although I didn’t know it at the time, not the end of The Afrika Reich.

A is also for ARNIM
Field Marshal Hans-Jürgen von ARNIM was appointed head of the Afrika Korps in March 1943. One of the things I wanted to do with the book was mix fact and fiction and to that end several real people appear in the narrative. I like the sense of verisimilitude this brings, though as you’ll see when we get to ‘H is for...’ I didn’t want to introduce any major historical figures.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Sword of Damocles

When I was younger one of my favourite stories was 'The Sword of Damocles'. It’s often used as a political allegory but my interpretation is broader: that all our lives hang by a thread. That we can move from happiness to sorrow in an instant.

I always thought that I’d remember 2011 as the year I finally got published. However, three weeks after THE AFRIKA REICH came out events took a different turn.

On 9th March my step-father, Peter, died unexpectedly; he was 55 years old. What makes this all the more tragic is that he was such a fit and vibrant man. If ever there were a story that illustrates how precarious our lives are this is it.

To be honest, it still seems impossible. Incredible. After the initial shock I got back to working on the follow-up to AFRIKA REICH; I even went away to a remote farmhouse in Slovenia to get some clear headspace and write in peace. However, many of the peripheral activities to do with my book have suffered. Including this blog.

So for now this is meant as a holding post to let you know I haven’t abandoned it and still have lots of things I want to share about ‘Guy Saville, writer’. More regular posts to resume asap.

Friday, 18 February 2011


Yesterday was the book launch of THE AFRIKA REICH at Waterstones in Piccadilly. It was a tremendous event and naturally I felt obliged to say a few words of thanks to everyone who has supported me over the years. Towards the end of my speech I also mentioned some exciting but secret news. Now I can reveal all.

Getting published was always my ambition, but once I had my deal with Hodder I indulged myself in a few fantasies for the book.

There were five things I dreamed of:

  1. To sell the foreign rights (already achieved: to Spain and Norway)
  2. To sell the foreign rights to a country that doesn’t use the Roman alphabet
  3. To sell the film rights
  4. To get a review from a literary hero
  5. A review in the Economist
Why the Economist? Because I think it has the best books section of any paper in the world. It is compulsory reading for me every week (as it has been for the last decade). So you can imagine my delight when I heard that the Economist was going to run a review.

But it was more than just that… which brings me to my exciting news, what I described on Facebook as ‘the most amazing telephone conversation of my life’.

On Monday afternoon the Literary Editor of the Economist phoned me up at home and told me she had raced through my book in less than 24 hours and thought it ‘the best thriller she’d read in years’. I was left utterly speechless.

What’s most gratifying is to see someone really connecting with what I was trying to do with the book. I wanted to write a novel that thrilled – but also one that was morally complex and had a serious intent.

Please do click 'recommend'; and if you twitter, pass word on - and tweet!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

4948 days

When did I become a writer? To be honest it’s all I ever wanted from life. By the age or four or five I was already telling people that’s what I would do when I grew up. Of course such statements have to be taken within the context of youthful exuberance…so I suppose the official date is 1 July 1997.

That’s when I gave up any semblance of a proper career and decided to pursue the goal of getting published (and be damned!). At the time my plan was to have a book in the shops within a couple of years. Unfortunately it took a bit longer than that.

Actually, a lot longer.

Thirteen and a half years and six unpublished books. Piles of rejection slips and the occasional pangs of wanting to give up. Today, however, all that time as a struggling writer has been vindicated. Today my novel, THE AFRIKA REICH, is published.

It’s the end of a 4948 day journey, and I hope the beginning of a new and even more exciting one…

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Seventy years ago today...

12th February 2011: an appropriate date to begin this blog.

Seventy years ago today the Afrika Korps was formed under the personal order of Hitler himself. It would become one of the most formidable fighting forces in history, driving the British across the deserts of northern Africa until finally being beaten at the Battle of El Alamein.

But what if it had not been defeated? What if the Afrika Korps had emerged triumphant from the Sahara then turned south towards the equator?

What if the Nazis had conquered Africa?

That is the premise of my thriller THE AFRIKA REICH which is published on 17th February by Hodder & Stoughton.

This blog will start properly in the next few weeks. My plan is to write something that provides extra material for those who have read the book while hopefully intriguing those who haven’t.

Watch this space…