Thursday, 19 April 2012


If there’s one image that everyone remembers from the book it must surely be Hochburg’s Schädelplatz. His square of skulls. Where did it come from?

Alas, I can’t remember. There was certainly no eureka moment when it entered my head fully formed. Nor was the idea gifted to me by a nightmare. Even looking back on early drafts of the plot doesn’t help as it was always there. This is one moment of inspiration that’s lost forever.

That said, it’s not without antecedent. There is Kurtz’s use of skulls to decorate his compound in Heart of Darkness (proof that ‘something is wanting in him’ as Conrad observes with typical understatement). Or the Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic: a chapel built from bones. And I’ve always been haunted by the killing fields of Cambodia where the skulls were piled higher than a man. Doubtless all these fed my imagination.
The Schädelplatz is Hochburg’s vision for Africa and skulls as a symbol is something that’s repeated throughout the book – an unintended fillip of the writing process. Beyond imagery, the Schädelplatz  also had another important function in the book, one that readers might have overlooked. I’ll come back to that in ‘F is for...’; meantime it leads me to...

S is also for SERGIO LEONE

Like all novels The Afrika Reich is an amalgamation of interests and influences. However, if I was asked to identify the most important, not only to the book but all my creative thinking, it would be the Italian film director Sergio Leone.

I could go on for pages explaining the whys and wherefores, but instead I’ll let him speak for himself. Hopefully the following quote will explain a lot. It may also go some way in illuminating the previous entry’s preoccupation with intent!

‘I love the authentic when it is filtered through imagination, myth, mystery and poetry. But it is essential the details seem right. Never invented. I think a fairy-tale captures the imagination when the story is a fairy-tale but the setting is realistic. This fusion of reality and fantasy [my italics] take us into myth, into legend.’


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. PS - sorry it's been almost a month between blogs. Will try to start posting more regularly. My excuse is being so busy on Book 2!

    PPS - typo in last comment, so re-posting hopefully typo free ;O)

  3. I'll think I'll have to re-read AR to find this F connection!

    Take care

  4. Hello again Guy

    The description I most liked of your book at E.B.F. was when you said you imagined “Alistair Mclean writing a what-if that was adapted for the screen by Sergio Leone”. I can see what you mean.

    Further to all the chat about intent, I’m finding this blog a fascinating read. Knowing what the author intended has made me consider the book in ways I never would have if not guided in the right direction. Personally, it has enhanced the experience.

    I wonder what everyone else will make of this?

    Best regards, Ron

  5. Kitty – or you could just wait till I post ‘F is for…’ ;o) x

    Ron – glad you’re enjoying the blog and that these glimpses of intent are illuminating. I suppose I should quickly qualify that by saying you can still enjoy the book without being aware of them… or read the book as you want and ignore my intent altogether!

  6. Schadelplatz - I always assumed it was also a reference to Golgotha, the place of skulls, where Christ was crucified. F is for... Fire? Hochburg does like a good conflagration.

    Sergio Leone - quote spot on, couldn't agree more. Do you have a favourite film?

    If we're allowed to carry on playing hunt the reference, is there a soupcon of Edge of Darkness (as opposed to Heart of Darkness) in the mix somewhere? It's certainly a wonderful example of what Leone is talking about.

  7. Catherine – the problem with writing these blogs is that I overlook half the stuff I mean to say. So, yes, I could have added Golgotha as one of my intended references. However, there wasn’t a nod to EDGE OF DARKNESS… because I haven’t seen it (though it’s just been added to my Lovefilm list!).

    My favourite Leone? Depends what I’m in the mood for. If I’m feeling raucous and picaresque (it happens) then definitely THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY. If more solemn, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. You?

  8. Guy - Edge of Darkness is one of my favourite TV series - if you ever watch it, I would be interested to know if you can see why I thought it might have been an influence (that sentence sounds like it's been translated from Latin, but never mind!).

    I'm ashamed to say that I'm not very up on spaghetti westerns, but I'll add your suggestions to my own LoveFilm list!

  9. Stunning, horrific image of Africa! That would have made a better front cover.

    1. Anon - yes, it's a striking/startling image and would have looked good on the front cover... though I'm still partial to the one I got :o)