This is the official blog of THE AFRIKA REICH trilogy. Here you’ll find the A to Z of THE AFRIKA REICH (written between 2011-13) and the A to Z of THE MADAGASKAR PLAN (2015-17). There are also a few words about BOOK 3. I always like hearing from readers, so feel free to leave a comment and if you want to know anything about the characters or world I've created, just ask.
The original title for the
sequel to Afrika Reich was THE VANILLA JEWS. However, my editor
didn’t think it sounded commercial enough, so I changed it. For the past couple
of years this blog has been about the original book, now it’s time to start
looking forward (spoiler free... ish) to the next one.
So what to tell you? When I
first started on Book 2, I meant it as a direct follow-up; as the years have
passed, however, it has subtly shifted. I now see it as a ‘parallel sequel’ –
although it continues events of the first book, and develops the existing story
and characters, certain aspects of the original have been dropped. It is
significantly more ambitious with an interweaving, multi-stranded narrative and
more emphasis on the characters than action (though there’s still a healthy
dose of the latter).
The one thing it is not is a rehash of the first book.
There’s a lot of pressure in publishing to create a series and/or repeat an
initial success – but I have scant interest in this. What engages me is the
possibility of doing something different, something unexpected. As I was
recently advised by a wily American film producer: ‘never go for the sure
thing’. It could be a maxim for Book 2.
A propaganda poster from the 1930s
At the centre of the story
is the Nazis’ plan to deport the Jews of Europe to Madagascar, an island off
the east coast of Africa. Prior to the Holocaust this was to be their fate.
Some historians argue that Madagascar was nothing more than a fantasy or
smokescreen to cover up the real killing. However, my research shows detailed
preparations were made by the Nazis and that the subject was discussed and
approved at the highest level. When Hitler was shown the plan in the summer of
1940 he responded that it was ‘very good’.
Perhaps more disturbingly, as early
as 1938 the British were also in discussions to exile the Jews to Africa. We
can never know the truth path of a speculative history but the thought of a
Jewish Madagascar is not improbable. As an aside, Madagascar is the world’s
largest producer of vanilla – hence the original title; vanilla remains of
leitmotif throughout the text.
The odious Globus
With this as the background,
other elements in the new book include a deepening of Burton’s back story; the
fallout of Hochburg’s invasion of Northern Rhodesia; visiting new realms of
German Africa such as the ‘pleasure city’ of Roscherhafen (again based on real
plans); glimpsing WBU, the Nazis’ military zone in Siberia; as well as a slew
of projected Nazi hardware and several new characters. Among these is Odilo ‘Globus’ Globocnik, a real historical character and the villain of Fatherland – though my depiction of him is very different (and dare
I say, more accurate) than Robert Harris’s. Did you know, for instance, that
Globocnik was a master horseman, drunkard and singer of Austrian folksongs?
Without wanting to be a
hostage to the future the new book will be published in time for Christmas 2014.
And the title? When my editor said The
Vanilla Jews didn’t work I had an instant alternative (no pun intended). It
has already been registered and ISBNed. You heard it here first:
When I first began this A-Z
of Afrika Reich I meant to publish an
entry a week with the last, ‘V is for...’, going live as the UK paperback was
published. As with the writing of Book 2, this schedule now seems rather
optimistic. But as the A-Z draws to an end I thought it was a good opportunity
to reflect on it.
In the two and a half years
I’ve been writing this blog, more than 32 500 people have visited it; I hope
some of them have read it and been intrigued and entertained by the contents.
It has certainly been a revealing process for myself. I’ve learnt as much about
the book dissecting it here as I did while writing, perhaps more. At the same
time, trying to get a handle on it has been like sculpting steam: for every
assertion I make, I’m immediately aware of several contradictions. I like to
think, however, that I’ve shown that Afrika
Reich is more than just Fatherland
or SS-GB in the tropics.
The comparison with those
books has been both a boon and a curse. The great advantage was that it created
an association with existing bestsellers. Against that, I never saw Afrika Reich as being of the same ilk. A
naturalism has crept into novels imagining a victorious Nazi Germany, something
borne through SS-GB and Fatherland and continuing to this day
with the recent Dominion. I wanted to
move away from that, though the demands of marketing departments meant I often
had to play to the gallery and define myself in terms of Deighton, Harris et al
(not that they’re bad company to keep!).
Why the naturalism? It may
partly reflect a general movement in fiction. I think it also comes from a
sense that if an author captures certain details then he is accurately
portraying what the world would have been like if Hitler had won. I remain
unconvinced. The whole point of an alternative history is that we can never
know what it would have been like. A more fantastical approach served earlier
examples of the genre well, such as Swastika
Night, The City on the Edge of
Forever (for all the Star Trek
fans I know who read this blog) and The
Man in the High Castle. By tendency, I’m more comfortable in this camp.
This blog has allowed me to
convey a sense of that and speak my mind more openly than the marketeers
probably want me to. If you’ve read this far you’re in a better place to
understand my intentions (yes, that word again); it’s something I plan to
continue more explicitly in Book 2 – the subject of my next entry and the last
in the series. While I leave you to speculate what the V can stand for, here’s
the addendum in advance...
V is also for Violence
Along with the literal
brigade (see ‘L is also for...’) the reaction that most surprised me about the
book was how violent people found it. Obviously given its setting and subject
it was never going to be a fluffy, rose-perfumed narrative, despite that I
never felt the violence was as bad as some people protested. I’ve had grown men
tell me they had to stop reading because they found it excessive. What this
says about me I don’t know – though others have speculated (see here, for
All I can say is: 1) I
didn’t want to shy away from the violence that was the reality of the Third
Reich and continues to this day in central Africa; nevertheless I always
perceived mine as a stylised, almost comic violence, not to be taken entirely
seriously 2) before submitting the book for publication I made a conscious
decision to tone things down. If you think the version that ended up in the
shops is bad, you should see the earlier drafts!
Not every novel is recorded
as an audio book, so I was thrilled when I learnt the audio rights to Afrika Reich had been sold. A year later
that excitement turned to curiosity and trepidation when the finished package
arrived. What if I didn’t like the reader? What if his interpretation of the
book was at odds with mine? Thirteen CDs and over sixteen hours later any
concerns I might have had were assuaged.
Richard Burnip’s reading of The Afrika Reich is brilliant.
Thoughtful and textured, it captures a tone that is by turns brutal, wry and
moving. His pacing is impeccable. Perhaps most exciting of all are the dramatic
array of voices he uses. During my first listen through I keenly anticipated
the arrival of each character to hear what new accent he had chosen. If you
enjoyed the novel, I recommend you listen to a copy [it’s published by Oakhill
and should be available at your library].
In the meantime, here’s
brief interview I did with Richard about the recording of the book:
GS: How did you first become involved with the audio
version of The Afrika Reich?
Kean, the producer, brought me in as I’ve read other audio books set in world
war two. I’ve also spent time in Germany so was familiar with the
GS:How much preparation did you do?
treated the book the same way I would do a script. I read it from beginning to
end before going back over it more thoroughly marking up the characters and any
details that helped me understand them. Next I noted anything in the text that
puzzled me or I felt needed stressing. Some things that work on the printed
page don’t translate when you’re reading aloud – the repetition of ‘Peace for
Empire’ is an example, or flashbacks – so you need to nudge them up when you
read to make sure the listener is aware of them. I also had to research the
pronunciation of the African and Portuguese words.
GS:How long did it take to do the recording?
We recorded it in November
2011. It took four days, recording about four and half hours of finished
material each day. I read it straight through, as if it were a live
performance, stopping only if I made a mistake or if there was a noisy page
GS:You use an extraordinary array of different
voices for the characters; I particularly liked Hochburg and Patrick. How did
you go about choosing them?
RB: As part
of my preparation I drew up a table of all the characters and scoured the text
for clues as to how they might talk, seizing on any description of accents.
With your book I was grateful to have so many different voices. The main team
alone has a British accent, American, Welsh, Rhodesian and Polish, so it was
easy to make each member sound distinctive. I like to be bold with accents.
With Patrick the line, ‘his voice was Boston-Irish churned with two decades of
French Sahara’ gave me everything I needed. I listened to recordings of Massachusetts accents
and that gave me the basis to which I added a rough, gravelly quality to
capture the dryness of the desert.
The Hochburg influence: Christopher Lee in Ill met by Moonlight
GS:To my ear Hochburg sounds like a young
Christopher Lee, was that intentional?
heard correctly, though I didn’t want to do a direct impression: he was more of
an influence. While I was preparing for the book I saw the film Ill Met by Moonlight . There’s a
scene near the beginning where Christopher Lee plays a German officer and it
put his voice in my head. Hochburg is such a weighty character, not a brute or
a stereotypical villain, and I felt that matched the powerful intellect of
Christopher Lee’s performances. They both take their time to talk, are always
so in control.
GS:Did you have a particular listener in mind
when you were recording?
RB: My main
aim, and I suspect this is true of most actors recording a book, is to serve
the writer’s intentions, so you’re recording for the author. Clarity is the
most important element. Beyond that, it’s important not to superimpose anything
that’s not in the text. The book should tell you everything you need to know.
Richard Burnip has appeared with many theatres companies in Britain, Germany and the Middle East. His audio work ranges from computer games and synthetic
speech to recordings for historic sites in Old and Middle English. He has provided voices for characters as diverse
as Napoleon and Gustav Mahler, and has narrated many documentaries. He
has recorded more than 80 audio books covering many genres from children’s
stories and detective fiction to major political texts.
My original title for the
book was The Afrika Reich with a K.
However, when I came to submit it to publishers, and experience teaching me
they are a conservative bunch, I decided to change to the anglicised spelling –
Africa Reich – for fear of putting
them off at the very first page.
I’ve written elsewhere about
the travails of finding a publisher for the book. You can read a fuller account here (complete with dodgy photo!), but to summarise: My agent submitted the book on a wave of enthusiasm;
he felt sure we would find a publisher quickly. However, no sooner had it been
submitted than the rejections started coming in. The general gist was that
although editors liked the book, they didn’t think it would have much
commercial appeal. The marketing departments scratched their heads at how they
would sell it. The fact that Fatherland
had sold several million copies failed to persuade them.
In total fifteen publishers
rejected Afrika Reich, leaving me
waiting on the last two. I could see no reason why their response would be
different, so I resigned myself to the fact that the book would not get
Then, within forty-eight
hours, those final two publishers said yes and the book went to auction! Hodder
& Stoughton eventually won and after the contracts had been signed, one of
the first things my editor asked was whether we could change the title. I
assumed he’d opt for something like SS-Africa,
but actually all he wanted was a minor tweak. Would I consider changing the C
to a K?
I knew I had found the right
K is also for Kepplar
Several readers have pointed
out that in Chapter 37, when Hochburg’s helicopter takes off, there’s no sign
of Kepplar’s pyre or body. They wonder if it’s a mistake. Some people have
framed it with a question: is Kepplar actually dead? That’s perceptive, though
you’ll have to wait till Book 2 to find out...
By coincidence, in the past
week two readers* have emailed me questioning whether Britain’s defeat at
Dunkirk really is the DIVERGENCE POINT of the book. (As a quick reminder the
divergence point in a work of alternative history is the moment where events
take a different path to our own version of reality.) Those two emails were
actually very astute, and follow on from similar messages I’ve had over the
years. So although I planned not to reveal this until a later date (if ever),
today I’ve decided to confess all.
Robert Frost would approve...
Dunkirk is not the true divergence point of the
book. It is a symptom of an earlier cause. It is the place where geopolitical
history changes but the real shift – a minuscule fissure in the past – predates
it. If, thus far, I have promoted a slight falsehood it is because I have been
playing to an audience; fulfilling the marketing needs of the book (though in
my defence all the clues as to what’s really going on are in the text). As
regular readers of this blog will know by now, nothing is ever quite what it
appears with Afrika Reich!
So what is the true
I’m not going to tell
you for two reasons: 1) better you work it out yourself 2) rather unfairly,
it’s more fully explored in Book 2. However, I believe world events are not
decided at the macro level but micro. History is determined not when Caesar
crosses the Rubicon – but earlier, in the accretion of childhood experiences
that motivate the crossing in the first place.
Whilst you’re puzzling all
this out (or heading back to Facebook, which is probably more entertaining
anyway) I’ll leave you with a clue:
*One in Iowa, America; one
in Venezuela – hello/hola if you’re reading!
I’ve written about intent
before. As this A-Z enters its twilight I thought I’d address the subject
again. Those who prefer to think of Afrika
Reich as a ‘straight’ thriller might want to look away now...
Prior to Afrika Reich, I wrote four unpublished
novels on subjects as diverse as Barbary
pirates and literary forgery. The one common thread was the mode of writing:
FANTASTIC REALISM, something I continued in my tale of Nazi Africa.
So what is fantastic
realism? It’s a rather amorphous term and unlike its better known cousin –
magic realism – evades definition. Personally, I feel it employs realistic
conventions but mixes them with elements of the fantastic, grotesque, comic and
horrific. Perhaps it’s easier to explain with an example and so once again I
reach for Sergio Leone, a great practitioner of fantastic realism. Here’s an
image from his film, Giù la Testa:
It shows Sean, an IRA
terrorist, having dinner with Juan, a bandit (off screen), in the Mexican
desert. This combination of unexpected characters meeting in a realistic
setting is already taking us into the realms of fantastic realism but the
clincher is the details. They are sitting down to eat in the wilderness but are
dining off porcelain plates with all the finery (the wingback chairs, the
decanters of vinegar and oil) of a lord’s banqueting hall. I particularly like
the crêpe suzette pan. It is a combination of unlikely elements – though
crucially there is nothing
supernatural about the scene.
My book begins its fusion of
reality with the fantastical on page one with opening epigraphs that combine
the real (Hitler’s quote) and the imagined/fantastic (Hochburg’s). Elsewhere we
see two arch enemies overlooking a square paved with human skulls discussing
Himmler’s constitution. Or Patrick tortured within a cement factory where the
main production material is not mineral-based but a trough of human bodies.
Sometimes it’s simply in the small details – the SS guards with their pink
ladies parasols (a direct reference to Leone). Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.
Alternative history has
always struck me as something of a fantastic genre – it posits an unknowable
reality – so I felt it was an ideal match for fantastic realism. However, due
to the success of books like Fatherland,
and more recently Dominion, a
naturalism seems to be creeping into the genre: the idea that a writer can
accurately describe a speculative world that never existed. It certainly seems
the mindset some people have tried to read my book in – no wonder they’ve been
confused! But that is to miss the point. It’s not my book wasn’t thoroughly
researched or employs real, historical details – it’s that I’m not a slave to
verisimilitude. Indeed the notion of verisimilitude in alternative history
must, by definition, be a contradiction.
What interests me most, what
excites me enough to want to spend several years writing a book, is the point
where reality and the fantastic meet – and the friction the two generate. That
is what Afrika Reich is about:
something a little more subversive than reality.
Three years ago today, at
9:12am, I sat down with a fresh notebook and started the follow-up to The Afrika Reich. I already had the
overarching plot of both Books 2 and 3 but this was the beginning of the
detailed work: the official start date.
Publishers like ‘product’,
something they can release on a regular basis. My initial contract stipulated I
submit the second book in 9 months. That was too fast for me so I asked for it
to be extended to 15. My schedule was to be this: 3 months to plan the sequel,
9 to write it, a final 3 to edit. Clearly I have missed this deadline! Even 15
months meant I would have to work more briskly than I’m used to. As readers of
this blog will know my preference is to spend 9-12 months preparing a book,
then a year to write it. Nevertheless, with an advance to earn out I felt
obliged to deliver the book faster than I would have liked. That need for speed
ultimately slowed me down.
I never had enough time to
plan the book – which meant I started the writing not knowing where I was
going. Some writers thrive on this type of spontaneity; I am not one of them. I
prefer to have as much as possible pre-planned before I begin. A good analogy
would be making a trip from London to Land’s End. My preference would be to work out a detailed
route before starting, then having an easy journey. Instead I’ve set out with a
notion I needed to travel along the A30, then continue south-west... and not
much more. I got lost. Of course, once you’re lost you can get even more lost
trying to find your way back to the correct route.
Another difference from the
first book is that I did a lot of research up front. This overburdened me with
detail. I have a lot of fabulous material but for a while I was bending the
narrative to include it, rather than focusing on the plot and using
research/details merely to gild the action.
The above is not the only
reason for my delay. The last three years have been cruel: punctuated with
death and chronic illness. This has not only played havoc with my writing
schedule (my literal ability to sit at a desk and concentrate) it has also
changed me as a person, made me more aware of the fragility of life. Given the
abundance of death in my imagined Nazi Africa, this has impacted on the
The upshot of all this is
that I wrote 250 000 words of an initial version of Book 2 before concluding it
was a mess. That was my staring-into-the-abyss moment. I recently saw From the Sky Down and there was a line
in it that perfectly expresses how I felt at this juncture: ‘You have to reject
one expression of yourself first before you get to the next expression. In between you have nothing’.
So I made the decision to
put aside what I had written, plan more assiduously and start afresh. Since
then things have been easier.
Although the plot of this
new version is similar to its earlier incarnation, it has been pieced together
differently. Imagine a constellation: the stars are in the same place but the
lines linking them have altered drastically. Those expecting a re-hash of the
first book may be disappointed. Book 2 is less frenetic than the original,
darker, more political and character driven with some truly unexpected
scenes... though still with a generous dollop of action and intrigue! I hope it
will prove to be the better novel.
I intend to submit the first
half to my editor in the coming weeks. Assuming he approves, and I suffer no
more calamities, I hope to have the book finished by the end of the year, with
a publication date in 2014.
There were three aspects of
the Nazis’ vision for Africa that I wanted to
represent – the messianic, technocratic and sadistic – so planned a villain for
each. Hochburg is clearly the messianic, Kepplar the technocrat (keen readers
will notice how he never raises his hand, merely gives the orders), while UHRIG
was the violent thug.
The inspiration for Uhrig’s
character came from a line in Orwell’s 1984.
I can’t recall the exact quote but it’s something like ‘all that hate is sex
gone wrong’. I knew Uhrig was going to be the most vicious character of the
book, but I also wanted to know why.
What if he had a proclivity
for black women? Given the Nuremberg Laws this would be as impossible as it was
illegal, and it was the repression of his desire that had twisted him so much.
Some readers have seen Uhrig as little more than a rent-a-villain, which always
disappointed me because he is actually one of the most subversive characters: a
member of the Einsatzgruppen who is also a miscegenist.
If Uhrig was in the Union army...
I also saw him coming from
the Mario Bregga school of thuggery: big and bawdy, vaguely comic. Again,
playing with types, I liked the idea of such a brutal character not only being
funny but also an object of derision for the reader and other Nazis: both Hochburg and Kepplar make jokes at his
[With the American
publication due in a few weeks, there maybe people looking at this who haven’t
read the book, so spoiler warning for the next paragraph.]
As I approached the end of
the writing I was undecided what do with Uhrig. To satisfy the narrative I knew
he had to die at Neliah’s hands but wasn’t sure of the exact circumstances.
Then I made the connection between him and monsters – and knowing how in a
horror movie the monster always comes back one last time, realised he had to
‘rise’ from the dead, which leads me to...
U is also for Underworld
There are many theories of
story. One of the most influential on me is Joseph Campbell’s ‘monomyth’
(before it got hijacked by the Vogler school... but that’s another blog
altogether!). Campbell’s writing posits the idea that all stories are actually
journeys to the underworld: a task the hero must undertake to discover the
elixir of life. You can certainly interpret Afrika
Reich this way.
The prologue shows the
ordinary, upper world of a farm in Suffolk: a summer’s dawn, orchards. The rest
of the book is set in the ‘underworld’ of Africa: hot, dark (often literally),
with regular bouts of fire and torture, and it is in this crucible that Burton
must learn the true value of home. It’s practically The Wizard of Oz with swastikas!