Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Reflections & V is also for...

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 example).


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!

35 comments:

  1. PS - I know the STAR TREK picture isn't actually from 'The City on the Edge of Forever', but who could resist a photo of Kirk and Spock dressed as Nazis!

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  2. I would have loved to have seen the draft?

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    1. Kipper - it's safely locked away... for now!

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  3. Thanks for reply to previous post.

    Can't wiat for book 2 update. Will there be much about the plot, details in it? Is it set in Afrika or back in Europe? Will it be first draft violent? LOL

    Thanks, Sam

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    1. Sam - there will be some plot details but no spoilers. Book 2 is part set in Britain, part in Africa (I don't think that's giving much away). It's less violent than the original. Update 2 coming next week (w/b 16 Dec), so check back for details

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  4. Another great insight into the book and your process Guy. I think the violence was sobering but realistic. I recommend a second reading - once you know the fates that are in store for people, you take in a lot more of the subtler themes. It also adds poignancy to the earlier conversations when you know who, sadly, isn't going to make it home.

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    1. Karen - Hi! Thanks for your comment. As I've suggested, and the comments here also indicate, the violence and reader's reactions to it is a very subjective issue! I hope readers will go back for a second reading too, as there's so much going on under the surface you might miss lots of details etc first time around.

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  5. Ooooh am all excited as to what your blog will be like with the next series after this one ends! :-)

    Oh I do wish your book had been marketed as more akin to "City on the Edge of Forever"!! What a missed opportunity!

    Take care
    x

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    1. Kitty - Ola! I think I will be completely original... and do an A-Z of Book 2! LOL.

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  6. Sorry to be a pedant but wanted to point out that the photo from Star Trek isn't from 'City' but an episode called 'Patterns of Force' from the second season!

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  7. Arrgghh! Didn't see your PS. Apologies. Good luck with Book 2, can't wait to read it. 'city on the edge of forever' is, IMHO, the best ever episode of Star Trek, even with Joan Collins, with the poss exception of 'Yesterday's Enterprise' from TNG, another timeslip info. Sorry - ths is becoming a geek posting. Back to the Reich.

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    1. Trekkie - no worries! 'City' is probably my favourite ever episode of 'Star Trek' (though I must confess I'm an occasional fan rather than hardcore trekkie).Seeing it (I must have been around 10ish), it was also the first time I started thinking about alternatives to history as we know it.

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  8. Hey G!
    Now you're on the second, are there certain bits you wish you could change about the first?
    Love,
    A Fan x

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    1. Carlita - hello! Very good question. Ultimately I stand by the book as it is a record of the writer I was at the time it was written. That said, if I had the chance, there are a few cuts I would now like to make. Nothing major, just the odd sentence here and there that makes me groan now. I wonder what I will think of it in ten years time; I'm undecided whether with that type of gap I will be more or less critical.

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  9. Will you be releasing the more violent version

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    1. CSF - there are no plans to release the more violent version. For now it's staying filed away on my computer... and I suspect there it will rest.

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  10. Ok, in defense of violence, I have to say that there is nothing more sobering than blood to lay bare the moral issues at stake. I was kind of sad to read that your editors insisted that Cole have some sort of moral compass. WTF?!?! WHY?!?! Hochburg paved a plaza with the skulls of 25 000 people because they COMMITED THE CRIME OF BEING HUMAN WHILE BEING BLACK.

    If that fucker doesn’t deserve to die, then who does?

    Some people just need to die
    Some people just need to die
    Some people just need to die
    Some people just need to die
    Some people just need to die

    Oh, hello Kim Jong-un!

    I love your Star Trek reference, because it encapsulates the issue perfectly: moral allegiance to a higher purpose can be incontrovertibly EVIL (Nazism), but it is the doctrine that is flawed, not the allegiance. Allegiance to Star Fleet, the Prime Directive, the impetus to explore, discover, learn, seek, find, understand …. is one of the noblest impulses of humanity.

    Bring on the violence. Bring on the guns and guts and glory and the impetus for doing all/any of the above.

    Threaten me. Then let me triumph. Or lose, but with a clear explanation of the cost that entails.

    I don’t need no happy endings. I’m a big girl and I wear big girl pants. I can deal with loss, failure, annihilation.

    What I can’t deal with is pansy-assed political correctness that insists on dictating the terms of engagement so that no one is OFFENDED.

    Oh shock horror gasp clutch pearls please don’t OFFEND me.

    If you are not offended by the violence a National Socialism victory would have wrought upon the world, never mind Afrika, there is something very fucking wrong with you!

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    1. "YOU'RE A BIG GIRL WHO WEARS BIG GIRLS PANTS"??? I'd say those pants are probably super-sized from you spending too much time on your couch desensitizing yourself to violence through hour upon endless wasted hour of playing video games like "Call of Duty" and living in your fantasy world! Really - Get a grip and find a new hobby, Anon!! Isn't there enough senseless evil and brutal violence in the world without celebrating or glorifying it in fiction? Did you never consider that maybe Guy's editor and the publisher they represent may have a social conscience and may know better than you (i.e., Cole being required to have some moral faet to his character) what will work/not work to sell his books and not create a bad image for him/them?? I don't profess to be an "expert" on anything, but I am an avid reader (no doubt all of your "reading" is from audio books because you don't have the mental or creative aptitude to comprehend "theater of the mind") - give me the ingredients, the spices, the flavour and let me make a rich, great tasting feast for my mind where all of the flavours work together...don't shove a pound of tofu down my throat and tell me to turn the page. Frankly, your comments offend me. If I want senseless violence and one-dimensional characters with no imagination - I'll turn on/read the news about someone like you who doesn't have the social conscience to stop themselves from shooting up a classroom! Go play another game and eat another box of Krispy Kreme's!

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    2. And so we get to all the recent anonymous comments...

      Anon 1 - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment. You encapsulate the issue of violence well, in as much that it's entirely subjective... but if you're dealing with Nazis it's difficult not to avoid violence. Political correctness is something I've never been accused of! Glad you liked the ST reference.

      Anon 2 - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment... clearly you have a different perspective from the previous poster... though I'm not entirely sure they're a mass murderer in the making. My editor was worried about the levels of violence, though whether that was through moral conscience or for commercial reason is not for me to say.

      Not much else I can add - I think/hope your comments balance each other out.

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  11. I have to admit I found the violence too much myself and I'm one of your 'grown men'. I'm no shrinking violet, and have seen my fair share of unpleasant things, but some of the scenes I found sickening. Poor Dolan gets the worst of it! Chapter 14 should come with a warning. I certainly wouldn't want 14 year old son reading it.

    So although I enjoyed the book and did read to the end I also jumped several passages. Even then individual phrases were still stomach turning. I recall once such one where someone's head explodes like a watermelon. Too much detail!

    I think here Fatherland, does have the advantage over AR because there's so little violence in it.

    Regarding the morality of it all, which the previous posters have engaged with, I feel it's not my position to say anything. The world is a violent place. Nazis were violent. Whether or how that's depicted is down to the individual, but if I could make one suggest for the sequel, it would be - can you tone it down a bit, Guy! Please.

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    1. Anon - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment. I agree, TAR may not be for teenage readers... then again I think back to some of the books I was reading at 14 and they were pretty grim. Perhaps that's the root cause of the violence in mine! Lots of people have commented that Dolan doesn't have a good time in Africa...

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  12. To dilute the horrors would be to hide from the truth. As readers we have the choice to avoid the parts we find hard to take; if only those at the hands of the Nazis had the same option.

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    1. Anon - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment.... don't feel there's much I can add. You put it very succinctly.

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  13. No one flinches when Bond undergoes physical tests that defy the imagination, and yet he is not accused of glorifying violence.

    Guy isn't glorifying violence. He is asking you to imagine a frightening future that was all to close to being realized (I assume - don't know Guy - just guessing).

    It really might have been that horrific.

    How would you respond? That's the question.

    Because all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

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    1. Anon - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment. Interesting that you say Bond rarely comes in for criticism over his violence. I think what lays me vulnerable to it is that I'm dealing with 'real' crimes... or at least that's how people perceive it. As I've mentioned before in this blog, I view my Nazi Africa as something of a fantasy world. It's an ALTERNATIVE history for a start!

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  14. From Amazon:

    “I found the persistent detailed blood and gore wearying and off-putting. The "hero" of the tale was consistently wounded and maimed to the extent it was doubtful if anyone with such injuries could have remained alive. Toward the end I felt weary of the detailed violence which ultimately spoiled this.
    I suggest that if the author wishes to continue with his writing career, or indeed write a sequel, he tones this aspect down considerably.”

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    1. Anon - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment... though you don't indicate whether this is your own, personal review or one you've just lifted from Amazon.

      You might be curious to know that I checked out every one of Burton's injuries with a leading trauma specialist at a London hospital and he said they were all survivable (our conversation about amputation was particularly revealing!). Ironically, Burton does one thing that would be extremely life endangering, but it's more subtle than all the blood and gore (I won't say what); not a single person has ever complained about it.

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  15. "Guy Saville's scorching debut novel [is] a terrifying account of the way things might have been ... When this dark and dystopian world is coupled with a cast of credible characters, Machiavellian plot twists, cinematic action scenes and pulsating suspense, the story becomes irresistible ... Immaculately researched and with accompanying notes to put the story into its context, THE AFRIKA REICH is an exciting first novel which blends history and fiction into an unforgettable drama."

    Lots of readers loved the "cinematic action scenes", which are meant to be fantastic realism. Did you read Guy's post about that?

    And how do you advise an internationally best-selling author to tone things down if he wants to continue with his writing career?

    He didn't self-publish and sell 800 copies!

    He's an international best-seller!

    It is FICTION, right? You are not meant to take fiction so literally. Do you really think Captain Ahab chased that whale? Geez, suspend your disbelief for a moment and just go with the flow.

    1817- Samuel Taylor Coleridge: if a writer can infuse a human interest and a semblance of truth into a fantastic tale, the reader will suspend the implausibility of the narrative.

    Hard to argue that there wasn't a "semblance of truth" or a "human element" in Guy's story, so if you found it hard to suspend your disbelief, maybe the problem is that some readers have a hard time grasping the meaning of truth or humanity?

    Just a thought.

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    1. Anon - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment and coming to my defence; no need - but kind anyway. I like the Coleridge quote :-)

      I've written before about how I was taken by surprise that so many readers took everything in the narrative at a literal level. Personally I don't read fiction that way, for me there's always a degree of artifice/metaphor/allegory. I suppose this proves the adage you can only see the world from your own perspective... hence why some people don't 'get' TAR.

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  16. Guy

    For the first Time I'm using my ipad to do this (a new purchase) so I hope it works.

    I NEVER HAD ANY PROBLEMS WITH THE violence (sorry about caps). It never seemed gratuitous and as you rightly say the title of the book tells you where it's set and whatvto expect. For the naysayers, it's worth remembering 'Fatherland' also has its moments, from the brutal murder at the beginning, Luther having his head blown clean off and the torture scene at the ending. There's also the bit where the dog is shot that I never liked.

    Sad to hearvthe blog is at an end. will you continue after? Can I take this opportunity, and I'm sure plenty of others will agree with me, to say that it's been a priviledge to get an understanding of what went into the book and your reflections on it. So much better than the usual writers' blogs which seem to be about themselves, and what jolliesnthey're on, rather than the work.

    Best wishes

    Ron

    PS - who are all these anonymous posters slugging it out here? I think you should at least have politeness to identify yourselves!

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    1. Ron - good to see a familiar face and someone using a name.

      I'd forgotten the 'head blowing off' scene in FATHERLAND! Just goes to proves there's violence in Harris too.

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the blog and I will continue with it afterwards. I already have some ideas in mind and, if people can bear it, there will be an A-Z for Book 2.

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  17. From Guy's blog post - 'I' is for Intent, March 2012:

    "What I will say is that I wanted to write something relentless and visceral; something with an epic, journey-across-the-continent quality that would leave the reader exhausted."

    The author did just that!

    Judging this book in such one-dimensional terms as some of those above is as facile as it is futile. Discerning readers will always be able to peel back the surface layers of such a book and see the deep courage and intelligence that lies beneath.






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    1. Anon - no idea if I'm talking to the same person or multiple posters. It's my preference for people to post with at least some identifying moniker so I know who I'm talking to!

      Thanks for taking the time to write a comment and thanks for reminding me of my own words. I did indeed want to write a visceral book - hence the amount of violence in it. To repeat myself, I hope none of it was gratuitous... but as has been pointed out several times already, that is an extremely subjective matter.

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  18. I've had so many anonymous comments in the past few days that I'm suspending them on this entry.

    Although I allow anonymous comments, I do prefer people to use a name (or just an initial if you're shy), so I have some idea who I'm talking to, especially in long chains like this so I know whether it's the same individual commenting or various different people.

    Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write recently. I'm travelling later in the week, so currently snowed under with work but I will reply to all of the above when I have a spare 10 mins.

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    1. Phew!

      It's taken quite some time to get through all these comments! Curious to see how the subject of violence has prompted such an outburst. I hope I've gone some way in responding to the issues raised, though some of the comments have been lengthy and I'm currently too busy to reply in depth. Thanks again to everyone who engaged in the debate... even the shy and enigmatic among you.

      For now, this particular blog entry will remain closed.

      -G

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