Sunday, 23 August 2015

I is for INFLUENCES

The Afrika Reich was very consciously influenced by other works: from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to films like Where Eagles Dare, from which I took the ‘Men on a Mission’ formula and played around with it. Writing The Madagaskar Plan I made an equally conscious effort to be less influenced.

That’s not to say the book is without INFLUENCES. I’ve already mentioned The Empire Strikes Back; and Sergio Leone looms large again, especially in the fantastic realism and interweaving narrative strands. I also drew on Marek Edelman’s accounts of the Jewish uprising in Warsaw (which inspired the infighting between the Jews in the face of annihilation) as well as childhood passion for Homer.

In terms of other literary influences, two books were significant: William Boyd’s An Ice Cream War and The Great Gatsby, though traces of them may be hard to discern. The Boyd is set during the East African campaigns of World War I, all German colonialism, suffocating cities and rain lashed jungles. It helped with the tone. As did Gatsby which constantly made me reflect on the purpose of characterisation and concentrated my mind on sentences that were fresh and precise. I suppose these two books were like stabilisers on a bike: I had them either side of me during the first drafts but eventually freewheeled off in my own direction. Having said that, one scene in Madagaskar was heavily influenced by Gatsby – the ‘showdown’ between Jay, Tom and Daisy in the Plaza Hotel... expect in my version I’ve added the danger of a loaded pistol.

Levi, Boyd & FSF

Another important book, for obvious reasons, was Primo Levi’s If Not Now,When? a novel based on the true story of Jewish partisans fighting the Nazis. This informed much of the background of the Jewish uprising and specifically Salois’s character. Levi’s novel is replete with extraordinary, vivid details. For example, one of the things I’d never considered before was how hungry freedom fighters must be surviving in the wilderness. Hunger was also a painful motif from Marek Edelman and so it became a central theme in the Madagaskar. On a more light hearted note, my favourite scene in If Not Now, apparently based on fact, is when Gedaleh gathers the pumpkins. For all its bitter logic there’s something rather Leonesque about it, which is why I have Burton and Tünscher do the same in Chapter 33.

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