Friday, 18 March 2016

N is for NACHTSTADT

Whereas set pieces such as the Ark, hospital, dam and Diego were in my mind from early on in the writing of The Madagaskar Plan, the NACHTSTADT sequence came late in the process.

The inspiration for Nachtstadt...

[Spoiler alert.] It went through multiple incarnations – the only consistent thread being it was the store where Salois gets replacement explosives. At one point it was on an island in the middle of a lake (a real place I passed on the road to Mandritsara); in another it was an oil-rig like structure protected by Walküre gunships. The actual action changed as well, including at one point Globus being present and taking Madeleine hostage. None of these worked – they struck me as overly dramatic, more akin to the train/helicopter chase in the first book and I was consciously trying to move away from such ‘excessive’ set pieces. For months I was unable to find an alternative.

As always when I’m stuck I turn back to Homer and began thinking of the scene set on Circe’s island – where Odysseus’s crew are turned to pigs by magic. Then when flicking through the hundreds of photographs I took in Madagascar I came across this one:


Through that odd, alchemic process that is creation – and tying into the modus operandi of the second rebellion – the location for the scene became a gigantic pig farm. So far all the places I’ve described in Madagascar were based on real locations. Nachtstadt was entirely made-up, though with a nod to reality: Himmler did have several farms where he experimented with livestock techniques.

In keeping with the Homeric reference, I initially wanted to name the place after Circe’s island but that is called Aeaea which I thought was too difficult to pronounce; the Roman equivalent, Ponza, sounded too comic (and Japanese) to me. So I turned to James Joyce. The Circe equivalent in Ulysses is set in Nighttown, the red light district of Dublin... which translated into German is, of course, Nachtstadt.


N is also for Nightingale

I often take a long time to come up with the right name for a character. In the meantime, while plotting or writing, I need some signifier (I hate using just A, B, C etc). In Fatherland there is an American diplomat called Henry NIGHTINGALE. So when I came to write the scenes with America’s envoy to Madagaskar, and before I had a name for him, I temporarily used Nightingale.


I never found an alternative and as time went on the name just stuck. So I confess indolence on my behalf rather than some clever reference! In the early drafts Nightingale had a much larger role in the book – but it got trimmed back. [Spoiler alert.] If you want to know how he originally fitted into the plot I suggest you compare the description of him in Chapter 34 with that of the unnamed fourth man at the table with Rolland, Salois et al in Chapter 13. I based my description on the assistant director and occasional actor Jerry Ziesmer.

Jerry Ziesmer

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