Sunday, 6 March 2016

R is for the RESERVATIONS

[Major spoiler alert for all of this entry.] One of the first plot elements of The Madagaskar Plan I came up with was the ending, inspired by the climax of Metropolis (one of my favourite films). Plotting is often like doing a puzzle. I start with a solitary piece and then have to find others around it to create a picture. The RESERVATIONS are a good example of this.

Filming the flood in Metropolis

In my very earliest notes for the book I have the following: ‘Ending = apocalyptic flood’. What could cause such a thing? The only thing I could think of was a dam burst. There is a brief mention in Afrika Reich about Hochburg using dams to harness the power of the continent, so it seemed plausible something similar was happening in Madagascar. I looked to see if there were any real dams on the island but there aren’t, at least not of any significance. Then in my research I came across a lucky find. In 1949 France’s main electricity company sent a team to Madagascar to survey the island’s hydroelectric potential. Their report – a document running to hundreds of pages – was invaluable as it not only listed potential rivers that could be used for electricity but also the drawbacks of them. I knew the dam would have to be in the north of the island and by a process of elimination settled on the one proposed across the Sofia River. Then another great detail – the French team feared the river might carry too much silt, leading to turbine clogging. Rather than discouraging me this inspired me – because it said something about Globus’s character: he was prepared to build a folly.

The next question was why would so many Jews live in the valley of the dam – a potentially dangerous site. If the creative process is alchemic (as I’ve written elsewhere) or a kind of puzzle, it is also like weaving a tapestry; individual threads come together to form an image. Much of this ‘mind weaving’ is an unconscious process. The Nazis were obsessed with putting Jews in reservations. The most famous of these was the Lublin Reservation, often considered a precursor to the Madagascar Plan. It was overseen by Globocnik. So somewhere in my head I made a link between dams and reservations and they tied together perfectly.

The only thing left to do was to visit an actual dam. I wanted a remote one, so when I was in the US a couple of years ago I made a lengthy detour to Idaho and the Hell’s Canyon hydroelectric plant – upon which the dam in the book is based. As with my trip to Madagascar, walking the ground was invaluable, providing details I couldn’t have picked up from books alone: the constant hum of generators; the faint smell of brine from the reservoir. It also made for an eventful drive, like something out of Duel... but that is a story for another time.

Hell's Canyon Dam, Idaho


R is also for Rolland

Vice-admiral Rolland is the man who gives Salois his mission. Some of you may recognise the name. Admiral Rolland is also the character that sets Smith and Schaeffer on their mission in Where Eagles Dare. He was played by Michael Hornden.

Hornden as Rolland in Where Eagles Dare

Originally, I wanted to give Salois the call sign Smith uses, ‘Broadsword’. But in recent years it has become too ubiquitous, so I settled instead for another, less well known call sign, one that subtly ties into the plot: ‘Dragonfly’. I’ll leave you to discover where it’s from...

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