Friday, 18 March 2016


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

Sunday, 6 March 2016


[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...