After losing his wife and daughter: oppressed by the political climate, and worried he may be conscripted by the Nazis, Doctor Thomas Friedrich Schmidt enlists in the Wehrmacht Medical Corps at the start of World War II. His main focus in life is to care for the wounded troops, but is unable to come to terms with what is happening around him: the suffering of the Jews: the fruitless loss of life, and the thousands of wounded soldiers who arrive on the hospital trains from the Eastern Front. The years of conflict leave Thomas war-weary, and being one of the occupiers in an occupied country has its problems, especially when his conscience is constantly pricked. But things begin to change when he meets an Englishwoman in France.
I just love my 3rd book cover. I’ve liked all my book covers as they say something about my novels. But this one, I think, is awesome. This book has been many years in the making, with me spending a lot of time researching an era when I wasn’t even a twinkle in my parents’ eyes. My father was a Bevin boy during the war, and tried, on many occasions, to enlist, but was always refused saying he was doing vital war work. If they had conscripted him I may not be here today writing about an era that fascinates me. My mother worked in one of biggest armaments factories alongside my grandmother. The MOD factory was still there when I was a teenager, but like most things, places shut down: like the pit next door to it where both my twin uncles started work when they were 14 years old. Now the whole area is a huge retail park. My father hated life down the pit, but spent the rest of his life working with coal as a heating engineer stoking some of the biggest boilers I have ever seen.
I suppose you could say I write historical fiction as my first novel was set in the 80’s and the second spanned the mid-forties to the late 80’s. I was greatly influenced by the 50’s and the 80’s, two significant times in history when life changed drastically. I might be giving away my age, but I am as young as the man I feel: whoops, giving away too much again. But thinking about it, coal was a large part of life until the mid 80’s. I recall, during the school holidays, taking my 3 children on a days’ outing to historic Hardwick Hall which sits on the borders of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. I still get angry when I think about being stopped on the slip-road, coming off the M1 motorway, by a group of uniformed policemen who looked into my car to see if I was transporting pickets during the coal-miners strike. I had three small children on the back seat. They were unruly sometimes, yes, but didn’t look anything like flying pickets to me. I was really riled by this intrusion into my freedom to cross county borders. It was like check-point Charlie in Berlin. Really, I kid you not.
Anyway, back to the book. Orson Scott Card, the American novelist who wrote in several genres but is best known for science fiction, and the film Ender’s Game – must say here I am not a fan of sci-fi and never read it – but he said something to the effect we all walk by stories every day, but only writers see them, other people don’t. When I was about 8 an aunt, who was born and brought up on a farm in Lincolnshire; a county which during the war heaved with RAF bases and POW camps, had a younger sister who met and married a German POW while working on their farm. They came to visit us one day in the city. My father was tall, 6′ 2″, but this man was taller and had a shock of curly ginger hair – you can guess what his nick-name was – there is a character loosely based on him in the book. But meeting this POW stayed with me, and I can still vividly see the adults in our front room talking animatedly to each other. I wasn’t aware of the word discrimination at that time, and that after the war there was still a lot of anti-German feeling about. But this one tiny flash-back brought about Am Beggar-Poor Again.
To get inside a German character I had to understand their country and their history. So my first port of call was a local German language class, taught by a young male German. We all liked the group so much we stayed for six years. I am not a natural linguist, none of us were in the class, but I learned how to get by when making several visits to Germany before the wall went down. The language can appear blunt and to the point, unlike ours which can be ambiguous at times. But I think we all stayed because of the get-together afterwards. We were drinking Jaeger-bombs well before this generation of party-goers.
Then I deftly killed two birds with one stone by reading modern German literature for my Masters. Heinrich Böll showed me what immediate post-war life was like for Germans. And along with others, like Thomas Mann, Heinrich Heine, Berthold Brecht and many, many more, I got a true flavour of the German people and their country. The title, by the way, is taken from one of Heine’s poems.
Harking back to my last post and something Truman Capote said: I would point out I have nurtured my 3rd child for many years. I am now ready to take it out into the back yard and shoot it. I feel ready to hand it over to Kindle, and to you.