Friday, 20 November 2020

Hardships in Book Five

Life was hard for the young German women in this book. Of course it was also for young women living in Britain and it must have been especially so for the French and the Dutch.

Some things were the same. Some were different.

The Depression hit Germany particularly hard and before that the hyperinflation. These girls were born shortly after the hyperinflation but their parents would have been ruled by it. The Germans felt supressed. There was a great desire to make Germany great again. The BDM and its smart uniform would give the girls some hope of that.

Some schools were evacuated in Germany and some schools, like the ones that our girls went to, were closed because they would not offer a propaganda-rich curriculum.

Young people who were evacuated in Germany did not live with other families; they were kept together so they slept in dormitories and ate in canteens. The indoctrination could carry on beyond the classroom.

The RAD found many young women working on farms and some did work the land and gather in the harvest.  Very often, though, the girls took on the housewife’s work so that the farmer’s wife could then work on the land. Was this more practical or not?

War work was very similar.  My research found girls working on military air traffic control, the post office, hospitals and continuing the sort of work they had done for the RAD. In this novel I have one girl working on the family farm, one acting and two running their father’s firm after he died. The factory for the latter is run mainly by women and a couple of men who are too old to fight. And in any case they are working in a reserved occupation: they are making spectacle frames and cases. This latter I based on my own mother’s war work.  Twins I came  across in my research took over the running of a factory after their father died. And one girl become an actor, putting on satirical plays in an underground theatre.

There was rationing but were the food shortages so bad? Germany is on a huge landmass so supply may not have been so much of an issue – especially as she was occupying several nearby countries. The farming girl hardly has a problem. The actor’s mother forages and pickles.

Two of the girls have brothers who are injured and two of them have a war-damaged fiancé. The twins welcome first two neighbours to their home and then later their aunt and uncle and cousin’s fiancé after the home of their aunt and uncle is destroyed. Tragically, both of their cousins also die.

The class teacher has to give up teaching because she refuses to deliver the new curriculum. She ends up doing war work, looking after supplies at a local hospital. She also turns her home in a guest house and offers accommodation to young women who have to work away from home and to families who have lost their homes.


Possibly worse for people on the continent was displacement. On our relatively small island we cannot wander so far from home. The girls in this book do not lose contact with relatives but they do have to wonder what happened to one of their school friends.          



Thursday, 29 October 2020

The nature of the bystander


My latest Schellberg novel is about the bystanders. There is nothing judgemental in it but it explores how this comes about. So let’s have a look at how this works out for the cast.  


Anika has more of the narrative than the rest. She encounters a puzzling cruelty to Jews before she even joins the BDM. She cannot understand why anyone would be cruel to Herr and Frau Kohn who used to run the village sweetshop.  Her brother Fritz rejoices that he and his fellow Hitlerjugend companions find Herr Kohn dead in the local woods and assume that someone has killed him because he is Jewish. Later she becomes involved in producing satirical underground drama.  She is the first to realise later on that Renate is just Renate; being English, German or Jewish does not define her.   

And is her Tante Gabriela a German resistance worker? She has walked uninvited on to the stage but cannot be ignored.  She is reserved for the seventh book.    

Gerda and her husband decide to offer free holidays on their farm to Jewish children after the war. Is this from a sense of guilt? Yet there was only excitement when they are all but given the neighbouring farm that the authorities take off a Jewish family.

The twins Erika and Ilse seem blissfully unaware of anything untoward having happened. They are absorbed in running their father’s factory after his sudden death. They do their bit for the war effort: they produce spectacle frames and cases for the men at the front.

Their teacher, Hanna Braun, knows a lot but does not tell until it is really too late. Only after the war has ended does she tell the girls about Sister Kuna, who kept Renate and the other Jewish girl, Elfriede, safe, and about Father Maxfeld who hid to Jewish boys. Nevertheless, she quietly carries on refusing to teach the Nazi curriculum and she continues teaching what she thinks is right. She warns the girls about what they should and what they shouldn’t put in the letters. She resists meeting them until after the war has ended. She keeps herself safe but she keep them safe as well.

The girls are bought up with sense of duty and a delight in camaraderie. They were born in the years of the hyperinflation and that had an effect on how they and their families lived their lives – always wondering whether what they had would be taken away again soon. They lived through a debilitating Depression that was worse in Germany than elsewhere. Joining in BDM activities gave them hope – though I understate the latter. In this organisation they are introduced the Giftpilz – The Poisonous Mushroom – an anti-Semitic picture book- as well as much other propaganda. They are encouraged to tell tales about relatives who mix with Jews.

Life was very different for these girls from what it is like for young women today.  They were often prevented from reading newspapers by the menfolk.  There was no social media.  It was more difficult to access information and other opinions. They tended to just get on with the task in hand. They didn’t particularly do anything wrong. They didn’t or didn’t know how to put anything right.      

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay   

Thursday, 15 October 2020

A comical figure and a serious boy

As it became clearer during World War II that the Germans were going to lose, the equivalent of dad’s army and the Hitler Youth were motivated to organise the defence.  I’ve included two characters who are involved with this. Onkel Heinrich, portrayed below, who is a bit of a comical character. Even this passage, thought ends on a more serious note, we are reminded that Heinrich has lost two of his sons to the war and that many German soldiers were killed by the cold in Russia.      

“Erika could hear him already. She hung her coat up and took her briefcase into her room and then stood outside the lounge door without going in. She wanted to hear what he was saying. If she went in he might stop to greet her and irritating though he was there might be something important she needed to know.

Oh, yes Onkel Heinrich was on form. As usual he was spitting his words out. He almost sounded like Herr Hitler himself.

“I tell you, Liesel, Helga, we shall soon be overrun by those tall swaggering blond Americans. At least they are blond. But that means that they too are members of the Master Race and we shall have more difficulty in fighting them. And I suspect the stinking French will rise again and the pathetic little Englishmen will put their fists up and try to bite our ankles. We must fight them. Our young boys must gird up their loins. I too shall have to do my bit. I shall strive valiantly to fight even though I am suffering. Even you women folk must get your pots and pans at the ready and be prepared to hit the enemy on the head. They are coming and they are coming soon. For the sake of our dear boys we must resist. They must not have given their lives in vain.”

Erika had the urge to titter but then Ilse whimpered. She had gone quite pale. Erika shook her head. “That won’t happen,” she whispered. She hoped she was right and that Onkel Heinrich was wrong. Well, she’d just better stop him anyway. He was probably frightening Mutti and Tante Liesel as well. She pushed the door open and smiled as brightly as she dared.

“Good evening. Tante Liesel, Onkel Heinrich. Mutti. What’s going on?”   

   “You uncle’s just telling us what’s going to happen in the invasion.” Mutti and Tante Liesel were sitting with their shoulders stooped. Mutti had her fists clenched tightly in her lap.

“And so what is going to happen, Onkel Heinrich?”

“We’re all going to have to fight them, even you my dear.”

“Surely it won’t come to that, will it? Aren’t there a lot of our soldiers still up in the north of France? Won’t they be able to keep them away?”

Onkel Heinrich shook his head. “So many of them were killed by that cruel Russian winter. So many of them.” His voice was quieter now and his eyes were glazed over. Was he going to cry? Had she gone too far?”

In another part of the novel I have invent Uwe, a very keen Hitler Youth member, who refuses to help on the farm where he is now living; he spends all of his spare time on bayonet practice on dummies hung form trees in the orchard. He has to be shown by three impaired professional German soldiers that he would not stand a chance against fit and healthy enemy soldiers.    

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay  

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

A necessary cut


I’ve just completed my fourth edit of The Round Robin. This is the one that makes sure it is right for the target reader and this includes it being the right length. It was running at 105,000 after the first edit. I realised that there were four subplots that needed including. This brought the work up to about 112,000.

The Round Robin is probably suitable for people who like reading hefty novels set in the 1940s. Even so, 112,000 words is probably a bit long. I have managed to get it down to 105,000. Probably some of my future edits will tighten it even further.

How have I got rid of 7,000 words? Well, I’ve removed one whole chapter so that has taken care of about 2,500.  I haven’t deleted the chapter. I may be able to use it for something else one day. I may even add it to the “deleted scenes” section of this blog.  But not just yet. What was wrong with the chapter? It didn’t really take the plot forward.  There was some character development but taking the chapter out doesn’t detract from that.  I’d written in in an attempt to refer to my primary resources.

I also began to notice some things I’d only normally notice as part of a later edit. There were many, many instances of overwriting. So, I’ve generally tightened the text throughout. It’s slightly worrying that if I hadn’t needed to shorten the text I may not have noticed this quality in my writing. Maybe I would have later but it’s actually good to have done that this early on.

Ah yes. Writing is mainly rewriting.    

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Friday, 4 September 2020

Creating a Sense of Time and Place in an Historical Novel

Definition of setting

Setting = time + place with a sprinkling of atmosphere.



This is reasonably easy especially if you have some knowledge of the place.  I know Stuttgart and Berlin a little. I even know the Waldorf School. I don’t know Nuremberg, Jena or Rexingen. I know London but not Minehead. Photos can help, especially old photos.


This can be trickier. We haven’t yet invented the time machine.  Yet there is a plethora of material available. I find amateur photos and film footage valuable. As are diaries, letters and other texts such as bills and receipts. I have some letters for guidance as you may know.

Why amateur? Well, they just show what was rather than making some attempt to rationalise or analyse what has happened. I found the adverts in some facsimile newspapers extremely useful. They gave a lot of detail about domestic life.

There are also the normal time markers: season, weather, light, flowers, plants, news items, meal times.


Seeking experiences helps here. I think about Clara traveling when I feel the wheels under my feet on train journeys. I can feel what it was like sitting in a cattle truck or cooped up in a tiny hiding place when I visit the Holocaust Centre at Laxton, Newark, Nottinghamshire.  

Write what you know?

That’s always the advice given to writers. But how does that work for fantasy, science fiction or historical fiction? Well, you start with what you know and what you can find out. You know human nature and how it will react in certain circumstances.  

Three tools

Primary resources

These are the diaries, letters and other realia mentioned above.

Repeated experience

Get yourself locked away for a few hours. Try the war time diet. Dress up in a 1940s costume.


Just write, driven by what you know of your characters and their settings. How will your players act in these circumstances? How will the setting make them feel?  What else is now in the setting that you didn’t know before?

Thursday, 13 August 2020

The role of the BDM

a sample BDM magazine


The BDM, Bund Deutscher Mädel, was the girl’s version of the Hitler Youth. It was compulsory for girls aged 14-18, though girls could join the organisation for younger girls Jungmädelbund, from the age of 10. At 18 they could go on to the organisation for older girls Glaube und Schönheit - Faith and Beauty.  
Curiously, although it was compulsory, in order to join girls had to meet three criteria. They had to:
Be of racial/ethnic German heritage
Be a German citizen
Be free of hereditary diseases


There was some camping and hiking and in fact their magazine looks very similar to any scouting or guiding magazine. However, as the years pass by, it changes subtly and is full of pro-Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism. They read the Giftpilz – The Poisonous Mushroom  which is vehemently anti-Semitic. The magazine also recommends other reading and contains serialised stories that also have an anti-Semitic agenda.   

The girls became good at housekeeping and homemaking. They were in effect being trained to become good wives and mothers. The emphasis was on comradeship, service and physical fitness for motherhood. Indeed, in the letters that inspired this cycle of novels the words “comradeship” and “duty” occur frequently.  

There were residential camps, where they lived in tents or in specially built centres- many of these later became some of the splendid youth clubs that can now be found in Germany. Parents did have to pay for the camps but there were subsidies for poorer families.
There were sports competitions.
You can read some first-had accounts here.

War activities

Some BDM girls would help out on farms, visit the wounded in hospital or collect clothing for the Winter Relief and paper that could be made into fuel.    

A really smart uniform

The uniform was elegant: calf-length slightly flared navy blue skirt, black neckerchief, crisp white blouse and beige flying-jacket. Wealthier girls might also wear the smart great-coat in the winter. If you Google BDM girl, Germany, and look at the images you will see that sometimes the footwear let them down. Note also occasionally the flying-jacket is replaced with hand-knitted cardigan.     

Morale boosting

These young women had lived a hard life until now.  They were born just after the hyperinflation in Germany ended. The Depression hit Germany very hard, especially as it had substantial debts left over from the Great War. Of course the girls wanted to help to make Germany great again. The BDM also enable them to challenge some of their parents’ long-held beliefs. Membership could also help them to get university places and jobs.
And of course there was that wonderful uniform.
Hence the title of the third book in the Schellberg Cycle.