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.       

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Highlighting a Few Useful Accounts

Clara will not be daunted. Her life will not end when her beloved husband dies too young. She will become a second mother to the young children who live away from home in order to visit a rather special school.

"Girl in a Smart Uniform" is the third book in the Schellberg Cycle, a collection of novels inspired by a bundle of photocopied letters that arrived at a small cottage in Wales in 1979. The letters give us first-hand insights into what life was like growing up in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

The house on Schellberg Street needs to stay strong. Will it and those who work in it be strong enough? Will Renate ever feel at home again? And what of those left behind?

Jessie is excited when her gran gets a white Alsatian puppy, but with Snowy's arrival a mystery starts to unfold. As Jessie learns about Nazi Germany at school, past and present begin to slot together and she uncovers something long-buried, troubling and somehow linked to another girl and another white dog…

An honest personal account of an extraordinary true story of survival

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Hardships other than war

The Master Class and the Untermensch

The Holocaust is perhaps the most obvious threat aside from World War II itself in the era that is my setting in The Schellberg Cycle.  Obviously the persecution of the Jews is huge in this and isn’t just confined to this time. Where does that hatred and distrust come from? Is it necessarily religious? Or is it just part of general xenophobia? Is xenophobia a natural reaction and something we have to learn to overcome?  In this cycle of novels people who are different in another way figure largely: the irony of Clara Lehrs – a Jewess even if she didn’t regard herself as such – sheltering disabled children! The two girls who eventually rescued the special class were lesbians. Lesbians were more tolerated that male homosexuals in those days but were still considered not quite master class. Is that we persecute these “others” because we are afraid that we might be like them? 

The hyperinflation

The young people in my novels were born at the time of the hyperinflation in Germany. They are probably too young to remember it but it will have affected family life and their parents’ attitude to money for a long time.

The Depression

Because of the huge debts imposed upon Germany and because of the hyperinflation in the previous decade, the Depression was more acutely felt in Germany than in some other parts of the world.  Hitler’s regime offered some hope. Those smart BD uniforms made the girls feel special.  Yes they were forced to attend the groups but probably did so very willingly.


Although antibiotics were discovered in the 1920s and could be used in the treatment of TB, they weren’t’ widely available until the 1940s. Penicillin was developed as an anti-biotic in 1941. TB was an infectious disease. One of the extra characters I‘ve introduced as the result of Edit 1 of The Round Robin died at the end of the 1920s as a result of TB. He is sent to a sanatorium. In sanatoriums patients were made comfortable with lots of fresh air and sunshine, lots of bed rest and clean airy buildings. There was concern about keeping rooms minimalist so that trinkets and papers would not harbour the germs. Once a patient had died or been hospitalised their rooms were given something similar to the modern day “deep clean”.      

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay