Saturday 3 August 2019

Girl in Smart Uniform

Girl in a Smart Uniform is now out. This is the most fictional to date of the novels in the Schellberg Cycle.  Some characters, familiar to those who have read the first two books, appear again here. Clara Lehrs, Karl Schubert and Dr Kühn really existed. We have a few, a very few, verifiable facts about them. The rest we have had to find out by repeating some of their experiences and by using the careful writer's imagination.

Gisela adores her brother Bear, her gorgeous BDM uniform, and her little half-brother Jens. She does her best to be a good German citizen, and is keen to help restore Germany to its former glory. She becomes a competent and respected BDM leader. But life begins to turn sour. Her oldest brother Kurt can be violent, she soon realises that she is different from other girls, she feels uncomfortable around her mother’s new lover, and there is something not quite right about Jens. It becomes more and more difficult to be the perfect German young woman.

We know that BDM girls set fire to the house in Schellberg Street but got the children out first. This story seeks to explain what motivated the girls to do that, and what happened to them afterwards.

This novel has changed very much form when I first started writing it. The original version started off in the 1920s with the family suffering from the hyperinflation. I decided in the end to fast forward to the mid-1930s when anti-Semitism was growing rapidly and tell the story from the point of view of a teenage girl who want to help Germany to get strong again. I then included the material about the hyperinflation and other problems that Gisela and her brother had growing up into a flash back that Bear has when he’s fighting on the front.

Have I found out why some perfectly decent ordinary people become Nazis? I don’t think so. Gisela faced a particular set of problems that may not have been all that usual. Yet I can understand the pride that many young girls would have had in their very smart BDM uniform at a time when everyone was poor. Gisela and her very good friend Trudi certainly had a strong sense of camaraderie and duty – those two words that kept coming up in the letters that sparked this whole project. 

Is it a young adult novel? Possibly. It could certainly be enjoyed by some young adults but we see protagonist Gisela form the age of three to twenty-six. I’m beginning to think my historical fiction is more about feisty women. But maybe that is for the reader to decide.    

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