Blog 68 01/09/2018 A LITERARY WORLD: WWII The Darkest Hour. An Interview with John R. McKay
A LITERARY WORLD: WWII The Darkest Hour.
An Interview with John R. McKay
Ten bestselling historical fiction authors have come together to give you a glimpse of the invisible side of WWII – the Resistance.
Royalties from this book will be donated United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC.
I am proud to announce that I am one of ten authors chosen to participate in the soon to be released anthology, Tales of Resistance: WWII The Darkest Hour, and as part of this exciting venture, over the next few weeks, I will be hosting the authors on my blog. Inspired by the brave actions of men, women, and adolescents who fought against the occupying Axis powers around the world, these riveting stories will make you hold your breath and hope for the best in the darkest of times, when everything is at stake and where the price of freedom is a fighter’s life and more. Without more ado, let me welcome the first of our esteemed WWII authors, John R. McKay.
Welcome to A LITERARY WORLD: WWII The Darkest Hour, John. It’s a pleasure to have you with us. Tell us about your background.
Hi. I am from Wigan in the North West of England where I live with my wife Dawn. I have two daughters, Jessica and Sophie. I served in the Royal Air Force for a number of years before joining the Fire Service as a Control Room operator. I took up writing about five years ago when I finally decided to fulfil a lifelong ambition of writing a novel. After completing it and getting positive feedback I then decided to continue and have now completed five novels and am well into preparation for my sixth.
2. What is it that inspires you to write about WWII?
I have always had an interest in both the world wars and my knowledge is quite extensive due to the books I have read over the years and the documentaries I constantly watch. When in the RAF I was stationed in Belgium for a while and visited many sites of WW1 which generated my interest further in that period of history.
I have always been fascinated by how Hitler and the Nazis managed to convince a whole nation to follow such an evil ideology and the fact that this happened not very long ago. I love the stories of how people resisted the Nazis, from the soldiers who fought them, to those who attempted to resist them when under occupation.
I also feel it is right to keep people interested and educated about those times, to hopefully prevent the same thing from happening again.
I love the whole process of writing, from getting the initial idea for a story, doing the research, undergoing the writing process and then seeing the finished work. I am also inspired by other writers who have the same interests as me, including all those involved in the Darkest Hour anthology.
3. Where are your novels set?
My novels are set mainly in England and France. The Western Front of both world wars is where my area of expertise lies and so I find it easier to set my stories in these locations.
4. Without giving anything away, what is your anthology novella about?
V for Victory is about a young French boy who witnesses the German army parading through Paris following their victory over France in 1940. At first he is impressed with their show of power but he soon changes his mind about them after his teacher admonishes him and he hears General de Gaulle on the radio. He decides that he must do something to show his allegiance to France and so embarks on his own personal crusade, using stolen chalk and paint to scrawl anti-German graffiti around the city. He soon becomes involved in a Resistance cell and then… well, you’ll have to read it to find out more!
5. What sort of research did the story require?
As luck would have it, I was already researching the subject matter for my sixth novel, which is to be set in France and England during WW2 and is about the SOE and the French Resistance movement, when I was approached to contribute to The Darkest Hour. I almost immediately had an idea for a novella based on the research I had already undertaken and so developing the plot was done quite quickly. In fact the research had given me more ideas for future stories and so being asked to contribute to the anthology came at just the right time.
6. Are the characters based on real people?
Although all the characters are fictional, they are based on the experiences of people and organisations I came across whilst carrying out my research. In particular Agnes Humbert’s story (Resistance, Memoirs of Occupied France) and Matthew Cobb’s history (The Resistance: The French Fight Against The Nazis) were great sources of information and inspiration when writing V for Victory. I have included references to real events in some of the dialogue as well as the setting for the story.
7. What is the most challenging aspect of writing about WWII?
There are so many stories and novels set during WWII, so it’s important to me to attempt to write something that is both original and educational. I think that getting everything historically accurate is very important and so I have to fact check constantly when developing my plots and sub-plots.
I also find that some subject matter can be quite difficult to write in an emotional sense. There is a scene in one of my novels where a train arrives at Auschwitz and the characters go through the selection process as to who will live and who will die. I found this very challenging to write as it is an intense scene and I wanted to get everything accurate, both in the logistics of what took place and also how the people behaved. I visited Auschwitz very recently and stood on the ramp where this took place, both in real life, and for the characters I had created. It was heart-breaking to think of what took place there.
I like to write about aspects of the war that are not widely known. For example, during the research for my novel The Absolution Of Otto Finkel, one of the characters was originally going to be an Italian army officer, but when I stumbled across the story of the purge of the Roman ghetto, I changed that whole thing and instead, he became an Italian priest. I felt that the story of what happened there in 1943 needed to be told.
8. How important do you think historical accuracy is when writing fiction?
Historical accuracy is extremely important to me. I have to get the dates right, my work has to be chronologically correct and all the details have to be spot on. I did extensive research into the Arctic Convoys for my latest novel, The Worst Journey In The World, which included interviewing a veteran of those journeys as well as visiting HMS Belfast in London to get a feel for what it was like to be on a warship. I was very nervous when I gave him a copy of the book when it was finished but was extremely happy that he enjoyed it. I wanted to get everything accurate, from the food they ate on board ship to the conditions in the hospital in Murmansk.
9. Do you think fiction helps us understand the past?
People enjoy fiction and good story telling. By basing stories around actual events, then this educates people and raises their awareness and interest in those events. Showing how historical incidents impacted upon the people living through them, then hopefully this will help to prevent those things from happening again. I sometimes feel it is my duty, as a writer, to ensure that these things are never forgotten and at the same time educating and entertaining my readers.
10. Can you tell us about your other WWII novels?
My first novel, The Journal, is a contemporary thriller set in England, with flashbacks to the First World War and the London Blitz of 1940. It tells the story of a young man grieving the sudden death of his girlfriend, who becomes the recipient of a vast fortune from someone he has never met. He is given an old journal that explains why he has been bequeathed the inheritance. However, somebody is out to kill him and until he reads the journal he has no idea why. A big part of the novel is set in wartime London.
The Absolution Of Otto Finkel is probably my favourite work. This is a story of five children from very different backgrounds who meet on holiday in Brittany in 1928. After a man is killed in an accident they go their separate ways but their paths are to cross many years later, during WW2 and not all are on the same side! I spent months researching the various aspects of the book, which includes the different stories of all the children; a British army officer on the retreat to Dunkirk; a French Jew who becomes a reluctant member of the resistance; an Italian priest during the purge of the Roman ghetto; an unrepentant Nazi trying to flee Europe in the immediate aftermath of the war.
The Worst Journey In The World is the title of my latest novel. The title is taken from a quote by Winston Churchill when describing the Arctic Convoys of WW2. I was inspired to write this novel after meeting a veteran of the convoys and listening to his tales of his time in the Royal Navy during the war. It tells the story of a young man from Liverpool who joins the navy and after being involved in escorts to the besieged island of Malta, he then embarks on a perilous journey to Russia. I did intense research into this novel as I wanted to get the accuracy 100% correct, including a trip to the Imperial War Museum and HMS Belfast in London. I am very proud of the finished work and very happy that it has the approval of the veteran who inspired me to write it.
11. What’s next for you?
Once my current Work in Progress is completed I may try adapting one of my novels to a screenplay (the WW1 drama, The Sun Will Always Shine) as I think it could transfer very well to a short mini-series. I also have ideas for a couple more novels, one of which would be a contemporary thriller. However, I feel that I will always be drawn back to writing about the World Wars as that is where my knowledge and interest ultimately lie.
Thank you for joining us today, John. We wish you continued success.
To find out more about John and his novels –
The darkest hour is just before the dawn, and the heroes and heroines will fight with all they got to see to see the light of freedom shine over their liberated countries again. Everything is at stake when the price of freedom is a resister’s life. Other authors in the anthology are:
Roberta Kagan, Marion Kummerow, Ellie Midwood, Jean Grainger, Deborah Swift, Mary D. Brooks Ryan Armstrong, Alexa Kang
WEBSITE for Tales of Resistance: WWII The Darkest Hour
Released in January 2019 you can pre-order the book from iBooks now https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1408712494 and on Amazon from October 29.