Interview: James MacManus

James MacManusTell us about your new release. MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN is based on the true story of how Colonel Noel Macrae, a British military attaché, knowing the futility of appeasement, planned to assassinate Hitler on the eve of WW2.It is also the story of Sara Sternschein, a young Jewish woman forced to work as a courtesan in a Nazi brothel. The book weaves these two characters into a story of love and betrayal set in a city held in the grip of the Gestapo and fearful of the coming war.

Midnight in BerlinWhat led you to write this book? Firstly I was very impressed with the story of how a lone diplomat stood up against the clearly misplaced appeasement policies of his government and offered to sacrifice himself to prevent war. Secondly the fact that the Gestapo did indeed run a brothel in Berlin to entrap their enemies gave me the opportunity place a young Jewish women at the heart of the story and let her loose to challenge the bestiality of the Nazi regime – and fall in love .

Did you have an interesting experience in the research of this book? I did plenty of research in Berlin – a fascinating city that still guards its secrets behind a warm welcome for visitors.

How important is setting to your story? Vital. Berlin in 1938-39 when the book is set, is a menacing, fearful city that has fallen to the Nazis but still remembers a great cultural past. The book contains two maps showing exactly where many of the scenes takes place including Hitler’s Reich Chancellery, the Adlon Hotel and the British Embassy.

Which is more important characters or setting? Oh, very much the characters; if your characters do not come alive on the page and appear real and interesting to the reader no amount of beautifully portrayed setting is going to rescue the book.

Are any of your characters loosely based on people you know in real life? Most of my characters are indeed drawn from real life. William Shirer, the CBS correspondent in Berlin at the time, Sir Nevile ( note one l) Henderson the British ambassador, Neville Chamberlain the British Prime Minister, Reinhard Heydrich the Gestapo chief are all real people. The lead character Noel Macrae is very much modelled on Col Mason MacFarlane the actual British military attaché at the time.

Do you people watch for character inspiration? Yes but mostly one does so without realizing it. Quirks of character, small personal habits like the way some people tug at their ears when thinking, the different ways women put on make-up, all these and others come back to one when writing.

Do you have a favorite fictional character by another author you’d like to meet? There is hardly a character in Dickens I would not like to meet but above all Becky Sharp from Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. She is trouble all the way – a real mischief maker and thus well worth an invitation to a long lunch.

What do you hope readers take away from your work? One reviewer said this was a morally charged book and indeed I hope reader take some lesson from the way the western powers turned a blind eye to Hitler’s warlike intentions and bestial treatment of the Jews in the 1930s.But above all I hope this is a story of how the power of love can help people survive even the worst circumstances.

Do you have an interesting quirk about your personality that you’d like to share? Not really unless to say that like many others writers I do find a glass or two or good red burgundy a great help when the black dog of writers block descends.

What do you do when you are not writing? Research the next book, yoga, worry (needlessly) about my children, worry about humankind’s capacity for savage intolerance, drink red wine.

Which book impacted you as a teenager? I fell in love with William Faulkner aged about 16 .I read everything from Soldier’s Pay to The Reivers and revered every word .Sadly find him unreadable now. P.G. Wodehouse was an early favorite to and he has stayed with me. A great author to re-read on a dark night

Do you read the same genre you write? No. I certainly read historical fiction but modern authors like James Salter are more my taste.

What is #1 on your bucket list? I want to spend time in Japan to try and understand a people that caused so much havoc in the last century and seem to made peace with the world – and themselves – also I love the food.

Have you ever written a scene that ‘creeped’ you out? Sex scenes are very difficult especially for male writers of fiction. I have sometimes written such scenes trying to be honest without being too graphic only to have them cut and criticized, indeed mocked, by my editors (mostly women.) And they were quite right

Do you have a favorite writing place or writing rituals? Same desk, same time, 9 am every morning. I place an hour glass on the desk , turn it oer, and do not move until the hour is up .I do this for three hours with strong green tea in five minute intervals. It is the only way to get words down.

Do you have a reoccurring theme to your books? Not intentionally but I have been told my books do all show strong women characters overcoming great adversity and – mostly- triumphing in love.

What are you reading now? James Salter’s Dusk – a collection of short stories. He is a superb stylist and only after his death last year (2015) was he hailed as the master story teller that he was. His early novel A Sport and a Pastime is rightly recognized as an erotic masterwork.

What social media do you participate in? Fb twitter Instagram.

What is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask you? Have you ever really truly been in love?

What’s next for you? I have written a play but would rather not say any more.

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