Today, I have a really great interview with C.J. Sansom, author of a great series set in Tudor England featuring his wonderful Detective Sharlake, but also of a new stand-alone alternative fiction, called Dominion. I reviewed it yesterday and you can see that–> HERE. Enjoy the interview after taking a look at the cool book cover!
Hi C.J.! So happy to have you come by Oh, for the Hook of a Book! You write books on some of my favorite subjects and I have a wide range of tastes as far as history. But I remember vividly my university class on the Holocaust. I have enjoyed books that feature this time period ever since, and as a media person, am interested as well in the how propaganda and the media played a role.
C.J.: Glad to be asked to appear. As well as my Tudor novels I have a lifetime’s interest in the causes, events and consequences of the Second World War. I was born in 1952, soon after the war, in which my father served, so like most people of my generation the story of that conflict is in my bones. And it formed and shaped modern Europe. As for the media, radio and newspapers were tools of the totalitarian regimes – thus, for example, the Holocaust was kept secret from Germans.
Erin: I know you only have a few minutes to spare today, so let’s get started with just a few questions!
Q: How do you think the free world (USA, UK…) would react today if the media was controlled and there was no free speech? How do you feel this is still impacting the people of say, China?
A: Is the media quite free? Sometimes I wonder; not least in Britain where at least two our big newspapers, the Daily Mail and the, express the views authorised by their proprietors, Lord Harmsworth and Rupert Murdoch. However it is true and vitally important that contrary opinions are not forbidden by the state. In writing Dominion, it struck me that the gradual erosion of freedoms can be the most insidious – and in my alternate Britain, more and more dissenting opinions are gradually forbidden, as seems to be happening in Putin’s Russia. And the population become accustomed to it, as I think they have in China over generations now, except for a few brave souls. I think it is always a risk, wherever you are. As for the Internet, some trumpet it as a harbinger of freedom, I think this quite wrong: it is easy for an authoritarian regime, like China, to choke off opinions it doesn’t like.
Q: The British Resistance in Dominion is named after the actual French Resistance. Were there any other resistance movements in other nations controlled by the Third Reich that influenced the British protestors to German power over Great Britain?
A: Yes, in all of them to a greater or lesser degree. In Poland and Russia with their immense tracts of countryside, partisans hid and fought all the time countries were at war. In Western Europe which was more urbanised and therefore easier for the Nazis to control, it was more difficult but in all of them there were Resistance movements which more and more people joined as a war turned against the Germans. France was by far the largest Western European country to be occupied, with a similar population to Britain’s, so I think it is the closest parallel, and I have links between the British and other resistance groups in the book. Their members, like the British Resistance, varied from traditionalist conservatives to communists and socialists.
Q: The fictional characters seem to all have unique personalities in your book, Dominion. Was any of your character development based on real people you know or people in history you researched?
A: No, the fictional characters were all entirely imagined; so of course were the careers after 1940 of the real historical figures in the book, though their careers pre-1940 were portrayed as they actually where. Getting back to the fictional characters, one of the great dangers in writing a political novel, or especially a historical novel, is to avoid stereotypes. Of course the characters in the book, as in any novel and real life, are shaped by their class, upbringing and national cultures. I suppose for example the character Ben represents the Communist side of the fictional Resistance movement, while Col Brock represents its traditional conservative side, but I’ve tried to give them both distinct personalities.
The most difficult character for me was Gunther Hoth, the Gestapo manhunter. It is all too easy to write a cardboard Nazi stereotype, but I wanted to portray him with more depth so I gave him some of the characteristics of the modern detective – with a messy private life, tragedy in his past, middle aged and untidy but full of perseverance – yet make him a slave to the most vicious aspects of Nazi philosophy. Unfortunately I think people like that did exist.
Q: In the epilogue, you noted that Churchill changed over his political career. Was it the events of his life that influenced this in him personally or did he simply change to match up with public opinion?
A: Oh, very much the events of his life. Churchill was very ambitious, but he was also someone who followed his own star, not at all a “party” man, which explains why in his long career he changed party twice and often took up positions against the party line, which are pure careerist would not have done. When he developed an opinion he was very difficult, but not impossible, to shift, and to people now a lot of those opinions seem wildly crazy, most important his determination to maintain the British Empire intact, and India under firm occupation. He was wrong on that and many things, but on the dangers presented to Britain and the world by Nazi Germany he was dead right, even though his views put him against the prevailing opinion in his own party until 1939.
Q: Finally, what are some of you personal favorite time periods to read or study? To write about? And why?
A: Everyone has their favourite periods. Who knows why? I have always been drawn to certain periods and places, like Tudor England (before it was as popular as it is now) and Civil War Spain. And Russia, I have thought of writing a book set in Russia during the Second World War, though I think poor health might make that a bit too challenging to research now.
I’m also interested in, for example, American Civil War history, while some periods and places like Ancient Rome and Greece the leave me stone cold – both civilisations were based on brutal conquest and slavery. I write about particular periods of history simply because they interest me so much, and writing about them helps me to “get there” in an imaginative sense– although I know that for a lot of historians historical novels, and especially alternate history novels, are as disreputable as crystal meth.
Erin: Thank you very much for this interview; it was a pleasure to meet you. Best of luck with Dominion and all your books! I look forward to reading many more of your books in the future.
C.J.: Well, I am almost finished the first draft of the new one, another Tudor book set during the last months of Henry VIII’s reign. It’ll be out in late 2014 or 2015, I hope. Thank you for the opportunity to come on Hook of a Book.
Note: Thank you to my son, Nassem Al-Mehairi who is very internationally and historically educated and interested, for his help with the strategic questions.
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
C.J. SANSOM REWRITES HISTORY IN A THRILLING NOVEL THAT DARES TO IMAGINE BRITAIN UNDER THE THUMB OF NAZI GERMANY.
1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany. The global economy strains against the weight of the long German war against Russia still raging in the east. The British people find themselves under increasingly authoritarian rule–the press, radio, and television tightly controlled, the British Jews facing ever greater constraints.
But Churchill’s Resistance soldiers on. As defiance grows, whispers circulate of a secret that could forever alter the balance of the global struggle. The keeper of that secret? Scientist Frank Muncaster, who languishes in a Birmingham mental hospital.
Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, a spy for the Resistance and University friend of Frank’s, is given the mission to rescue Frank and get him out of the country. Hard on his heels is Gestapo agent Gunther Hoth, a brilliant, implacable hunter of men, who soon has Frank and David’s innocent wife, Sarah, directly in his sights.
C.J. Sansom’s literary thriller Winter in Madrid earned Sansom comparisons to Graham Greene, Sebastian Faulks, and Ernest Hemingway. Now, in his first alternative history epic, Sansom doesn’t just recreate the past–he reinvents it. In a spellbinding tale of suspense, oppression and poignant love, DOMINION dares to explore how, in moments of crisis, history can turn on the decisions of a few brave men and women–the secrets they choose to keep and the bonds they share.
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