A big thank you to Charlie for hosting me, and giving me the opportunity to share with you today.
In debating what to write about for the topic of writing historical fiction, I noticed–and it’s been noticed by others–that in my writing I keep coming back to the time periods around the two world wars. The Echoes series, of which Shadowboxing is book 1, is set during WW2, and other characters I’m writing, or planning to write have their origins just before, during or after either this war or WW1.
Coincidence? I’ve never believed in such things.
About thirty years ago my father became caretaker of his father’s and great-grandfather’s war medals, and with his own passing a few weeks ago these medals have come into my care in turn. I suspect that is, in part, some of the reason for what made me ponder my choice of topic today. These medals are so much more than pieces of metal on faded ribbons; they are a reminder of men who fought for their country and what they believed in. They have their own stories to tell as do others who were a part of those periods of history.
Wars bring out the best and the worst in people. They make us reconsider what is important, worth fighting for, and often dying for. Friends and lovers meet, and/or are separated, sacrifices are made, and decisions taken, not always for the right reasons or with the expected consequences.
For me writing, and reading, is very character driven. I want to get to know my characters, to put them into different situations to see how they will react, and interact with others. Kristopher, one of the characters in Shadowboxing, begins the story as a German scientist from a very privileged background. He’s buried himself in his work, and brushed off a lot of the stories he’s heard of what is going on around him. Work is a great escape. But, when an old friend–the person who is responsible for Kristopher realising he is attracted to other men–warns him that reality is closing in, he’s forced to re-examine not only his conscience, but who he is. He’s never thought of himself as someone who judges anyone, but that’s the thing with social ideologies; they’re insidious like to the point you don’t realise you’re doing it until it hits you between the eyes. Kristopher himself is in no position to judge what might be perceived as ‘other’. As a homosexual man in Germany in 1943, he is ‘other’.
After meeting Michel, Kristopher can no longer deny that side of himself. He also questions everything he’s held to be true. In his own words: “I don’t see how the love you and I feel for each other can be [wrong]. It’s beautiful and feels so good.”
This is just the beginning of his journey through this series. He’ll not only find love in the arms of Michel, but also rediscover a side of himself he thought long gone.
Echoes is a story about love, friendship and family, and how all of those things drive people to reassess what they consider right and wrong. War places people in situations they’d normally not find themselves in, and they’re forced to make decisions that will impact not only their life, but that of others.
“There’s always a choice,” Kristopher insisted. “If you kill someone it makes you no better than they are.”
“In an ideal world, maybe, but we’re not in an ideal world.”
“I’m sorry but I’m not a killer. I couldn’t shoot a man in cold blood.”
“No one is until they have to be.”
I have a scene planned in ‘Comes a Horseman‘, the third book of this trilogy, in which Kristopher will be faced with just that dilemma. Michel’s life is threatened. Will Kristopher be able to pull the trigger and save him?
At this point, I really don’t know, and neither does he.
War changes people just as his experiences during the rest of series will change him. But by how much? And, whatever his decision, a man will die. It’s something that he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. War is hell and its echoes reverberate after any particular battlefield is long gone.
Berlin, 1943. An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.
When Michel contacts the Allies, hoping they can work together, it isn’t long before the so-called “simple” mission becomes anything but. With both men realizing they can no longer ignore their growing feelings for each other, Kristopher and Michel must fight—not just for a chance of a future together, but for their very survival.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m. Fine.” Kristopher’s answer was through gritted teeth. Michel placed a gentle hand on his arm, making him stop under a nearby light.
Kristopher let out a small moan of pain and swayed. Michel hooked his arms around Kristopher’s waist, pulling him close. Resting his head on Michel’s shoulder, Kristopher leaned in, allowing himself to be held.
“I’ve got you,” Michel whispered soothingly. Kristopher’s breathing was ragged, his face covered in beads of perspiration. Now that his attention wasn’t totally focused on putting one foot in front of the other, it was more difficult to hide whatever was wrong.
His eyes glazed over; he was fighting to stay conscious.
Jerking free from Michel’s embrace, Kristopher reached inside his shirt, his hand brushing gingerly against his shoulder. He bit down on his lip but didn’t manage to hide a murmur of pain. A frown creased his forehead when he removed his hand and held it up to the light, staring at it. “Michel,” he said slowly, “is that blood?”
Blood? Oh God, no. Michel’s mind returned to the gunfight and the shots Reiniger had managed to fire in Kristopher’s direction.
Kristopher stared at his hand as though he didn’t believe it was his. His eyes began to close. He blinked, whimpering. “I don’t feel right,” he whispered faintly. He let his hand drop to his side.
“Kristopher, you need to stay awake.” Michel slid his arm around Kristopher’s waist, trying to help him stay upright, but Kristopher pushed him away, pulling the borrowed jacket more tightly around himself. His eyes fluttered then he slowly reopened them.
Michel gently replaced his arm around Kristopher’s waist holding him close again. This time there was no argument. “I’m sorry, Michel.” He gave Michel a shaky smile. “I’ll try, but I’m so tired.” He groaned, his head drooping before he pulled himself awake once more, leaning more heavily on Michel. “I just need to sleep. I’ll be fine once I sleep. I only wanted to make the world a better place.” He looked up at Michel, his expression pleading, his fingers gripping Michel’s sweater. “I tried to stop the nightmares. Please, you have to help me… put… things… right.”
Kristopher’s eyes began to close. He shivered. “It’s cold. Why is it so cold?”
“Kristopher… please. Look at me.” Michel lowered Kristopher carefully to the ground and felt for his pulse. It was fast and irregular, his skin cold and clammy to the touch. “You need to try and focus.” Michel’s fingers shook as he eased the jacket from the shoulder Kristopher had favored. The inside of it was soaked in blood. Michel’s breath hitched, but he forced himself to examine it more closely. He was no doctor, and it was difficult to tell how bad the wound was, just that it had obviously been seeping for quite some time.
God, how had Kristopher managed to get this far? Michel knew that Kristopher was strong willed and stubborn but this…. Michel bit his lip. If he didn’t get Kristopher to a doctor and soon…. Michel grabbed a handkerchief from his pocket and rolled it into a makeshift pad, pressing the cloth against the wound in the hope that pressure might at least help
staunch the flow of blood.
“Thank you.” Michel barely heard the whispered words before the grip on his sweater loosened and his friend slipped into unconsciousness. He bent and lifted Kristopher into his arms, cradling him.
Nearby a dog barked and men shouted. “The dogs are picking up on something. It looks like blood!”
Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand, sharing her home with her twin daughters, at least during the holidays, when one of them isn’t away at university. Her son has left home and started his own family, although she claims she is too young to be a grandmother already. Her three cats are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching and has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and a librarian. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction club and plays piano for her local church and violin for a local orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.
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