Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Looking back on 2012


The past year has been an important one for me as a novelist. From the start of the year, sales of the books in the Leonidas Trilogy moved steadily upwards, passing one critical milestone after another. On schedule, the third book, A Heroic King, was released September 15, and sales quickly surpassed anything I have experienced before. It, like the first two books in the series, has collected a small but growing number of positive reviews – none of which have been purchased and most of which were written by complete strangers. Thank you, all!!

Likewise, after a very slow start, sales of Where Eagles Never Flew started to pick up and reached respectable levels by the end of the year.  In contrast, the launch of Hitler’s Demons, the Kindle edition of my novel about the German Resistance (published in trade paperback as An Obsolete Honor), was disappointing. I can only hope that with time the quality of these books will enable them to win a following of readers.

For me, however, it is time to move on to a new project, a new period. Although I remain committed to writing a biographical novel of Edward of Woodstock (more commonly known as the Black Prince), I recognize that as long as I am carrying a full-time job in addition to my writing, I don’t have time for this massive project.  The biography of Edward requires more research, travel and above-all a dedicated website, none of which I can reasonably undertake any time in the foreseeable future.

Instead, I have chosen to rework a series of books written over the last couple of decades that were set in the 13th Century. These include three novellas, set at least partially in the Languedoc and touching on the Albigensian crusade against the Cathers, a trilogy set on Cyprus during the first half of the 13th Century and dealing with the baronial revolt against the Holy Roman Emperor, and my Templar Trilogy, which spans the period from the 7th Crusade to the destruction of the Knights Templar in 1314.

The three novellas, which I refer to collectively as “Tales of the Languedoc,” will be published in installments on this website.  The first, “A Widow’s Crusdae,” appeared over the last nine weeks. The next, “The Devil’s Knight” will be introduced next week and then appear over twelve weeks starting January 19. The last in the series, “The Disinherited,” will be posted in the summer.

Meanwhile, I am working on revising – actually completely re-writing – the first book in the Templar Trilogy, with tentative plans to release it in trade paperback and Kindle editions in early 2014.

But that is far away, and now I want to thank you for following my blog, writing reviews, leaving comments on my website and occasionally sending me emails. I truly enjoy the exchange with my readers, and try to respond promptly to each communication I receive. I wish all of you the very best for 2013, and hope that you’ll keep reading my books, following my blog, and sending me feed-back.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday the 13th and the Destruction of the Knights Templar

On the night of Friday, October 13th, 1307, the forces of King Philip IV of France carried out a surprise attack upon all Templar Commanderies across France, breaking in, arresting and seizing the assets of the Knights Templar. In the days to follow, the Knight's Templar were charged with the usual crimes of heresy and sodomy -- allegations that the French crown routinely raised against individuals and institutions that were not completely submissive or had substantial private assets that the French king wanted for his treasury. In the years to follow mock trials, wholesale torture of prisoners, and ultimately the burning alive of hundreds of innocent men followed in what was one of the worst know cases of brutal tyranny in the western world. 

Although some, particularly wealthier, elements in society appear to welcomed the humiliation of a mighty and haughty institution, and some of the poor and ignorant may have believed the ridiculous allegations of sorcery and devil worship, as time passed and the extent of the French king's greed, the refusal of brutally tortured men to "confess" -- even under the threat of being burned alive -- gradually convinced the majority of people that the Knights Templar were largely innocent victims of the French king's greed. 

Gradually, in the popular mind, Friday the 13th (of October 1307) was remembered as day in which forces of evil had pounced upon unsuspecting good Christians, utterly destroying them despite their faith.  As the memory of the actual event faded, the association of Friday the 13th with something unnaturally evil and threatening remained.  This is the origin of the superstition about Friday the 13th right up into the 20th Century -- 700 years after the destruction of the Knights Templar.

Although I'm a week late, I'd like to remind readers of the event with the following short excerpt from The English Templar, which describes that Friday the 13th through the eyes of the novel's hero:

The crash that came from the courtyard made Percy fling off his blankets and grab his aketon. Now he could hear more shouting, the imperative yelling of men giving orders, the thudding of numerous hooves on frozen ground, the pounding of boots on wooden stairs, the clunk of doors being flung open. He pulled the aketon over his head and tightened the laces at his throat.

Men were bursting into the dormitory. By the light of the two candles, Percy could see that they wore round 'kettle' helmets over mail coifs and that they had naked swords in their hands.

Percy dragged his hauberk and surcoat together over his head even as the armed men were roughly kicking the serving brothers awake and herding the startled, bewildered men together.

Sergeant Gautier was on his feet and limping forward in his underwear, calling out, "What is this? Who are you? What do you want?"

"You are all arrested in the name of His Grace King Philip IV of France!"

While some of the serving brothers broke into a jumble of confused exclamations of disbelief, Brother Gautier protested in a raised, somewhat hysterical voice, "Why? On what charge?"

The thought that these simple brothers could have done anything to offend the crown of France was so absurd that Percy instantly dismissed the claim as either a mistake or a ruse. Philip of France could hardly know that Saint Pierre du Temple existed. The Temple was, in any case, not subordinate to any king and owed Philip of France neither taxes nor obedience. Percy knew, however, that he no longer had time for his mail leggings and reached instead for his sword.

There was a shout and the sound of someone running and then someone tackled him from behind. He was flung stomach first on to his pallet, pinned down by the weight of his assailant on his back. Even as he rammed his elbows backwards against his attacker, he saw a foot kick out and send his sword skittering across the flagstone floor out of reach. Another man had joined the first on his back, pressing his knee into Percy's spine. Another had hold of the back of his neck in a powerful, muscular grip and forced his face down into the blankets, nearly suffocating him.  Someone was wrenching his arms behind his back and tying his wrists together. Percy knew when he was defeated since that too was something a good soldier learned to recognize, and he stopped struggling instantly. The pressure on his spine and head eased at once. The men backed off him, pulling him to his feet.

He looked over his shoulder and saw that the men holding him were indeed wearing the livery of the king of France. It was ridiculous! What could they possibly hope to gain by a breach with the pope? Did Philip of France want to start a feud with Clement V to match the one he had had with Boniface VIII? Weak as Clement was said to be, even he would surely not tolerate such a flagrant affront to his authority.

The king's men were already herding the bewildered serving brothers and the priest down the stairs to the courtyard. One old man kept asking his brothers what was happening, while Gaston kept looking anxiously over his shoulder to see what had happened to Percy. Serfs by birth, they had been born to docility and as monks they had vowed obedience. Such men, Percy told himself, could not be expected to distinguish between lawful and unlawful authority.

Brother Gautier alone was protesting to the captain in charge. He insisted that he and his brothers were innocent of all wrongdoing. Not one day in their lives had they ever been anything but loyal subjects of the king, he assured the king's representative in a shaky, strained voice. Terror was written on the aged sergeant's face and Percy felt sorry for him. Evidently, he was so frightened that he had forgotten that the Temple was subordinate to the pope alone.

"It's not for me to judge your guilt or innocence," the royal officer told Brother Gautier matter-of-factly. "I have my orders."

"But who gave you the orders? What is the cause of all this? I don't understand," Brother Gautier insisted, wringing his hands.

"Take it up with the sheriff," the royal officer advised indifferently.

The captain was relieved that his mission had gone so well. The orders to attack a house of the Knights Templar and arrest all those within had made him break out in a cold sweat just six hours ago. He had been raised on the legends of Templars defending their castles against tens of thousands of Saracens, their small bands matching great armies, their rescue of King Louis II from destruction, their heroic defense of Acre to the last man. The captain knew that Templars were not allowed to withdraw unless the enemy had more than three-to-one superiority, and he could not know how many men the Templars had at Saint Pierre -- which was why he'd mustered his entire company of fifty men.  In the event, it was almost ludicrous how easy it had been.

Percy's voice drew the captain's attention: "You can be sure that we will take this up with the sheriff -- and the pope! Someone -- you, your sheriff, or King Philip himself -- has overstepped his authority."

The captain looked over startled at the man held by two of his subordinates.  He took in the chainmail hauberk, the muscular shoulders and thighs, and drew the correct conclusion.  This man was a knight. "Are you the commander, sir?"

"No, I am the commander," Brother Gautier spoke before Percy could get a word out, continuing, "this is just a poor traveler. Here for a single night. Whatever crimes we have been unjustly accused of, they cannot apply to him."

The captain looked from Brother Gautier to Percy somewhat uncertainly.

"I am an Englishman, Sir Percy de Lacy, of the Commandery at Limassol on Cyprus, en route from Poitiers to Limassol," Percy confirmed.  "And you have no business arresting any Templar, since we are subordinate to no one but our own officers and the pope himself."

The arrogance of Percy's tone angered the captain and he took refuge in the certainties of life: "I have my orders and they were to arrest everyone inside this house. I don't give a damn if you are a bloody Englishman or the pope himself!"

And he turned his back on the the two remaining Templars and clattered down the stairs to the ward, his men pushing Percy and Brother Gautier before them as they followed him outside. 


Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Project: 13th Century Romance

With the Leonidas Trilogy complete and on the market, it's time for me to turn to a new project.  For months I've focused on re-writing, editing, publishing, and marketing the Leonidas Trilogy, and that has left me no time, energy or inspiration for writing. Today, however, I start work on a new project.

The project is a complete re-write of the first two books in my Templar Trilogy, originally published more than a decade ago. The Templar trilogy covers the period 1250-1310, and follows three generations of the Preuthune family.  Preuthune was my mother's maiden name, by the way, and family legend claimed that the name derived from a crusading ancestor, knighted for bravery on the battlefield. Ah, family legends....But the family coat of arms does include a pascal lamb, which is associated with crusaders, and the Catherine wheels were also popular in the Holy Land. That's enough to spark the imagination of a novelist!

So, the first book in the series will re-create my ancestor, and explain he came to be Geoffrey de Preuthune. The second book in the series follows his younger son to the Holy Land as a Knight Templar and describes the end of Christian Palestine in the second half of the 13th Century.  The third and final book in the series focuses on the destruction of the Knights Templar by Philip IV of France in the early 14th Century, seen through the eyes of the now aged Sir Geoffrey, his young granddaughter, Felice, and an English Templar they rescue from King Philip's henchmen. While the first two books in the series are now out of print and will be completely re-worked and re-published. The third book is still available for sale: The English Templar.

I will be using this blog to post updates and ask for feed-back -- such as a new title for the first two books in the series. I look forward to the interaction, but first I'll be on Kythera for the next two weekends and incommunicado. 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Creative Writing 101: Write About Things You Know!


English teachers and other instructors of creative writing are in the habit of telling aspiring young writers to “write about things you know.” There’s a good reason for this. If they didn’t make this seemingly obvious suggestion, they would have a lot of students coming to them for ideas or failing to write a single sentence because they “didn’t know what to write about.”

The problem with this practical piece of advice is that, while useful in the classroom, it is too often transferred out of that context. “Writing about what you know” is a way to get started. It is a way to practice and exercise, to develop skill and style. It is not – repeat not - the finished product.

A finished product is a piece of writing that you wish to share with a wider public than your teacher, classmates, close friends and relatives. And this is where it is important to make a very important transition.

If you are writing for public consumption – i.e. if you plan to publish in a magazine, on the internet or to publish a book – then you should not confuse “writing about things you know” with writing about yourself. Yes, if you’re already a celebrity, people might be interested in you, but if not the chances are that no one, who doesn’t already know you, is going to be interested in reading about you either. Do you go out and buy autobiographies of people who have never done anything exceptional? Do you read books about people who have attained neither fame nor fortune?  If you do, how many have you bought? Have you read a dozen, a score, a-hundred-thousand? Believe me, the market for autobiographies by John and Jane Doe is very limited indeed. In fact, it is limited to about the number of copies John and Jane Doe are prepared to buy themselves and try to give away.

“Writing about what you know” does not, however, necessarily mean writing about yourself. It can mean writing about a familiar environment, or abstracting from personal experience to more universal experiences. In this sense, “writing about what you know” can indeed be useful component in a finished product. The point is simply that the finished product is unlikely to use this knowledge one-to-one as in autobiography, but as part of a larger, more universally appealing story.

In short, while it is perfectly legitimate to try to learn writing skills without a particular message in mind, no one should aspire to be a writer unless he/she has something to say.  In fact, no one should aspire “to be a writer” at all because being a writer is meaningless; the message is everything. Writing is a means to an end, not an end in itself. In the same way, writing “about what you know” should be a means to an end: either a way to learn writing skills or a way to deliver a more profound and universal message in a convincing manner.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

RELEASED: "A Heroic King"

The third and final book in my Leonidas Trilogy was released yesterday, September 15. It is now available for sale from online retailers.  Here's an excerpt from Chapter 1 to whet your appetite!

 “A bastard?” the Chairman of the Ephors exclaimed in horror. “You’re saying that the ruling Eurypontid King of Sparta is a bastard?”
“I’m saying more than that,” Leotychidas replied coolly. Leotychidas was a tall, lanky man with the large nose typical of the Eurypontids.  He was the ruling king’s closest male relative, albeit only a second cousin, and he was officially his heir because Demaratus, at 49, had yet to produce a son. Leotychidas continued in an aggressive and self-satisfied tone, “I’m saying he does not have a drop of Herakles’ blood in his veins and has no right to sit upon the Eurypontid throne.”
“That's impossible!” A second ephor protested, no less outraged than the first. “He was born to King Ariston’s queen in the royal palace and immediately acknowledged by his father.  He never attended the agoge, and at his father’s death almost seven Olympiads ago he ascended to the throne without question.  He has no brothers. He is the only child King Ariston ever sired.”
“Ariston never sired anyone! He was as sterile as a mule!” Leotychidas sneered. “Have you forgotten he had three wives and the first two, maidens of good stock, gave him no sons, but produced children by their subsequent husbands?”
There was dead silence in the ephorate, the small but venerable building adjacent to the more imposing Council House and backed up against the Temple to Fear.  The five men sitting in the marble, throne-like chairs at the center of the chamber were just ordinary Spartan citizens. They had been elected to a one year term as ephor by the Assembly.  Each man owed his election to a varying combination of a distinguished career in public service, an effective election campaign among his fellow citizens and the endorsements of influential members of Spartan society. Once elected, however, these ordinary citizens collectively became extremely powerful, which was why by law no one could be elected twice. The duties included receiving and dispatching ambassadors, issuing fines to citizens found guilty of breaking the law, and the dismissal of magistrates or commanders accused of wrong-doing. The ephors also served as advisors to the kings and in extreme cases could bring charges against them. 
The men gathered in this room were prepared for these duties. They were not prepared to hear that one of the kings, who had reigned or a quarter century already, was illegitimate. Yet what Leotychidas said was true: Demaratus’ father had had three wives all of whom had had children by subsequent or previous marriages, but only one of whom had ever given Demaratus a child.
Technarchos, the chairman of the five ephors, was a man respected for his hard-work and common sense.  In the army he had risen to the rank of enomotarch, but was passed over for promotion to company commander.  On attaining full citizenship, however, he had been appointed Deputy Head Master of the public school, the agoge, with responsibility for the 20-year old eirenes.  For twenty years he had fulfilled this demanding position with firmness and fairness, but he was not credited with particular subtlety or wit. Recovering first from his shock, he protested simply, “Demaratus was Ariston’s issue by his third wife.”
“Indeed!” Leotychidas agreed eagerly.  “A woman who had been the wife of Agetus, son of Alcides, and borne him children.  There was no question of her fertility, but she produced only one child in her whole, long marriage to Ariston and that son ― Demaratus ― was born too soon to have been sired by the king.  He was the son of Agetus.”
“That cannot be!” One of the other ephors, a man who had benefited from Demaratus’ patronage, insisted frowning. “Why would Ariston raise up the son of another man as his own?”
“Because he was ashamed to admit his impotence, and because he wanted to deny me my rightful place,” Leotychidas retorted sharply, adding in a more reasonable tone, “You need not take my word for it.  I have found a witness, a man who was ephor the year that Demaratus was born and he can bear witness to the fact that King Ariston knew Demaratus was not his son.”
The ephors looked at one another in astonishment.  It was 49 years since the birth of Demaratus. Since the legal minimum age for election to the office of ephor was thirty-one and ephors were usually men in their forties or fifties, any surviving ephor from the year of Demaratus’ birth would now be close to ninety years of age.  None of the men present were aware that such a man still lived.
Leotychidas opened the door leading directly into the Temple of Fear, and called into the darkened temple. He held the door open while a very decrepit old man, bent with age and clutching the arm of a young helot, entered the chamber.
The old man had so little hair left that he could not plait if from the forehead in the Spartan fashion and it was simply combed back over his scalp until it could be bound into a single, thin braid at the back of his neck.  The skin on his face and neck was splotched with age-spots and sagged upon his fleshless bones.  His eyes were grey with cataracts, and his mouth seemed to cave into his toothless mouth.  He shuffled forward until the helot holding him up came to a halt in front of the five city officials. There he just waited.
Techarchnos cleared his throat and asked politely, as was appropriate when faced with a man of such a venerable age, “Who are you, father? And why are you here?”
“I am Lakrates, son of Paidaretos,” he said in a surprisingly firm voice although his words were slurred somewhat for lack of teeth. “I am almost 100 years old, but I am here to be heard.”
“We are listening, father,” Technarchos assured him.
“Then listen well! I was ephor in the reign of King Ariston. On the very day that Demaratus was born, we five ephors were attending upon King Ariston when a messenger burst in upon us to announce the birth of a child to Ariston’s new queen.  Ariston was most astonished and in front of us he counted on his fingers the months since his marriage and ― with an oath ― declared ‘The child cannot be mine.’”
“But he accepted Demaratus! He brought him to the Elders! He doted on the boy!” The ephor who owed his post to Demaratus’ patronage protested with evident alarm.
“That may be,” the old man admitted pressing his lips together so that they completely disappeared into the cavity of his mouth. “But that does not change what he said,” he added stubbornly, and insisted, “He counted on his fingers and declared Demaratus could not be his child!”
“But why did you and the other ephors keep silent about this?” One of the other ephors asked skeptically. Although he owed Demaratus no particular favors, he was a reasonable man and found it hard to credit that such a significant utterance could simply have gone unnoticed for half a century.
“We did not! We told the Gerousia, but they were displeased. They were all Ariston’s men!” The old man spat out bitterly and his foul breath made the ephors recoil involuntarily, but the old man continued passionately. “They said the Eurypontid king had need of an heir and if the Gods had seen fit to give his queen a healthy son, then a month or two did not make any difference.”
Since a man had to be over sixty to be eligible for election to the Gerousia, members of this body at the time of Demaratus’ birth were all long since dead. No one could prove or disprove the accusation of the old man, but there was no denying that there had been a period when the Gerousia was dominated by clients of King Ariston.  They had been elected when the Agiad King Anaxandridas was still too young to have much influence with the citizens.  Only after they died out, was Anaxandridas able to balance out the composition of the Gerousia by getting some his own candidates elected in Assembly.
“I say the Gods have made it perfectly clear that Demaratus was not meant to become king since he too has failed to produce an heir,” Leotychidas took up his appeal. “I, in contrast, have three fine sons. That alone should tell you where the Gods stand in this dispute!”
The ephors looked with varying degrees of alarm and discomfort at their fellow citizen. Although Leotychidas was not without his supporters, he was far from popular and had never distinguished himself either at arms or in other forms of public service.  What he was asking seemed utterly impossible to these five ordinary men, who for more than a quarter century had seen in King Demaratus a descendant of Herakles and representative of the Gods on earth.
The situation was particularly delicate because the ever erratic Agiad King Cleomenes was clearly going mad.  Last year after a decisive victory over Argos, he mindlessly slaughtered captives, burned down a sacred wood and ordered the army to withdraw rather than destroy the city of Argos once and for all. Since no one trusted Cleomenes any more, Demaratus was effectively Sparta’s only king. To suggest that he was not rightfully king, effectively made Sparta kingless ― at least until the issue could be resolved one way or another. Without a king to command it, Sparta’s army could not take the field.
The more he thought about the implications, the more Technarchos felt as if his head was spinning. He was a man with an acute appreciation of his own limitations, and he recognized that this dilemma was beyond him. He resolved to speak privately with the one member of either royal family who had over time repeatedly demonstrated strength of character and leadership capabilities, Leonidas. Out loud, he declared, “We must consult with the Gerousia.”
Leotychidas smiled a crooked, sinister smile and shrugged, as he replied. “But of course. Consult the Gerousia.  But I am the rightful Eurypontid king and when I have been recognized, I will remember who sided with me and who tried to stand in my way ― even after the truth had been revealed.”

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Leonidas of Sparta -- A Peerless Peer" -- An Excerpt from Chapter 1

Cleombrotus was Leonidas twin brother. The news that Leonidas had killed a wild-boar reached him in his tent, where he was dicing with his seven mess-mates. Hearing that Leonidas had broken an arm in the encounter, Cleombrotus snorted and remarked contemptuously, “Lucky someone was around to rescue him from worse harm!”
When they had been little, Cleombrotus had been significantly bigger and stronger than Leonidas and had used both advantages to bully his brother. In the agoge they had been separated and rarely met, but Cleombrotus continued to excel, particularly at boxing, eventually winning in the youth competitions at Olympia. He had won the honours at the Feast of Artemis Orthea as well, and carried the title and trophy for life. Throughout these early years he had looked down on his smaller twin, sneering at him for failing to be elected herd-leader, for failing to win honours or Olympic laurels. But last year everything had turned upside down and bitter when both youth were 20 year old instructors at the agoge called eirenes. Cleombrotus’ lost his command after a case of unprecedented insubordination by his unit resulted in it being turned over to his twin brother.
 “That’s not what Alkander is saying,” the man who had brought Brotus the news noted.
“Alkander?! That trembler! He p-p-probably shit at the sight of the b-b-boar and didn’t notice what was g-g-going on.” Cleombrotus imitated the stutter that Alkander had had as a boy to the amusement of his companions.
When they stopped laughing, however, the messenger put him right. “You better come see the carcass first, Brotus. It’s huge! It took four men to carry it and the tusks are at least two-feet long. Alkander held it down with his spear, while Leonidas stabbed it with his sword ― they weren’t hunting and didn’t have a proper boar-spear with teeth  ― just their standard-issue war spears, which were still in it when Demaratus got there.”
“Demaratus?! What the hell was Leonidas doing hunting with the Eurypontids?” Cleombrotus made it sound like treason.
No one bothered to answer because everyone knew that Leonidas and Alkander had been friends since boyhood, long before Alkander’s sister married Demaratus. “Come and see for yourself.” Brotus’ comrade suggested sensibly, and they all tumbled out of the tent to have a look.
Torches were forbidden in a Spartan camp no less than in the city of Sparta, but they didn’t have much trouble finding the source of commotion. It was, after all, not yet late and most men had not gone to sleep. The arrival of Demaratus with this immense trophy had brought many men out of their tents, and word had rapidly spread that Leonidas had killed it.
Despite himself, Cleombrotus was impressed. The boar was the largest specimen of the species he had ever seen. Nor could he comfort himself that the beast was old, decrepit or lame. Not a hair was grey and there was not another injury upon its body but the ones sticky with fresh blood. The boar was muscular with bristling black hair and eyes that ― even in death ― were full of power and contempt for lesser creatures. How could Little Leo have vanquished such a beast? For the first time in his life, it occurred to Brotus that Leonidas might have qualities that he had failed to notice up to now. Leonidas, he registered, might be more than he appeared to be.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

"A Boy of the Agoge" - Excerpt from Chapter 1

At age seven, Cleombrotus and Leonidas were enrolled in the agoge. Dido had warned him this would happen, and she had always looked sad when she told him, but she hadn’t been able to tell him very much about it.  She was a helot, after all, and no one in her family had ever been allowed to go to the agoge.  Nor could Leonidas’ father tell him much – if he had dared ask him - because the heir apparent to the throne was exempt from attending the agoge and so King Anaxandridas had never gone.  As for Dorieus, he didn’t waste time talking to his youngest brothers, so neither of the twins had any idea what to expect except that it meant leaving home and living in the agoge barracks with other boys their age.
One day just after the winter solstice, their father came for them dressed in his armour and scarlet cloak. He was already a great age by then, much more than three score. He had white hair that he wore braided in the Spartan fashion, but it was so thin that his plaits were tiny little strings, and his scalp was almost completely bare. The skin of his scalp was flecked with brown. He could no longer stand upright; the weight of his breastplate appeared to be too great for his shoulders and dragged him forward. He kept himself partially upright by using a T-shaped walking stick that he propped under his right armpit.
Without a word he signalled his twin sons, who had been told to be ready for him, and with one on either side of him he walked out of the palace. At once they were caught in the cold wind that blew down off the Taygetos. Leonidas clutched his himation tighter around him, but his father shook his head.  “Better get used to the cold, boy. You’ll not be allowed to keep such a thick himation in the agoge.”
Leonidas gazed up at the old man, who he knew was his father but who was still a stranger to him, and started to become alarmed. 
The king led his sons to an imposing building standing directly on the Agora, opposite the dancing floor and at right angles to the Council House and the Ephorate. Although given the same prominence as these buildings, it lacked the lovely colonnade and elegant portico of the government buildings. Instead, the entrance was supported by three ancient Kouros. All had once been painted but were now naked stone, except for some remnants of colour in the curls of their hair. Boys of various ages with shaved heads and rough, black himations came and went in groups. Leonidas noticed that despite the snow lying in the shadows, the boys were all barefoot. This was going to be terrible, he registered.
They entered an office. An elderly man in Spartan scarlet sat behind a desk. Several middle-aged men stood about discussing things earnestly. At the sight of King Anaxandridas, the others fell silent, and the elderly man behind the desk got to his feet respectfully.
“Here they are,” the king announced simply. “My youngest boys.”
All eyes were drawn to the two boys, whom Anaxandridas now pushed forward.
“You’d never know they were twins!” one of the men exclaimed.
Hardly a brilliant observation, Leonidas thought. Brotus was dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a stubborn set to his jaw and a compact body thatas one of the men immediately observedmade him look a good year older than his twin. Leondias was not blond, just brown, but he was much lighter in colour than his brother and his eyes were hazel. He was also ten pounds lighter and two inches shorter than Cleombrotus.
“Who’s this fine fellow here?” They all focused on Brotus.
“Cleombrotus,” the king said.
“Then this is Leonidas.” The oldest of the men walked around his desk and stepped closer to look intently at Leonidas. Leonidas wanted to step back, but he felt his father’s hand on his shoulder. In a vice-like grip it held him in place. Leonidas stared rather terrified up into the headmaster’s face, but Leonidas decided that whatever the man thought of him (and he did not say), he did not seem hostile.
The king took his leave. It was the last time Leonidas ever saw him up close. A little more than a year later he was dead.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Importance of Leonidas


The final book in my trilogy on the life and death of Leonidas is now only weeks away from publication, causing me to reflect on the purpose of the project. Why did I write and why should anyone read a biography, in novel form or otherwise, of King Leonidas of Sparta?

As a historian, of course, I think history matters because of what it teaches us about human nature. Furthermore, history shapes and influences us – even when we don’t know it. While ancient Sparta probably seems obscure and irrelevant to many modern readers, anyone familiar with ancient sources rapidly recognizes that ancient Greece was remarkably “modern.” Accounts of debates, intrigues and scandals in ancient Athens sound astonishingly similar to what goes on in modern legislatures. The fact that the monuments we see on the Acropolis today were paid for by Athens “Allies” should have been a warning to the EU….

As for Sparta, it was the role of women in Sparta that first awoke my interest – and preference—for Sparta, but I soon realized that Sparta shared far more with modern Western society than just the treatment of women. For example, Sparta was the only ancient Greek city to introduce public education for all future citizens, just as we have in Western countries today. Sparta sought to ensure a minimum standard of living for all citizens by giving each citizen an estate large enough to support him and his family -- rather the same way that welfare payments and other forms of subsidies for the poor are intended to prevent abject poverty in modern Social Democracies. Despite its overwhelming military might, Sparta had only one vote in the defensive alliance it founded and headed – a situation comparable to that of the U.S. in NATO today. Spartan artistic and architectural style was minimalist and functional rather than highly decorative – something evocative of Scandinavian design today. All these factors convinced me that writing about Sparta would underline the degree to which humans have shared values across millennia.

But Leonidas is more than just a Spartan – even if he is arguably the quintessential Spartan.  And Leonidas was more than a Spartan king – even if he is Sparta’s most famous king.  Leonidas is important not as a historical personality but as a moral figure.  Leonidas fascinates us not because he was a Spartan king, but because he was prepared to defy impossible odds for the sake of freedom. And because he was prepared to die that others might live.

Critical to the appeal of Leonidas is that he died fighting a defensive – not an aggressive – battle.  Equally important is the fact that he faced death consciously; Leonidas knew he was going to die, but that did not deter or even dishearten him.  Most important of all, Leonidas did not die, like Achilles, for the sake of his own glory and even for honor, but for the lives and freedom of others.

Leonidas’ conscious decision to die in order to save Sparta from destruction was proto-Christian. His example is morally up-lifting, and his story inspirational. These, not a fascination with Ancient Sparta or Leonidas’ historical role, are the factors that make his story worth telling and make his story worth reading.

The five years of my life spent researching and writing about Leonidas have been well spent. They have opened my eyes to many aspects of human nature and enriched my understanding of the human condition. And most of all, they have inspired me to keep writing and keep searching for my own destiny.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Of Novels and Children


My novels are my children.  They are the product of the conscious desire to bring them into the world, but they are not really mine.  I have a degree of influence upon them, particularly in the beginning, but they go their own way as they mature.  I can to imprison them perpetually on my computer and never let them see the light of day (publication) or even kill them by deleting them. But I do not really have control of them.  Do you control your children?

My novels go their own way because the characters in them decide their own fate. I can provide guidance and suggestions, just like any good parent, but ultimately my characters have free will and defy attempts to force them to do things they do not want.  Characters prefer to commit suicide than be misused, so there really is no alternative to letting them go their own way.

But, of course, that is the greatest pleasure of parenting and writing: not knowing where you are going to end up when you start out upon the journey!  You start off with some good intentions and pointed in a certain direction, but you cannot see far enough to know where you will end.   Along the way, children (and novels) will surprise you with their unexpected behavior. They will make you re-think your own values, test your patience and your temper, but ultimately reward you by teaching you things about yourself and life, and human nature. They will show you things you could not have done or imagined on your own.

No child and no novel are ever perfect. They all have flaws, weaknesses, quirks and blemishes. Some will be more popular than others. Some will have virtues that too few others (outsiders) recognize. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have our favorites – but we love them all, the good and the not so good. 

This is the principal reason I find it so very difficult to sell my children.  How can I put a price on my children’s heads? How can I praise them like a “product?” How can I expose them to the criticism of heartless reviewers? Or compare them to others? Obviously, I must – just as a parent must encourage their children to face real-life competition for employment and affection. I must trust them, have faith in them, and stand by them even if they experience set-backs and rejection.

They are my children.

(This comment was first published on "Blogging Authors" July 25.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review of "An Obsolete Honor"



Last week I published and excerpt from my novel An Obsolete Honor (published in Kindle as Hitler's Demons). This week I'd like to share a review by Simon Barrett that appeared shortly after the release of An Obsolete Honor in December 2008.

There are two very clear types of Historical Fiction, those that are merely set against a historical backdrop and the historical events are mere bit players recessed into the color commentary. The second type of book is a much different beast, take a historical event, place it in center stage and weave your tale around it using a combination of factual and fictional characters and events. This type of book is far harder to construct, extreme care to detail must be used, particularly if the historical event is well documented. History buffs will have your head if you get the slightest detail wrong!


"An Obsolete Honor" most certainly falls into the second category. The events of July, 20 1944 in Berlin are well documented. Known as the Valkyrie Plot and subject of a brand new movie staring Tom Cruise, this attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life has been the subject of many history books. Few stones have been left unturned. The facts are well known, yet the forces that drove the plot are much less well understood.

Helana Schrader has done a great job of accomplishing two things in this book. On one level she walks us through the development of the plot to kill Hitler by using her two main fictitious characters Baron Philip von Feldburg, initially an aide de camp to the very factual General Friedrich Olbricht, a very central figure to the Valkyrie plot, and her other main character is Alexandra von Mollwitz, Phillips future wife, and secretary to General Olbricht. Through these two characters and their family and friends a wide canvas is painted.

The author could have stopped at that point, and I am sure it would have made for an interesting story, instead though, she has opted to look at the assassination attempt in a wider context. Portraying Germany as a country that was becoming rapidly polarized as the war progressed. The early elation of victories in Poland and France, soon give way to frustration on the Russian front, and frustration at home as it becomes harder and harder to maintain any sort of normalcy. Goods are in ever increasing short supply, able bodied men are conscripted and sent to almost certain death under Hitler’s stand and fight doctrine, Germany is winning elsewhere, but rapidly losing at home.

The emergence of the SS as the Nazi’s homeland thugs, and the ‘resettlement’ of the Jews all weigh heavily on the professional soldiers and concerned citizens alike. Of course there were others who saw opportunities in this environment.

Helana Schrader explores both sides of the coin, greed versus grief, fortune versus famine, hope versus hell. One aspect that is touched upon, and is a sore subject still, is how did this entire situation unfold, why did the Germans support the maniacal Hitler? Simple, the terms of the Versailles Treaty following World War One opened the door. Through her use of factual events and fictional characters the reader is treated not only to a riveting novel but also a great history lesson into one of the most unfortunate and painful periods in the history of mankind. An enterprising teacher could certainly use this book as a core for teaching a fascinating course, literature, history and social studies all  rolled into one.

At 550 pages and small print "An Obsolete Honor" is hardly a quick, light read. It is however a hugely enjoyable and thought provoking book. It is clear that the author has a great understanding of this story, and the social environment of this area in the early and mid 1940’s. A quick Google of Helana Schrader reveals that she has a PhD in history, and has indeed spent a good deal of time in Germany, so you should not be surprised by the high quality of both the writing and the content. It is rare indeed that I can find only one minor typo in 550 pages of a book, and that mistake likely would be missed by 99% of readers, they use of the word ‘that’ when she meant ‘they’.

You can pick up your copy of this very excellent book from Amazon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 20, 1944 and the Conspiracy against Hitler


On the 68th anniversary of the coup attempt by the German Resistance against the Nazi Regime, I’d like to share an excerpt from my novel Hitler’s Demons.

May 1944

Herr v. Rantzow opened the door himself, and Alexandra followed the sound of her mother’s sobbing. In the entryway an obviously distraught and helpless Herr v. Rantzow murmured to Philip, “She hasn’t stopped crying since the news came. Nothing I can say seems to comfort her at all. She’s making herself ill!” For the first time since they had met, Philip and his father-in-law understood one another completely.

Alexandra went down on the floor before her mother and laid her head in her mother’s lap. Her mother bent forward, wrapped her daughter in her arms and sobbed, “Oh, Alix, only you understand. I’ve lost your father all over again. But at least your father had time to marry and have children – they took all that away from Stefan. Stefan’s been killed before he had a chance to live!”

“That’s not true, Mutti,” Alexandra told her gently but firmly. Sitting up, she looked her mother in the eye. “I don’t know anyone who was more alive than Stefan, or who loved life more. That’s why it’s so hard to lose him. But you can’t really believe that so much life and energy and love are really gone? He’s here with us right now – and we’re probably making him feel terribly guilty for causing us so much grief.” Tears were streaming down her face as she spoke, but her voice was steady.

Frau v. Rantzow clutched her daughter’s hands in hers, her lips trembled, and her face glistened with tears as she asked, “Do you really think so?”

Alexandra nodded, “Yes.”

Shortly after dinner, Alexandra took her mother up to bed and stayed with her until she fell asleep. She returned downstairs and joined Philip and her stepfather in his study. They were drinking cognac, and Alexandra asked for sherry. Her stepfather poured, standing in his perfectly tailored suit, even now the elegant diplomat in a winged collar with graying sideburns. “I must thank you, Alexandra,” he admitted as he brought her the sherry. “You’ve been wonderful.”

Alexandra took the sherry in the cut crystal glass and smiled sadly up at her stepfather. “It isn’t me, really. I’m just a bit of Stefan still alive.”

“Nonsense,” her stepfather contradicted, “you’ve been a great help. It’s just all so pointless! This whole stupid war and all the senseless sacrifice!” Herr v. Rantzow’s nerves, kept in check by the need to support his wife, now cracked. His hands clenched around the heavy tumbler until his knuckles were white. “If only the Western Allies would land! Why are they taking so long? Don’t they realize that if they wait too long, the Eastern Front will collapse and the Russians will win the war without them? The sooner they land, the sooner the war will be over!” 

Without giving anyone a chance for comment, Rantzow continued in an angry voice, “You can be sure it’s the damned Americans who are hanging back. They’re so afraid of casualties! Afraid that public support for the war will crumble as soon as the bodies start coming home. You know they ship their dead soldiers home, don’t you?” Herr v. Rantzow asked Philip. Philip hadn’t known; he shook his head. “They’re that rich and that spoiled that they actually collect their dead and send them home all the way across the Atlantic at government expense! What a bizarre people – so spoiled and soft and na├»ve, and yet so dangerous. Once they land, the war won’t last more than a few weeks. They have more men, armor and ammunition than the Soviet Union, and because they cannot afford a long war, they will throw everything they have at us. I tell you, once the Americans land in France, the war will be over in weeks. If only they had landed months ago!” Herr v. Rantzow’s voice cracked, and it took Alexandra a second to realize he was crying.

She had never seen him cry before, and she hesitated. She cast Philip a helpless glance and then went over and gently laid her arm around her stepfather’s waist. He had dropped his face in his long, elegant hands with the signet ring and he left it there, accepting but not returning Alexandra’s gesture. Between clenched teeth he managed to say, “I’m so sorry, Alix. I’m so sorry Stefan will never know a better Germany than the one he died for.”


Alexandra asked Philip to go for a walk with her around Lake Grunewald in the fading light of the long summer day. They took the bewildered family dog with them. The sky was luminous and the stars were coming out; the forest was black. Alexandra could walk neither fast nor far in her condition, but she needed the fresh air. Soon they found a bench and sat down. Alexandra had her arm through Philip’s. “Philip, don’t be angry with me,” she started timidly, “but I’ve started to wonder if Graf Moltke isn’t right after all. I mean, what if we make our coup and then get blamed for losing the war? Won’t all the Nazis then be stronger than ever? Won’t they destroy whatever government we try to establish? I don’t even know what Moltke and his friends  have thought up, do you?”

“I’ve heard some things. There is no one plan, really – just a lot of ideas. That is, everyone agrees we have to have a government based on the Rule of Law – a constitution that guarantees basic human rights such as equality before the law and freedom of religion, association and movement. Almost everyone agrees that we have to have a state based on the fundamental principles of Christianity, such as respect for life and for our fellow man and responsibility toward the weak and poor. But, as you know, the devil is in the detail. There are some people who argue that we need to restore a monarchy, because Hitler’s success demonstrates that Germans need a ‘leader,’ and if they don’t have a hereditary one, they will follow every megalomaniac that comes along. Others want to see American style democracy, and others favor Socialism. Claus is throwing his weight in with the Socialists at the moment.”

Alexandra actually managed a smile, even if it was a sad, weary smile. “The Revolutionary Count – it suits him. Can’t you picture Claus with Robespierre?” Philip looked at her in astonishment, unable to follow her intuition when she gave it free rein like this. “And where does General Olbricht stand?” she asked.

“As so often, we have much the same opinion.”

“Which is?”

“Olbricht told Claus: first act, then we’ll see who’s left over.”

“But, Philip, if my stepfather’s right – if the war isn’t going to last more than a few weeks after the Americans land in France – then why not let them win the war? Why risk the lives of the very best men Germany has? Beck and Tresckow, Olbricht and Uncle Erich – and you? Why not let Hitler sign this merciless Unconditional Surrender an take the blame for the war he started and lost? Why should Beck or Olbricht – who were always against the aggression – be forced to swallow the bitter pill?”

Philip held her closer to him and kissed the top of her head. He understood her thinking. With Stefan already dead, her compulsion to shorten the war – even if only by a single day – had eased. Instead, she saw that he was in a relatively safe staff position and was at greater risk from a failed coup than a marginally prolonged war. Her logic was impeccable, as usual, but he shook his head nevertheless. “First of all, your stepfather underestimates us. The Americans may have endless material resources, but their troops and officers are inexperienced. I think we may be able to hold both fronts for as long as six to eight months after the Americans land – and they haven’t done that yet. So the war could go on another nine to ten months. In that time, we could have lost another half-million men on the front and maybe half that again to the air raids.” He dropped his voice, “And then there are the Concentration Camps and the Death Camps. We’re systematically slaughtering people, Alix – as if they were animals with an infectious disease….” His voice faded in the darkness.

“You mean the Einsatzkommandos?” Alexandra asked.

“No, I mean we’ve built special slaughterhouses for people. The SS is diverting rolling stock – which we desperately need to keep the Eastern and Italian fronts supplied with ammunition and other war supplies – to transport people to these camps. They transport people in freight cars and herd them into large chambers and gas them.”

Alexandra wanted to say: “That can’t be!” – but it was too horrible for Philip to have made it up. “How do you know?”

“Olbricht told me. I don’t know his source. It doesn’t matter. After what I saw the Einsatzkommandos do, it’s impossible to question this. And we have to stop it. Or at least try to stop it. Or maybe just demonstrate before God and the Allies and history that German officers opposed these measures. The coup isn’t just about stopping the war – at least that’s not what it’s about for Olbricht or Tresckow anymore. It’s about taking a moral stand against a regime that is morally depraved. It’s about – if you like – trying to save Sodom and Gomorrah by finding ten just men, who are willing to stand up and be counted – even if it costs them their lives.”

Alexandra gazed at her husband in frightened awe. It was almost completely dark, and his face was in shadow. She could make out the curve of his dark hairline against his high forehead, the glasses hiding his eyes, and the set of his lips. She was frightened and she shivered, but she could not protest. She had set him on this path. She had supported him at every step. What right did she have to lose heart now?

Philip took her hand and entwined his fingers in hers. “Now do you understand why I’ve been so selfish? So reluctant to let you take our child to safety in Altdorf?”

All her nightmares were true. After she left Berlin, she would never see him again. “When?”

“Just as soon as our current volunteer assassin gets access to Hitler.” 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Creative Writing 101: Importance of Research


Aspiring writers are often told to "write about things they know" and, following this advice, many authors don't think they need to do any research before they sit down to write. While this might be true for a completely autobiographical work, any author interested in writing more than one autobiography will rapidly realize that research is not only necessary but liberating.

After all, for a literate population, knowledge need not be first hand, and good research expands exponentially the topics that we can write about without violating the rule to "write about things you know." The fact is, most of what we “know” we have learned indirectly either formally or informally. We have listened to experts in the classroom, attended lectures and seminars, and taken part in discussions and private conversations. We have read newspapers, magazines, academic journals and books. We’ve seen documentary films and TV programs. If we want to learn about a specific topic and become experts in it, we can. For a novelist, this means that “writing about what you know” need not mean writing about your own experiences, but rather writing about places, periods, professions, and events that you have thoroughly and professionally researched. 

The operative phrase here is "thoroughly and professionally researched." Reading one article, watching one TV program or making a quick check of "the facts" on wikipedia does not qualify.  If you’re going to write a book about a fireman in New York on September 11, 2001, then you better carefully research everything about the New York Fire Department’s organization, equipment, social structure, and internal culture as well as the exact timing, sequence and impact of each terrorist attack. 

Keep in mind that good research does not interfere with a book, but rather enhances it.  It provides the background and context for the story; it lends the book authenticity. If a book reads like a device to lecture the reader on the technology or religion or social structures of a different place or time, then the author has failed. But if a book allegedly set in a different place or time is filled with anachronisms and inaccuracies, then the book is just a much a failure and no amount of brilliance in delivery (style) can save it.  Great fiction must be both authentic and literary.   

The temptation is to write quasi-autobiographical books, but that gets harder with each novel. It can be difficult to handle a wide-range of themes, to develop significantly different plots and populate the book with recognizably different characters, if the setting is always the same.


The more difficult, but more rewarding, route is to do research and learn about different cultures, periods and places. If nothing else, you will be a better educated person, enriched by knowledge of things you could not have imagined so that, even if you write fantasy, you you find your imagination has been stimulated in new ways.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Review of "Chasing the Wind / Where Eagles Never Flew"



Shortly after the release of my Battle of Britain Novel, "Chasing the Wind" the following review was published on Amazon. Last year, the book was released in Kindle format under the title: "Where Eagles Never Flew." Any readers interested in WWII, particularly the Battle of Britain, will appreciate Mr. Rodwell's assessment of this book.


The best novel yet about the Battle of Britain!, 30 Aug 2007
By 
Mr. Simon A. Rodwell (Milton Keynes, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)  
This is a superb novel about the Battle of Britain and is a must read for anyone interested in that period in our history. It is now 67 years since the Battle of Britain and the summer of 1940 is gradually moving from common memory into a piece of history. So much has been written about the battle from the early factual accounts written within a year or two of the battle, through to a rash of 1950's pilot biographies and memoirs and a host of novels from the 1960's to the present day, that it is hard to imagine that a new novel could be written that would make the conflict seem fresh. Yet this is exactly what `Chasing the Wind' has achieved.

The novel tracks through all the important stages of the battle from the closing stages of the Battle for France through to the early days of October 1940. The historical accuracy is stunning and the historical characters featured in it are faithful to their biographic details. Fictional character development has real depth (and this is something that is sometimes lacking in wartime fiction about flight). The story is also told from both German and British perspectives as well, with the reader's sympathies drawn to several key characters regardless of on which side of the English Channel they happened to be based. The variety of character roles has also been cleverly constructed since the reader is given so many different imaginary camera angles to view the unfolding battle from, as well as building a full picture of the social atmosphere of the times in both Britain and occupied France. Technical detail is similarly superb. The performance characteristics of all aircraft involved, for example, are faithfully represented.

It is often hard when writing a novel about historical events to avoid the judgement of hindsight. The outcome of the Battle of Britain had a result which history judges as being in Britain's favour. What `Chasing the Wind' manages to do, however, is to convey the uncertainty of the times. The outcome was very uncertain for both sides and the fear very real for all concerned. The novel catches this so brilliantly that at times one forgets it is a novel at all and that it is more a documentary memoir of those living at the time.




Note: Next weekend I will be travelling, and the next post to this blog will be on July 14.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dialogue in Action: Example 1

Last week I discussed writing dialogue in fiction. Here is an example from Chasing the Wind (Kindle Edition: Where Eagles Never Flew.)




The phone rang behind him. The WAAF clerk answered, “606 Squadron.” The WAAF sprang to her feet. “Yes, sir! He’s right here, sir. One moment, sir!” She covered the speaker and “whispered” in a loud voice to Allars, “Squadron Leader Allars, sir. It’s Air Vice Marshal Park, sir! He wants to speak with you, sir!”

Allars stamped over to the phone and took it. “Allars here.”

“Park. I’ve just had word that Squadron Leader Jones has been found dead. Apparently his parachute failed – or was shot up. In any case, it didn’t open.” There was a pause.

Allars felt compelled to say dutifully. “I’m very sorry to hear that sir.” Was he? Not at all. He’d long thought Jones wasn’t up to the mark.

“Doug, I’d like an honest answer from you.”

“Of course, sir,” Allars answered, although he was alerted by the use of his first name that this was a special request.

“Wait ‘till you hear the question, Doug.”

“All right.”

“First, is your remaining Flight Lieutenant up to the task of taking command of the squadron?”

Allars didn’t even have to think about that one. “Under no circumstances. If anyone had asked me, I wouldn’t have made him a flight commander. He’s an irresponsible, self-satisfied whelp, who thinks that just because his father inherited a coal fortune the whole world ought to dance to his tune. I’m not saying he can’t fly, but he certainly can’t command the respect of men—if you want my honest opinion, Keith.”

“I asked for it. All right, then, is the rest of the squadron a write-off or not?”

Allars hadn’t been prepared for that. It was a dangerous question. “There are still ten other pilots, Keith, and as I said, Tommy can fly well enough. Also, I’ve been told we’ll be back up to twelve aircraft by tomorrow.”

“That’s not what I asked, Doug. The question is: should I pull 606 out of the front line?”

“Pull them out? But we’ve only just had a rest. I mean, other squadrons have been in it longer. I think we can cope.”

To Park on the other end of the line, Allars sounded quite stunned by the possibility, as if it had never occurred to him. But he didn’t sound really confident about their capabilities, either. Park was silent for a moment , unsettled, and then became more explicit. “There are other squadrons that are just plain tired and need a rest, but, when I visited 606 on the 16th, I had the feeling the issue was morale more than exhaustion. The problem is this: almost every squadron we’ve rotated in from the north has been slaughtered within two to three days of arrival in 11 Group – often with hardly anything to show for it. The squadrons that have been here longer have much higher kill-to-loss ratios and have consistently lost fewer pilots. If I pull 606 out, the chances are that the replacement squadron will get badly mauled – maybe lose six or seven pilots – before the week is out. Now tell me if you think 606 needs to be pulled out.”

“In that case, definitely not. There is some good material here.”

“You think a new CO could turn them around?” Park asked explicitly.

“The right CO could.”

“I hope your right, Doug.”

“So do I, Keith – if not, I’m going to have several young men’s lives on my conscience, aren’t I?”

“If you don’t already, Doug, you’re a lucky man.”