By the end of September, I hope to submit the manuscript of my second novel Two Families at War to my publisher. I’m almost satisfied with it (my editor may think otherwise!). This is the fourth draft of a novel which I began writing in the summer of 2012.
The story itself follows the fortunes of two families during the early years of the Second World War. One are German Jewish refugees who reached England via the notorious voyage on the SS St Louis to Cuba in May 1939. After a year in which they settled down in North London, they were interned on the Isle of Man to be released in time to witness the second great fire of London in December 1940.
The other group which the novel focuses on are a family of petty criminals who take advantage of the blitz and the blackout to expand their activities and, inevitably, come face to face with the Jewish refugees. The other chief character is Richard Walker, an important part of the plot of The Blue Pencil and he provides the link between the two novels. Others from my first novel do make fleeting appearances in Two Families at War.
In both books I tried to weave the fortunes of fictional characters into real events and this entailed a great deal of research because I was keen to be as historically accurate as possible. Much of the work I carried out in preparation for writing The Blue Pencil was useful for the follow-up, although I did have to look in some depth into the lives of Jewish people in Berlin as war approached and into tales of internment on the Isle of Man. I spoke extensively to Blitz survivors, both in North London and elsewhere in the UK. I visited all of the locations in the book, including a whole week spent on the Isle of Man (in fine weather!). Apart from location visits, library (including the Newspaper Library in North London) and internet searches, I have spent a good deal of time at the Imperial War Museum (London) and the London Transport Museum.
I write in pencil which allows me easy correction. My typing is hopeless and I would have spent my time concentrating on the typing and not developing the plot had I chose to use a keyboard. Having said that, I do type out the pencil manuscript (with two fingers) when I’m satisfied with it. I always work in the day and seem to be at my best in mornings.
Research for Two Families at War took about six months and the actual writing a further six months. I started submitting manuscripts for proof reading to my friend Brian Cooper in May of this year and sent him the final draft in late August. When you’re an incompetent typist (as I am) you’d be amazed at how much rubbish you manage to put on to a page. After he’d returned the corrected first draft, I commented to him that he must think me illiterate!
Soon I’ll be embarking on the research for the third book, provisionally entitled The Summer of Thirty Nine. Most of the characters from The Blue Pencil will re-appear. If it gives me half as much pleasure I’ve had from writing the first two, I’ll be very satisfied.