Friday, December 7, 2012

Corruption, collaboration and treachery. Meet John Hanley

Today it’s great to welcome author John Hanley, who has kindly agreed to talk to me about his wonderful debut book,  Against The Tide. First, what is your novel about?

It is set in 1939 and, on the surface, it's a coming of age adventure with lots of action but underneath there are more serious themes especially about the way Jews were treated not just by the fascist dictatorships but also by the apparently democratic nations including the UK. It also digs into the soil of corruption, collaboration and treachery.

I believe it is part of the Jack Renouf series. Does that mean we can expect more of the story?

Jack Renouf is the main character and his relationships with Caroline and Rachel are driving forces of the stories. Saul, whom he befriended to shield him from bullies at school, is his best friend and a catalyst for much of the action in the first three novels in the series.

I have planned ten books in all, seven of which take place over a short period for each of the war years. Eight is set in 1946 and continues Jack's involvement in the scramble to obtain the Nazis’ secrets and expertise before the Russians can grab them. Nine deals with the Israeli fight for independence.

The final novel is already written and ready for publication and is set in 1990. It brings closure to any readers who have been brave enough the follow the series. It also acts as a back stop in case I fail, through age, infirmity or sheer exhaustion from book promotion, to complete the previous novels!

What inspired you to write it?

I was born and grew up in Jersey, a British island, which was occupied for five years by the Nazis during the war. My mother lived through the experience and the evidence of German fortifications were everywhere to be seen. I heard the stories and wondered what it would have been like to live through that period but not trapped on an island. I have always been incensed by the insanity of Hitler's obsession with eradicating the Jewish people and wanted to write about that through the medium of a friendship which endures some horrific episodes.

It was only through chance that my mother wasn't killed on 28th June 1940 when the Luftwaffe, without warning, bombed and strafed the harbour where she normally took a walk with her mother each evening. On that occasion she felt unwell and they didn't go, though a married couple who usually walked with them carried on and the husband was killed. Because of this lucky escape I've always felt a particular connection with this dark episode and describe it in the 2nd book – The Last Boat.

The story is set during World War II. Did you have to do a lot of research before you started writing?

Apart from the evidence surrounding me as I grew up, I was influenced by British war films which celebrated the stiff upper lip though I later discovered that this was artificial as censors wouldn't allow ripe language to be broadcast. From my research I discovered that the reality of up close and personal warfare: everyday communication and sexual behaviour was far removed from the Ealing Studios or Hollywood gloss which was projected in the cinema. I'd always been a bit obsessed with the detail of warfare and as a child had collected models and created primitive databases of military equipment. My prize Christmas present when I was twelve was a book on the characteristics of Japanese fighter planes!

I've been gathering supporting information for the series for many years and have a library of nearly 500 books on the period. It seems that every month more and more is being uncovered about events which took place seventy years ago and I've had to make adjustments to the novels as these come to light. For example, the third novel, provisionally titled 'Room 39', has Saul and Jack working for Ian Fleming whose true role in war has only recently been examined and it is almost as far-fetched as some of the plots he invented for the James Bond series!

I love the cover! Where is the picture from?

I did try creating my own cover from original artwork but I wanted something to convey the central tension in Against The Tide created by the competition between Caroline and Rachel who were both accomplished divers. There are hundreds of images of divers to be found on the internet but hardly any of two in flight together. Solo divers have been used as book covers so many times before that there was a danger of creating a clichéd image. However, after much searching I found this black and white photo which was true to the period and had the girls in creative opposition. The production manager at my publishers did some Photoshop work on it included some colouring in and it seemed just right. I did have to change the text in the story about the diving competition to accommodate the new colours!

What are you currently reading?

I have some books to review as a quid pro quo at present and I've found myself purchasing other Indie authors' work for my Kindle so I'm finding it difficult to spare more than an hour a day for reading. I've just finished an unusual novella on my Kindle — 'The 50 Megaton Tweet'  by R.C.Wade — which I found very alarming and I've reviewed on Goodreads.  I've nearly finished — 'Operator'  by David Vinjamuir —also on Kindle and I've just ordered Ben Elton's 'Two Brothers' which deals with the same themes as my series and 'Cruel Britannia' which lifts the cloak of secrecy on the way the civilised Brits really treated their prisoners when they needed information from them.

What do you like to do in your free time when you're not reading and writing?

I'm fortunate enough to have my own outdoor swimming pool so for six months of the year I swim laps aiming for at least 1,000 metres every day. I realise that's not even a warm up for competitive swimmers these days though when, like Jack, my season was limited to three months, I trained in the seawater pool in Jersey back in the Sixties that represented a full session in quite cold water! 

I play golf sufficiently badly to keep the club professional happy, play the piano - the cheats' version when my mistakes are corrected by the computer which runs my Yamaha Clavinova and provides full orchestral backing.

My wife and I are very fortunate to live near our two daughters who have each produced a son. One is now four and half and the other two and half (where has the time gone?) and we have been trusted to look after them on a very regular basis. That is a real joy though being chased by Jack (a coincidence as the novels came first), light sabre in hand around the house until he corners Grandpa, does test my acting skills as Darth Vader isn't allowed to laugh!

Do you have any final comments?

I've very new to this as Against The Tide was only published on 1st October this year. The story starts in the middle of a water polo match in the Jersey Swimming Club's seawater pool in Jersey on 9th July 1939. For the pre-launch I was able to persuade the Jersey water polo team to stage a match in the same location on 15th September. The local press used this as an opportunity to photograph me against that background. Fortunately, the players refrained from throwing a ball at me or splashing the photographer!

After the match I held a book signing in the café. Later I was interviewed on BBC Radio Jersey and an article about the book was printed in the Jersey Evening Post. The local Waterstones booksellers put on a display as well. I've documented this event with photographs on my website under my blog. Since then I've been immersed in the jungle of social media trying to find some elbow room to let people know about the book.

Where can readers find out more about you?

My website which also contains my blog and considerable background detail on the locations used in Against The

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