It still seems more than a bit odd, or incongruous, perhaps, to see my name and author in the same title block. Writing, authoring, if you like, was never in my career plans — to the extent there ever were such plans — although my wife says she told everyone fifty years ago I would someday write a book (I’m reminded of a cartoon):
So, when I found myself with some unexpected time on my hands in 2011 — having spent almost three years helping my wife recover from a debilitating episode of transverse myelitis (not recommended; fortunately she’s recovered nearly fully, but still can’t drive) — I cast about for a new pastime. I’ve always been an amateur historian, serious about the stuff to read widely, insufficiently serious to become an academic type. And in my newfound semi-leisure, I began reading and re-reading my way through our library.
Alongside Tuchman and Keegan, I read Clancy and Fitzgerald, Grisham and Faulkner and seemingly everyone in between. At some point I had one of those ‘I can do this’ epiphanies, the same that have led many astray. I latched onto a notion – historical fiction, World War One era – and consumed with a desire to create my own fictional world, populated with characters of my creation, I was off.
I had no idea.
Well, I did have an idea, namely how the war could have been ended earlier and in less costly sums of blood and treasure and without the twin curses of Versailles’ bitterness and Bolshevik depravity. And I decided to keep as close to the real record and timeline as I could — not an alternative history flight of fancy a la Harry Turtledove, but what the historian Niall Ferguson terms a counterfactual — a what if based on plausible departures from actual events. My premise was simple: in January of 1918, the war in the West had subsided for the winter with Germany still in a commanding position, the war in the East had ended with Russia’s capitulation to Germany and her commanders facing a decision: how to crush the British and French before the Americans arrived in force with the most precious of resources: manpower.
That premise boiled down to a simple, yet plausible departure from the real outcome, namely a German declaration of victory and withdrawal to impregnable defensive lines, daring Lloyd George and Clemenceau to justify more senseless bloodshed to their war-weary populaces.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Never is. That was my challenge, to create characters and actions to carry that premise through, realistically, to that end.
More to come…