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“Against The Tide”
by John F. Hanley is an amazing piece of literature that was my reading highlight of some time. Set on the small island of Jersey between France and Britain in 1939 it paints an authentic and amazing picture of Europe and the World before the outbreak of the war.
Jewish refugees from Romania, a Dutch businessman, people with communist leanings, British fascists and a lot more characters crowd this story and make it a colourful and engaging read.
Jack, our protagonist, is part of a water polo team where he clashes with Dutchman Rudi Kohler, who seems to catch the eye of Jack’s girlfriend Caroline. Jack toys with the idea of going with Rachel instead. Besides this personal rivalry there are political and economical uncertainties that create further tension in the powder box that is Jersey. Torn between the horrors of Franco and Stalin all of the characters have their own ideas and agendas: communists, Jews, Fascists, businessmen and bankers.
The balance between historical facts and personal tragedy is well kept and ensures we never lose interest, the times bring out the best or the worst in everyone while the world seems to hang in balance waiting to spin of its axis.
I have read my share of books set in the times and I found “Against The Tide” particularly well crafted in its portrayal of the times and its characterisation.
This is as close to six stars as you can get. Very well done and highly recommended.
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“The Last Boat”
by John F. Hanley is the eagerly awaited sequel to “Against the Tide”, which ended with the outbreak of WWII.
The second book takes us to the evacuation of Dunkirk and Allied troops from Northern France. I was amazed at the amount of detail the book was able to supply. So much happened in such a short time span at the beginning of the war that few of us can imagine the multitude of factors that came into play for the people of the Channel Islands and Northern France: Where to escape to, how to escape and how far exactly the Germans had progressed, to name a few. The book gives a rich and realistic impression of the invasion and its progress.
Most of the cast from the previous book return and so several personal dramas and issues between the main characters are still to be resolved and these add splendidly to the illustration of the uncertainty of the time.
Written in excellent prose and rich in plot the book was hard to put aside, with new turns, dramas and events in nearly every chapter.
Civilian and military considerations, espionage, some precious cargo and personal tragedies mingle with some historical events, such as the eventual sizing of the Channel Islands and the famous sinking of battle ships.
The book is an amazing compilation of data and facts and with its great characters and plot historical fiction at its best. It gets to show how much there was to events that in most history books only get a sentence or two, and how much there is to say and feel about them.
This is a gripping and compelling read as much as it is informative.
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Interview with John:
Your novel “Against the Tide” is set in Jersey. Can you briefly explain the special status of the Island and why you chose it as location for your book? Do you have any ties to the island?
Though it is only 10 miles from France and over 100 from England, Jersey has been part of the British Crown for over 800 years. It’s only an associate member of the European Union and is responsible for all its own laws which until the 20th Century were written in Norman French. Because of its unique status within the sterling area it has become well known as an offshore finance centre or tax haven. I was born there and my mother lived through the German Occupation of the island during the Second World War.
How did the idea for the novel come to you?
I grew up surrounded by the remains of the German Occupation. The fortifications built to repulse any Allied attempt to retake the island are visible everywhere as the islands were better equipped than the beaches actually used for the D-Day landings. Hitler was obsessed with retaining the only British soil his forces ever captured and diverted huge resources from where they were really needed to defend islands which had little strategic value. With this as a background I took a great interest in the Second World War and always wondered what it would have been like to be 18 in 1939 instead of 1965 and how I would have coped.
How did you come to writing in the first place? Was it always going to be Historical Fiction for you or did you have other genres in mind, too?
I’ve always wanted to be a published writer and have experimented in the past with modern thrillers but was always drawn back to this period especially as I had acquired so much information about it and felt a strange affinity with the people of my mother’s generation.
How did you choose the characters for the story?
Jack was always clear and though he is not my alter ego there are many similarities. His friends, some of them very loosely based on old friends of mine, barged their way into the story and at times took over its direction!
Who is your favourite character and why?
I don’t have a favourite. Jack can be extremely annoying with his quixotic and iconoclastic tendencies but he provides my eyes, ears and mouth so I can hardly dislike him. To choose between Caroline and Rachel would introduce a spoiler to the story but I’m very fond of both of them. Saul can be an utter pest but there is something dynamic about him which I admire but am loathe to say anymore because of what he does in future sequels. I suppose I have a great affection for Uncle Fred and Miko who have both suffered so much but retained their self-belief in the face of adversity which might have crippled others.
Are you like any of the characters (and how so)?
Jack is the closest because of our shared backgrounds in swimming, water polo, life-saving, love of Shakespeare and many of our attitudes to life but he is more robust and technically proficient that I ever was though, on balance, I’m a better pianist!
What was the most fascinating aspect in the research and the writing for you?
As much of Against The Tide is set on the Jersey Swimming Club’s vast sea water pool at Havre-des-pas, I dug out all the information held on the club from the Jersey Archive. I have complete records of all correspondence for the period along with day books, receipts, staffing wages as well as all competitions and results. Initial drafts of the novel were top heavy with this information but following professional editorial advice I wielded a sharp knife and pared this to the bone to save the story from choking to death on fascinating but ultimately irrelevant detail.
How did you research for the book?
I have acquired an extensive library of my own over the years which is stuffed with information on the 1940s but filtered through the hand of a range of authors who have investigated the period. I was also fortunate to have the stories I’d been told growing up in the island about the German attack and occupation. My mother lived through it and her tale formed a basis for parts of the story. One of the most useful resources was the microfiche collection of contemporary newspapers held in the Jersey Library which provided a wealth of detail especially about weather and tides.
Were the plot and subplots completely planned from the start or did they change during the process, and if so, how?
I had an initial plan but it failed to survive the first encounter with the characters as they dragged me off in quite unexpected directions! That’s not unusual for me as I taught improvised drama for many years and always delighted in the unexpected twists and turns which develop when characters are let loose. Of course at the editing stage I had to bring some coherence to the story and keep it true to its historical roots so some of the more outrageous episodes were put back in their box!
This is part of a series. How many books will there be and can you tell us where this will be going – without any spoilers?
I have planned a series of 10 books with one for each of the war years and a couple of extras taking the reader up to 1950. So far the first two in the saga, Against The Tide (1939) and The Last Boat (1940) have been published. The third, provisionally called ‘Room 39’ (1941) is on the stocks. The final book ‘Ho 17’ (1990) is complete as I didn’t want to leave my readers without closure should I fall by the wayside! However, because of the lack of discipline my main characters demonstrate and their reluctance to follow my instructions, I’m having to update it as they throw unexpected adventures and outcomes at me!
What are the best and the worst aspects of writing?
I’ve always enjoyed the actual typing of the stories as I am quite speedy at the keyboard and can lay down 5,000 words in a session. Editing is always interesting though capturing all the typos and grammatical errors caused by fingers trying to keep up with thoughts is a challenge. As the period details have already been carefully researched before I start typing and I’ve located myself firmly in my characters’ world, I don’t have to keep stopping to check for anachronisms or other historical pitfalls. So as far as laying it all down is concerned there are no minuses – those come later in the publication process.
Can you tell us a little about your publisher Matador?
Matador is an imprint of Troubador, a well-known academic publisher in the UK. They were one of the first to offer full-service publishing to authors who were prepared to bear the financial risks themselves. As such, they are a fully-fledged publishing company with all the expertise and staffing necessary to bring a book to the market and support it through distribution, storage, publicity, including arranging media interviews, and other promotional activities. As mentioned above they also offer a full design service along with copy editing, proofreading and sales management including ebook conversion and distribution.
How do you balance marketing one book and writing the next?
I haven’t managed that very well as I’ve been so immersed in marketing since Against The Tide was published last summer. Now that The Last Boat is out as well, I’m having to neglect Jack and the crew for a little bit longer.
What do you do when you don’t write?
I retired after nearly 40 years of teaching in and managing secondary schools in 2006. Once settled in my new home which we had rebuilt – a process far more challenging than publishing – my two daughters who live nearby each produced a son. So a great deal of fabulous time is taken up entertaining them! My dream, which I managed to realise, by moving to Cornwall was to build a swimming pool and I spend six months of the year training in it. During the winter months when it is closed down I spend time on the golf course trying to reduce my handicap though recapturing my youthful flexibility has so far eluded me.
Who did you have in mind when you wrote the characters? Who would play them in a film?
If Tom Cruise can play Jack Reacher without filmgoers hurling their popcorn at the screen then he could probably manage Jack Renouf though he’d have to pay me a shed load of money first! Seriously though, Jack is 18 when the series starts and 30 when the first phase ends in 1950. It’s possible for a skilled actor to pull that off though and a quick check of the Internet Movie Database shows that the English actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson could fit the bill though I don’t know about his swimming ability! Saul is quite nerdy so would be easier to cast. Emma Watson could play Rachel. Dianna Agron manages to play 18 in Glee so she is a possibility for Caroline.
Who are your biggest influences?
My mother probably had the greatest influence on my development. She was a very feisty redhead and brought me up by herself as her marriage failed while I was still a baby. She survived the German Occupation of Jersey, TB, cancer and a whole range of illnesses which she bore with fortitude. She was a very skilled dressmaker and Rachel’s initial story is closely based on hers as they were both born in the same year. Against The Tide is dedicated to her though, sadly, she passed away before it was published.
I was fortunate in having some excellent male teachers who filled the vacuum created by my father’s absence. One taught me the delights to be found in poetry and Shakespeare. Another demonstrated that to win in chess I had to show more aggression and master threat and counter threat rather than just move the pieces about and hope! My swimming coach taught me patience and application. On one occasion he also took out his glass eye, wrapped it in his towel, then showed me how to play ‘dirty’ water polo. One of the characters in Against The Tide is based on him.
Which are your favourite books and authors?
If my mother is to be believed, between the ages of 7 and 18 I had my nose permanently in a book. So many books to remember but I was very fond of Neville Shute, Leon Uris and Hammond Innes. However, my goto author for inspiration and clarity of expression is John D Macdonald. I read everything he had written back in the 70s and keep returning to him now. Lee Child is a good modern equivalent.
Which indie writers can you recommend?
I’ve just finished reading Gentleman of Fortune: The Adventures of Bartholomew Roberts, Pirate written by Evelyn Tidman who is a serious historian and very talented writer. She’s English and lives in Norfolk and weaves her tale around some events which seem almost too outrageous to be true but are. She publishes through CreateSpace and One Small Candle, a novel about the Pilgrim Fathers, is on my list. She’s also planning one about the English Civil War. She writes with such confidence and accuracy that her work is a joy to read.
What would you take to an isolated island?
The complete works of Shakespeare and a pair of reading glasses.
What else would you like us to know about yourself and your books?
I think your questions have teased out far more than I expected to answer but I’d like to record my thanks to the writing community especially the teams who make the Authors Social Media Support Group (ASMSG) such a powerful force.
Essentially, writing is a hobby for me as I have no expectation of making any sort of living out of it – unless Tom Cruise comes calling! However, I find myself locked into a world peopled with fascinating characters like Rachel, Caroline, Jack and Saul and feel obligated to allow them to tell their stories until my readers say ‘Enough — come the full stop!’
Website with all purchase links: http://www.johnfhanley.co.uk
Facebook author page: http://www.facebook.com/johnhanleyauthor?fref=ts
Goodreads author page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6565356.John_F_Hanley
Amazon Author page: http://www.amazon.com/John-F-Hanley/e/B009SMTYTY/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0