Paul McDermott is with me today and has agreed to sit on the hot seat. Paul, are you ready to begin the interview. As my Brit ex used to say, ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’
What is your greatest temptation:
It wasn’t a gin-house in Chicago, but my Casablanca moment happened when I was far from home and SHE walked into the bar. Twenty-five years later she walked out of my life and I’ve never allowed anyone else to get close. Like everyone else, I only have one heart, I can’t afford to have it broken twice.
As I write it’s Chinese New Year’s Eve [Jan 27, Year of the Rooster about to begin]. I love ALL Chinese cuisine, and I’m pretty handy with a wok myself! Favourite recipes: anything Sweet ‘n’ Sour or Szechwan, usually based on Chicken or Prawns (or BOTH!)
“If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there, Man!” I’m in regular contact with others from my Uni days: we call ourselves the “Baby Boomers”, so I guess that makes us Recycled Teenagers from the Woodstock/ Flower Power generation (and YES, I was there!)
What is your greatest weakness (example: mine is cars)?
I have to ‘fess up, although I’ve made several attempts to give up, I still smoke – but FAR less than I used to! Sooner or later I expect our dear Chancellor of the Exchequer will add on one hike too many to the tax we pay on tobacco, which will probably persuade me to quit altogether …
If you could have any kind of car, what would it be?
“They don’t make them like that any more …” How many times have I heard that said? My father taught me to drive in a Saab V5: built like a tank and totally trouble-free. One feature it had (1967) was a form of Cruise Control which made it possible to get 80+miles per gallon on long journeys!
Your dream home – mountains or ocean?
“♫ Where the mountains of Mourne roll down to the sea …♫” I’ve lived in towns & cities in several different European countries, and for the moment I’m happy “back where I belong” – or to quote another song, “In My Liverpool Home”
My dream home (which I still think I might be able to achieve) would be to buy a traditional Gypsy caravan and wander at my own pace along the back roads and by-ways of Ireland at the steady five-miles-a-fortnight provided by my faithful horse.
What inspired you to become a writer? To write this book?
I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t write: I believe my skull would burst from the inner pressure if I didn’t scribble my thoughts and ideas on paper. The family Gremlin [arthritis] decreed that I had to take early retirement from teaching, and that was when I decided to make my first attempt to have a book published. That was a childrens’ book, through a local Indie publisher. It sold reasonably well and I was encouraged to write a sequel. Unfortunately the publisher folded just as I finished writing the intended sequel … I have since written a third book in the series, but haven’t tried to find an alternative publisher yet.
My current book. The Spear of Destiny, was inspired by a combination of circumstances which were not ‘typical’ of my “general” creative processes. I lived in Denmark for a number of years and had the privilege of meeting people who had been active members of the Danish Resistance Movement during WW2. The story of their brave deeds has never been given the recognition it deserves, and I wanted to redress the balance. When the Danish billionaire Carsten Ree had the wreck of U-534 refloated and it was installed as a permanent exhibit in Liverpool’s Maritime Museum, the story almost wrote itself. The basis of the story appeared as my NaNo entry in November 2010, the end result of 30 days of madness and strong coffee!
Do you have a daily writing routine? If so, please share.
I always hope my daily writing ‘routine’ will begin before I get out of bed! Explanation: I keep half a dozen notepads and a plethora of pencils/pens at my bedside. I frequently wake during the night with the vestiges of a dream still circulating like morning mists on the very edge of consciousness. If I can scribble a few key words on paper, I will sometimes be able to build this into a coherent tale. This was what gave me the format I used in The Chapel of Her Dreams, first volume of a planned trilogy. I can also confirm the truth in what’s said about retirement: I was “never so busy when I worked for a living”. I seem to spend most of the day writing something or other; if I don’t get a minimum of 1500 – 2000 words written, I feel I’ve wasted the day. At the moment I have about 8 “Works in Progress”. This is my way of trying to avoid the dreaded ‘Writers Block’: if I ‘hit the wall’ with a story, I switch to something else until my Muse stops sulking and returns to my draughty garret.
What is your favorite book?
Favourite book – not counting the American-English dictionary! I used to have one of these when I worked for an International School funded by a US company J Writing about ‘what you know’ means I always read my local newspaper: I prefer to reflect Current Affairs in my writing whenever possible (the Liverpool Echo is available on-line for those unfortunates who do NOT live in the Cultural Centre of the Known Universe). I’ve read (and re-read) “The Lord of the Rings” so often, I’ve replaced my (paperback) copies at least three times! Just finished The Darkest Hour by another Liverpool author, Tony Schumacher who paints a gritty and very believable “What if …” scenario of GB following a German victory in WW2. Don’t read this in a dark room … I’m also struggling through a twin-language book of Celtic Fairy Tales in an attempt to force myself to learn Gaellige (research for another WiP)
What is your favorite movie?
I think I could probably recite from memory the script of The Italian Job – the ORIGINAL, with Michael Caine: the ‘remake’ was an insult to the original cast. If I’m allowed a ‘second bite at the cherry’ I’ll go for The Rocky Horror Show, BUT no film/DVD can compare with being in the audience at a live Stage performance
Who is your favorite historical figure?
I have to include two of my ancestors, Brian Ború and Cuchulain … what do you mean? How dare you suggest the Sí aren’t real? However, if you’d prefer someone you can put dates and recorded deeds on, I’ll go for Sir Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Worldwide Brotherhood of Scouts. The basic survival tips I learnt from my years as boy and young man have proved very useful.
In your books, who is your favorite hero and please introduce him?
One of the most satisfying things I took from writing The Spear of Destiny was having the opportunity to honour the memory of a number of real people alongside my fictional characters. One such Hero is Captain Johnny Walker. Although he only plays a small role in my story, he was almost entirely responsible for the success of the Allies in the Battle of the Atlantic. General consensus is, he literally worked himself to death in the process.
Who is your favorite heroine and please introduce her?
Sally, main protagonist of Plague Sally [spoiler alert: sequel is half-finished]. She is a skilled healer/herbalist who uses natural medicines. Falsely accused of witchcraft, she must run for her life.
How about a blurb and excerpt from The Spear of Destiny?
In 1945, U-boat Kapitän Herbert Nollau must deliver a weapon which will turn the war in Germany’s favour. His orders are delivered verbally. There will be no written records… and no witnesses.
Alone, far from home, hunted by the Danish Resistance and the might of the Allied Forces, he must obey either his final Orders…or the inner voice of his conscience.
Überlojtnant Herbert Nollau stood with his Zeiss nightglasses glued to his eyes, impervious to the rain whipped across his cheeks by half a gale. This howled almost exactly at ninety degrees to the tide, which had just reached the full but had not yet begun its retreat. His command craft, U-534, sat uneasily at anchor, dipping at bow and stern in the current, yawing appreciably as frequent Force Ten gusts buffeted her broad flanks. Low, heavy rainclouds hunkered closer, seeming to settle on the upper branches of the natural pine forest which spread untamed, unculled, across the low hills of Schleswig-Holstein.
An identical pair of black Opel staff cars bracketed a canvas bodied Mercedes half-track transport wagon, all three vehicles picking their way carefully along an unmarked country road. The headlights were taped down to the size and shape of a feral cat’s vertical slits, acknowledging the strict rules governing all traffic during the hours of darkness. The road to the harbour just outside Lübeck was neither tarmac’ed nor enhanced with any form of lighting. The drivers were obliged to steer cautiously around every twist, using the gears and brakes more frequently than the accelerator.
“Amateurs!” he thought to himself, as the three sets of headlights crawled slowly closer.
He blanked the thought as soon as it intruded on his consciousness, forcing himself back into State-approved Wehrmacht thinking, based on purely practical matters directly related to carrying out current instructions, with maximum efficiency, without question. He pulled the collar of his oilskins closer around his throat in a futile attempt to prevent the rain from seeping through, soaking his uniform. Raising his night glasses once more, he cursed the weather, the Wehrmacht and the world in general, feeling more exposed and vulnerable with every minute that passed as he waited for the convoy of lights to crawl closer, carrying the equipment which he had been ordered to collect. It bothered him that he was expected to set sail immediately, and await orders concerning his destination by radio once he had cleared the bay and entered Store Bælt: technically, that section of the North Sea was neutral Danish waters, and if he were to remain on the surface for any length of time in order to receive orders …
As the lights snaked around another pair of curves and began their final descent to the shoreline and the jetty where U534 was waiting, Herbert Nollau realized that he had on board a much more powerful sender/receiver than any other U-boat: in fact, not just one but two radios equipped with the Enigma cryptographic programme had been installed, ostensibly for testing. With a sudden jolt, the deceptively young-looking Überlojtnant realized that this technology was far more sophisticated than that which had previously been regarded as the best in the world: apart from being guaranteed unbreakable as a code, it could also send and receive radio signals without his craft needing to surface.
He shook his head to clear the worst of the pools which had formed in the upturned brim of his sou’wester and made his way down the ladder bolted to the side of the conning tower, aiming to be waiting on the quay before the three vehicles wheezed to a halt. His mechanic’s ear analysed and diagnosed a list of faults he could clearly identify from the laboured chugging of each engine. Furious at this indication of inefficiency, a corner of his mind decided that he would have had the senior officer responsible for each vehicle court-martialed, if the decision had been up to him. In spite of the horrors he had witnessed in three years of naval warfare, he shuddered. His orders, distasteful though they might be, were crystal clear …
Two gaunt, silent shadows slid with simultaneous choreography from the rear seat of each of the Opels: their sleek black trenchcoats almost touched the planks of the jetty, glistening in the starlight as if the officers wearing them had been marching for hours in the rain rather than just stepping out of a warm, dry car. Nollau fired off his most formal salute: the four SS-officers responded with a world-weary, bent-elbow half-salute and pointedly refrained from returning Nollau’s “Heil, Hitler!” One detached himself for a moment and gave a hand-signal to the driver of the canvas-sided truck. The driver immediately hammered his fist twice on the bulkhead behind his seat. Four soldiers appeared over the tailgate of the wagon and began to manoeuvre something long and heavy out of the cargo space.
Turning to face his command meant that Herbert Nollau had to turn his back on the four staff officers. Somehow he managed to do this with an insolence which stated quite clearly that, as far as he was concerned, they were barely worthy of his contempt.
He placed a small, shrill whistle to his lips and blew, one long (but not overloud) blast. Within ten seconds, the deck was populated by about twenty matelots, standing at ease, who somehow contrived to arrive from nowhere and in total silence. Close to the bows, and just for’ard of ’midships , cables were deployed from two small jib cranes. Within seconds, the submariner crew were on the jetty, taking the unidentified cargo from the shoulders of the four soldiers and hoisting it with ease onto the foredeck, thence by some lightningfast legerdemain out of sight below decks. The crew had followed, leaving Überlojtnant Nollau as the only member of the Senior Service still on the jetty. At a silent gesture from one of the anonymous black trenchcoats the four soldiers climbed back over the tailgate, into the truck. After about four attempts, the driver managed to coax the engine into life and began to back and fill, facing back the way he had come.
As he completed the manoeuvre and gunned the engine to set off up the hill, the four SS officers opened their trenchcoats to reveal the muzzles of rapid fire MP40 machine pistols. With one accord they raised their weapons and sent round after deadly round of ammunition into both the cab and the rear of the vehicle, holding the triggers steady. Before the hail of bullets ceased, the fuel tanks of the wagon exploded, sending flames soaring high into the night sky, setting small fires in the tree tops as they lost their intensity and curled back towards the ground.
Suddenly, Herbert Nollau’s orders seemed fractionally less dishonourable.
Having emptied their weapons, the four executioners appeared to have rediscovered some of their habitual swagger and pride. Crashing the butts of the now-empty weapons against the rough wooden planking of the jetty they raised their right arms to the fullest, and screamed: “Heil, Hitler!” as their heels crashed together in perfect unison.
Sick to his stomach at the pleasure his countrymen took from the callous murder of fellow Germans, it was all Herbert Nollau could do to raise his arm, bent-elbowed, in the less formal salute he would never under normal circumstances have accepted from others nor used himself.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Born in the Year of the Tiger, Paul’s natural curiosity combined with the deep-seated feline need to roam has meant that over the years he’s never been able to call any one place home. His wanderlust has led him from one town to another, and even from one country to another.
“I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write – my father claims to possess a story I wrote when I was six, which filled 4 standard school exercise books! What I do remember from that time was being told off for doing the Liverpool Echo crossword before he got home from work!”
While Paul was living in Denmark, he allowed himself to be persuaded to write for a purpose instead of purely for his own amusement. Perhaps it was the catalyst of breathing the same air as Hans Christian Andersen.
Paul’s IT guru (aka his talented daughter!) has recently constructed a website for him:
Paul frequently lurks at: www.thewriterschatroom.com (Sundays & Wednesdays)
The Spear of Destiny was released April 15 by Class Act Books.