Today we are traveling across the ocean to North Wales, and we will spend a few minutes with best-selling author Christopher Kerr. Chris’s newest book, “The Barbarossa Secret” has been rocketing up the book lists and, for me, is one of the best and most plausible works of historical fiction that I have read in years. Chris has taken a time out from writing his next book to give an exclusive interview to ViewsonBooks.com
Chris, thanks so much for taking a few moments from your busy schedule to give us some background on yourself and your newest book, “The Barbarossa Secret.” Let’s start with a little bio of you. Where were you born, your background and what prompted you to begin writing?
Thank you for asking me.
I was born in Bedford, England, living my early years in a secluded rural area in Leicestershire.
I moved around a lot in my formative years, as my Father pursued his career in medicine, I found security in the escapism of reading. This freed my imagination to roam where I would become involved in the stories I read, playing a part as a brave chivalrous knight on the battlefield jousting, duelling over Flanders in a biplane, or pursuing adventure on the South Seas aboard a sailing ship. At boarding school, I developed a fierce spirit of independence, or, perhaps, rebelliousness but gained much from inspirational teaching of English and History, which, combined with my love of literature, gave me the foundation to write.
My career background is varied from an initial start in the Civil Service to an entrepreneurial path and I established a number of business ventures.
Initially, I wrote for personal/family purposes and would make up stories to tell my children which my wife often tried to persuade me to write. However, my business life constrained time to give to this although I wrote business articles and created marketing material for others as part of my business.
In recent years, I moved to North Wales which is an area I fell in love with having sailed here on my boat some twenty five years ago. I now live in a small idyllic village returning to my rural roots which I had embraced as a young child.
I finally came to a realisation that I needed to seize the moment as I reflected on my life and realised the price I had paid for the pursuit of success. In evaluating the balance between pragmatism and idealism I reached an epiphany; questioning whether I had sacrificed what I once believed in on the altar of capitalism. That gave me the inspiration to create a story where a covenant made in love was tested by life. The final spur lay in a dare set by a friend. She was speaking to me about unfulfilled ambitions, and said she would test my resolve, “Ok, Mr potential author,” she said, laying the challenge, “I dare you to write the start of a novel before morning that would set the scene for the entire book.” When I spoke to her, after emailing what I had written the following morning, she simply said, “That is a beautiful foundation; you have to write it!” What I wrote that night survived to become the prologue to my debut novel, ‘The Covenant’ – All done for a dare!
What made you want to write “The Barbarossa Secret” at this time?
I was intrigued by many questions from history which have never been fully answered or explained and no period more fascinating, I think, than WW2. The more I delved into the background to Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941 in what was named, ‘Operation Barbarossa’, the more interested I became. Equally, the historic explanation for the flight of the Deputy Führer, Rudolf Hess, to Britain in May 1941 just did not add up. The more I delved, the more shocked I became.
I grew up with the War being a talking point with my parents and grand-parents. Clearly, in the years after WW2, the impact of the war continued which gave me the foundation of my interest. I think my genetic background is suited to this genre coming from the Kerr clan with its deep roots in history and a family motto which probably suits my late coming to writing, “Late but in earnest” given by a King when we had sensibly entered a battle late enough to ensure we joined the winning side! My Great Grandfather was a cabinet minister and my Grandfather stood for Parliament and was a philanthropic business man. I have always loved history and the twentieth century because we can more easily relate to motives and see the real people involved through newsreel, contemporary reports, and interviews. Of course, tragically, the twentieth century saw two world wars which have had a massive effect on what has shaped our lives to-day. In World War Two, we saw one man’s will dominate or affect most of the world. In addition, the world witnessed the horrors unleashed if absolute power is exercised without any humanitarian limitations. We see this to-day being replayed in Ukraine and the world is not fully united in outright condemnation. History fascinates because it resonates and we must not hide history but learn from it.
Your book is jam-packed with historical information and a highly feasible plot, how much research did you have to do for this book and what were some of the sources of your research?
The primary source is the internet plus many books that I have covering the period. I carry out in depth, forensic, research to add the essential depth to my work with its roots in what actually occurred. I am an avid reader and this combines with a need for historical accuracy. Real life events give the essential credibility that adds drama to the plot.
When I unearthed some of the more extraordinary elements, I would seek another source to ensure I was not being over reliant on a single reference. I looked at colors of curtains, the pictures which hung in rooms, how the furniture was positioned, even nicknames used by the characters or by which they were known. Everything from Hitler’s favorite tea service to Churchill’s preferred whisky had to be checked.
Despite my obsessive need for accuracy, I still got a date wrong which has been corrected in the latest re-print together with some minor spelling issues.
Your book swings back and forth, mainly between the 1930’s and 2020. Did that create any challenges for you?
Actually, that helped add poignancy to what I was writing. I could connect with the emotions of those uncovering the revelations, some of which were personal to their family involvement, together with those experiencing the events at the time. I loved discovering how this impacted on the real characters who became very real to me as I journeyed through the plot led by inspiration.
I was amazed at the amount of detail in your book, even giving the reader a verbal photograph of outfits that were worn, and what almost appears to be first hand recount of so many events in the 1930’s. Were you guided by photographs or diaries? The details are incredible.
For me, much of the fascination lay in documents, colors, dress styles, mannerisms, décor, transport, news stories, and relationships. Yes, I read letters sent by George VI and others by Churchill, the Generals, Hitler, and family writing styles of the period.
I took virtual tours although I have been to some of the places described in the book.
I have many photographs from the time but also eye witness accounts of events from WW2 are plentiful. The manner of speaking can be picked up from old recordings of conversational speech. I am very observant and that trait assisted plus I have an ability to mimic others expressions and voices which I think helps.
Are all the characters from the 1930’s portion of the book historically accurate? And did you base the 2020 characters and plot on anyone in particular?
Some of the characters are real and hence research assisted plus interpretation based on descriptions given by contemporaries. All the real characters are historically researched and their views accurately portrayed including those of Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler.
The modern- day characters, where they are fictional, are not based on anyone but do grow as I got to know them. They become real people to me with real motives, idiosyncrasies and aspirations.
Which character appealed to you the most, as a writer, and why?
That is a tough one. I enjoyed the playful flirtatiousness of Greta Atkins, especially in her dealings with the Head of MI6 and the Duke of Saxe Coburg and Gotha. These traits combine with a highly developed sense of duty and deadly serious dedication to her role as an espionage agent.
Adolf Hitler was particularly fascinating. I did not want to fall into the trap of painting a pariah or a monster. I needed to understand his incredible charisma, authority, and power. To do that required examining his words, listening to his speeches, and understanding his motives. Equally, painting the character of an icon like Winston Churchill required in depth research to understand and give credit to this giant of a man whilst also including his flaws.
We see conversations in the book involving the Prime Minister, the President of the United States, the Chancellor of Germany etc. All needed to be researched including their residences and décor from private houses to Palaces and the White House.
As you were researching the book, were there any historical surprises that made you stop and go “Wow!” If so, could you tell us what surprised you the most?
There were so many ‘Wow’ moments it was extraordinary. Questions jumped out at me and the more I dug, the more incredulous I became.
I think hearing that Rudolf Hess took touring trips in the English countryside (under escort) during wartime was a little surreal or reading of the way Hitler liked to meet random people informally for tea or entertain children at his retreat at ‘The Berghof’ were eye opening. The characters were all larger than life in many ways and so many are in the book like Lord ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten, Stewart Menzies (Head of SIS) Viscount Montgomery or General as he was then plus leading figures on both sides.
One in particular comes to mind – A rift between the Crown and Prime Minister. George VI was incensed at some of Churchill’s actions and there were even moves considered to remove Churchill from power forcibly. This would have created the greatest constitutional crisis since the English Civil War when Charles 1st opposed Parliament.
Your book is based upon the premise that there was a high level secret agreement between Germany, the US and UK for a possible war against Russia, was any such agreement ever discussed in real life? Can you fill us in on your thought process for such an agreement?
There were high level discussions in many quarters about the menace of Communist Russia with both Churchill and Hitler warning of the Russian threat post-war. I think a formal agreement was highly favored by some in the closing stages of the war and many in Germany were seeking this including some at the top, Secret talks were held and these are documented. In terms of the key pact referred to in the book, I leave the reader to decide or interpret the factual elements!
I can confirm that talks between Germany and the Allies were ongoing through secret channels during the war.
Do you find that living in North Wales allows you to avoid distractions and focus on your writing? Any detriments?
The tranquility of the beautiful location of my home is ideally suited to my work as an author. I live in a delightful rural location which gives me peace and quiet yet I am near to civilization when needed. A local pub/bar in the village gives a welcome community meeting space. So all elements of my home area are beneficial
You are currently working on a new book, what is that about and do you have any idea as to its publication date?
My new book, “Fission” is even more controversial than ‘The Barbarossa Secret’.
This is a book which traces the story of the nuclear weapon from its origins in Nazi Germany to a number of modern-day events. This is an incredible, if not explosive, story that had to be told of a dangerous race to obtain the ultimate deterrent which uncovers a global conspiracy involving the United States, Britain, France, and, central to the plot, Israel. Power, emotion, idealism, and politics all compete in a drama that probes the greatest human instinct… survival! As the narrative unfolds, it unlocks the answers to one the greatest ever modern-day unsolved conspiracy stories.
Regrettably no publication date set yet although I am hopeful it will be mid 2023.
Why is WW2 still such a fertile genre, both fiction and non-fiction, for so many authors? What draws you and other writers to this time period?
The war was the greatest modern-day catastrophe to engulf the entire world led by conflicting idealisms and all in recent living memory. Man’s inhumanity to man is exposed in the tragedy of the enormous loss of life leaving virtually no family untouched whilst mankind sank to new lows with the ‘Holocaust’ We saw the horrors of totalitarianism which continued in Soviet Russia and other Eastern European states. Clearly there were war crimes committed by all participants with many massacres, indiscriminate bombing, and difficult decisions made by those in power not always motivated by the highest principles.
All these factors provide a grim background within which we can find beacons of humanity, selflessness, and sacrifice for others. Stories abound where the truth is genuinely more extraordinary than the fiction which draws writers to the genre.
Finally, a combined force of US, UK and Germany against Russia as your book discusses, what do you think the outcome would have been?
Stalin’s regime would have been overthrown and many in Russia would have welcomed that. The combined forces of the Allies and Germany would have inflicted a massive defeat on Russia. A new regime would have been installed quickly comprising Russians in positions of power just as West Germany was restored tin the aftermath of the war. The overthrow of communism may then have averted the ‘Cold War’ although, of course, it might have been fertile ground for a new Putin to have emerged. Food for thought perhaps.
Hitler would have remained in power but his position would have been radically weakened and his excesses curbed. All occupied territories would have been relinquished. The National Socialist model would have been diluted and Hitler would, if he survived further assassination attempts, have eventually handed over power to a successor who would have been forced to introduce democratic reforms, albeit with the office of Führer remaining as a President with more power than other European or US models. Austria would have remained part of Germany, together with other parts of the Reich which were surrendered to Poland or Russia after the war.