Tuesday, June 4, 2013

From Ireland to Berlin, and back to Ireland again

In an earlier post, I briefly described a short story based in 18th Century Ireland that I was revising after an exhaustive review from my writing group. I am still in revision mode, if it is fair to call it that, since I actually have broadened the original short into several 'books' based on the characters that I have created. And because of the newly required research, the task has turned into a project guided by notes and outlines and web sources and rich, yet heavily detailed historical books stacked on the edge of my desk. I still love where I am going with my 'Irish' project, even though the day when I actually have it ready for review is several months away. Still, I keep at it.

I keep at it, that is, until I need a break from it!

History, I have discovered--though I have always been told--is often extracted from highly opinionated matter. Irish history is no picnic, because I am aware of recent tensions and I truly want to get it right whenever I describe setting or relate the then current politics through the actions and thoughts of my characters. History can be exciting and colorful, but honestly, it wears me out at times (even my characters are now flopped on the couch, fanning their faces and sharing a pint), so I take breaks from it...and I walk away from it...and then I try to write something else.

One of those other projects that I am going back to is a love story that takes place in Berlin during World War II. Yes, this means even MORE historical research and opinions that need sifting, yet I try to go at it with an opened mind. In fact, I have a particularly favorite book on Berlin that was recently published by Historian Roger Moorhouse, Berlin At War, that describes in specific and considerate detail how Berliners survived Hitler and the SS, and other Berliners. It has opened my eyes to a truth that I did not particularly care about (more on this cryptic remark in a later post). And instead of serving as a single source of information, this book has now led me to other fine sources, as a good history book should do. Unlike any other book on the subject, Berlin At War has helped me develop a more realistic setting for my two main characters, Gauthier Brendel and Orlin Steinach, and has supplied the cold facts and situations for the kinds of conflicts and nuances I use to mold their very distinct personalities and validate the doubts that lead these two young men to question their loyalties to country and to each other.

Berlin at War is not apologetic; it never tries to hide the fact that Berliners fought the war to the very last Hitler Youth. Yet often revealed in personal letters and interviews, many Berliners, I am learning, operated on several different levels of classes and political movements and even risked their lives by participating and orchestrating many small, yet meaningful acts of defiance despite the constant fear of being watched, searched, or "called in". Sex was still King, or Queen, regardless of how rich or poor the sleepy suburbs or party membership...gay or straight. Such facts have convinced me that my characters can be more accurately portrayed as they react to their own indecisions or act on their closeted and not so closeted sexual instincts, as many Berliners were doing that very same thing. In addition, I am learning of the rationing system, war policies, and the immediate prejudices against the French and other cultures (of course) that made a once liberal society hang their heads in disgust of their own behaviors (well, those acts committed by 'other' Berliners).

Though Berlin At War contains maps and pictures, I am always searching the web for information specific to the Potsdam area and examining pictures that hint at a typical day in Berlin life. I am still not completely sure of the kinds of foods available and how food and material things were allocated between those members of the Party and those who were not. I openly question the complete surprise Berliners are described to have had when they learned of the Invasion of Poland. Yet, if true, then this is a fact that must come out more. And since Gauthier is a French citizen (Orlin is Austrian), I am always looking for harder facts on the French war prisoners and how the general populace reacted to their presence in the workforce.

Before reading Berlin At War, I never cared how the other side had actually lived and survived the English, Soviet, and American bombings. And I certainly had little empathy for Berliners who had to survive their own on a day to day basis. So, while I can now admit that Berlin was more human than it was Nazi, I find myself caring more for the WW2 Berliners and judging them less and digging deeper into WW2 history; specifically historic accounts from the POV of Berliners. And as a result, I am buying more books, saving more media content, and writing richer chapters...until I need a break, of course, when my rested Irish characters get off the couch and express a willingness to play their next roles.

1 comment:

  1. Research can be so awesome and so inundating. I'm currently doing research about Cape May--as you well know--and really, I need to just go spend a month or more there. I think that is the hardest thing about doing research: you want to be accurate and make your writing as alive and wonderful as possible. At least I can make a trip to Cape May! Good luck making a trip to post-WWII Germany or 18th century Ireland!