Today I'm very lucky to be bringing an extract from The Revenge of Tirpitz as well as a Q&A with the author M. L. Sloan (Michelle).
First up is the Q&A -
Your book, The Revenge of Tirpitz, is written with a dual timeline of modern day and 1944 during WWII. What is it that draws you to that specific time period?
It’s actually the little things that fascinate me - the lives of everyday people and how they coped and lived through the fear and restrictions imposed upon them during wartime. And then there’s the extraordinary bravery and commitment at that time to the cause. I suppose I relate it to myself - could I put myself in the position of the men and women who put their lives on the line?
Did a lot of research go into getting the historical facts right in The Revenge Of Tirpitz?
I did an enormous amount of research on everything from radar to life in occupied Norway 1944, to the Sami people and of course Tirpitz herself. I knew that I was weaving fiction and fact together to create a pacey thriller but it was important to me that it was authentic and as plausible as possible.
You have also released a picture book, The Fourth Bonniest Baby In Dundee, what was the inspiration behind writing this book?
You couldn’t get two more different books could you?!! And it’s fun promoting them both at the same time!!! I’m doing school events at the moment and I’m with infants with Bonnie Baby and then dashing up to the upper end of the school with Tirpitz! Bonnie Baby came about after I entered my son into a Bonnie Baby competition here in my home town of Broughty Ferry. He came fourth which I thought was funny and so I decided to embellish the story and turn it into a rhyming picture book.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written so far?
Inga in Tirpitz is one of my favourite characters and she only features in one chapter! She’s from the Mountain Sami, is a reindeer herder and is preparing to make the journey across country. She’s confident and focussed; I like her spirit. I would love to write a ‘spin-off’ story about her.
You originally trained as a primary school teacher, does that experience help or influence you in writing children's books?
Actually, if I’m honest I don’t know if that really helps the writing process. It definitely helps the promoting of the books as I’m in schools running workshops for children of all ages. And I also have a separate Drama degree so that helps make the workshops interactive and fun. Writing the books, for me, is about losing myself in the voices of the characters for an evening! Almost embodying them. It’s a bit trancelike because you lose all concept of time!!
When writing, do you have a set routine or ritual that you follow?
Once I’ve committed myself to an idea, I am disciplined and sit down for an hour or two in my evenings or if I’m lucky an occasional morning or afternoon and get my head down. And then surface two or in a bit of a daze!!!
You once performed a one woman show in Edinburgh, can you tell me more about it?
I studied Drama and Theatre Arts at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh as a mature student and in my final year one of the students ambitiously put together a Canadian play festival. I performed the first European performance of Nicole Zylstra's 'Firebird: 220 Horses of the Apocalypse’ which was a reinvention of 'Medea' transposing the action to Brooks, Alberta. It followed the journey through life of a young woman armed with nothing but a magic 8 ball and a pack of tarot cards!! I found it terrifying, exhilarating and ultimately hugely satisfying to perform on my own for an hour. I look back now and can’t quite believed I did it!
When you're not writing what would we find you doing?
Housework!!! Running around after three children! No, seriously, I love theatre - everything from musicals and Shakespeare, to contemporary, edgy physical performance. So whenever I get the chance I head to my local, wonderful theatre, Dundee Rep. Or down to Edinburgh. I read of course too!
Do you have a favourite author?
Several! From Charlotte Bronte, to Rosamunde Pilcher, from John Masefield to Susan Hill, I have a selection of ‘comfort' reads: books that I revisit either on a seasonal basis or if I need to feel grounded in some way. That, for me, is the joy of books. Not only can they educate, illuminate and inspire, they can make you feel better on different levels. Like a pair of comfy socks or a good cuppa. Read yourself better, I say!
What can we look forward to from you next?
I’ve been so busy promoting both books that I’ve not really had a clear mind to focus on what to do next. I love the research involved in historical fiction - it’s really joyful to lose myself in some period from history; I find it comforting. So I just need to decide on a time frame or key moment in history and get going!
Thank you so much to Michelle for answering my questions! Now onto the extract which I have to say is absolutely amazing.
‘Take this gun,’ said the agent. ‘You will need it. There are Nazis everywhere.’
He signalled to outside the hut where the last wisps of the storm were trailing away. The hut stood isolated, clinging to the snow-smattered hillside; and now the chill of the night had taken hold.
The man took the revolver and nodded. He understood.
‘I’ve radioed the crew of the boat—it’s called Havørn,’ continued the agent.
‘Does the skipper know about me? And the crew?’ the man asked, tentatively.
The agent stared at the man before him, perched uncomfortably on the wooden chair. He looked weary; one arm was strapped tight against his chest in a sling. His face was tired and tense; haunted even. Deep lines were etched into a permanent frown. He clearly hadn’t washed for days. His clothes were torn.
The agent nodded. ‘Yes, Olsen radioed us and passed on everything. The skipper is expecting you. You will rendezvous withHavørn at Reine . You must follow the road at the bottom of the hill for three miles until you reach the harbour.’ He paused then added, ‘Be safe. Havørn cannot wait for you.’
The man nodded. He stood, his body cold and stiff, his slung arm aching and opened the door to the hut. Outside, though the landscape was drenched in darkness, the moon was trying to peer out from behind swift-moving clouds. The snow-capped peaks shone out in the flitting snatches of moonlight. Somewhere there was a screech. Was it an owl? Or the cry of a sea eagle? The man took a deep breath and looked back into the hut.
‘Goodbye,’ he said to the agent. ‘And thank you.’ He turned and plunged himself down the hillside, into the hostile zone.
He’d found his way up there earlier in the day, but then he’d had the help of a guide. Now he was stumbling blindly in the dark. Alone.
The man had been on the run for days now. Sometime earlier (had it been last night? Or the night before that? He had no concept of time) some fishermen had rescued him from the wreckage of the sinking boat he’d been travelling on. His skipper, despite their best efforts, was taken by the sea.
By remarkable fortune, the fishermen had known the skipper, known he was helping the Resistance. And after hauling the man from the freezing waters, they had offered to take him on to the Lofoten islands where a guide—a local—had intelligence of the whereabouts of the agent. Together they had crept carefully, out of sight, to avoid unwelcome attention, dodging Nazis, trekking for miles. But now, negotiating the hillside, he had never felt so alone. Fear began to smother him. He stopped his descent and listened to his breath, loud and uneven, his heart pounding. He steadied himself and waited for his pulse to calm. The moon broke through and he could just make out in the distance the snaking curve of a road. Fear put to one side, he picked up his pace. He could not afford to miss the rendezvous.
The man gathered momentum as he sped down the hillside towards the road, his broken arm clutched tight to his body in its sling, the other arm helping to keep his balance. His feet slipped on the scree but still he ran on, the road nearly within reach. With desperation mounting as he ran, he became more daring, his speed almost out of control. But he was nearly there! He leapt wildly now into the dark unknown, until his luck ran out. He missed his footing and fell, rolling and spinning down the craggy hillside. The rocks tore at his clothes and his flesh and he tumbled over and over until he landed with a thud. At least he had made it to the bottom of the hill. He wrenched his body over and groaned. Blood spilled from his nose, his limbs ached. But something made him freeze. His ears filled with a sound that terrified him—a car—coming this way. He immediately hauled himself to the side of the road to scurry into the bushes. The chequered moonlight soon illuminated two Nazi vehicles—a truck, and a motorbike with sidecar—speeding where he had, moments ago, been lying. In the truck, two rows of men sat in the back face to face, with straight backs, hats silhouetted.
When he was sure they had gone, he eased himself out of hiding and set off again. But running became limping as cloying pain took hold of his right leg as he tried to pick up the pace.
He wore no watch so now relied on calculated judgements of time. Each few steps were allocated as a minute, two minutes—this continued and accumulated. Before long, he was up to half an hour. Beads of sweat formed on his head and neck. Doubts flashed through his mind.
He wasn’t going to make it.
The darkness ahead was confusing. The clouds now covered the moon and as he waded on through the black he felt disorientated. Direction was based on the road underfoot. But he seemed to see a light in the far off distance—was it the harbour? A house with no blackout? It now appeared to be several tiny lights, moving and dancing. And then he realised—it was the Nazi troops. They had stopped up ahead, and they were smoking cigarettes. The soft, shielded glow of the vehicle headlights revealed the outline of steep rocky hillsides bordering each side of the road. There was no way past them; he was trapped. A plan quickly formed in his mind. It was reckless but, to have a chance of making the rendezvous point, he would have to take a tremendous risk.
The man wiped the blood that had trickled out of his nose with the back of his sleeve. He pulled his hat further down over his ears and set off, walking directly towards the vehicles. The running engine and men’s banter masked the sound of his footsteps as he approached the truck. He crept silently, tapping his pocket to make sure the gun was there and carefully moved along the side of the truck, all the time listening to the prattle of the men’s conversations. He reached for the handle of the door and with a click opened it, slipping inside. Without wasting another moment, he crunched the gear stick forward. Before the Nazis realised what had happened, his foot was down hard on the accelerator and the truck screeched forward, the door still swinging. The shouts of the startled men could be heard over the grinding of the engine as the truck roared into the night.
It was hard to manoeuvre the steering wheel with one arm in the sling, and he had to use his knee to steady it as he reached over to change gears. The truck swerved wildly, and with a quick glance to his rear view mirror, he could see a single headlight. The motorbike was after him. It wouldn’t take long to catch him as the truck was heavy and sluggish. He pressed his foot to the floor and squinted, focussing intently on what he could make out of the road ahead. How much further?
Suddenly, a sign appeared in the low glow of the headlights: there was a sharp bend in the road. With a screech of tyres, he swerved too late. His able arm grabbed frantically at the steering wheel, but the truck went crashing off the road into a ditch. He was thrown forward, hitting his head sharply. With no time to review his injuries, desperation spurred him on. He clambered out of the vehicle, and set off running blindly into the black of the night. He had no idea of the direction he was heading; there was nothing to guide him.
The sound of the heaving motorbike engine was now close behind him. He swung round to look. The dim headlight seemed to freeze as the engine died. They too were on foot, running closely behind him, scrabbling and shouting.
The clouds shifted and a bright moon lit up the scene ahead, an intervention that would propel everything to a conclusion. The man could now make out the glimmer of the sea. Waiting in the tiny harbour was a single fishing boat: Havørn.
His path was clear—it could only be a hundred feet or so! The ricochet of a piercing gunshot echoed into the night. As the moon had lit up his route, so too had it revealed his location to the agitated Nazis. The man reached into this pocket, and with one swift action, swung round and took a shot. Instantly, he was met with another shot. It was two— perhaps three—against one. He shot again and another bullet whizzed past him. This one he heard in his ear as it flew by. They were closer now; their aim more accurate. The hillside dipped and he realised his own stuttering pace was slowing when the heavy breathing of one of the Nazis grew ever closer. He took a chance, swung round again and aimed. This time, he shot three times in quick succession. He heard a low scream. One was down! He stumbled on and mentally counted the bullets he’d used. He had one left.
Havørn was close now, but as he approached, something wasn’t right. Wiping the sweat (or was it blood?) from his forehead, he stared out to sea. Was the boat moving? They must have heard the gunshots and decided to leave before it was too late.
‘NO! Wait!’ he yelled. His shout sounded pathetic in the vastness of the space. ‘Wait!’ he shrieked again, his voice cracking and breaking. ‘I’m here! I’ve made it!’
Gunshots once more, and again he could feel the very ripples in the air as the bullets sped by. But mercifully, their aim this time was poor.
Now the harbour, with its pier spiking into the sea, was before him. Havørn was edging out, and so he had no choice. He set his mind and his body to sprint, ignoring the shooting pains in his limbs. And with one final push he took a leap off the edge, into the air—both feet thrust forward.
He grabbed onto the railing and outstretched arms hauled him over and onto the safety of the deck. Another gun shot rang out—this time someone from Havørn was covering them.
He could barely breathe. Each gasp of air ached. He tried to speak.
‘I’m Hans,’ he exhaled, coughing and rasping. ‘You were expecting me, no?’
The skipper nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said calmly. ‘We were hoping you would make it. And now, Hans, we’re on our way.’ He paused and added, ‘We’re on our way to Shetland.’