|Errata & Miscellaneous
Entries are dated, the most recent at the top.
May 28, 2010
On the subject of writing, Codename Valkyrie has finally been released and An Obsolete Honor continues to get rave reviews. I also now offer educators a teaching supplement for the subject of Valkyrie in .pdf file format via my Valkyrie-Plot.com website. Be sure to stop by that site for many new and interesting updates.
For my own sanity I must always write. I am now happily writing a new novel...no, I won't tell you what it is quite yet. I want to build up your expectations, but you are going to love it! One of my editors feels it is the best novel I've written yet.
In Nigeria, I finally made a connection at the Polo Club. Luckman Adebayo has five horses at the moment (he used to have 13 but eight died in an epidemic). He gave his groom instructions to let me ride whenever I called - even 2am in the morning etc. At first I was surprised that he didn't want to see me ride first etc. but then I realized that these polo ponies are used to fairly rough handling and if you can't ride, they'll make short work of you one way or another. He started me out on his quietest mare, Mona Lisa, (who required considerable persuasion to do more than trot) and after two days I was told by the groom that "next time" I could ride Salalah.(In short, I'd past the test.) Salalah is a sweet mare who can go from a standstill to about 105 in a second so if I couldn't ride, she'd have made that point just as explicit as Mona Lisa did in her own way. The polo club itself is very run down and filthy surrounded now by buildings (when I was here 30 years ago it was in a residential section so only trees and greenery were visible over the perimeter wall), and there is no where to ride except around the field (have to keep off the field itself so it isn't torn up before a game) and in a little outdoor arena that has very deep sand. Salalah hates the ring so we ride outside, past the other stalls, the foals, the chickens, the grooms cooking their breakfast over an open fire, and encountering the grooms leading as many as two other horses around for their daily exercise. Herbert actually enjoys coming with me because he enjoys the peace and quiet (no generators running) and just watching all the goings on. It is also - in contrast to Norway and US - a 100% male environment. I am the only female I have ever encountered there except as a spectator at a match. No female grooms and no female riders. For the first time, Herbert is tempted to learn to ride. And I'm tempted to learn to play polo. One step at a time.
The vast majority of the Nigerians celebrated Obama's victory with uninhibited and exuberant joy. Total strangers hugged me, cheered me and shook my hand. My mobile phone was swamped with messages of congratulation; my email box full. I was most moved by the President of the Niger Delta Christian Youth Movement who wrote me:
"Let me on behalf of over ten million Niger Delta Christian youths wish the American people through your office well on a history making election day. We are extremely motivated by the spirit of the American political class. We believe one day soon Africans will be able to conduct credible elections without blood-letting, hatred, intimidation and flagrant disrespect for the peoples' sovereignty. We pray for a nation where the old like McCain and the young like Obama can co-exist having passion needed for the service of nation building."
And this is the message I wish leave with you all. For Nigeria the joy and excitement over Obama's election has nothing to do with him being a black man or with false expectations that Obama will conduct policies to the benefit of Africa. What inspired Nigerians was that a "junior person" who was not well-connected (not the wife of a former president) could challenge the political establishment, and the American people could actually go out and vote for whoever they wanted. What was even more exciting, the candidate who won the most votes indeed became our president. John McCain never had more admirers in Africa than when he graciously conceded his defeat. I too hope and pray that the prayers of the Niger Delta Christian Youth Movement will be heard and answered in the affirmative.
"The telling of good deeds is like alms and charity; it is never lost labour but always has its return."
Chandos' Herald ca. 1386
August 8, 2008
After a month here in Nigeria, I feel I owe everyone a report on first impressions, but Nigeria is so very difficult to describe! It is truly a country of incredible contrasts - a mixture of modern and primitive, of beauty and filth, of warm-hearted people and violent crime. We are certainly not bored! Indeed, just last night we admitted to each other that we are still both feeling very excited to be here. There is so very much to see and learn...not as a tourist but as a writer or simply a thinking person interested in the human condition.
Our introduction to Nigeria has, of course, been greatly eased by the wonderful support provided by the Department of State, starting with the magnificent housing we have been assigned. For example, as I write I can look out from the study window and see palms swaying gently at the water's edge. Beyond them, fishermen are casting their nets from their heavy wooden canoes before the sandy shore of the outer island. The view from 2/3s of the rooms is of the water. To the south: the lagoon and the outer island which is now a nature preserve with clean sandy beaches and native forest (palms etc). To the west we have a splendid view of Lagos' busy harbor and beyond that the skyline of the financial district. It reminds me very much of Singapore – from a distance. Day and night we can watch the massive tankers and container ships maneuvering slowly in and out of the narrows. The apartment building itself is a lovely, white, 14 story high-rise with pretty façade, and a walled in garden in which a delightful swimming pool, wading pool and thatched pool-side bar are enclosed. We also have a gym and a tennis courts inside the compound. The pool is big enough for real swimming, and I have managed to swim about a kilometer every evening.
In Lagos there are some beautiful new buildings (like our apartment building, some of the banks etc,) but there are large swaths of shanty towns. Indeed, when we look down from our balcony, just beyond the wall of our complex is a row of shacks with collapsing and rusty tin roofs where the residents cook over open fires. There are also some horrible concrete apartment blocks which are crumbling unoccupied and other complexes that are black with filth but in which people still cling to life, their laundry hanging out of the windows and on the balconies while the buildings appear to fall down around them. We have been told that the new governor of Lagos State is working hard to make Lagos more livable, but the challenges are simply enormous.
The biggest problem with Lagos today is the state of the roads and the traffic. This being the rainy season the roads are often completely flooded, and since the pavement is pitted with potholes ... or simply ends abruptly, when driving into the broad expanse of filthy brown water that stretches from one side of the road to the other, one never knows how far the vehicle is going to fall or when. Many cars, obviously, get stuck and block traffic, which is already congested beyond rational description. Since much of Lagos is built on islands with only a limited number of bridges, when the traffic grid-locks it is stuck for literally hours. Colleagues say it has taken as much as four hours to go a couple of miles. But walking is not an alternative and when people are caught in traffic they become perfect targets for the armed bands of “area boys” that come around and demand "payment."
Yes, crime is another serious problem. Armed robberies are fairly common at night, and car-jackings occur regularly.
Another serious problem is the deplorable state of the electricity grid. We have been told that Nigeria is producing only 1/3 of what they were producing two years ago and only 1/6 of what they need. Because the federal power grid does not work, everyone who can afford it has generators... the exhaust fumes are pretty noxious. This means that while we are swimming in our lovely turquoise swimming pool surrounded by blooming tropical flowers and swaying palms, we are smelling diesel fumes. Sigh.
Because there is too little electricity, water treatment is also a problem. So people don't rely on city sources for water but dig their own "bore holes." The city looks like it is an oil-field because there are hundreds of drilling rigs all across the city, only they are bringing up (dirty) water rather than oil.
And then there is the garbage. The entire city (except inside the carefully tended enclosures of the rich) is a garbage dump. The shore (except of the nature preserve) is simply a continuous strip of plastic, rusting metal, rubber tires and shattered wood. The stuff floats around the edges of the lagoon and creek, lines the roads and stretches as far as the eye can see across any open area, or fills the alley ways between the shacks of the poor.
But the weather is wonderful! Here in the rainy season, temperatures only reach about 25 C or 80 F. There is almost always a light breeze...at least here in our sixth floor apartment house. We have spent every evening out on the balcony with a glass of wine, just soaking in the warmth and enjoying the view. Both the office and apartment are air-conditioned, so working and sleeping are no problem.
I think that covers our news.
I'll write again when we have more to report. Meanwhile, we welcome communication from the outside world and look forward to your emails as we have Internet connection in our home. (Yes, Nigeria is a curious mix of what functions and what does not and there seems no accounting for which is which.)
July 8, 2008
I'm happy to announce that The Blockade Breakers is now available for purchase. I also am pleased to announce that:
That is all the news!
March 31, 2008
I'm happy to announce that An Obsolete Honor is now available for purchase. It has already taken the publisher's literary Editor's Choice Award. I also am pleased to announce that:
That is all the news!
February 4, 2008
Herbert and I are now approaching the end of our stay in Norway. We have been in this beautiful country 22 months already, and we have tried to see as much of it as possible. The natural beauty is truly indescribable. We highly recommend that you try to come and see it for yourself ... if you don't mind paying extremely high prices for modest to "rustic" accommodations and bad food. The high point of our stay here was certainly our cruise down the Norwegian coast on the coastal ferry. In addition, we chartered a 28' sailboat for two weeks and sailed in Oslo fjord as we had last summer. In addition, I was able to do some riding in the surrounding countryside on two very different mares, one young, sweet and lively and the other old, stubborn and lazy. But with the darkness, the time for travel, sailing and riding have all ended. Now even at noon the sun hangs barely above the horizon and casts only a weak, jaundiced light ... assuming it isn’t overcast and one can see the sun at all!
All in all, it has been a lovely stay in Norway, but life moves on. Later this year we will be in Nigeria! No, that is not a "nightmare" or a "punishment." I volunteered for Lagos. Nigeria is a very dynamic country with high economic growth rates, and a large and increasingly influential middle-class. Herbert and I are looking forward to Nigeria, confident that we will have new experiences and leave understanding the world a little better.
My novel Chasing the Wind about the Battle of Britain was read by one of the few surviving RAF pilots who fought in the Battle, Wing Commander Bob Doe. He wrote to tell me that my novel was the best book he had ever read on the topic and that I had got it "smack on" the way it was for the fighter pilots. This is the highest praise possible for a historical novelist ... far more important than commercial success. It means this is a book that deserves to be read by a wider public because the story is authentic. I hope you will all find the time to buy it and read it and give it as gifts to your friends and children!
I now have a contract to publish an English-language biography of General Friedrich Olbricht. My PhD in History with a dissertation about Olbricht, who was a leading member of the German Resistance to Hitler. The dissertation was published by the very prestigious German publishing house, Bouvier (Bonn) in 1993 and went into a second edition in 1994. It received extremely flattering reviews in all the major German newspapers (FAZ, Süddeutsche, even Neues Deutschland!) Now Haynes Publishing of the UK has given me a contract to write an English-language biography for release in 2009.
Meanwhile, I will be releasing my novel on the German Resistance, An Obsolete Honor this spring. I did well over 100 interview with survivors of the period including key personalities like the would-be assassin Axel Freiherr von dem Bussche, and Claus Stauffenberg’s widow Nina. My account of some events stands unchallenged to this day as the most convincing historical interpretation (according to major historians like Joachim Fest).
November 11, 2007
By Ship down the Norwegian Coast
For more than 100 years the Norwegians have been operating “express coastal steamers” to connect the villages and towns scattered along Norway’s long and rugged coastline. The coastal steamers brought mail, passengers and needed products to the fishing villages north of the Arctic Circle and carried back fish, passengers and mail to the population centres in the south. Even today, many of the coastal towns and villages of Northern Norway lack rail or air connections, and the narrow, winding roads can be blocked by snow much of the year. Thus the sea remains the principal means of transport. In addition to the small, fast ferries, a conglomerate of shipping companies operates a small fleet of small and modest mixed cargo and passenger ships which offer daily service year round between Bergen and Kirkenes (roughly 70 degrees N. Latitude). It was with one of these ships, the MS Finnmarken, that Herbert and I travelled the 2,481 kilometres from Kirkenes down across the Arctic Circle and on to Bergen on a six-day voyage.
The voyage was far too short. How could I forget the pure pleasure of being on a ship at sea – the gentle rolling on a long swell and the thrill of smashing into a stiff, head-on gale? What a joy to feel again the sharp rise of the bows - that moment of reduced gravity at the top of the wave, and then the crashing slide back down! What can compare to the magic of moonlight breaking through ragged clouds to cast a silver sheen upon the surface of the ocean and turn the water flung back off the bows into a brilliant frothing white almost luminous in the darkness?
This voyage offered all of that, but also the most spectacular scenery in such variety that it was hard to go to bed at night or even read a book for fear of missing something – a waterfall perhaps or a rainbow, a fishing boat casting its nets or a seismic ship boiling its way back to the oil-fields, the snow on the peaks of the sharp tipped mountains, or a cosy cove sheltering a cluster of red and while wooden houses. From the bleakness of the far North, past the sheer, snow-capped cliffs and jagged mountains of the Lofoten islands, past the granite cliffs of the “Troll Fjord” and on to the thousand wooded islands of the “south” each day – each hour – offered something of beauty and interest.
And every few hours the ship put into a port, howled out its deep, wailing greeting (dash, dash, dot, dash), and the mountains (there were always mountains) returned the greeting in an echo. The ship would sidle carefully up to the quay and lay alongside to load and off-load cargo and passengers. Rarely a bus was waiting, occasionally a taxi or two, more often just isolated people with their luggage. We rushed ashore, anxious to see what we could before the half-hour, 45-minute or hours stop was over. We dashed along the waterfronts harbouring a collection of fishing boats and smelling of dried cod to reach the main street with its line of shops – sea gear and shoes, video rentals and pizza – and on to the wooden church. In the larger towns, the fishing boats had been driven out by ferries, anchor handlers, and seismic ships, reminding us that the source of Norway’s wealth now lay not in the fish off-shore but beyond the horizon.
Back aboard ship, we were again wrapped in the silence of the sea: the wind, the hiss of the water rushing past the hull, the waterfall-like roar of the wake. No piped in music, no games, no discos. The roughly 400 passengers distributed themselves around the various lounges and cafes or on the boat deck and enjoyed the scenery. Even the meals were marked by a pleasant peace: the tinkle of cutlery on china, the low murmur and discrete laughter of guests conversing in a variety of languages – Norwegian, English, German, French. The large windows offered the views even during meals, distracting guests and encouraging contemplation.
Between meals, Herbert and I retreated to our own cabin with our own private deck (well worth the added cost). By fine weather we sat outside on our deck chairs, and by colder, wetter weather sat just inside the sliding glass doors and enjoyed the view nonetheless. As dusk closed in around 9pm, we opened the wine and sipped it as we watched the lights come up on shore, the islands and mountains turn into dark silhouettes against the luminous sky. The light-houses flashing (or occulting) their distinctive signals outlined the coastline behind and ahead, while the moon rose up to work its magic upon the eternal enchantment of the sea.
July 30, 2007
The biggest news is the publication of Chasing the Wind. I hope you will read the excerpts and reviews and consider getting it for your own reading pleasure. If you haven't already purchased Lady in the Spitfire, I recommend reading Chasing the Wind first as that is chronologically first and there are character overlaps. Of course each novel is also a stand alone story so one doesn't have to read them that way!
I had a nice interview with Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor of BookPleasures.com regarding Chasing the Wind and my novels. I hope you enjoy the article.
This fall I will be publishing Spartan Slave, Spartan Queen. It will be the third novel I have written to be published about Sparta. The novel focuses on the women of Sparta and their various roles in society. I recommend (if you haven't already) reading Are They Singing in Sparta?, as this novel precedes chronologically Spartan Slave, Spartan Queen and there are character overlaps.
Next year my job for the State Department will be moving me and Herbert. My new assignment will be in Lagos, Nigeria. I think we are going to miss Norwegian summers when we get to hot and humid Lagos! The really depressing thing is knowing how little sun we will see this winter in Norway. We need to "tank up" on sunshine!
Picture waking up to the views shown in the pictures, and you will see why Herbert and I bought property on the island of Kythera. Herbert bought a book on "Cool Pools and Hot Tubs" and is already designing the swimming pool!
May 13, 2007
Helena has republished her book The English Templar. Be sure to get your copy today!
The Historical Novel Society has printed in their journal Solander (May 2007 issue), an interview with Helena Schrader. The title of the feature is "Inside the HNS Community" and the Interviewer was/is Lucinda Byatt. Here is a sneak peek of part of the interview:
"Can you tell us what drew you to historical fiction in your own writing and how this developed?"
"The beauty of historical fiction is the freedom to explore a greater variety of circumstances, problems, and relationships than when confined to contemporary fiction. I became interested in history when travelling with my parents as a very small child. I can remember my father leading me into the Coliseum in Rome and saying they had fed Christians to lions here. I was agog! I looked into all the nooks and wandered through the dingy passages trying to image what it had been like to live back then. After that it was the same at every castle and other historical site we visited. I wanted to understand how people had lived, thought and felt in these places at the time they were built and used. History books describe key events, social, economic, legal and political conditions and developments, but novels reach out – even to readers who might otherwise never read a history book – and help us understand, sympathize and even empathize with people of an earlier age. In doing so we expand our understanding of our past and, I think, of human nature itself. We see how it has changed and how it has endured over the centuries."
From the desk of Helena:
Sutton Publishers have now given me formal notice that they liked my manuscript about the Berlin Airlift (publication scheduled June 2008). They require no major re-writes! Most important, they said they were interested in a proposal for a new book. This was in response to an inquiry about whether they had any interest in a biography of one of the conspirators against Hitler. This means that they really were pleased with my Airlift manuscript. I therefore am drafting a proposal for them to see if they will publish an English biography of General Olbricht. It would be so good to finally get Olbricht's story out in English. I feel I owe it to him and his family.
Herbert and I have purchased a piece of land on the Greek island of Kythera. The land sits atop a low hill between two Byzantine villages (by that I mean, these are two of three villages on the island that were founded in the Byzantine era and which shill have houses with elements of Byzantine architecture). The property slopes down toward a terraced gorge and the view is down the gorge to the sea. On a clear day (but only on a clear day) one can see the mainland. From the property we can get to any where on the island easily, we are away from the tourist centers, in a town that is alive even in the winter, and between two lovely hill-top towns that also make for beautiful views. We hope to build a home on this property for our retirement. This is a long range project that will take us many years to accomplish but we are delighted that we have started it.
Helena is working very intensively on finishing her manuscript on the Berlin Airlift. The research phase of the work brought her in contact with a fascinating group of former air and ground crew who participated in the Airlift – including correspondence with the most famous Airlift pilot of all, the “Chocolate Bomber,” (then) Lt. (now Colonel) Gail Halvorsen. Their accounts are being worked into the manuscript and the hope is for a book that is both informative to generations who have no memory of the Soviet Union or a Divided Germany and fun to read. The delivery date is April 15, 2007 so the pressure is on at the moment. Fortunately, the dark days make it easier to concentrate on writing than the long days of summer when the fjord and sailboat beckoned day after day…. For those of you who are wondering, publication is not scheduled until June 2008, to coincide with the 60th Anniversary of the start of the Blockade and Airlift.
Helena is currently planning only two publications for 2007. First is a re-issue of The English Templar with iUniverse because the other edition is out-of-print and there appears to be lingering interest in the Templars sparked by the Da Vinci Code. Second, after corresponding with survivors of the Battle of Britain, Helena has re-worked her Battle of Britain novel, Chasing the Wind, and is approaching a version that she hopes will do the topic “justice.” She had also obtained the rights to some excellent photos from the period, so that when the book is released it will be “illustrated.” But there are no deadlines for this yet.
Last weekend we took a "mini-cruise" to Copenhagen, and enjoyed it very much. We were very lucky with the weather, having bright sunshine for our departure and a great red sunset (at 10pm) after dinner on the way down. We woke to a grey morning and caught a few drops of rain as we walked into Copenhagen from the ferry quay, but then the sun came out and I ended up with a sunburn. We spent the whole day just walking about Copenhagen which is a lovely, European city. We saw both palaces, the magnificent 17th C. stock exchange, the Marble Cathedral (replica of the Pantheon in Rome really), and various other churches. We had lunch in Tivoli gardens (much better than I expected!) and mostly walked the lovely pedestrian shopping streets window shopping. People in Copenhagen were better dressed, the shops wonderfully enticing with really world-class antiques and furniture, jewellry, porcelain and fashion. Herbert and I hope to get back at least once more before we leave Oslo.
The ferry is pleasant with comfortable, what we enjoyed best were the many decks available for strolling and sitting to watch the magnificent views. There are parts of Oslo fjord where the steep-sloped, rugged islands and/or peninsulas come within a few hundred yards of one another, leaving only a very narrow navigable passage for ocean-going ships like ours. (For example, our ferry took over 2000 passengers, cars and trucks and it stands about 12 stories high. Some of the cruise ships are even larger.) This morning we got up at 6am, had breakfast in the large buffet facing forward and watched as the fjord closed in around the ship. The weather was low broken cloud, still clinging to the forested slopes beside us and leaving pools of mist in the valleys further up the slopes. However, as we progressed, the sun started breaking through here and there, to light up the water in brilliant, patches of glistening silver.
After breakfast we went on the top deck where we could cross back and forth choosing our view as the weather cleared more and more. At first we were virtually alone up there which was particularly wonderful. Everything was still wet from the dew of the night before and no bars open, no cocktails, or chatter - just the cawing of the gulls as they kept pace with the ship without flicking a wing, soaring on the currents of that huge "apartment block" moving through the narrows.
The cruise line summarizes the experience: Oslo is Nature, Copenhagen is Culture.
July 18, 2006
Lady in the Spitfire is going into print this week, and I'm doing my best to get it entered in the Frankfurt Book Fair along with the other three books I published this past year. The other three are definitely going, but due to the delivery deadline of July 31, I may not make it with Lady in the Spitfire, which would be a pity. Latest sales figures on Sisters in Arms is now 440, and the publisher says the catalogue only just went out. They sounded pleased with the results.
June 26, 2006
Friday was the traditional celebration of "Mid Summers," and the Norwegians celebrate by lighting bonfires along the coast. We took Norwegian friends out on the boat and had a light dinner and champagne on board, sailing until 11 pm. It still wasn't dark, but the fires did start to show up as pinpoints of light from far away. We sailed deep into Bunnefjord until the wind died on us because the hillsides were so close and steep that they created a wind-shield. Around us we could see at close range the bonfires and the families gathered around. In some cases, they were actually burning old boats. We were told by our Norwegian guests that this is traditional. Hmmm... didn't I read something somewhere about the Vikings burning their dead in old boats and launching them out to sea? O.K. So they don't put dead into them anymore, but they are still burning their old boats after over a thousand years!
Today we went out in a very strong wind. Single reef, working jib. The wind was coming up the fjord from the Atlantic and there was quite a sea running despite all the shelter of islands and peninsulas. Must have been a terrific storm at sea! Our chartered boat is low to the water. She is broad beamed and quite safe, but both Herbert and I found it unnerving how rapidly she put the bow under. She was very wet forward, although drier in the cockpit than Flying Dragon. She also boiled through the water at a pace at least 50% faster than Flying Dragon's maximum. Herbert was not really happy, but she had the gunwale under and could still turn on a dime. Much better rudder. I will look into replacing our rudder on the Flying Dragon. It is broken anyway, and I suspect it was either long going or was undersized from the start.
June 17, 2006
As you can see in the photo, I'm working hard on the publisher's proofs for The Lady in the Spitfire, which should be released sometime next month! The Historical Novel Society has featured my site and posted the news about Sisters in Arms and the up-coming publication of The Lady in the Spitfire. They are being very nice to me.....
The publisher's text proofs look very good, but the cover was terrible! It featured a modern, private aircraft in civilian markings - not a Spitfire, not a B-17, not even a different WWII military aircraft! Totally worthless. I have told them as much and they will redesign it, but sometimes I wonder what people are thinking. The design team didn't have to read the novel, only the cover blurb or the title (both of which are incorporated into the cover design) to get it right. And they still got it COMPLETELY wrong. I again sent Crystal Cloud Graphics' image and suggested they work it in. I will see what they come up with next.
June 5, 2006
Herbert and I have now been in Oslo almost a month. We find we like it more and more. It is quite provincial but in a very nice way. Today, for example, was the National Day, like Fourth of July. Everyone gets dressed up in their best clothes, the women all in national costume with lovely embroidered skirts, vests and jackets and traditional jewellery, and go down to watch the parade. The parade consists of the various schools, each with flags and uniform and marching band. They, along with some adult bands from police and army and whatnot, march up the main street straight to the Royal Palace where the royal family stands on the balcony and waves to them. Since we live just a couple of blocks behind the palace, we just walked over through the palace grounds and found a place in front of a fountain to watch. Although it was drizzling, everyone was in a cheerful and peaceful mood. Even now I can hear the bands marching past our apartment after presenting their respects to the King and Queen.
Altogether Oslo has lots of fountains, trees and gardens and lovely old houses (at least in our part of the city). There are still streetcars, and you can hear the horns of the ferries when they pull out. It has the feel of a provincial capital at the turn of the last century, but the many steep hills help make for interesting views. There is little traffic, but the stores are marvellous. No chains at all. Every store is unique with the most wonderful, original and pretty clothes. Pretty prices, too! There are lots of restaurants and outdoor cafés - when the weather permits one to eat out.
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