Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Interview with C.J. Sansom, author of Dominon

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author C.J. Sansom to Flashlight Commentary to discuss Dominon. 

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To start things off, please tell us a bit about Dominion.
I have written several novels set in Tudor England, but the period around have also always been interested in the Second World War, and have long been fascinated by the fact that Winston Churchill very nearly never became Prime Minister in 1940; Edward Wood, Lord Halifax, another 1930s appeaser, was the favourite to succeed Neville Chamberlain after he resigned and could have had the post if he wanted it, but let it go to Churchill.

In Dominion, Halifax takes the job and that one event alters world history.  Halifax accepts a peace offer from Hitler (which really was made) after France is defeated in 1940, and withdraws from the war.

Dominion begins in 1952.  Gradually, under German influence, Britain has become a semi-totalitarian Nazi satellite.  After Britain's defeat, Roosevelt loses the 1940 election; the United States negotiate a deal with Japan and Pearl Harbor never happens; nor does Hiroshima although the USA does develop atomic weapons. Germany, meanwhile, is still fighting an unwinnable war in Russia.

In Britain, a mentally unstable scientist, Frank Muncaster, accidentally learns details of the US nuclear program from his brother, who emigrated from Britain years before comes back for the mother's funeral.  An old university friend, David Fitzgerald, a civil servant working for the underground British Resistance, is given the task of rescuing Frank from the mental hospital where he has been incarcerated and getting him out of the country.  However, but David, Frank and a group of Resistance activists find themselves pursued by the relentless Gunther Hoth of the Gestapo, who also targets David's wife Sarah.

Dominion is a spy novel, a love story, and also I hope gives some sense of the difficulties faced by dissidents under any totalitarian regime: the threat of imprisonment, torture and death; the threat to one's family, the terror of being alone in a hostile world.

What kind of research went into work and how did you adapt your findings to a chain of events that never took place?
In my historical novels I've always tried to tie events closely to known facts.  With Dominion I read about the Second World War and British social, political and economic history.  Fortunately I had a good grounding but had to do a lot of reading in particular areas.  But with an alternate history novel there was a whole extra layer –imagining how, assuming Halifax becomes Prime Minister and makes peace, events play out.  That involved inventing a whole fictional chronology.  I tried to make every step a logical one, and the paths that the historical figures who appear plausible – though of course what I've written is only one possible route that history might have taken.  It was hard work but very interesting.

Many historic figures appear in Dominion.  How did you approach blending these characters into an alternate world and how did you determine the role each would play in your story?
Only one historic figure appears as part of the action in Dominion, Winston Churchill, leader of the underground Resistance.  But many others appear on television, newsreels, in films, newspapers, and briefly in the Remembrance Day service at the start of the book. They range from the young Elizabeth II, through a range of British politicians, to Hitler.

Hitler is probably the most important figure.  I had decided early on that I wanted this book to be about the collapse, not the victory, of the Nazi regime, and it is generally believed by historians that by 1945 Hitler showed signs of Parkinson's disease.  In Dominion , by 1952 this has disabled him, he is dying, and his regime is about to descend into faction fights.  

Where British politicians are concerned, some become collaborators and others resisters.  I tried to be fair and look at the careers up to 1940 such as Lord Beaverbrook, Prime Minister in the book: looking at their core beliefs and characters.  That is all one can do.  My portrayal of one British politician, Enoch Powell, as being part of the governing coalition, aroused some controversy but I maintain his playing such a role was plausible.  I have also portrayed the Scottish National Party as splitting, with one part supporting the collaborationist regime.  Again, the party's make-up in 1940 makes this, I believe, plausible.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices.  Is there a character you wish you could have spent more time with or a concept you would have liked to explore further?
Characters can certainly take on a life of their own.  I have always found that some are a struggle to bring to life, others take on a life of their own and would dominate the book if I let them.  Sometimes I have to corral them.  It it can happen either with characters I like or dislike.  In Dominion the Resistance member Ben Hall, a working-class Glasgow Communist, hard yet compassionate, dedicated to his ideology but very much a loner and secretly gay, is one who given constraints of space I had to corral.  So far as concepts go, the central premiss is such a bold one that you could spin off endlessly into different aspects of this alternate world, but I feel I have got in all the aspects which I most wanted to.

Finally, what you hope readers take from reading Dominion?
Well, first of all I hope they enjoy it and find the characters and the portrayal of the alternate world credible.  Dominion is, however, also partly a polemical book about the evils and dangers of politics based on nationalism and national identity.  To take a phrase out of context from Churchill, nationalism was the "bane and pest of Europe" during the first half of the twentieth century and it greatly saddens me to see it appearing again in Europe.  In Britain the United Kingdom Independence Party and the Scottish National Party, respectively threaten to take us out of the EU and tear the country itself apart, with populist tub-thumping nationalism promising everything to everybody.

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Christopher John "C.J." Sansom is an English writer of crime novels. He was born in 1952 and was educated at the University of Birmingham, where he took a BA and then a PhD in history. After working in a variety of jobs, he decided to retrain as a solicitor. He practised for a while in Sussex as a lawyer for the disadvantaged, before quitting in order to work full-time as a writer.

He came to prominence with his series set in the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century, whose main character is the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake. Shardlake works on commission initially from Thomas Cromwell in Dissolution and Dark Fire and then Thomas Cranmer in Sovereign and Revelation.

Dark Fire won the 2005 Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, awarded by the Crime Writers' Association (CWA). Sansom himself was "Very Highly Commended" in the 2007 CWA Dagger in the Library award, for the Shardlake series.

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Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Released by: Mulholland Books
Length: 640 pages
ISBN-10: 0316254916
Genre: Alternate Historical Fiction

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Check out all the stops on C.J. Sansom's Dominion Virtual book tour

Monday, February 17
Spotlight & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, February 18
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, February 19
Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, February 20
Interview & Giveaway at Closed the Cover
Friday, February 21
Review & Giveaway at Staircase Wit
Monday, February 24
Review at She Reads Novels
Tuesday, February 25
Review at Sir Read-a-Lot
Wednesday, February 26
Friday, February 28
Review & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Monday, March 3
Interview at Historical Boys
Tuesday, March 4
Review & Giveaway at Julz Reads
Wednesday, March 5
Review & Giveaway at Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, March 6
Review & Giveaway at Carole’s Ramblings
Friday, March 7
Review at Impressions in Ink

Review & Giveaway at Must Read Faster
Monday, March 10
Tuesday, March 11
Review at Okbo Lover

Wednesday, March 12
Friday, March 14
Review & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry

1 comment:

Judith Schara said...

I have just found your blog and am pleasantly surprised to see C.J. Sansome as first up. I have enjoyed his previous historical novels (I especially love that he writes a long story!) And will give his new novel a try- quite different from his past work - I think, hope I haven't missed something.