Nazi secret plan inspires thriller
For proof that doggedness and a powerful enough dream can sometimes beat the odds, look towards Guy Saville. After plugging away for years he clinched a two-book deal for his unsettling vision about an Africa ruled by the Nazis. STEVEN RUSSELL met him.
East Anglian author Guy Saville's mind is usually in a faraway place of his own invention – an Africa ruled in large part by the Nazis.
History hasn't turned out the way we remember it. Instead, after Dunkirk, an uneasy truce has prevailed between Britain and Hitler. They've divided-up Africa and the swastika casts its shadow from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean. Aircraft guard the skies and autobahns cut through jungle.
It's a chilling thought, one that, while the product of imagination, has a foot in reality. Which is even more scary.
Less than a year after coming to power the Nazis set up a Colonial Office charged with securing more lands. Then, in the heady days after taking France in the summer of 1940, Nazi leaders began secretly sharing ideas about how Africa could be added to the empire.
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Other departments worked out how they'd run newly-acquired territories. Adolf Hitler said: 'On the day we've solidly organised Europe, we shall turn towards Africa.'
The most jaw-dropping symbol of ambition was the Bielefeld Memorandum of November, 1940. It championed the taking of Belgian and French Congo, Equatorial French Africa and much of French West Africa. The Nazi machine would steal the area's natural resources.
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Guy's thriller The Afrika Reich is based on this key document – although he'd had the germ of the idea independ-ently, years earlier.
His imagination had been sparked by The Man in the High Castle by US cult sci-fi writer Philip K Dick, which sees the post-Hitler regime taking over America.
'Hidden in that, in the first 20 or so pages, is a reference to what else the Nazis were doing in the world. There's one line. [And then he thought about Africa, and the Nazi experiment there. And his blood stopped in his veins, hesitated, at last went on.] That's all it is.
'It doesn't explain any more than that. I literally read that line and it was like a light-bulb going ping. 'There's potential in that...''
When he came to write his story, Guy realised that — based on what they did in Europe — the expansionists would have divided Africa into sectors.
'So I got a map of the continent and drew my own lines, basically. It was after I'd done this that I came across the memorandum, and realised I was pretty much spot on! I hadn't got all the details right, but I was quite surprised how close I was.
'The most chilling thing is that when you read these documents there's no sense of the impact that the lines being drawn on maps, the decisions being made, are going to have on the lives of people. It is just the bureaucrats in an office somewhere in Berlin – 'We can do this; we can do that' – without any empathy or understanding. I found that very disturbing.'
Guy's literary hope date back to the age of four when he decided ne wanted to be a writer.
After a degree in literature he took a variety of jobs to keep the wolf from the door. There was early encourage-ment from an agent who liked some of Guy's work. He couldn't get it published, but saw promise. It gave hope to the aspiring author.
'I wrote six books in total, I think, but kept running into a brick wall that many people hit: your writing is really good but it's not commercial. It's frustrating when someone says 'This is a fantastic book, but sales and marketing say they can't see a way to sell it.''
Subsequently Guy and his journalist partner Nicole decided to move abroad, first to Brazil then Thailand and Burma. There was a spell, too, in Texas.
They arrived in Egypt just 10 days after 9/11. It did though provide some journalist adventures though. 'We tracked down the bin Ladens! It's a huge family and there's an English aristocrat married to a bin Laden. So we found them. They invited us in for tea, which was kind of strange!'
They returned to England and Guy completed a book, a dark love story about forgery. He thought it was best thing he'd written, but the message from the publishing world was again no. Then he ran across an online competition, to which people were asked to submit the first few chapters of a book.
Buried away somewhere, half-forgotten, was an early version of The Afrika Reich. He spent a month trying to tweak it, but concluded that more fundamental changes were required. He kept the title, retained the theme, but otherwise started again from scratch.
Guy endured a fortnight on tenterhooks before his agent rang to say it was wonderful. It went to auction and was won by Hodder.
He now has a two-book deal, though there's a trilogy mapped out in his head. Work on novel two is under way; it's about the Nazi blueprint to use Madagascar as a prison for Jews.
? The Afrika Reich is published by Hodder, priced �12.99.