On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author W.F. Logan talks about his new book, The Gothengau Colony, and what inspired him to write it.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed author W.F. Logan about his life and career, what inspired him to start writing, and the story of his new novel, The Gothengau Colony.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
I’m originally from Salford, Greater Manchester, the son of a firefighter from Glasgow and a nurse. I spent formative years living in the Shetland Islands where my father worked on the oil terminal. The rolling topography inspired a passion for geology that years later, I hoped to pursue further while at Cambridge University. Colour-blindness proved to be an obstacle to pursuing this field, so I switched focus and graduated with a degree in Computer Science, which led to a 20-year career in the technology sector.
In my late teens I travelled to Israel to volunteer on a kibbutz – a popular activity amongst young English people at that time. There I met Holocaust survivors and heard their first-hand accounts of horrors and near misses. I eventually settled in Israel, married, and had two children. Whilst living in Israel, I was seriously injured by a car whilst standing on the pavement; a medical coma was induced, and I spent months in the hospital.
While I made a remarkable recovery, I was designated as disabled by the Israeli government. Now at a crossroads, I was keen for a change. I interviewed with spy agency Mossad, and when asked to propose a possible undercover operation, I impressed them with my powerful storytelling and imagination. The life of a writer was more to my liking than a career in spycraft.
After nearly a decade in Israel, I moved back to Europe where I worked as a software engineer and consultant in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and Mallorca. Together with my second wife – a native of New York City – I lived in the old town centre of Heidelberg, Germany for several years. I left the technology sector to focus on realising my dream of writing a novel.
While working on this story in Germany and the UK, I’ve worked as a maths tutor, taught computer coding to children, volunteered to help the elderly learn basic computer skills, and became a certified mindfulness meditation coach. I live in London with my wife and our German-born cat. I’m an accomplished home cook, and have recently discovered a fascinating connection to Robert the Bruce whilst exploring my Scottish genealogy.
I speak fluent Dutch and have a working knowledge of German and Hebrew. When the tide is low, my wife and I like to mudlark on the Thames foreshore.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I was actually about six or seven years old when I first realised I wanted to be a novelist – probably a by-product of being a voracious reader as a child.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I realized that this idea was one worth committing to and began plotting the story in earnest about 9 or 10 years ago.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
I think it must be ten years since I had the idea. I did two years of research before putting any words down. After I finished the first draft seven years ago, I ditched it and took writing lessons. Getting critiques, whether amateur or professional, has really helped.
What made you want to write The Gothengau Colony?
Years spent living in the old town centre of Heidelberg, Germany was a key inspiration. Spared bombardment during WW2, Heidelberg retained haunting and tantalising vestiges of its Nazi past – it was literally all around me. From the faint outline of a swastika still visible beneath a Deutsche Post logo painted on a sidestreet wall to the Thingstätte, a stadium designed for Nazi pageantry and debates.
Looking down as I walked along the cobbled streets of old Heidelberg, I discovered the Stolpersteine (or “stumbling stones”) in front of building after building, marking the presence of Jews who once lived at these addresses; details of their deportations and/or deaths were starkly carved. Following a visit to the “Nazi” Castle Wewelsburg, I was inspired to apply some of my computer science knowledge of graph theory to the idea of forming associated relationships and plot points.
I wondered what would have happened if King Edward VIII never married Mrs. Simpson, but rather, allowed his Nazi sympathies to have full rein.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Gothengau Colony?
The biggest challenge to writing was having no experience or guidance as a writer. While I had the plot worked out pretty well, there were a ton of basic errors that every new writer makes. Bear in mind that I started writing the novel while I was living in Germany, and there isn’t a lot of support for those beginning to write fiction in English. At that time I also hadn’t found a good writing group online.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Protagonist?
Research and a remark from my wife got me to my protagonist Konrad; she suggested that one of the characters be Amish. In my research, I’d discovered some striking facts: how the Nazis gave medals for being two metres tall, that such height got you an automatic commission as an officer in the SS, and that patches of land in Crimea, Ukraine that they planned to call Gothengau would then be distributed to these SS officers who were destined to become soldier-farmers, something clicked for me.
I thought about the lives of the rural Amish and the kinds of skills they would have, and then I linked this to the idea of a young Amish bringing his agrarian background to the Third Reich and how that would conflict with an inherently gentle nature (Amish are pacifists, exempt from military duty), and the plot started falling into place.
Who or what inspired you when creating your Antagonist?
In books about Nazis, you’re spoiled for choice in that regard. I was keen to use as many real historical figures as possible to augment the ones I created. The main antagonist is Richard Baer,a Waffen-SS officer who was once the commandant of Auschwitz. Another antagonist is one I invented named Felix Drachenblut, who in my novel is the High Priest of the German Odinist-based religion promulgated by notorious Nazi Heinrich Himmler. When developing Drachenblut, I was very much inspired by Christopher Lee’s performance as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings.
What is the inciting incident of The Gothengau Colony?
A Nazi missile is launched by Soviet insurgents, and Konrad fails to stop them because his gun jams. That missile lands in the middle of a widely attended May Day parade in Berlin. This incident galvanises the relationship between Konrad and two people he has a special bond with, as they all sailed together from America to Germany in response to propaganda aimed at luring “ethnic Germans” worldwide to return to Fatherland.
What is the main conflict of The Gothengau Colony?
It’s 1963, and the German armed forces resent being blamed for the Holocaust. They see the Berlin rocket attack as a green light to change the government and pave the way to the Fourth Reich. Unfortunately, the SS leaders in Ukraine also see the attack on the parade as an opportunity to assume power, and this group were actually the ones who carried out the Final Solution.
Did you plot The Gothengau Colony in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
This was all plotted in advance, although to a chapter level of detail. I used software to calculate the resulting images via a form of maths called graph theory. When I got to the chapter I developed the plot of the chapter before I wrote it. At both stages of plotting, the goals, characters and events of the section were set down and the relationships between these drawn.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Gothengau Colony need?
It needed absolutely loads of editing, and I had a professional editor (who is also a published author) give it his expert eye. I had it critiqued three times. I actually abandoned the first draft and started anew, even changing the title. After another two critiques I deleted or replotted chapters.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
Decide what happens in the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story. Having an idea is great practice, because you’re going to have to have an idea for almost every word you put down.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m working on a sequel to The Gothengau Colony , as I intentionally left some doors open and added some cliffhangers. Depending on how my first novel is received by readers, I will accelerate production! I’ve also been noodling on a sci-fi story inspired by elements of the pandemic.
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am really happy with the result. I put in a lot of time and research, and really wanted to get it right. I do believe it’s a very new and different take on the “WW2 what-if” genre.
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!