22 November 2016

Writing A Nightmare

By Haydn Corper
Haydn Corper at the offices of SilverWood books
holding the first printing of his book.
An exciting moment for all authors!
“This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it.”

So said Eric Maria Remarque in the opening to his famous novel about the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front. 

When I set out to write my own war novel, The Scent of Lilacs, I did so knowing that death is not an adventure; war is not an adventure. It has become a cliché to say that war is hell; and it is.  But even in hell there are some lighter moments, I suspect. 

Depictions of war can be one dimensional: unrelentingly gruesome; or gritty; or satirical; or yes, even adventurous. The challenge in writing about war is to depict the mixed reality, as much as one ever can: to convey the awfulness yet also to be realistic and acknowledge that amongst the blood and mud and suffering there is also companionship and, yes, fun. 

Nightmares are grim; waking from a nightmare is a relief, knowing that the terror is gone and that it wasn’t real anyway. The fall of Nazi Berlin to Soviet forces in the spring of 1945 was a nightmare; but also the end of a nightmare. It was the end of Hitler’s regime. But this nightmare had been real and it left a grim legacy; it had not gone away completely. The aftermath was in many ways just as bad.

(Central Berlin shortly after the surrender to Soviet force)

It is difficult to imagine now but this is what Berlin looked like seventy-one years ago.

Footage of the fighting for Berlin, posted on YouTube by 'darkborn2000'

To tell the story of such a dark period in European history, I needed to immerse myself in time and place thoroughly.  So I read extensively, listened to and watched documentaries and war dramas, visited the settings; I even cooked the food and played the music.  My own direct experience of being in an Army, albeit a peacetime one, helped me get a little further into the heads of some of the characters.

Haydn Corper served in the Territorial Army for several years during the 1980s

So far so useful, but then how was I to take my readers with me? Most of them, perhaps all of them, would have no direct experience of war.  Should I lecture? Preach? Bombard them with facts? Of course not. The Scent of Lilacs is a novel, a story; not a history book, not a seminar. Another cliché: I did not tell the story; my characters did.  Five of them, ordinary people, not one great or powerful. I let them run the show: it is their book, not mine.

I found that another cliché is true; you do not always know what your characters will do or say. I had a book plan; it changed. No war plan, they say, survives contact with the enemy; it changes as the situation develops. So too with my book. As the battle raged my characters often did what they wanted to do, not what I had planned for them. After a while I felt I was watching someone else’s documentary, not following my script.

Sometimes, the thoughts and feelings of those I wrote about surprised me; or perhaps, it is more accurate to say, the thoughts and feelings they expressed through me.

The nightmare unfolded as nightmares always do; unexpectedly and I did not know how it would end, except in general terms. When it did end, I was relieved but, like the characters, also a little anxious, not knowing what might come next.

Website:       www.haydncorper.com
Twitter:          @corperhaydn
Facebook:     www.facebook.com/haydncorper

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Chill With A Book Award
by Pauline Barclay

September saw the launch of a brand new award, Chill with a Book AWARD.

The Award is exclusively for indie authors and authors with small indie publishers. It is designed to promote the best books from indie authors.

Indie authors write some of the best reads in out the market place, but due to a number of constraints their work is not always as visible as authors published with large publishing houses, yet many of these authors deserve as much, if not more, recognition.

For those who know me, understand I am very passionate about supporting indie authors, I am one myself and know from personal experience how tough it is to gain recognition and a large following whilst sitting down and writing the next novel, and that is why I have created Chill with a Book AWARD .

I want Chill with a Book AWARD, not only to gain a reputation for recognising great reads, but for authors to feel proud to receive the accolade. However, the AWARD is not for everyone, it will only be honoured to the best.

How the process works:

Once a title has been accepted for consideration it will be read by a number of Chill’s readers and checked against the following criteria…

Were the characters strong and engaging?
Was the book well written?
Did the plot have you turning the page to find out what happened next?
Was the ending satisfying?
Have you told your friends about it?

Readers have clear instructions on how to arrive at their evaluation.

Authors must understand that a book accepted for consideration for a Chill with a Book AWARD does not guarantee it will receive the AWARD.

Authors of books accepted for consideration will be notified directly whatever the final decision.

Awarded books will be promoted on Chill with a Book’s web site, Chill's Pinterest board, Chill's Facebook page and Twitter

A small fee of £16 is charged for each book accepted for consideration payable via Paypal (the fee is for the purchase of Kindle copies for readers and any balance left used to maintain Chill’s web site)

There are limited places each month for books to be considered and if you are interested in submitting your title, please email Pauline at paulinechill@hotmail.com in the first instance.

Chill with a Book’s decisions to accept or reject a book for consideration is final.
Chill with a Book's decision to award a book or not is final.

It is an exciting time for Chill with a Book and indie authors and I look forward to seeing great, well written reads sporting the coveted Chill with a Book AWARD button on every book shelf.

For more about Pauline and Chill with a Book AWARD click on the following links:


  1. What an interesting article, thank you Haydn. Delving down beyond the blood and horror must be difficult, but is essential to tell, or rather, as you say, let your characters tell, the story.

    1. Annie, thank you very much for commenting. It is difficult but also fun; and I am helped by my characters. :)

  2. Well done Hayden. I was intrigued to read this article because I am also tackling a novel during which violence and civil wars take place. I watched the video footage that you posted, and experienced a few tears. My generation in 🇨🇦 has never experienced a war yet. Thankyou for sharing your insights into how to write, they were very helpful. Thanks Annie for sharing!

    1. Thank you Linda - wishing you all the best for your novel (keep in touch and let me know how you get on with it etc!)

    2. Hi Linda. Thanks for that. I also sometimes shed tears writing this book; not easy but I think worthwhile. The trick is to be detached enough to write, but not to be distant. Stiff shots of Vodka helped. LOL

  3. A great post with poignant photos and video

  4. As I left home (Austria) at 18 to study in England and Paris, most of my "education" about WWII came from the victors' point of view. Haydn's haunting novel reminds me of a question I never asked my mother: "How did you, a 23 year-old with a baby and a soldier husband "at the front" survive the Russian occupation and escape from bombed-out Leipzig with a toddler (me) to find your feisty mother-in-law in Austria? ("Mutti" had married "a foreigner" in her parent's eyes because they had a hard time understanding his dialect.) I was told it took 3 weeks via cattle-car travel including a delousing camp in Munich. What this young woman must have gone through...
    Haydn's cover alone evokes the haunting aftermath of a Napoleon-complex gone so wrong for its people.
    ...Lest we forget...


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