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A German Life: are we all Pomseline?

Pomsel

A documentary film was made in 2013, and shown recently on British television; it might have been shown here on a previous occasion, but this was the first time I saw it. It was made by film-makers Christian Krönes, Olaf S. Müller, Roland Schrotthofer, and Florian Weigensamer; it had the title Ein Deutsches Leben (A German Life), and it enabled the then 103 year old Brunhilde Pomsel (affectionately known by her friends & family as Pomseline) to tell her life story, as best as she could remember it, which was surprisingly well (without wishing to be in any way patronising). A book, entitled The Work I Did, and the reason for this post, was written by Thore D. Hansen, and published in an English version, with a translation by Shaun Whiteside, in 2018 (Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2018).

What makes this book and, of course, its source material, the subject of the first section, so interesting, is that it is the chronology of a woman whose most notable employment, in the context of 20th century history, was as a typist in the office of Joseph Goebbels who, for those who might not already know, was effectively second only to Hitler himself in the hierarchy of the Nazi machinery until the very end of the second world war. In itself, that would make for a fascinating read, for those of us with a thirst for knowledge of recent history, but she was by no means an ardent Nazi: not quite the reverse, but it is her apparent indifference at the time to events that were unfolding all around her, with the probable inevitable inference to be drawn that she was driven almost entirely by self-interest (and was also possibly not being entirely candid) that galvanised Thore Hansen into presenting a written record of the interviews, followed by an analysis of her recollections, and what relevance they have for the recent re-emergence (interpreted by many as a danger) of right-wing nationalist parties on a global scale, but more specifically in a European context.

But of course I’m guilty in the sense of being stupid. But it wasn’t what everybody wanted. They promised themselves a new revival after the loss of the First World War, and at first that actually happened. A re-blossoming of a humiliated people who had lost the war and not gained some of the rights that could have grown out of the Treaty.

Hansen points out how easily she could have informed herself about contemporary events, using information that was easily available to her, but “[t]he desire for personal recognition and her blind sense of duty towards her superior took precedence in the young secretary.” When the aforementioned documentary film was premiered, the current detachment from, and lack of interest in politics & the democratic process, on the part of large sections of people around the world, giving rise to ignorance, passivity and apathy, enabling those already radicalised to recruit those who are credulous & gullible enough to follow them, was emphasised; Paul Garbulski of the German Vice magazine was quoted as saying: “I have always tried to protect myself from others, and it is the ordinary person in me, filled with sufficient weary absurdity, who paves the way for betrayal and the violence of entire armies. Let us pay attention to the little bit of Pomsel within each of us.” (Gib acht vor der Nazi-Sekretärin in dir {Watch out for the Nazi secretary in you}; VICE Magazin, 17 august 2016, at: http://www.vice.com/de/read/sind-wir-nicht-alle-ein-bisschen-pomsel, visited 28 December 2016)

According to Hansen, “… currently many people are turning away from the democratic system because they do not question the mechanisms that lead to the breakdown of social and human solidarity — or perhaps because they don’t want to question them? In Pomsel’s life, or at least so it seems, little mattered apart from her own advancement.”

And now that was my fate. Who is in control of his fate in such agitated times? Very few people can say: I did this and this for that and that reason. It just happens to us!

What is happening in Europe & the United States is what is engaging Hansen on our behalf, and the parallels between the 1930s and the present day: “Are parts of the population, most of whom have not yet been radicalised by the new demagogues, in the end just as passive, ignorant or indifferent towards current developments as Pomsel described herself and those around her when she was aged twenty-two to thirty-four? Is youth today just as apolitical, and is the political disenchantment of the middle class the actual threat to democracy? Have the democratic elites failed by ignoring the long-term consequences and causes of an increasing political disenchantment? Are we returning, open-eyed, through our passive attitude and apathy, to the 1930s? And can we really draw conclusions for the present day from Pomsel’s biography — conclusions that will stir us into action? Anyone who does not wish to see totalitarian states emerging should take the experiences of the 1930s and Brunhilde Pomsel’s life story seriously.”

He goes on to give a specific example of this fear, as embodied in Turkey: “In our own times we are seeing a dictatorship emerging in Turkey. In the end it is people like Brunhilde Pomsel who have, at the behest of of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, brought the opposition, parliament and the media under the sole control of the president to ensure Erdogan’s power. We don’t know how much opportunism these police officers, functionaries and other henchmen displayed or had to display just to live (or survive) in Erdogan’s new system, but they are calling democracy into question. … The death penalty is due to be reintroduced. The Turkish parliament has been stripped of its power, and the powers of the president have been strengthened. These are all signs clearly reminiscent of the Nazi dictatorship, under which Brunhilde Pomsel began her career in the Reich Broadcasting Corporation after it was cleansed of Jews. What we are observing in Turkey is also happening elsewhere in the world, but we are talking about a country aspiring to membership of a community of democratic values — the European Union. … Democracy is the constant attempt to safeguard and protect the rights of the individual. The new right-wing populists, should they come to power, will deny individuals these rights again, and the old anti-fascist warning ‘Resist the beginnings’ is being uttered far too late.” I have only been able to scratch the surface here of this fascinating book, and there is plenty in it to stimulate thought about the current state of the world without, I hope, giving rise to pessimism: positive action, even in a small way, is possible, and can achieve tangible results.

This subject is of particular interest to me, given my own involvement, as a research subject, with British fascism in the 1930s, having discovered many years ago that my grand-uncle was a major player in the movement, before he detached himself, for reasons explained in his biography, Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles, to concentrate (very successfully, in my humble estimation) on animal welfare in general, and anti-vivisection specifically. It was always stressed, from the top, in the person of Oswald Mosley himself, down to the rank & file (with some notable exceptions, such as William Joyce, aka Lord Haw-Haw, it has to be said) that fascism in Britain, such as it was in its limited and, with the onset of war, failed manifestation, owed nothing to National Socialism in Germany; rather it was modelled on (but not cloned from) Mussolini’s Blackshirt movement in Italy, with its system of corporate government, rather than polarised party politicians who could be (and still can be, in many countries) easily bought. It is futile to speculate from the standpoint of the early twenty-first century whether Mosley could have been the mythical ‘benign dictator’, had he succeeded in his ambitions; my own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that such a thing is impossible, now, especially within the all-pervasive capitalist system, which surely only the most ardent (and blinkered) free-market proponents could resist admitting has failed miserably, but until the world sees sense and transfers all resources to common ownership, we will have to prop up democracy as best we can, to avoid global catastrophe. However, this does mean that we must all engage with politics, even if only to the minimum extent of voting, ideally for issues of importance, rather than being constrained by party straitjackets or, worse, submitting to apathy, expecting other people to decide their fate for them.

There is a fascinating, and rather poignant, postscript to the Brunhilde Pomsel story, which for reasons not elucidated in the book, concerns part of her life that wasn’t revealed during the filming: before the 1936 Olympic Games she met a half-Jewish printmaker & illustrator in Berlin. It is evident that Pomsel must have had more information at her command with regard to the plans of the German administration for the Jews in Germany than she had admitted to during the film, because as a result of their conversations, Gottfried Kirchbach (son of the painter Frank Kirchbach) moved to Amsterdam after the Games to escape persecution. Pomsel was pregnant, but Kirchbach felt he wasn’t ready or prepared to set up a family home in a foreign country and, sadly, Pomsel had to terminate the pregnancy because of the danger to her health from the lung disease she had been subject to for many years. Pomsel was able to visit Kirchbach a few times in Amsterdam, but this became too dangerous for her, and after the war started, she never saw her lover again. Kirchbach died in Amsterdam (no details given) in 1942; Brunhilde Pomsel never had any children after this, lived alone and died in Munich in the night of 27 January 2017, aged 106, and it is mentioned in the book that this is the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Photo credit: still from A German Life, via The Times of Israel: https://www.timesofisrael.com/shot-in-black-and-white-a-german-life-paints-wwii-in-chilling-shades-of-gray/

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Ahoy there, Faye Sewell!

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Faye Sewell

The next in the occasional series of posts offered to guest authors by Wilfred Books will be presented in the style of an interview, in which she explains how she became an author, with Faye Sewell (right), who is already an established actor, with a wide & varied roster of screen rôles under her belt, but couldn’t resist the urge to write! She has now published three classic ‘Pirate’ novels, which will be detailed below.

Is writing currently your main activity, on a regular basis?

Writing is my secondary occupation, Acting is my primary one. I feel like they’re very complimentary to one another, I have always enjoyed getting inside characters’ heads and building them, whether from clues in a script or a person who walks into my imagination and demands to be written down.

When did you first start writing seriously?

I’ve always written from as far back as I can remember, but all my work would end up being first drafts and incomplete – something I was excited about briefly but had no follow through to complete. Then a few years back I started a book and finished it, realized I just hadn’t been writing about anything that interested me enough in the past – and became so obsessed with my new book that finishing it and going on to complete the trilogy was something that I absolutely had to do.

Which route into publishing did you follow?

I didn’t approach publishers directly as a lot of them seemed closed to unsolicited submissions and while I did write to a few agents, I got tired with stock responses and decided to take matters into my own hands. I was very keen to just get my story out there and having spoken to other writers and hearing how long it could take to find an an agent and from that point on, yet more time to find a publisher, I felt that self-publishing was the way to go for me.

Would you have been open to an offer from a publisher, if one had been forthcoming?

If I had been approached by a publisher and offered a deal, it would have definitely been something that I would have considered – but very dependent on the circumstances. I am very protective of my characters and maintaining their integrity and what I set out to do with my trilogy was and is very important to me. I would of course have been open to feedback, but no major changes and nothing that would compromise creative control to a large extent.

How do you see the future for your writing, from now on?

I’m very lucky in that I do have a lot of time to write and when I’m not acting I can write full-time. I love variety and I think it makes me a better writer, having breaks to work on acting jobs and then returning to what I’m working on with a fresh perspective.

Your Black Feather Trilogy looks very exciting, and deserves to be very successful. The first image below is a link to the Kindle Store on Amazon.co.uk. Thank you very much, Faye, and the best of luck with your writing!

The KestrelEbbing Tides

The third book in this trilogy, Cresting Waves, can be seen in the banner image at the top of this post.

Chris Dolley

Wilfred Books is very pleased to showcase the prolific and highly successful author, Chris Dolley, in the first of an occasional series of blogs from established authors, at whatever stage in their writing careers. Chris’s background is in technology, but this post is something of a privileged exclusive, because it is, in visual terms, an ‘out-take’ from one of his books, which details a rather traumatic episode in his life; so read on and share vicariously in his adventure!

1916734_326706036129_648735_nChris Dolley is a New York Times bestselling author. French Fried is about his move to France – which culminated in his identity being stolen and life savings disappearing. Abandoned by the police forces of four countries who all insisted the crime belonged in someone else’s jurisdiction, he had to solve the case himself. Which he did, but unlike fictional detectives, he had an 80 year-old mother-in-law and an excitable puppy who insisted they came along if he was going anywhere interesting – like a stakeout. Here’s Chris:

When writing a book you often have difficult decisions to make when it comes to the final edits. So it was when I wrote French Fried: One man’s move to France with too many animals and an identity thief. Reading though the book, I felt that it took too long to get to the identity theft part of the book and decided to cut one of the chapters – which was a shame as it contained some of my favourite scenes. Here’s one of them: The Optician, the Receptionist, and the Skirting Board.

In the month before we moved to France we decided to have a thorough check up – opticians, dentists, doctors, the lot. It seemed a sensible course of action when exchanging a largely free health service for something entirely unknown.

Unfortunately we caught the optician on a bad day.

I thought the receptionist’s behaviour somewhat strange. Asking the customer if they really wanted to go through with their appointment is not normal front desk procedure.

“He is a locum,” the receptionist pressed. “Not the usual optician. You can re-book if you want.”

She did everything but beg us to run for our lives. But we were not to be swayed, our eyes needed checking and God knows when we’d be able to master enough of the French alphabet to risk an examination in France.

Shelagh went in first – half expecting to see a Transylvanian hunchback – but instead was met by a perfectly normal optician in his mid-thirties. A perception that persisted for several minutes – that is until she let slip the reason for her appointment – our imminent emigration to France.

“France!” he spluttered. “Don’t talk to me about France!”

There then followed a potted life history of an optician’s sorry slip down life’s ladder. And very sorry it was. He’d had his own practice – a thriving one – and then exchanged it all for an even larger one in France. He’d had several shops, a new life, boundless possibilities.

And then lost it all.

Cheated by banks and business partners and I think half of the French population during the final stages, he’d sunk into a morass of debt and had to sell up and come home. Not that there’d been much left to sell. He’d even lost money on his house. His purchasers and the notaire added to the long list of French nationals who’d cheated, connived and generally done him wrong.

This was not a happy optician.

And now he was home again trying to rebuild a shattered life. Filling in for opticians who could afford to go off on holiday – probably to France.

Shelagh thought it best to steer the conversation as far away from France as possible at that point. Having your eyes probed by a man muttering to himself about Gallic conspiracies is not generally seen as a good thing.

Neither it appeared was asking for a sight test for glasses while wearing contact lenses.

“Don’t you want a test for contact lenses?” he asked.

“Well, I did. But the receptionist said you only did glasses.”

“She what!”

And then he was off again. Half of Devon added to the Gallic conspiracy.

“I can do contact lenses!” he exclaimed in a mixture of disbelief and rising indignation. Was the whole world against him? “I do contacts! I do glasses. I do the lot! I’m an optician!”

And then a lot of muttering. Luckily he hadn’t been in France long enough to pick up the spitting and ritual grinding of the spittle into the carpet.

But he wasn’t far off.

“Why did she say that?” he continued to no-one in particular, walking off into the far corner of the consulting room, pushing his hands through his hair and looking one step away from curling up into a ball against the skirting board.

Never a good sign for an optician.

It was about at this point that the phone rang in reception. I was sitting nearby and the caller had a loud voice, so I heard most of what followed.

“Is he all right?” a woman’s voice began worriedly.

“I think so. So far, anyway,” came the reply in hushed conspiratorial tones and nervous looks towards the consulting room door.

“He hasn’t…” The voice hung in an open question mark, unable to frame the terrible conclusion to the question. What hadn’t he? I inclined an ear closer to the conversation, shuffled to the edge of the chair. What was happening behind that door?

“No,” said the receptionist, shaking her head. “Well, not yet anyway.”

We both cast anxious looks towards the door.

“I’m sure he’ll be all right,” continued the receptionist in a voice that underlined the fact that she was convinced of the exact opposite.

Back inside the consulting room a depressed locum fought his way back from the siren call of the skirting board and cast a veneer of professionalism over his sinking spirits. He would continue with the sight test. He was a professional. Whatever anyone else said.

When it was my turn, I walked in, settled down in the chair, smiled a lot and cast beams of well being and general bonhomie in all directions. I was taking no chances.

“And what can I do for you?” he started brightly.

“Well, I’m about to move to France…”

French Fried is available from Amazon at the following link:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/French-Fried-France-animals-identity-ebook/dp/B003UBTVSI/.

So: wherefore Wilfred Books?

Wilfred Risdon at his office desk in 1937
Wilfred Risdon at his office desk in 1937

That is a very fair question; as always, I try to avoid lazy generalisations, but I think it must be a racing certainty (not said from personal betting experience, I hasten to add!) that at least a few of those people who ever come across the name of my publishing company must wonder on the origin of the name; so, dear reader (especially those aforementioned few): I will enlighten you.

Perhaps simply because of the uncommon nature of my family name (and without indulging in unnecessary self-analysis, although I knew it was a subject that had also intrigued my father), I became interested in family history about twenty-five years ago (note to self: it’s just a number) and, to cut the proverbial long story mercifully short: in the course of my research, and thanks to a dear, previously unknown, but now sadly departed relative in Weston super Mare, I was made aware of his uncle, although by that time he was, sadly, deceased.

Wilfred Risdon, as seen in the photograph above, was my grandfather Charles Henry’s youngest brother, born in 1896; hence, my grand uncle (no: not great uncle!). Len, his nephew, had known Wilfred (sometimes ‘Bill’, but NEVER Wilf!) quite well, and he was able to give a reasonably good synopsis of his life and career, the most ‘interesting’ (interpret that how you will, especially in view of forthcoming revelations) aspect of which was his involvement with a figure in twentieth century politics who has, subsequently, acquired almost the reputation of a pantomime villain (boo, hiss: oh yes he did!): Sir Oswald Mosley.

I was far enough removed from Mosley’s time of influence (again: debatable, I know) in politics, even though I had been aware of his death and a certain amount of the backstory, to be sufficiently intrigued by the little I knew to find out more. Luckily for me, even though he was undoubtedly not a ‘household name’ (a sobriquet that seems to have fallen out of use: nowadays, we all seem to be either ‘celebs’ or ‘plebs’), there was plenty of reference material to be found on Wilfred, and I was very lucky, from an expedient point of view, to make contact with people who had either known him personally (not enough though, unfortunately), or worked with him, or been very close to his legacy of work.

In his defence (not that I consider that he needs one, as the book details), parliamentary politics was not Wilfred’s only sphere of influence: he was also a fervent anti-vivisectionist, and I think it is fair to say that I have come to support his sentiments in this area since encountering him, albeit at some remove. When Wilfred broke with Mosley just before the start of world war two (which didn’t prevent him being interned without charge or trial under the notorious Defence Regulation 18B[1A] in May 1940), he started working for a London anti-vivisection organisation and, such was his professionalism and efficiency, by the end of 1956 he had engineered the amalgamation of the small organisation into the larger, but again London-based National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), and he took over as Secretary at the beginning of 1957; he held that position until his death in 1967; ironically, by then, the organisation had moved into the heart of the medical establishment, which ‘relied’ on animal testing: Harley Street. The NAVS, now known as Animal Defenders International (ADI) has morphed into a global NGO.

Although I combined the research on Wilfred with more general research, over a period of a few years, it became obvious that his was a story worth telling; the crucial decision I had to make was how to go about it. Initially, I prevaricated because, although I knew that a biography was by far the best vehicle, I doubted my ability to complete the task satisfactorily and, in all honesty, I was more than a little bit daunted by the immensity of the task. Thankfully, a few very decent people persuaded me to do it, and all credit to them. Overall, including the writing of the book, which took about two years, I spent twelve years preparing it: an awful lot of research was required if I was going to do the job properly, which was the only result I could have countenanced.

I ended up with a book of 700 pages, including 7 appendices, a bibliography and index (the latter being essential, in my view); you might think, with some justification it has to be said, that that is a very long book for such an arguably insignificant figure in twentieth century affairs, but my view is: you don’t have to read everything if you don’t want to, but you can’t read what isn’t there, and you can always come back later to material you ignored initially. Also, I would have felt that I had given the buyer a poor deal if I had skimped purely for the sake of getting the book finished too quickly, simply for the sake of ‘getting it to market’.

In a way, although the writing of the book had been something of a grind, I proceeded methodically and regularly, which I actually quite enjoy, as did I the writing aspect, as I always have; it was actually the easy part, because it was something over which I had complete control; whereas, the publishing part was an unknown quantity — an unknown country, as it were. I had no stomach (or confidence, come to that) for the orthodox, conventional publishing process: find an agent and/or editor, with ensuing criticism and recommendations for revision (looking at it the worst possible way, of course); then either with their help or alone, find a publisher, if that was even going to be a practicable possibility. No, I thought: I’ll go it alone!

Would I do it again, knowing what I know now? Yes: of course. Would I use the services of a small publisher like I have set out to be, if such had been available to me at the time? Absolutely! I certainly don’t regret the time I have spent learning about the publishing process, but it is also very possibly true that I could have used that time, confident that I was leaving the publication of my magnum opus in the hands of someone who knew what he was doing, to develop other projects which might have brought me similar satisfaction, intrinsically, leaving aside the matter of the filthy lucre.

That being the case, I therefore invite any aspirant, or even demoralised existing authors (demoralised on account of receiving too many knock-backs) to consider letting me help them with the benefit of my experience, especially if the book they want to publish is not considered by the mainstream to be sufficiently ‘saleable’ (an entirely personal and also possibly judgmental assessment, based on the fickle fluctuations of ‘the market’); perhaps because the subject matter is potentially controversial, which is not unusual if politics is involved! I am prepared to look at potential publications at any stage of completion, so if you have a project that you would like me to have a look at, please go to my Wilfred Books publishing website, and look at the ‘About’ page, which has a link to a New Author Information page, and from there you can go to a questionnaire into which you can enter enough information to give me an idea of what sort of project you have in mind. The link is:

http://www.wilfredbooks.co.uk/about.html

I hope the foregoing has been of some interest, and potentially of use as well, so, with that, I thank you for reading this, and I hope to meet you as a new author soon!

Patience is a virtue (allegedly)

Welcome to the new Wilfred Books blog. After much prevarication, I finally accepted that, as a publisher who is trying to establish some sort of presence in “the global market-place”, it was about time that the company had a blog, as well as a website , essential of course, because that’s where I sell the books, and the social media pages (Facebook  and Google+: I don’t do Twitter) so here I am, at last! It’s only fair to say that I also waited until I had more than one solitary book to sell, because that didn’t make me a publisher, but rather, an author trying to sell a book I’ve published (Black Shirt and Smoking Beagles)! I will return to this point later.

I thought, in my naïveté, that it would be the proverbial ‘five-minute job’ to make a new blog: wrong! Possibly it is simply the usual problem of unfamiliarity with a particular user interface for a specific application, but my frustration is partly the result of having created a blog on my personal website, which was the culmination of a very long & tortuous development process, mainly thanks to my relative inexperience as a coder; I now feel reasonably happy with it, even though I would also be the first to admit that it is by no means perfect (and, whilst I could very easily lists its shortcomings, I think I’d rather lyrically accentuate the positive!).

On the whole, I think I’m glad that I didn’t check out other blogs before I designed my own, because I think it would have influenced my conception of the appearance, whereas I approached the task as a design project, which meant that I could make it look exactly as I wanted it to, rather than having to conform to another application’s parameters. When it came to a blog for Wilfred Books however, I thought it would make more sense to use a templated blog, specifically to save time; one of the major drawbacks with my personal blog is that it isn’t responsive (adjusts to different screen sizes: it only works with screens no smaller than a landscape oriented tablet), whereas I knew it was imperative, given today’s peripatetic lifestyle, that the Wilfred Books site was responsive, which it is, even if the graphic design standard is basic!

In the end, I settled on this one; previously, I had what was probably a totally irrational aversion to WordPress, perhaps because of its ubiquity (I confess to being an unashamed nonconformist), but I am reliably informed that the platform is well known and generally liked for its efficacy. Hence, I can now compile & publish a new blog post in a recognisable and responsive form fairly quickly, which means, given that the delightfully-named ‘back-end’ processes (order processing, etc.) on the Wilfred Books site are working effectively, I can concentrate on developing the publishing aspect of the company.

That’s where you, dear reader, come in: do you have a book that you are desperate to publish, but don’t know how to go about it? My preference is non-fiction books, the favourite genres being auto/biography or interesting/unusual family history, but I will consider other genres if they have merit, of course (although I think romantic fiction might be at the bottom of the list!), so if you would like me to consider your magnum opus, leave your email address in a comment, and I will get back to you! Also, please feel free to comment on the style of the blog: I deliberately kept it quite plain, so let me know if you like it, or if you think it could do with ‘jazzing up’ a bit. Thanks!