Hello, and welcome to another edition of Genre Talk!
I’m the Elizabeth Noble half of Genre Talk with Carole Cummings and Elizabeth Noble. Thank you for joining Genre Talk today on The Novel Approach Reviews and DSP Publications author Anne Barwell and delve into Anne’s newest release Shadowboxing.
Shadowboxing is historical fiction set in Berlin in 1943. It is the first book of Anne’s series Echoes Rising.
Elizabeth: Shadowboxing is a book I’ve read, and it’s packed full of suspense and action which is my favorite stuff!
First a little about the book:
Echoes Rising: Book One
Berlin, 1943. An encounter with an old friend leaves German physicist Dr. Kristopher Lehrer with doubts about his work. But when he confronts his superior, everything goes horribly wrong. Suddenly Kristopher and Michel, a member of the Resistance, are on the run, hunted for treason and a murder they did not commit. If they’re caught, Kristopher’s knowledge could be used to build a terrible weapon that could win the war.
For the team sent by the Allies—led by Captain Bryant, Sergeant Lowe, and Dr. Zhou—a simple mission escalates into a deadly game against the Gestapo, with Dr. Lehrer as the ultimate prize. But in enemy territory, surviving and completing their mission will test their strengths and loyalties and prove more complex than they ever imagined.
Elizabeth: Would you tell us about the genre you’ve chosen and why it appeals to you as a writer?
Anne: Thanks for hosting me today.
I love reading historical fiction, especially books set around the time of the World Wars, so when I decided to write an action/drama story, it was the ideal setting. While setting a story in another time brings with it the challenge of getting the details right, it also provides the opportunity to explore that time. Depending on when and where they live, people approach situations differently because of their upbringing in a society that is different from ours. In the past people didn’t have the technology that we do at their disposal. For example, if a character needed to contact someone they couldn’t use a mobile phone, or the internet, and it might take a long time to get an answer, which meant they were much more isolated. War also brings out the best and worst in people, and I love putting characters into situations where they have to question who they are, and perhaps choose an outcome they wouldn’t have before.
Elizabeth: Tell us about Shadowboxing.
Anne: Shadowboxing is the first book in the Echoes Rising trilogy. Book 2—Winter Duet—is being released by DSP Publications in December, and I’m currently writing book 3—Comes a Horseman.
It is set in 1943 in Berlin, Germany, during WWII, and follows Kristopher, a German scientist, as he leaves his life behind in order to escape with plans for a device that could change the outcome of the war. He has to take a long hard look at himself, and what he’s done with his life, and soon finds himself completely out of his depth with the SS on his trail. Although Kristopher is one of the main characters, the story has more of an ensemble cast, and it is told from varying perspectives, including that of the SS officer who is hunting him.
Shadowboxing is more of an action/drama story than a romance although there are romances in the story. Many of the locations are real places, and I’ve used actual events to drive parts of the story. It’s easier to work with history, rather than around it, and I wanted Shadowboxing to be as historically accurate as I could make it.
As it is the first of three books, I’ve left some questions unanswered, and some foreshadowing as to what will happen later in the series. However, in saying that, I’ve set the book up so that it can be read on its own, although the story is far from over.
Elizabeth: Tell us how you define “diversity” in your writing, and how have you explored it in this book.
Anne: If everyone in the world were the same, it would be a very boring place. Luckily we live in a world where this isn’t the case. People come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, countries, and speak different languages. Not everyone has the same sexual orientation either.
In Shadowboxing our heroes are from diverse backgrounds and nationalities. As WWII affected many countries and the winning of that war wasn’t just down to one of them, I wanted to acknowledge that, hence the diversity of the characters. Kristopher is German, and although he loves his country he doesn’t agree with what Hitler and the Nazi party are doing. Michel is French and a member of the Resistance. Of the Allied team sent to retrieve the plans, Matt and Ken are American, although Ken is half Japanese. Liang is British, born to a British mother and a Chinese father. Trevor Palmer and Ed Walker are both Brits. In the story they are helped by many Germans who, like Kristopher, don’t agree with what is happening in their country, and are risking their lives to make a difference.
Some of the characters are homosexual, some are straight, and with the same sex couples, they are at different stages of acceptance of their sexuality.
Elizabeth: Shadowboxing is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for nonromance genre novels. Tell us about the relationships in Shadowboxing and why they don’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Anne: Although there is more than one romance in Shadowboxing, they are not the focus of the story. It is also told from several points of view, rather than from that of two men in a romance. In war there is no time to focus on relationships so, although the relationships do develop and grow in the course of the story, their time together is often snatched moments and their romance isn’t what drives the story forward. With their relationship comes the realisation of the importance to being true to oneself, and that they too are considered ‘other’ as are the Jews etc who are being rounded up and thrown into camps.
I’d describe Shadowboxing as an action/drama story set against an historical backdrop. When asked to choose two books from the genre to give readers a direction I lean towards stories I’ve enjoyed which are set in that time period—The Lavender Keeper and its sequel The French Promise by Fiona McIntosh, and The Road Between Us by Nigel Farndale.
Elizabeth: Everyone needs some fun in their lives. What do you do for fun? Do you have a pet who supervises your writing?
Anne: Writing is one of the things I do for fun. Although it’s my ‘other job,’ if I don’t write for a few days I get twitchy, and I do enjoy spending time with my characters and exploring their worlds.
But in saying that, I also aim for balance in my life and so try to spend time away from the computer. I’m a member—president this year as I didn’t say no fast enough—of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club. We meet once a month, share what we’ve read and watched, and then have a fun discussion on whatever the topic is for that meeting. Mid month we also meet for movie night. I also have regular movie nights with friends, and a couple of years ago we introduced Classic Movie Night once a month in which we watch an older movie. We’ve seen a wide range of movies of different genres and it’s widened my knowledge of what is out there to watch.
Monday evenings I play violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra. We have three concerts a year, and the tone is slightly different for each one. Earlier this year we did a semi-staged version of ‘My Fair Lady’ which was a lot of fun. The concert we’re rehearsing for at present is a Haydn symphony and trumpet concerto. Very different to ‘My Fair Lady’ and far more exposed playing-wise. The end of the year concert is going to be Last Night at the Proms.
And of course I can’t forget my furry helpers. I have two cats. Kaylee is a tortie who loves the sound of her own voice, and lots of attention. She also brings home dog bones which she steals from neighbourhood dogs. Frappy is a ginger tabby and much more laid back but she’ll climb onto my lap and demand I fuss over her if I’ve been sitting at the computer for too long.
Elizabeth: Variety is the spice of life, so on that note: do you write in different genres and if so how difficult is it to do?
Anne: I write in a few different genres—historical, fantasy, science fiction and contempory, with a dash of detective— as that’s the way I read. I find each genre has its own challenges, and sometimes it does take a bit of a change of mindset to switch from writing one to the other.
Historical has a lot of research attached, not just with what was going on at the time, but location, and dialogue. I try to keep my character’s speech authentic for the time period, although it’s not always easy to catch everything. I’m writing book 3 of Echoes Rising at present, so my workspace is full of books and maps of France and WWII. When I wrote book 2 of the series, Winter Duet, which has a bit of a road trip across Germany in it, Google ads kept suggesting sites for furniture removals in Germany each time I logged into gmail.
As well as working on Comes A Horseman, I’m also co-writing a contemporary story set in New Zealand for Dreamspinner’s World of Love series with Lou Sylvre called Sunset at Pencarrow. It’s great being able to write NZ slang and reference stuff we do here.
Although I’ve dabbled in writing science fiction I’m more of a fantasy writer and reader. I love the world building part of these genres, and making sure the continuity of the world, and magic systems, works together and make sense. With urban fantasy the world building has to work within our own, and with a logical reason as to why we don’t know about the vampires, werewolves or people with psi abilities who inhabit our world. In stories set wholly within other worlds, those worlds need to come with a sense of history, even if not everything is in the books themselves. Working all this stuff out, although not research in the same way I do for my historical, still involves a lot of time and thought.
Elizabeth: One of my favorite parts of these posts is the excerpt!
Enjoy this scene from Shadowboxing:
Michel froze when several gunshots pierced the quiet Berlin night. “Kristopher…,” he whispered. No. Please no.
Beside him, Matt’s head jerked up. He swore loudly. A few moments later, another lone shot followed the first couple.
Walker and Palmer skidded to a halt, doubling back from where they’d gone on ahead.
“Elise’s Kaffeehaus.” Walker panted, trying to speak and catch his breath simultaneously. He and Palmer appeared to be much younger than their companions; Michel wouldn’t be surprised if this was their first assignment in the field. “Gestapo….”
“Matt….” Ken’s previous harsh timbre was replaced by something much gentler, but Matt ignored him and shook his head.
“No.” His voice shook, his words partly echoing Michel’s thoughts. “Not Elise. Please, not her, not now.” Matt leaned heavily against a nearby lamppost, his eyes glazed over.
“We don’t know who fired the shots, sir.” Palmer took over the explanation. At least he could pass for German if he stayed quiet and kept his head down. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, but there were no guarantees as to which way a particular mission might go. Michel had had that fact reinforced on more occasions than he cared to remember, but too many lives depended on them with this one. It had to succeed. “The Kaffeehaus is swarming with Gestapo, but there is no sign of anyone else.”
“We need to ascertain precisely what has happened before we move in. In order to do that, we will have to get closer.” Ken took charge—although Matt was the ranking officer, he appeared to be in no state to give orders. Whatever his relationship to Elise, this was not the time for him to be dwelling on what might be happening in the Kaffeehaus. Getting Kristopher and the plans to safety was still their priority.
“It’s damn obvious that someone’s been shot.” Matt visibly pulled himself together, although his voice hitched slightly before the word “shot.” “We need to get in there quickly in order to minimize damage. Gabriel, take Walker and Palmer and secure the back entrance. Lowe, Zhou, you’re with me. We’ll secure the front.”
“What if there’s another exit?” asked Liang, disengaging the safety on his handgun.
Matt shook his head, his matter-of-fact tone verifying prior knowledge of both the Kaffeehaus and its owner. “There isn’t. Not unless Elise has done some major renovations, which I doubt.”
“We’re probably more than outnumbered by Holm and his men.” Michel pointed out the inadequacies of the plan. “It would be more sensible to size up the situation first, as Lowe suggested, before we move in. The shot might be merely a warning. We don’t know for certain that someone is injured. If Dr. Lehrer and Elise have been captured, it would pay to wait until….” His voice trailed off, a grotesque image entering his mind—Kristopher lying on the floor of the Kaffeehaus, his fair hair stained red with the blood dripping from a single bullet hole to the temple. Michel quickly pushed it away. Holm needed Kristopher. He wouldn’t risk killing him. Elise could be used to ensure Kristopher’s cooperation. It made more sense that they were both still alive.
“I don’t care.” Matt’s previous calm was replaced by an edge of desperation that made him both unpredictable and dangerous. “I’m not just sitting here and waiting. To hell with procedure.”
Author Bio: Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand. She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.
In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.
She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.
Anne’s books have received honorable mentions four times and reached the finals three times in the Rainbow Awards. She has also been nominated twice in the Goodreads M/M Romance Reader’s Choice Awards—once for Best Fantasy and once for Best Historical.
Our next victim—erm I mean guest—is Christian Beck! You don’t want to miss out on that one!
Until next time Happy Reading!