Sunday, June 05, 2011

Your excellent book

I have come to the conclusion that publishers, if not actually practicing concentration camp guards, must have trained most of them. You spend months writing, against an insane deadline, burn the midday oil (that's where you are still awake from the night before and forget to open the curtains), and work yourself into frenzied exhaustion, all to get the great work to the church on time.

And what do you get? Nothing. Total silence. A creepy, eerie silence – your book, the love of your life, object of your complete attention and devotion for the best part a year, has fallen off the end of the world. It is as if it never existed.

Then, after a full month of torture, the e-mail. Because of the controversial nature of the book, my publishers had sent it out to some high academic referees, for an opinion. They have pronounced. The e-mail header is: "your excellent book". The text is signed, "your enthusiastic publisher". I guess it's a go!

However, there is a downside. I had intended my "take" on the Battle of Britain, provisionally entitled, "The many, not the few", to be a popular history, so I've been very sparing on the footnotes and references. But the referees think the book has academic merit, and could have a bright future as a text book. So they want me to improve the referencing. That is a messy, gutty job, and it will take time. That is my next week and a bit wiped out.

This is not all bad, though. It gives me an opportunity to revisit and update some of the sections, not least the latest on Rudolph Hess, and his supposed solo mission to broker peace with the British.

Surprisingly, this has considerable relevance to the Battle of Britain. Although the conventional narrative focuses on the derring do of the RAF pilots, the battle was as much, if not more, a political event than it was a military contest. Right throughout the period, the tempo of the battle was punctuated by German attempts to bring the British to the negotiating table, so much so that it looks more like that this was the main German objective in fighting the battle.

Now, with this latest finding, we seem to have confirmation that Hess was acting on the instructions of Hitler when he came to Britain on 10 May 1941 (pictured - the wreck of his aircraft). And when one puts this the context of there being a succession of peace offers right throughout the period, this makes absolute sense. The Hess initiative was just one in a long line of similar initiatives.

Throughout writing the book, this is one aspect I had been discussing with my close friend and local journalist, Jim Greenhalf, himself a published author who eight or nine years ago wrote a short story on the Hess affair. Jim recalls this in a post on his blog, where he entertains the likelihood that Hitler did indeed know of Hess's flight, and had approved it. Years later, his story looks to be vindicated as being ahead of its time.

Interestingly, in the comments to the news story in the Scotsman, the question is asked as to why this matters now, seventy years after the events. The answer, of course, is that the myths of yesteryear shape the present – and the myth we currently live with is that Britain in 1940, with Churchill at its head, stood fast while RAF Fighter Command, with its Spitfires and Hurricanes, repulsed the Nazi hordes.

The truth is a lot more nuanced than that, and has profound implications for how we see that period, and ourselves. I'd better get down to that referencing, I suppose, or that story will never see the light of day.