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****Alan Hardy’s "Nazi Spy: Nazi Spy Mystery Series book 1" is #209 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.
Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? The Nazi Spy: Nazi Spy Mystery Series book 1. I did think of The Double Agent, but I guess I thought the Nazi Spy was just a bit more brutally direct. (Right: Alan Hardy in June of 2018)
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I started in July/July 2018 and finished the first draft in October/November 2018. I usually leave a book for a few weeks, and come back to it, hopefully, with amore critical, less self-indulgent eyes. I must have got it to its present state in August 2019.
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? The living-room of our former house (we moved into our present house in October 2019). The laptop was placed on a table just to the left of the main windows looking out on the road. I could see the outside from that position, but would be mainly “hidden” from view unless somebody was up close to the house (for example, coming to the front door). So, the position was both intensely “private”, and yet afforded an extensive view of the outside world.
Thinking about this question, I’ve realized that the position where I write now (in our new house) is more or less analogous with the former house (now, for example, I’m facing a wall, but, to my right, the large window looks out on a fair section of the square). So, maybe deliberately (or just by chance), I seem to write facing a blank wall, but near enough to open spaces I can easily look at whenever I choose. Does that mean anything? Something about the seclusion of the writing process (hiding away from public gaze) and yet hoping to reach out to a wider public . . .But the, who knows? All rooms have walls and windows, don’t they? The only choice you have is where you place yourself in relation to them.
What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I never listen to music when I write. I don’t particularly drink anything either. I write directly on to the laptop. I used to write in pen and paper when I only wrote poetry (for many years I would really just took for publishing outlets in the small press/poetry magazine scene mainly in the UK).
When I started writing fiction, I always did that on a computer, but would revert to pen and paper for the first few drafts of poems, but now I also write poetry straight on to the computer, and rewrite/sculpt, cut it on the laptop too. I’m ashamed to say I’m a one-finger typist, but seem to get on perfectly well and even swiftly enough with that. I’m liable to write any time of the day, but in general, the most common time is in the evening. Maybe because it is quieter? More secluded? More conducive to playing around with those images in one’s head? Maybe still that child-like instinct to be secretive about one’s writing?
Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.
“All right, Mrs. Macintosh, I’m ready. Fire away,” he said. “I promise I’m not laughing at you.”
Fiona was confused, angry, perturbed, and not a little excited. She felt out of her depth, but she would give it a go. “Well,” she began nervously, “can you explain what you were doing meeting up with Flight Lieutenant Turnbill just now?”
“Why should I have to explain that?” he answered, almost contemptuously. “After all, we are ex-brothers-in arms.”
“Do you deny he was reporting back to you after the meeting I had with him?”
“Reporting back?” He echoed. “Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic? I can see you must be a lover of Hollywood films.”
She was getting angrier and angrier, and, as she did so, and faced with Matthew’s inconsiderate lack of responsiveness, she felt a growing resolve to defend her corner. “He claims he was the one who wrote me those letters.”
“Does he now?”
“But you know that, don’t you?”
He didn’t answer.
“You coached him on what to say to me, didn’t you?”
“He repeated the sort of phrases you used, almost word for word. . .”
“Like what, Mrs. Macintosh?”
“Matthew, you can either call me Fiona, or Mrs Macintosh,” she said harshly, “but I won’t have you slipping from one to another depending on how you consider I should be treated. I’m not a child to be given a sweetie when a good girl, not reprimanded when I’m behaving badly.”
“Understood, Fiona,” said Matthew, looking respectfully at her for a moment, before his eyes sparkled like the rays of the sun bursting out from behind the cloud. “And do you often do that?”
She didn’t answer, pursing her lips, if he carried on like this, she would definitely give him a slap.
He looked down at her hands. She looked down too. She was doing that thing again. Rubbing her left wrist with her right hand. Rubbing and rubbing. He left eye welled up with a tear or two. She instinctively flicked them away with her left hand, like scratching at the skin below her eyes. He stared at the nervous tic, too, fascinated. He was starting to know her so well. She understood that. She had to be careful. She lowered her hand, wiping it on her black caot. He followed her movements and gestures like a dog following his master’s every move. Her hand strayed towards the opening between the two sides of her coat, and lingered near the tiny, white streak, which ran up her whole body. His eager, blue eyes seemed transfixed. He swallowed harshly. Fiona felt energized. She spun away from him, plonking herself more in the centre of the path, away from the brambles and branches.
“Now, as I was saying, Matthew,” said a newly confident Fiona, “are you going to admit you coached him on what to say?”
“And what did he say?” snapped Matthew rather
“You’re a disgrace to the uniform you wear, Flight Lieutenant!” she spat out triumphantly. “How dare you behave like that to me! You write me obscene letters, and then think you can treat me like this, you’re-“
“I didn’t write you obscene letters. What are you saying?” He looked genuinely offended.
“But you wrote those letters, didn’t you?” she asked, still gasping for breath, but the fury abating.
The fascination with him was returning. “I can’t answer.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
He didn’t reply. He stood there, breathing as
heavily as Fiona, still looking at her with a mix o shock and dewy-eyed amazement.
“You’re just like Freddit, aren’t you?” She threw out brutally.
“Yes, you treat women disrespectfully, roughly, you think only your degenerate urges matter and we-“
“Did Freddie really make such outrageous demands on you?” he snapped back, equally vicously. “Aren’t you exaggerating?”
“And what would you know of such demands unless you were the writer of those letters where we discussed all that?”
He was flummoxed for a moment, and then smiled. “Who says he didn’t speak about such things to me? And the others?”
“he spoke to other members of the squadron about our private things?” she asked, her triumphant expression rapidly subsiding into irritation again.
“He could have . . . Anyway, maybe it was your reaction to him, which was wrong. Maybe it was too harsh. You and Freddie weren’t suited, of course, but maybe you are too quick to condemn, you are not at your ease in . . .”
“How dare you speak to me like that?” she threw back. “He was despicable man in such matters! Unless, of course you’re the sort of man who goes with whores, too…” She stared at him, ding to smack him in the face again, and, irritatingly, dying for that pee.
“Who knows?’ he answered quietly and slowly. “In ten years, if I haven’t met the right woman, or if I get hitched to the wrong woman. . . “ He looked pointedly at her, and her hand rubbing her wrist as if her life depended on it.
“So, you’re saying I drove him to it? Is that it?” she countered, out of herself. “What do you know of such things? You’re barely more than a boy.” That hurt him. She saw that. His body shrank momentarily. He was humbled. Hurt. She instantly regretted saying it, but it was too late.
“I don’t know what I’m saying,” he said, looking tired, his face wan and so sad. “Just that he wasn’t the man for you, and you weren’t the woman for him . . .and then things happen. . .”
She wanted to hit him, and love him, she wanted to smack him, and cradle him in her arms, she wanted to hurt him with words, and she wanted to take back those words straight away.
“Anyway, it’s not my place, as you said to talk about…” His voice trailed off, and he turned to look down the pathway making ready to go.
“Please, Matthew!” she called out. “Tell me the truth! Tell me what’s going on. Why did Flight Lieutenant Turnbill –“
“I can’t. I'm sorry.”
“Did you write those letters? I know you did.”
“I . . .”
“I know you did.”
He turned away, moving off down the path. She wanted to stop him leaving, but didn’t know how. He himself stopped. He spoke without turning around. “Does that invitation to your birthday party still stand?” She didn’t answer. “Does it?”
“I haven’t withdrawn it, have I?”
“So, it still stands?” he said again, like an insistent child.
Then he did turn around, and approached her slowly. She didn’t know what to expect. A kiss? A gentle kiss? A rough kiss? Or something else? He came up close to her, and despite herself, she flinched. He came up real close.
“Fiona, be careful,” he whispered. His gaze was sincere, his tone considerate, but the words seemed menacing.
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean,” he intoned slowly and deliberately.
“Are you threatening me?”
“I’m just telling you, Fiona, to be very, very careful.” Then he left.
Fiona looked down at her hands. They were shaking uncontrollably.
Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? The novel is a WW2 spy thriller/mystery, and so there are fairly standard expectations that come with that genre. Within certain limitations, I have tried as much as possible to play around with those stereotypes. The whole story revolves around who is the spy/traitor, and ultimately, is saying that such matters are just a question of perspective.
You know, one side’s hero is another side’s villain. In the same way, Fiona, the central character, is also hopefully portrayed in an ambivalent manner. If anything, I’ve tried to make her a little unlikeable, with a mixture of questionable emotions and motives, and more than a hint of some mental instability, but, at the same time, I myself really like her. I wanted to show her at times as someone whose facilities were the frailties were the frailties a man would ascribe to a woman (You know, spoilt, selfish, hysterical, etc., and I am writing as a man, of courses), and yet try to write the book form the perspective of the lead character who is a woman.
I think this fitted in with the spy mystery angle, you know, that she was somebody who was hiding something, that her appearance was deceptive, and so on. So, in this excerpt, I think I had the first chance to really nail that as an image of Fiona, that readers could see her warts and all. That was a bit difficult to do. I had to write the scene as a scene in a spy thriller, and yet also try to sculpt an image of her that was valid (both as a character in such a novel, and a real woman other women – and men- could related to). I wanted to feel a sympathy for her as a character and a woman, which didn’t depend upon the expected clichés of the genre and of male prejudices about women (which, as a man, I must share).
Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt? As I write and correct on the laptop, unfortunately, I don’t have copies of rough/amended drafts. I did keep correcting/amending this particular section. As I say, it was an attempt to strike a balance between the genre (with its tension, drama, romance, etc) and creating a character to whom readers would react in a way that didn’t necessarily mirror mine, but led anyway to them forming an opinion about her as a real person, however difficult to do in a thriller/mystery.
If this novel were made into a film which actors and actresses would play your characters? I’ll answer this in two ways. Seeing the novel is set in 1941, if I could choose actors of that period, they would be Joan Fontaine (of Hitchcock’s Suspicion and Rebecca) as Fiona, and Robert Donat (of Hitchcock’s The Thirty-Nine Steps) as Matthew.
Modern-day actors, I would choose Gwyneth Paltrow as Fiona, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Matthew.
Alan Hardy is United Kingdom-based, an ex-director of an English language school for foreign students. He is married, with one daughter. He has now written twelve novels. Alan is also a poet (Poetry pamphlets: Wasted Leaves, 1996; I went with Her, 2007). His hobbies are the theatre, watching television, waling, and lazing around. (Left: Alan Hardy in August 2020)