I’m very excited to welcome Anne Blankman, author of Prisoner of Night and Fog, to A Bit Behind on Books. I really appreciate the time she took to listen to my chatty rambles while putting this Q+A together.
Has Prisoner of Night and Fog been a long time coming? Or was it a relatively quick process?
I’ve been fascinated by World War Two ever since I read Anne Frank’s diary when I was twelve. As I read her journal, I felt so close to her, as though she were one of my best friends. When I got to the last page and found out what had happened to her, I was devastated. I can still remember sitting in my pink and white bedroom, too shocked and sad to cry. Later that week, my dad took me to the public library and showed me the section on World War Two. “Here,” he said, “why don’t you read a little more about this time period? It might help you to find out about the resistance movement.” That sparked my love affair with history.
The plot for Prisoner of Night and Fog itself came to me fairly quickly. I’d just had a baby and since I was going to be home a lot, I decided I’d better read some high quality non-fiction so my brain didn’t dissolve into sleep-deprived mush. I read a great book by Ronald Hayman about Hitler and his beloved half-niece, Geli. After finishing it, I couldn’t get her out of my head. What had her life really been like as part of the Nazis’ inner circle?
The lure of writing from such an unusual perspective–as that of a girl close to Hitler–was irresistible. I wanted the freedom of having a fictional main character, though, so Gretchen Müller was born. But how, I wondered, could I make Gretchen realize what her cherished “Uncle Dolf” really stands for? Once I realized I could wrap those answers into a romantic mystery, I started writing.
The title of your book is what initially grabbed me. I chose ‘Nacht und Nebel’ for a coursework assignment in college (click for Wiki). It was a fascinating study! How far did you want to keep PoNaF true to the facts and history? And how do you decide where you might need to deviate slightly?
I have to be very careful how I answer this so I don’t give away any plot spoilers! Basically, I knew that I wanted to weave my mystery around actual historical events without changing the history books.
The blurb for this book suggests some heavy emotional and moral situations for the protagonist will crop up. Was it difficult to choose the right readership? And how did you decide YA was the right way forward?
From the instant I started brainstorming this book, I knew it had to be YA. I think YA books are so exciting to read because they’re about the most emotionally loaded period in our lives–we’re discovering who we are, falling in love for the first time, and changing constantly. Gretchen’s standing on the line between childhood and adulthood, trying to figure out what she believes and who she wants to be–except she’s doing it within the confines of the Nazi elite.
How far were you followed by the characters when AFK? (I’m often pestered by a character or a plot idea when I’m driving, which sucks because I can’t use my hands to write anything down)
I always plot when I’m driving, too! Maybe it’s a writer thing…
When I’m working on a book, my MC pretty much lives in my head all the time, regardless of what I’m doing. Whether I’m coloring with my four-year-old, going for a run, shopping for groceries, you name it, my story is nipping at my heels.
In line with my blog title ‘A Bit Behind on Books’, is there a book, or series that you’ve been really meaning to get around to reading, but haven’t yet?
My answer is probably going to horrify a lot of people, but I haven’t read CODE NAME VERITY yet by Elizabeth Wein. It sounds amazing, and I’ve been dying to start it but when I’m writing, I can’t read anything fictional set during the same time period. I’m paranoid about being influenced by someone else’s work, so lately all I’ve been reading is YA fantasy or science fiction and non-fiction for research.
With a further two books confirmed for this series, how far along with them are you? And have you figured out the grand finale?
Prisoner of Night and Fog is actually a duology. A lot of people think it’s a trilogy because it sold in a three-book deal, but my contract is for Prisoner, its sequel, and a standalone. Right now I’m working on the first round of edits for the sequel. I wish I could tell you more, but the plot and even the title are under wraps for now.
I do have an idea for a WWII duology in which Gretchen and Daniel are minor characters… We’ll see what happens!
(and now a couple just for funsies) What is your favourite day of the week, and why?
Friday, hands down! You’ve got the weekend ahead of you–really, what could be better?
You get into a fight with a seagull from St Ives (they’re vicious little buggers). Do you, (a) lose your ice cream, or (b) your dignity? (trust me, flapping and hooting at it will only result in being happy slapped by a big white wing… but you might keep them off your cone and flake… )
Dignity! I’m willing to look like an idiot if it means I get to keep my ice cream. Which has to be vanilla. Yum.
Not a question – but thank you very much for doing this! And I am very much looking forward to reading Prisoner of Night and Fog when it’s released.
Thanks so much for having me, Sarah!
Prisoner of Night and Fog is due to be released April 22nd 2014 by Balzer + Bray/HaperCollins (Headline/Hatchett in the UK)
Read more about Anne and her writing on her website here –> http://www.anneblankman.com/