AHF Interviews Lazlo Ferran
Lazlo Ferran -
Alternate History Interview
1. You have a very interesting mixture of vampire lore within the setting of historical time periods in Ordo Lupus, how did this idea come about?
By accident. I never intended it to be a vampire or werewolf book (it has both). I was interested in the main character and the scene in his childhood where he encounters an evil spirit in Highgate Cemetery suddenly gelled with me. It jogged me into a different way of seeing the book and the main character. Even by the end of the first book I wasn't sure if he would have supernatural powers himself. Much of the vampire and werewolf history is based on fact; that is, characters in history who believed themselves to be a vampire or werewolf or were accused of being one. Until Peter Stumpp, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Stumpp ) werewolves were considered to be benevolent. It seems to have been the Catholic Church that began to cast them in a bad light. Werewolf history goes back to Roman times and beyond and vampires perhaps back to the Hebrew myth of Lilith. I love the esoteric and my books don't attempt to rewrite history, be fantasies or fact; they are like investigative journalism, trying to peel away the myth and fear to reveal what might be at the root of these beliefs. Some of my most interesting references come late in The Devil's Own Dice but I had to cut them down. If you want the full story you will have to dig around within Lotus (www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00PQV6T8U ) A lot of what I can't cram into the normal novel length of 60-80,000 words is in there.
2. How easy is it to write this alternative or secret history without upsetting the established timeline?
It can be very difficult indeed. Sometimes I spend days trying to get myself out of a corner I have painted myself into. Right now I am in just such a position. Without giving too much away, my latest work involves the far distant past and the Old Testament. My problems are exacerbated by the fact that all my books are part of the same para-world; a world or universe created by me, and they all have to fit. I can't go back and change one of my books and yet sometimes I find that they contradict what I want to say. So I can't say it. It's funny how it can spark the imagination and increase creativity when you have to solve these problems. So far, there has always been a way round it but perhaps that will not always be the case. I often wonder if that's why Tolkien wrote so little late in life. Perhaps he simply had no room left in which to manoeuvre. In any case, historians are just very good guessers.
3. Vampire: Find My Grave was written partly as a "treasure hunt" with a prize. Where did you get the idea for this?
I had the idea for years. The title "Find my Grave" came to me one day and I thought "That's really interesting!" and then I remembered the book by the guy who buried the hare jewellery. Masquerade by Kit Williams (Masquerade ). The book gave clues to where the treasure was buried and was very successful in the 80s.
4. Did you give the winner much publicity or did they not want any?
Nobody has won yet! I will definitely announce it and remove the Prize sticker from the cover if somebody solves it. I don't think it's very difficult. I found the grave myself while doing some research. Maybe I am the nosiest man in Britain.
5. How many ideas for future books in this series do you have? Can you give any hints or teasers?
I have the next three planned in my head and I have written down the synopses for them. But they may get subsumed into a greater work that I have just started; seven novels written simultaneously and each dependent on the other. It will be serialised and readers will have to subscribe to read it, probably at $1 per month. I am a bit tired of having to cram books into the novel format and then to find that people are wanting the next book in each of the many genres I cover and I don't have anything. With this format I can write 2 chapters of any genre I want each month and people can pick and choose which genre they want and then just wait for the new chapters. I think it will work but it's a huge gamble. The only teaser I can give for the next Ordo Lupus book, if it happens, is that Zosimyache will travel forward in time to the far future.
6. All Ordo Lupus books have fantastic covers. Can you tell us about your cover artist, where you found him, and about the design process?
Yes Omri Koresh ( www.omrikoresh.com) is a great artist, who lives in Israel. I found him though Amit Bobrov, an Israeli writer, for whose book I became the editor. He suggested Omri to me when I said I needed an artist who could really draw people. Omri can certainly do that.
He always wants me to tell him what the scene is and he prefers as little information as possible so I have to give him an idea of how the person looks and what is happening to them. Then he does some sketches and I say I like what is happening or not. When we have the theme, then I give him a bit more detail and he completes it, usually within a few days. He is very fast.
Omri also designed the December Radio cover, which is a very different them to the Ordo Lupus series. It was actually quite difficult because I wanted something that would give subliminal messages about the Third Reich and concentration camps and also show that the book is not merely an action adventure but a thoughtful look at the War. I always show the sketches to a small group of trusted friends and writers and tend to go largely with what they like. They all liked this one after we had tried different approaches and found the one that we thought worked.
7. Attack Hitler's Bunker! is pure alternate history, and very well researched. Did you have any background in this area?
I have been mad about WWII aircraft since I was a kid. I already knew about Airfix models because my dad brought them home for me to build when I was about six. Then he told me one night that you could get models that actually flew! Of course I had to have one so he brought home a Keil Kraft Hurricane. It was way beyond my capability to build it and I gave up. But my love of model aircraft was born and I went on to design and build my own control line and radio-controlled (R/C) aircraft. My dad took over my R/C kit when I left home and now builds R/C model boats.
From studying the aircraft I learned a lot about the War and it kind of grew from there. I let it go for a long time when I became a musician but recently the flame has been rekindled. In about 2010 I blogged about my love of the film 633 Squadron and how I would love to get some answers to questions about the main character. It is, in my view, probably, one of the two best war films of all time. The film starred Cliff Robertson, (he was also in PT109 and was a childhood hero of mine) and Cliff's publicity agent saw the post and asked if I wanted to ask Cliff any questions. I jumped at the chance so he sent my questions to Cliff, who, to my amazement, sent me a hand-typed letter, containing his replies. He even invited me to go to the USA and stay with him and do a full interview. I was considering this when I heard the news of his death. I wish I had gone!
I also became involved with the Stirling Aircraft Society's project to build a replica of the Short Stirling nose recently. Readers may not have heard of this bomber but it was the first British 4-engined bomber and sadly none have survived. Admittedly, it's not the pretties of aircraft and it was flawed but it's a piece of history that deserves representation in museums. All profits from sales of Attack Hitler's Bunker! for the first two years went to the Society (www.stirlingproject.co.uk ). In short, I have built up a huge store of knowledge on all aspects of the War now and feel comfortable writing about it. December Radio takes this much further and the book following that, which has no title yet, will go even further.
8. Do you think the mission really could have succeeded?
Hmm. Good question! I certainly worked out the details meticulously and a Short Stirling could have just about carried a Hurricane to Berlin. Moreover, Shorts had already built and flown a piggy-back composite in the Short Maya flying boat
(www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYtazEBQ1K8 ). Yes, I think it could have been done but the timing would have had to have been perfect. Hitler's new bunker was indeed almost complete in September 1943 but he was well known to chop and change his schedule at a moment's notice. He usually spent summer months in the Wolf's Lair in Austria, to escape the heat, but would have come back for major engagements. As in the book, one would either have to have intimate knowledge of his schedule or manipulate it in some way. And then you would need a lot of luck! But I think it could have happened.
9. Attack Hitler's Bunker! forms the first part of your alternate history series 'Wartime'. December Radio is out in January - tell us about it?
I can't remember where I got the idea for this. I worked as the IT Manager at the Institute of Physics for 15 years or more so I was surrounded by physicists. Shortly after I left I began writing a story which had no real plot. At first it was a disparate mess of ideas. I had recently read Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and I liked his existential and rather chaotic style. It reminded me of Camus, whom I read when I was young. Suddenly after two chapters a character called Carl appeared and it became clear very quickly that he would be a very strong character. I realised he had a brother and so I discarded everything I had written and started from scratch. I suppose the initial impetus for the book was from a desire to show that war is chaotic and the cause of it may be like some random message coming out of the ether. In the book, Arnaud, Carl's younger brother, is arrested trying to protect his rebel brother and is sent to a concentration camp. They are both ex physics students and Arnaud ends up working on the V2, Silverbird and then the Nazi nuclear bomb project, which was actually quite advanced by the autumn of 1944. It's the story of two brother fighting desperately to keep each other alive and then going on to defy the Nazis' final throw of the dice against overwhelming odds. It's a kind of microcosmic look at war rather than macroscopic. I hope it's very personal and comes over more like a thriller version of The Book Thief rather than Where Eagles Dare!
10. You're hosting a favourite gadget of World War Two discussion on your website - what sort of things feature, which are your favourites, which others are popular choices?
I guess Die Glocke is one of my current favourites; the Nazi attempt to build an anti-gravity device in the shape of a bell. The sad thing is that with all Nazi projects, many prisoners were worked to death on the project and in this case none were allowed to live to tell the tale. So we may never find out what happened to it but I believe it was built and at the end of the War, was flown to the USA by Anna Kreisling in a Junkers 390 as part of Project Paperclip. Curiously I recently heard that President Obama re-restricted all access to FBI files on the 390 and it emerged that Kreisling is alive and well and married to a friend of Bill Clinton. Things couldn't get weirder. My interest in anti-gravity started in the 90s when I discovered that the recent head of the FBI had retired and founded a company called SAIC (or something like that; you won't find much on them now). I looked them up and their website actually stated that their sole budget item was anti-gravity research. They even had weird videos of test conducted by Lockheed into Anti-Gravity (AG) showing spaghetti falling upwards and stuff like that. The website rapidly vanished and so did the company. Then I found out that one of its main shareholders had been George Bush Senior. It all went on from there.
I also like the bouncing bomb but who doesn't? So mad and yet so ingenious.
My personal favourite, being an aircraft buff, has to be Silverbird; so simple and elegant and without it we would never have had the Space Shuttle. Take a look at my blog and have a look: www.lazloferran.com
Silverbird (Silbervogel) wind tunnel model from Wikipedia Commons
11. Your biography reads very adventurous and varied. How did these experiences inform your writing career?
Survival! Lol I survived many strange experiences, including marriage. It opens your eyes and teaches you to deal with just about anything. But as you get older you would rather write about them than keep doing them. I wouldn't fancy my chances of surviving half those things now; getting mugged in Turkey, stuck on a runaway horse in Turkey, busking 10 hour per day, six days per week, 300 days per year for 3 years to pay the rent, walking on to one of the top jazz stages in London to perform one of my own songs, without rehearsal!
I feel that I have seen a few things and that as a result, I have something to say.
12. Tell us about your books that don't form part of your Ordo Lupus or Wartime series?
My other main genre is science fiction. I have written one main novel series called the Iron series and a few sci-fi short stories. Our sun is a heavy sun and produces planets with a lot of iron content, which is very useful for any developing form of intelligent life like our own. Other, alien, species may not be so lucky and in the Iron series, the Ischians seek us out for exploitation. They are bigger, stronger and faster than us and think they are more intelligent. I love writing sci-fi because there really are no limits.
The first book is free and called Running - Alien in the Mirror
13. Were these written before, or at the same time, as the others? Do you have an unpublished back catalogue we may see at some time?
I usually write about 3-5 books simultaneously. The process takes me a long time. Typically I will play around with an idea for a year before writing anything. The writing takes me another year and the editing another, so that's 3 years. So it's efficient for me to be editing a book while I am thinking about another and writing a third. I also have beta readers (friends who read my books and feed back to me) to think about and they will often need as much as a year to get through a first draft so I need to do something else while I am waiting. Using this approach also saves me getting writer's block because I can work on 3 different genres at the same time. Actually I hate genres and that's another reason I am going to try subscription publishing next year.
I don't have an unpublished back catalogue. I did lose a manuscript for 10 years (the second half of The Ice Boat) but now it's published.
I have about 2 finished books waiting for beta readers to finish; a romance which is also the Wartime series book 3, believe it or not, and an autobiography which is really more of an elegy.
I would love to get away from the genre thing; just write books and be appreciated for it! Amazon and the big book stores have forced us into pigeon-holing ourselves!
14. You have a strong presence on social media. Can you give any advice to other aspiring authors about how to use this to boost sales and enhance their "brand"?
Yes, think very carefully about whether you love writing or selling. Nobody has enough time to do both. I know a few indie writers who make a lot of money but they no longer write because they have no time! I know at least one other writer that has won loads of awards, but sells very few books. That's just the state of the market at the moment, I am afraid. I try to steer down the middle. I do not go crazy with social media because I want to write. I post once every 2 weeks and only tweet/FB post once every few days. I know some that do it hourly and the stress is slowly killing them. Don't do that! Writing more books is the best thing to sell books.