Thursday, 6 November 2014

"Omphalos" - A Preview of the Second Story - "The Spirit of the Times"

The second story in my soon-to-be published third novel, Omphalos, is set during and immediately after the Second World War. "The Spirit of the Times" (the title was suggested by a line from Goethe's Faust) is narrated in epistolary form (each of the six stories takes a different form), the correspondents being Friedrich Werner, a junior officer in the German army, and his wife, children and mother in Germany.

At the beginning of the story, Friedrich is stationed in Jersey, as part of the occupying force. As the war draws to its close (his first letter is dated 3rd May 1944), and later, as a prisoner-of-war in Wales, he is forced to confront the true nature of the regime for which he has been fighting.

In researching the story, I made use of The Von Aufsess Occupation Diary. Baron von Aufsess was an aristocrat, who served in Jersey as a liaison officer with the civil authorities. His diary of the later stages of the occupation gives a very clear and vivid picture of the changing mood of the garrison as time progressed. I take care, in my novels, not to fictionalise the lives of real people in the relatively recent past, but I was able to include the baron as a character without doing so (the words I attribute to him are his own): I was even able to incorporate, as an element in the plot, a specific visit that the baron made to La Hougue Bie, where Friedrich is stationed, in company with a Swiss Red Cross official.

The historical Baron von Aufsess socialised with many young officers, and did not always name them in his diary, so it was easy to make the fictional Friedrich part of this circle, and to make this association the starting point for Friedrich's re-education (the baron was a covert, but committed, anti-Nazi).

"31st July 1944

My Darling Greta,

 ... Baron von Aufsess is here. As I'm sure my mother has told you, up to the time of the last war, her family were in service to his for centuries. Well, I have struck up a friendship of sorts with him and, being senior, he has a better grasp of what is going on. He thinks it likely that, within a matter of weeks, we will be cut off altogether, and mail will no longer be able to get through, so we may be out of touch for some time. He also thinks that the Americans and the British are unlikely to come here ... On the other hand, we worry about running out of food, of coal, of all essential supplies, of a winter without electricity or gas ...

All my love,


A German officer and a Channel Island policeman. Photo: Imperial War Museum (non-commercial License).

The German Occupation remains a sensitive topic for many Channel Islanders, and I am prepared for the possibility that my choice to explore it through the eyes of an occupier, rather than an islander, may be controversial. A novelist, in attempting to make sense of history's greatest conflicts and tragedies, has to be willing to tackle difficult topics, and, where appropriate, to adopt controversial viewpoints. Omphalos has, among its key themes, questions of transgression and reconciliation, and an interest in people who find themselves on "the wrong side of history," and it was in this context that this story-line suggested itself.

A further visual preview of the story is available on Pinterest.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.

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