Launch: Stephen Maitland-Lewis’s Legacy of Atonement
INTERVIEW BY LESLIE S. LOWE
Stephen Maitland-Lewis is an award-winning author, a British attorney, and a former international investment banker. His previous books include Hero on Three Continents, Emeralds Never Fade, Ambition, Botticelli’s Bastard, Mr Simpson & Other Short Stories, and Duped. Maitland-Lewis is a board trustee of the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York and received the museum’s prestigious Louie Award in 2014.
How would you describe this book and its themes in a couple of sentences?
In the spring of 1959, a seemingly minor mistake in a wire transfer at a Swiss bank leads to the discovery of a plot by the CIA to launch a nuclear attack on the leaders of the USSR and China and to install Hitler as the leader of Western Europe. Hitler is still alive and hiding in South America.
What inspired and attracted you to writing historical fiction?
I have always been intrigued by the “what if’s” whether it be historical, adventure (i.e., suppose humans had never landed on the moon); medical (i.e., suppose penicillin had never been invented); war (i.e., suppose Germany had won either of the two World Wars); slavery (suppose there had been no slavery, what would the demographics of the United States be in 2023?); political (i.e., suppose Hilary Clinton would have been elected and not Donald Trump). The list of possible “what if’s” is fascinating and endless.
How is this book different from the others you have written? What are you working on now and will it be connected to Legacy of Atonement in any way?
This book has more global content together with a strong emphasis on heroism, inherent danger, and suspense. I am at the early stages of contemplating a possible sequel.
Does any part of your own life experiences connect with any character or events in the story? What difficulty did you have in writing this one?
Apart from a personal knowledge of certain of the locations involved in the story, I have no personal life experiences in it. The difficulty I had was in keeping up the pace. The book went through many edits and re-writes and each one made me realize that I had to quicken the pace and eliminate superfluous sub plots which simply slowed down the story too much to engage the readers’ continuing interest.
Is there an historical event you found in researching that inspired you to write this story to portray a key message for now?
There is no single historical event, but the entire subject of Nazi criminals fleeing Europe, how they managed to survive in South America, and how and by whom they were protected has always fascinated me.
What kind of research did you do for this story? Did you get to do any interesting interviews?
I researched certain geographical locations, particularly Paraguay, but otherwise writing this book did not involve the level of research I needed to do for my other books. I conducted a series of interviews with someone who had lived and worked in Hong Kong.
How do you think the reader will connect with your main characters? Is there one that you feel connected to and why?
I hope the reader will be rooting for my protagonist right from the start and also the heroine of the story. In fact, the main characters are the underdogs in many respect and represent good versus evil so I’d be disappointed if the reader did not connect with them favorably. Yes, there is one character with whom I particularly connected. His background, his career in finance, and family situation largely resembled a Swiss banker with whom I treasured a life’s friendship, who died sadly a few years ago.
Every author has their own publishing journey. Tell me about yours.
My process is to write or research every day. The whole process flows more easily from a strict working discipline. If one doesn’t keep up a daily routine, it compares with a musician who doesn’t practice. For a writer, I can’t say any more than quote W. Somerset Maugham who said “writing is ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.”
Rejection is inevitable. One must never give up. A speedy rejection is better rather than to be left hanging on for an answer for weeks or months, hoping all the time for an acceptance and then the rejection arrives. That can be harder to take. Rejection is inevitable so one just has to accept it. It’s always easier when rejection is accompanied with some advice as to how the manuscript could be improved but that is rare. The terse one sentence rejection, which is the most common is always the most disappointing.
As for success? How does one measure this? Is it in the number of sales? reviews? or just to see one’s work in print? It’s subjective. But one’s success with one book in no way guarantees success with the next. The next book could turn out to be a stinker so one must never rest on one’s laurels.
What advice would you give to other aspiring historical writers?
Research – Research – Research. There’ll always be that person somewhere who will challenge the writer on a historical fact whether it be an error on a date or something else. And that person will no doubt be able to quote some serious academic who will corroborate whatever he or she has pointed out as an error. Two or more blatant errors could condemn the book to the trash heap by an unforgiving reviewer or reader.
What is the last great book you read? Why?
I’m reading Speeches That Changed The World, with an introduction by the eminent historian, Simon Sebag Montefiore, published by Quercos. It is inspiring and educational. The book includes speeches from a wide selection of important figures in history, both the greats and the evil.
Author Photo Credit: Darien Photographic.