Nigel Wild talks about his debut Nightwalk, set in occupied France
NW: Guy is an understated hero, rather on the lines of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. I guess there is a lot of me in him (ask my wife Cathy!) – a car enthusiast, good with his hands, a planner who takes care of detail, a people person. He has strengths that only become apparent when the chips are down.
Born of an English father and a French mother, he bridges two cultures, so English readers can easily identify with him. He is totally bilingual French/English.
RL: How did you convey this world avoiding the tropes of ‘Allo ‘Allo?
NW: I just created and moulded a character as I developed the plot. The book never looks on war with rose-tinted glasses and from page 1, makes it clear that it is a nasty business in which everyone suffers. There is even a short section that explains the changes in attitude in France as the war progresses.
RL: Collaboration and Resistance are being very much revisited and re-assessed by historians. Have you tried to show these grey areas?
NW: Yes. Many French collaborated with the Nazis, overtly or covertly, and quite a few made money from producing war material for the Germans or from a rampant black market. The Germans had the wherewithal to pay for luxury or scarce items. Different political groups like the Communists had differing attitudes to the invaders. Some wanted them gone ASAP and worked in the Resistance, some collaborated and denounced their fellow countrymen as Resistance or Jews. That’s why so many old scores were settled at the end of WWII and why even today, the odd case comes up of accusations of collaboration.
RL: You mention Robert Gildea’s books. What have been then best research tools for you?
NW: Mainly books, but the internet has been invaluable. While researching French rural railways – lignes secondaires – during WWII, I found a website in English and French run by an expatriate Brit railway buff who had lived in France for over 40 years. I have a prodigious memory for facts and store useful titbits from newspapers, TV etc for future use. The Imperial War Museum were first-rate.
RL: Do you have favourite books set in this era? Who would you like your style to be compared to?
NW: Operation Zigzag, plus another whose title escapes me and is still in a carton somewhere. This was an autobiography of an SOE agent born in Switzerland of a British father. I quite liked Charlotte Gray, but for me, it lacked a certain something. My style is that of Jeffrey Archer, Dick Francis, Nevile Shute, storytellers all. I am a storyteller.
RL: What would you say is the theme of Nightwalk?
NW: That war is a foul business and that while good usually triumphs over evil, there are no winners.
RL: The SoE seem impossibly brave to us now. Did you find it difficult to make that level of bravery believable?
NW: No, because I found a real empathy with the type of people who could live under cover for months on end, who could still function knowing that the more recruits they found, the more the chances of being blown, that could turn from a nondescript persona deliberately cultivated to a military commander. This was a special kind of bravery.
RL: What are you working on now?
NW: My second novel, Divine Vision, set in Germany in the 1970s.