Author of: THE SHADOWS BEHIND HER SMILE (2016)
On the web: www.karenmilliejames.com
On Twitter: @KMillieJames
My new novel Where In The Dark tackles some difficult subjects, from the search for justice of Holocaust survivors to the dark secrets of gold stolen by the Nazis and hidden in banks throughout the world. This story was hugely personal to me and I had been waiting to write about it for a long time. Until two years ago, I wasn’t ready to face the task.
My Jewish father was originally from Germany and escaped the Nazis on one of the first Kindertransports in 1939. I wanted to do his story, and those of so many others, the justice it deserved. I also felt I needed closure in a sense, and in a way to understand the reasoning behind the actions taken by the Nazis. The story lead me to explore the psyche of Nazis through one of my characters, Albert Whiteman, an escaped Nazi officer formerly known as Adolf Weissmuller. In the novel, Albert flees the US after the war, marries into a prosperous banking family and uses monies he stole from the Jewish people to fund the bank’s illicit activities. I wanted to establish firmly in my mind whether he had any remorse for his contribution to the murder of thousands of people. As I explored the character, I came to the conclusion that Weissmuller, clearly a psychopath, was completely detached and had no empathy at all. At his core he was a coward, and what drove his remorseful actions in Where In The Dark was a fear of dying and the fate that awaited him on whatever lay beyond this life.
The research I undertook for this book was the most extensive I have ever carried out, and the most heart-breaking. I have read many books about the holocaust over the years, and I also discovered much from the papers and letters my late-father left behind, but I had no idea what I would reveal when I entered this world. For example, little is known about what happened to the gold and diamonds looted from the Jewish people. Some of the conclusions I reached based on historical facts and some speculation was that a number of international banks were and could still be implicated. The facts were very much believable, if not 100% proven. The most moving experience for me was interviewing two holocaust survivors, Zigy Shipper and Ivor Perl. Their stories of survival against tremendous odds were life-changing: it is hard to comprehend the pain and suffering that one human being can withstand and still carry on. It was also somewhat chilling to see the degree to which luck played a part in their survival, where millions of others we not so fortunate.
Another personal element to this story lies in my main character, Cydney Granger. Like many authors, there is a lot of Cydney in me, or vice versa. My first book, The Shadows Behind Her Smile, started off as an auto-biography primarily for my family but as I ran out of stories I decided to turn everything I had written into a novel. In that way, I was able to place Cydney into any given situation and find a solution for her. Cydney is an inspirational character, a strong businesswoman, determined, motivated, and always ambitious, but she has frailties like anyone which she tries to hide. She overcomes adversity in her life, such as dealing with her husband who is missing in action from the Special Forces and being left to bring up her twins single-handedly, and a mother who has dementia… But she carries on regardless, overcoming any obstacle before her with grit and wisdom: she is like so many women amongst us and in history and I feel sure many of my readers will recognise those traits in themselves or in the women they know and love.
I admire many authors and many styles of writing, from the classics to modern contemporary writers. All writers like to think of their work as individual and the stories unique as they come from within me and my thoughts and feelings, but if I had any influences I’d have to say Wilbur Smith for the wonderful adventures he writes and the way he describes events. Reading authors I love helps me to understand how to use words that allow the reader to see what I see in my own mind. One of my favourite books is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. What a wonderful world she creates and the circumstances could easily be transported into current life. I love reading historical novels, especially Philippa Gregory where we get an insight into the real characters which she has, maybe with some literary licence, helped us to understand. She mixes actual historical events so we are learning at the same time and I have tried to do that in Where In the Dark.
I very much hope you will enjoy Where In The Dark, out today in paperback, hardback, ebook and audiobook.