Guest Post: Behind the Stories by author Nancy McDonald

Where do story ideas come from? Sometimes they appear, fully-formed. Sometimes they nag you until you write them down. And sometimes they are waiting for you in a drawer…and you never look back.

For my entire career, I’ve been a professional writer. I’ve penned everything from documentaries to live-action scripts to comic books. But I never imagined that I would write a full-length novel – let alone have two published novels, Boy from Berlin and One Boy’s War, and a third set for release in the spring of 2021.

It was fate. One day, some months after my husband, Heinz, died, I was cleaning out my filing cabinet, when I came across a thin, manila folder I didn’t recognize. Inside were copies of letters written by his father to the British Home Office and the Air Ministry, dated 1940.  I couldn’t recall having seen them before. But I knew at once that they were all that remained of the story of how, and why, the family had left Berlin suddenly in 1938 for The Hague, and from there—on the day Holland fell to the Germans—to London. It was a story I didn’t know because Heinz never really talked about it.

…the story came together somewhat miraculously, his story told in his voice. Written by me.

My interest piqued, I started doing some research. I scoured the Internet, where I discovered that Heinz’s father, who I knew was a talented aeronautical engineer, had invented a game-changing fuel pump—one that could help the Nazis win the war— before fleeing the country. It landed him in Hitler’s “Black Book”, a special arrest list to be used after a successful invasion of Britain. Their sudden departure was suddenly making sense.

Eager to fill in the blanks, I flew to Berlin and toured the family home, which had miraculously survived British air attacks, trying to re-create it from Heinz’s eight-year-old point of view. I wandered around the nearby park where I knew he must have gone with his Nanny, along the streets of Charlottenburg he would have walked with his Mama, and through the Zoo, a place he went often, one the few memories he shared. How would he have felt leaving Berlin? I took the train to The Hague and went down to the harbour at Scheveningen, where he and his family boarded a small fishing boat to cross the North Sea as bombs rained down on Rotterdam. Looking out at the rough, black water, it wasn’t hard to imagine how frightening that must have been.

Back home, as I started to weave together the facts I’d gleaned with how I imagined a young Heinz would have felt and behaved, the story came together somewhat miraculously, his story told in his voice. Written by me.

I was hooked on novel writing and I’ve never looked back.

Guest post written by Nancy McDonald, author of Boy from Berlin and One Boy’s War.

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