Published just a few months ago as both an ebook and a paperback it has been smouldering along waiting for an opportunity to ignite onto a global stage. The ingredients are all there – a terrific plot, some memorable characters to grab the attention of readers, and a writing style that marks Craven out as one to watch.
I met Robert initially through Facebook and then as a member of the Irish Crime Fiction group. I became intrigued by the blurb for Get LENIN and wanted to know more about why a Dubliner found himself delving into WWII, and in particular the Russian perspective, as the subject for his first novel.
What I discovered was one of those fascinating stories every bit as interesting as the fictional world he has created. It’s one I felt I had to share.
Just to put you in the picture and to understand the later references about the Get LENIN story and the research that went into it, here’s a quick synopsis of the book:
As the German troops approach Moscow during the Russian offensive of World War II, encountering ever more determined resistance as they go, what if they could snatch the greatest and most heroic symbol of the Soviet Revolution, the body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin? Would Soviet morale collapse? Would Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union be defeated? Would Nazi Germany conquer the world? ‘Get LENIN’ pits the academic British spymaster Henry Chainbridge and the seductive Polish infiltrator Eva Molenaar against the elite of the German Third Reich and the wealth and ambition of American movie mogul Donald T. Kincaid who will amass yet another fortune for himself recording the Nazis’ triumphal seizure of Lenin himself. The race is on, and if the Nazi plot succeeds the war and humanity itself may be lost.
The obvious first question to ask Robert was where did the idea for the story come from?
“It happened almost by chance,” he told me. “I was reading a Sunday Times review about 15 years ago about a book titled ‘Lenin’s Embalmers’ by Ilya Zbarsky and the review made me think – what a great premise for a book! Time passed and I had a few thumb-nail passages written, but it wasn’t until my 40th birthday that I decided to throw myself into it and tick off one of my bucket list entries.”
From that point it took Robert five years to write, pitch and get published.
Robert’s research centred on the German invasion of Russia, and it was pretty intensive research at that. Here was his reading list:
Barbarossa by Alan Clarke
The Battle for Spain by Antony Beevor
Stalingrad by Antony Beevor
Berlin by Antony Beevor
Russia’s War’ by Richard Overy.
Armed with an overview of the invasion and the situation both armies found themselves in, Robert began building the book’s central plot.
“Russian history has always fascinated me, I suppose because growing up as a Cold War child in the 1970’s, images of Brezhnev, Andropov and Gorbachev were almost nightly TV news fodder. There was a newsagents in Dublin on Camden Street that used to sell English language copies of Pravda (now since gone) and I bought a few copies from time-to-time out of curiosity. Growing up I loved reading the books of Fredrick Forsyth, John le Carre and Len Deighton, so there’s that influence throughout the novel.”
“She started out as a fringe figure and the love interest, but after reading through the first drafts I wanted to take the story away from a standard war novel and give her a back story. The earliest drafts introduced her in the present day as an editorial assistant working for a London publisher with a dark past. Gradually she uncovers his role in taking Lenin out of Russia and the sarcophagus lying inside a sunken U-Boat off the Irish coast.
“I thought this wouldn’t work as it would involve the flash-backs of a man who would be well into his 80’s. I then looked at making her British, but settled on Polish putting her story in the epicentre of 1930’s appeasement, the rise of Nazism and subsequent horrors that followed. She’s based loosely on Australian spy Nancy Wake who fought with the French Resistance and the 1940’s film star Ava Gardner – both strong, independent and beautiful women. When I saw the final draft I was satisfied that Eva had moved from being just an eye-witness to history to a protagonist that both men and women would enjoy reading about; she’s an immensely complex character.”
The decision to elevate Eva as his central character forced Robert into yet more research. So how did he go about it?
“I was fortunate to be put in touch with Marta Przybysz, a Polish colleague who put a huge amount of work into giving me information about pre-war Krakow and useful historical facts which allowed me to flesh out Eva, giving her an additional dimension. I was also very fortunate through Neil Marr at BeWrite books to be introduced to Hugh McCracken, who is an expert on WW2 and tidied up the historical details throughout the manuscript and gave me invaluable advice throughout the process.”
And who said being an author was easy?? After five years in the making Get LENIN was offered a publishing deal by Night Publishing, a small UK press founded by Tim Roux. They have it out on all the usual ebook outlets. Check out the main Amazon links listed below and treat yourself to a great read:
So what’s Robert up to now?
It’s hardly surprising to hear he’s busy working on a follow-up novel called Zinnman (a publication date has yet to be set) and also finding time for a lot of reading. His favourite authors are: Stephen King, Patrick O’Brian, Robert Harris, Issac Azimov, Arthur C Clarke, David Mamet, Andrew Miller, and Irish authors Frank O’Connor, Colm Tobin, Roddy Doyle, Brendan Behan and John McGahern.
Here’s Robert’s take on reading: “I’m drawn to history, political biography and current affairs. I work full-time so don’t get as much time to read as I would like to, but I believe to be a good writer, you have to be constantly reading good books.”
I couldn’t agree more. I wrote this blog because I’ve just finished reading a good book. Hope you’ll join me and get yourself Get LENIN.