In the second installment (Click Here to Read Part One if you missed it) of our catch up Q&A with British military historian and author, James Holland, we discuss a new 12 part book mini-series, WarGen, script writing for a movie on the Siege of Malta, and the Chalke Valley History Festival to name just a few things…
As big fans of your books, Ross and I, like many others I am sure would love to know what else you are currently working on and what’s coming up next from James Holland; I have heard mentions of a new 12 part WW2 book mini series?
Er, quite a lot. After the success of the spoof Ladybird books, Penguin have decided to publish a load of brand new Ladybirds: 48 pages each, 24 pages of text with 250 words and 24 pages of brand new artwork. I’ve been asked to write twelve on the Second World War. I’ve done three so far: Battle of Britain, Blitzkrieg and Battle of Atlantic. Battle of Britain is finished and coming out in early June. Keith Burns, the aviation artist, is doing the illustrations and they’re absolutely amazing. Think traditional Ladybird blended with a Commando comic front-cover. His pictures have so much energy – they’re quite superb. He’s a legend. And actually, in 6,000 words per book, one can say quite a lot. There’s no style I have to adopt – I do do my thesis and write my own take on the war. It’s the best gig ever, to be honest. I think the plan is for them to be a box-set eventually.
The Battle of Britain – A Ladybird Expert Book is due for Official Release on 1st June 2017 – Find Out More Here <<
Then I’m due to a book on Big Week, the biggest aerial battle of the war back in February 1944, Volume III of War in the West and I’m also doing a quick coffee-table book for RAF 100. It’s making me feel exhausted just thinking about it. Actually, I’m writing this on a flight back from Berlin where I’ve been gadding about old flak towers.
I’ve also written a movie screenplay set on Malta in 1942 – pilots, obviously – and that seems to be have a bit of momentum. Probably nothing will come of it but there’s certainly a flurry of activity and you never know…
Will we be seeing the return of our favourite WW2 fictional hero Jack Tanner any time soon?
Oh, I wish. I get messages about this every week. But I haven’t the time at the moment and the truth is the market for historical fiction has really dropped massively. I’m sure he’ll be back, though, at some point – in fact, he definitely will be. I’ve also plotted out a three-part family saga set before and during the war. Kind of Downton meets Wartime Farm but with lots of action in it. I’d love to get writing that. I miss doing fiction.
June and July sees the return of the UK’s biggest history event, the Chalke Valley History Festival. As one of the director’s and founders of this show, you must be very excited that this year sees the festival move to its new home in the stunning setting of Broad Chalke?
Always excited about it, although moving sites is a massive headache. It’ll all be worth it, though!
Last year’s show was incredible as we got to hear Knights Cross winner Gunter Halm and Dambuster legend George Johnny Johnson recount their wartime experiences. What exciting WW2 related talks and events can we look forward to this year?
A fair few. We’re doing a special German Veterans morning on the first day with Hugo Broch, a knight’s cross winning fighter pilot, Gunther Halm back again, and Hans Schönfeld, who took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 as a 17 year-old and was still standing at the war’s end. We’re hoping to have their weapons too, including an Me109E fly-past.
Then we’ve got French Jewish Holocaust survivor Jacques Altmann and the last survivor of the Long Range Desert Group and desert SAS, Mike Sadler, Hitler’s Godson, Niklas Frank – who is amazing, by the way – Lancaster pilot Rusty Waughman and a Corsair carrier pilot and Mosquito pilot. Plus the Bombshell Belles, and a fair amount of artillery, a Commando training camp and a reconstructed POW camp. I can’t wait.
One very exciting WW2 related project that we have seen you along with historian Dan Snow launch this past year is War Gen. Tell us a little bit more about this project, its importance and how people can get directly involved in helping with this.
Dan and I came up with this idea at last year’s history festival. A lot of people tell me about wonderful veterans I should interview. I’d love to but more often than not I simply don’t have the time. So we thought, why not get other people to do it? It’s not hard but it’s also important to get these memories down before it’s too late. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. We’ve had a very positive response but need to take it to the next stage now.
Over the course of the last few months as part of your film travels and research for your books, you must have met and interviewed a number of WW2 veterans from various countries. Are there any that have stood out in particular for yourself?
Actually, I met a lovely lady in Berlin this week. She was seventeen in 1945 and had obviously had a terrible time. I sensed part of her really wanted to get it off her chest and another part of simply couldn’t bear to articulate what had happened. I found it incredibly moving, I have to say. I don’t adhere to the belief that they all knew about the Holocaust or that they were all culpable. I think Berliners suffered terribly at the end of the war. It’s a hard man that doesn’t feel pathos for what those civilians went through.
Thanks to James for kindly taking the time to speak with us in between these numerous exciting WW2 related projects. Also a big thank you to you for reading.
Ross and I are very much looking forward to attending this year’s Chalke Valley History Festival and hopefully we will see a few of you there in June / July!
Stay Tuned – Very shortly along with the review of James’ excellent new book, we will be giving you the chance to win a copy of the War in the West Volume II – The Allies Fight Back
Until then though, why not check out what history treats are coming up at this year’s Chalke Valley History Festival?
Photo Credits – All photos kindly provided by James Holland.