Friday, 30 December 2011
P is for PATRICK WHALER
PATRICK WHALER, an aging American mercenary, began his fictional life as Jacques Salois: a 30-something Belgian legionnaire. How did one morph into the other?
As a writer one of the things that fascinates me is archetypes. Amongst the most popular is the old wise man or mentor, a character that instructs the hero in the ways of the world. As I was developing The Afrika Reich it occurred to me that my narrative lacked this figure. I had two central good guys in the shape of
and Salois but they were matched as equals, both the same age and with similar skills. I realised I would have a stronger relationship to explore if Burton had a mentor-figure with him… but I didn’t want to make it quite that straight forward! Burton
So Patrick can’t be entirely relied upon. He’s prepared to abandon
to save himself, even threatens to shoot him at one point; as a mentor he’s ambiguous. Actually Patrick is one of a number of father-figures Burton encounters in the book from his real father to Hochburg, none of whom offer much safety or stability: a subtle undermining of the concept of Fatherland so cherished by the Nazis. Burton
Up to this point I was still using the character of Salois albeit an older version than initially conceived. It was my agent who suggested I make him American in the hope that it might give the book more appeal State-side. There was no particular reason why Salois had to be Belgian (indeed in an early draft of the original version of the book he was Asian!) so I made the change. I don’t think it had an effect on my
US deal but as an unforeseen boon it gave me an easy route into explaining ’s role in my alternative history. America
For some reason I’ve had more suggestions from readers as to how they depict Patrick than any other character, everything from George Peppard to an aging Harrison Ford. Personally I always half-saw him looking like Richard Burton in The Wild Geese. There was the aging-warrior-in-Africa connection, but most of all I liked the link with Burton’s character in Where Eagles Dare... it was like catching up with him twenty years later to see what had become of the man.
Two other pieces of trivia. 1) Originally his surname was Whalen – but a lot of the time when I typed it ‘Whaler’ came out, till eventually it stuck. 2) Patrick is trying to get back to his daughter who’s living in
and hates it. Why Baltimore Baltimore of all cities in the ? Because while I was writing those scenes I was watching The Wire. US
As for Jacques Salois... well the name didn’t go entirely to waste. He’s one of the main characters in Book 2, back in his Belgian form.
P is also for PREQUEL
While Afrika Reich was being rejected by publishers I began looking for a new project. If the book wasn’t going to make it into print it seemed a shame to squander the characters so I began to think how I might use them elsewhere. I was drawn to the idea of Patrick’s lapsed idealism and wondered what it would be like to see him as a young man full of conviction. Since I’d made reference to the Spanish Civil War that seemed the most obvious line to take… and so I developed an unrelated PREQUEL.
Called Seven Bridges to Toledo, it’s about a bullion heist during
’s war. Highly influenced by the Spaghetti Western (more of which another time) it tells the story of Arch Stanton, a British engineer and the hero, Patrick and Tunscher (another of the main characters in Book 2) as they try to wrestle the gold across Spain . The plot was full of twists and double-crosses and also featured ‘cameos’ from Hochburg and Cranley. Spain
I never actually wrote the book but do have it planned out. Whether it ever sees the light of day will depend on the continuing success of Afrika Reich and if I want to go back and revisit the story. Time will tell...