Friday, 30 December 2011


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 Burton 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!

So Patrick can’t be entirely relied upon. He’s prepared to abandon Burton 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.

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 America’s role in my alternative history.

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 Baltimore and hates it. Why Baltimore of all cities in the US? Because while I was writing those scenes I was watching The Wire.

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 Spain’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.

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...


  1. Oh wow, so much here and yet so little about your next book! Such a tease!

    I'd love a prequel centering on Patrick Whaler - a great character who should've made it - after all he and Burton went through! I kind of thought he and Neliah would somehow get together but maybe in my alternative of your alternative they did. LOL!

    Oh but no way do I see older Richard Burton as Whaler! For some reason I see Brian Dennehy or a gruff big American man like Brian Dennehy as Whaler.

    Onwards and upwards with Afrika Reich! Take care

  2. Kitty - I'm sure Richard Burton could do gruff!

  3. Hi Guy

    Really loved your book - cldn't put it down. Was hoping there'd be a follow up so am v.excited to be reading yr blog and knowing there are sequels *and* prequels.

    Have you ever thought of turning it into a series, like Sharpe? I definately think there's scope for more of Burton's adventures and Nazi Africa is a big place to explore.

    Can't wiat for the next one

    Debbie :o)

  4. Debbie – thanks for your comment and sorry not to have replied sooner: I sometimes miss people when then write something on an old entry. Glad you enjoyed the book and am excited that you’re reading the blog! ;o)

    I’m sure someone else asked about turning TAR into a series (they may have even mentioned Sharpe), so apologies if I’m duplicating information here but I have no plans of turning it into a long-running series of books (sorry!). I always saw it as a trilogy with a definite beginning, middle and end… and by that end Burton’s and Hochburg’s story will be resolved. I suppose there would still be room for tales elsewhere on the continent but not ones that I plan to write. Hope that answers the question.

    Please do keep reading the blog; more details about Book 2 on their way soon…

    Best wishes


  5. Any news on when Book 2 is out? Really enjoyed the first and can't wait!!! :o)

    1. Tyler - thanks for your comment. I'm working on Book 2 at the moment and it's due for publication sometime in 2013. To be kept up to date with the latest news sign up to my website or visit AFRIKA REICH's Facebook page. Links for both above...

  6. Stumbled across this while googling The Wild Geese. It's one of my favourite films and I watch it several times a year. It never fails to delight, a true 70s classic! If your book is a mash of it, I am intrigued. Will search out a copy.

    1. Col F - I thought you were dead and your liver buried with full military honours! Thanks for dropping by. If you enjoyed THE WILD GEESE I'm sure you'd like AFRIKA REICH too. There are plenty of nods to it in the text, so do see if you can buy a copy... and tell me what you think.