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Dan Smith

Author of 'Nisha's War' discusses new historical fiction book 'The Wall Between Us'

My review of  the book is here.


1) Why after 'Nisha's War' did you decide to write about the Berlin Wall in 1961? What inspired you?

I had already written a version of The Wall Between Us before I ever started writing Nisha’s War, but we made the decision to publish Nisha’s War first. The Wall Between Us was originally one of four shorter stories, each from a different period of history, but sharing a common theme of trying to find a way home … and with a specific object to link them. Originally The Wall Between Us only contained Anja’s diary, but when my publisher read it, they liked the story so much they asked me to expand it. So, I added a new perspective with Monika’s letters, and I created newspaper articles, interviews, and secret notes to enrich the story and show the view from the both sides of the wall. I think the inspiration came from growing up in the 80’s, during the cold war, when the Berlin Wall was a symbol of the huge division between East and West. When I chose it as the setting for a story about a young girl trying to find her way home, and I delved into my research, I was fascinated by the stories of informants, daring escape attempts, and the terrifying Stasi secret police. All of those things reminded me of the cold war thrillers I read as a teenager and I decided to create my own version.

2) What challenges did you face writing about this period in Germany?

The same challenges I face writing about any period of history – the research! Research is always fun, but always a challenge because although it’s important to get the facts right, it’s also important for the story to be entertaining. Obviously, I don’t want to be glaringly incorrect - someone will always be ready to correct me - but I’m a writer, not a historian, so if there’s something I can’t find out about, or something that doesn’t quite fit with the story, I make up something that feels believable, or I bend the truth a little to suit my needs. For instance, it’s unlikely that the sewer system would have been quite as accessible as it is in my story, so I used some artistic license to make it so. That said, I did spend a lot of time researching the sewer system, so I know it would certainly have been big enough to accommodate any escapees!

3) How do you hope this story will resonate with young readers today?

In the first instance I just hope young readers will be entertained by it and, along the way, learn something about the Berlin Wall. There are obvious themes of enforced division, separation, and authoritative oppression that might resonate, but I hope it also gives young readers pause to stop and ask questions. We live in the era of fake news and disinformation, which relates strongly to the characters in my book who have to decide what is true and what isn’t true, as well as who to trust, and who to distrust.

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