I have the great pleasure of talking with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Peter St. John today about his book, “Gang Territory.”The London-born author has had a varied career beginning, shortly after the Second World War, as a military pilot. On leaving the Royal Air Force, he became a Chartered Engineer working in aerospace research. This took him to Woomera in the Australian desert, to four years’ residence in Paris and to the European Space Centre in French Guiana.
Later, back in Australia, he became a partner in an enterprise to prepare technical manuals. He then worked as a civilian in a project management team for the Royal Australian Navy.
When the Australian Senate restructured its committee system, the author was appointed Secretary to the Australian Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment. Eight years later, he was recruited to join the staff of the Australian Science and Technology Advisory Council reporting to the Prime Minister.
During this time in Canberra, he became interested in the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, based in Geneva. The Union, established in 1889, works to foster peace through parliamentary action as well as to help strengthen parliamentary democracy throughout the world. The Union has won the Nobel Peace Prize on eight occasions. The author, recruited in 1984, was responsible amongst other activities, for managing the library and supervising the Union’s regular publications.
As a writer, he has prepared several technical papers and reports including a two-volume reference compendium on the parliaments of the world. He has also published eight novels, and translated, from French into English, a prize-winning book of poetry by Anne-Lise Brugger Grataloup, entitled “Axiales – aux envers des miroirs — Axials – behind the mirrors”.
He now lives in France where, in retirement, he participates in a cultural association for the promotion of creative activities.
He has a son, two grandsons, a great-grandson and a great-granddaughter.
How did you discover Indie BRAG?
I first heard of Indie BRAG through a Facebook post.
Please tell me about your book, “Gang Territory”.
Each of the six “Gang” book has a main theme. That of “Gang Territory” is bullying, and defence of individual freedom. The book mirrors, in miniature, the cause for which Britain went to war with Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler attained political power in Germany in part because of the bullying tactics of his notorious “Brown Shirts”. This theme is still extremely relevant today where it remains necessary to defend our values of freedom and democracy against the bullying terrorist tactics of certain entities and belief systems. Let us not forget why we fought the Second World War, nor allow it to have been fought in vain.
Having read your book description, I can see a few themes. One of them is Britain embroiled at the start of World War II. For those of who are not familiar with the first stage of the war would you please explain that a little?
Hitler, having invaded, Poland, Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, had plans to attack Britain. For this, his strategy thrust in two important directions. One was to undermine the morale of the British people by indiscriminate air attacks on the populations of major centres such as London and Coventry. Another was to gain superiority in the air, particularly over the Channel. Such supremacy would have been essential before an invasion fleet could successfully attack island Britain. In 1940-41, invasion was imminent and was in fact planned, and then postponed, several times. This was in part because of unfavorable weather, but was mainly due to the failure of the Luftwaffe to gain supremacy in the air. This was the period of the heroic Battle of Britain, when, as Winston Churchill put it: “Never, in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Would you please give a description of the Village in your story?
Widdlington village (which is a fictitious name) is modeled on the village to which I was evacuated from the London Blitz early in the war. Widdlington has a population of around 800 people, reduced by the absence of most of the able-bodied men who are now in the armed forces. There are two main centres in the village, with the church, school and village hall between. The old village, with its pub and a few shops, is agricultural in character, whereas the newer part, on the other side of the river and railway line, consists of more modern housing associated with a brickworks. Each centre has two gangs of children. There is also a very tough gang on the outskirts of a nearby town, some members of which attend the village school. The school and the water-meadows are neutral territory, but woe betide any child who strays into the territory of another gang without several of his or her friends, or the protective escort of an adult.
An interactive map of Widdlington can be explored here .
Could you please share an excerpt from “Gang Territory”?
Instead of a written excerpt, I would like to provide a link to an illustrated reading of “Gang Territory” chapter 1 .
As I understand it, you lived through this period. Please share a little bit of your experiences as an evacuee from London.
At the outbreak of the war I was living in a Church-run orphanage. After it was damaged by a bomb, all the children were evacuated to an empty nursing home near Broadstairs on the Channel coast, where we raced around in a huge building and garden like a small flock of sparrows in a barn. This didn’t last long, as the threat of invasion by the south coast was very real. We were accordingly split up. I went alone in the guard’s van of a train, with a label round my neck as though I were a parcel, to Leighton Buzzard. For a short period I stayed there with an elderly couple, but then I was sent off again to a farm in the West country, and finally to a village in East Anglia where I stayed for the next eight years.
Were there any challenges you faced while writing your story?
The main challenge was to write a convincing, connected, and interesting human story, based on personal experience and historical war-time themes, whilst avoiding the trap of the narrative becoming a dull autobiography. Another was to provide a unique voice and personality for each of the many characters who take part in the action.
Where do you like to work and what is your process?
Up in the rafters above my living-room, on the way up to the upper floor, is a kind of mezzanine. It is rather like A.A Milne’s “Half-way up the stairs”. It is there, under a skylight, that I like to write. My process usually begins with a fairly detailed plot outline, which for me is essential to weave the story, advance the plot, and bring the characters seamlessly into their parts without the use of unconvincing coincidences.
Who designed the book cover?
My cover designs are usually a combined creation between ideas supplied by my editor, SilverWood Books, and sketches or drawings provided by myself. In the case of “Gang Territory”, the first book in the “Gang” series, the cover design was almost entirely the work of SilverWood Books.
What are you working on next?
A first draft is slowly taking shape for a seventh novel in the “Gang” series. A provisional title is “Gang America”. It is a story of upheavals in the village brought about by the construction nearby of a new airfield for the American Army Air Force at the end of 1942.
Do you stick with just genre?
What this question means is not very clear to me, but I’ll do my best to reply. I now have four titles (one unpublished) that are not in the “gang” genre.
One of them, entitled “Siberian Summer”, is a romance with a background of climate change that takes issue with the widely-believed claim that man-made carbon dioxide is the principal driver of climate.
Another book, “Hey God!”, containing over 100 illustrations, could be considered a humorously serious look at theology.
The third, “Triple Agent”, is an unconventional examination of the public campaign of Jesus of Nazareth based mainly on the Gospel According to John. This novel is in the form of a diary. It takes as its point of departure the statement at the end of the gospel that it was written by the “Disciple Whom Jesus Loved”, that is to say, an eyewitness. The diary is an attempt to recreate the day to day record of the events from which the Gospel was later written. This eyewitness approach does not reflect the view of most scholars who consider that the Gospel was written by an unknown Greek around the beginning of the second century.
All the titles mentioned above (except “Axiales” and “Gang America”) are featured on my website .
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Peter St. John who is the author of, Gang Territory our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Gang Territory, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.