On Separation – and Reunification: James Silvester’s Take on his New Thriller, Escape to Perdition (Especially for This Site!)

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There is a talented group of writers with my publishers, Urbane Publications, and James Silvester, author of the new Czech-Slovak thriller Escape to Perdition, has kindly consented to write an exclusive on the inspiration behind his book for the site. Escape to Perdition is an imaginative rewrite of twentieth century European politics (think Robert Harris’ Fatherland) centred around the controversy that ignites when the Czech and Slovak Republics, 25 years after the Velvet Divorce, attempt to reunify… over to James (and scroll down to the bottom for more on him)

Escape to Perdition: Some Thoughts on the Inspiration

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My new novel, Escape to Perdition, owes much to the cobbled, atmospheric streets of Prague. The bulk of the story is set there and so much of what makes that city such a special place to me, the music, the scenery, the culture finds its way between the pages. But much as I adore Praha, and high as it ranks on my list of favourite places, so much of my inspiration for the book came from another place entirely: Slovakia.

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I didn’t enjoy the most dignified of arrivals on that first trip, having slightly overindulged in Prague’s alcoholic wares before boarding the night bus for a six hour journey to Prievidza; my first experience of Slovakia involving willing my head to stop spinning and my stomach contents to settle as I handed my passport to an unimpressed looking border inspector. But whatever self-inflicted embarrassments I may have endured on my journey were soon forgotten as I experienced the spectacular beauty of the country. Slovakia was, quite simply, the place where I found my tranquillity.

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Now, that may sound rather grandly pretentious but bear with me. I’d always wanted to write, for as long as I can remember, and I had a reasonable idea of what I wanted to write about. I had long adored reading Cold War thrillers; tales of morally ambiguous agents of espionage, plying their trade in the unforgiving, suffocating reality behind the iron curtain, had always instantly gripped me. I was a student of political history and the stories of Russian tanks, rolling portentously up Wenceslas Square, and the crowds of 1989 demanding change, had long remained with me. Years later, on my first trip to Prague, where I met the lady who would become my wife, those stories took on a new, deeper meaning as I walked the streets and saw the monuments dedicated to those explosive events in the city’s turbulent past. It was then that I started putting together in my head the outline of what would become ‘Escape to Perdition’; my focus very much on those dark, cobbled streets and the potential for intrigue they housed. But had I left it there, it would have been a very different story indeed.

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It was the trip to visit my wife’s family in the Slovak town of Bojnice, famous for its gloriously fairy tale castle, that put flesh on the bare bones of my story. The innate hospitality, an apparent national characteristic of both Republics, was present and as undeniably real as ever, yet here it was coupled with an overriding sense of community spirit, genuine and unforced. The town lacked the bright lights and glamour of Prague, but instead enjoyed a neighbourliness, almost familial in nature, that made One feel instantly at home, welcomed. And it was sitting in those wonderful pubs, talking to real people, who had lived through those historical events, that greased the cogs in my cluttered, dusty mind. I learned of the distrust of the political classes, the hatred of past regimes and the corruption that lived on, post independence. I learned of the frustration at being so often viewed as the ‘poor relation’ of the Czech Republic, along with the latent resentment that Czechoslovakia’s split was orchestrated without the consent or will of the people. And I realised that much as I, as an argumentative Northerner, would grow frustrated at the ‘Londoncentricity’ evident in my own country, I was guilty of neglecting the same obvious truth: that Prague was not the sole indicator of the region’s character.

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From there, my story grew wings as I began to appreciate and explore the fraternal relationship that existed between these two countries; the tensions, the frustrations and ultimately the love. Now, instead of just the basic structure of a repentant spy, trapped in his life in Prague, the wider story took shape. Where did the impetus for the split come from? What if the people desired unity again? What if this country and its Czech neighbour, who for so long had been dominated by outsiders, were still so to this day, only without their knowledge? What if the tales of corruption and deceit still played out, only without public fanfare? What if the Slovak hero, Alexander Dubček, really had been murdered? Instead of being a Cold War era thriller, confined to the cobbled streets of Prague, I moved the timeline forward to deal specifically with that issue of separation and the suspicion which still surrounds it.

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Without those first, and many subsequent, visits to Slovakia, so much of my story today would be unrecognisable, and while it wasn’t there that I first put pen to paper on a draft, it was where I developed and completed the synopsis of what I hoped to achieve. Being in Slovakia, talking to the people, experiencing first hand the culture and that, uniquely Slovak, environment, allowed me to expand my idea, to order my thoughts and, finally, put the building blocks in place ready to cement together; it allowed me to find tranquillity. The result is, I hope, a story which reflects the individual characteristics of both countries while acknowledging and celebrating the bonds between them. Does it succeed? I certainly hope so, but that’s for others to decide…..

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James Silvester’s debut novel, Escape to Perdition, is available through Urbane Publications. Readers in Slovakia and the Czech Republic can order the paperback version through Martinus via this link. James is an HR professional and former DJ for Modradiouk.net, married to a lovely lady from Slovakia. He lives in Manchester and enjoys spending time in his adopted second home, Bojnice. He is now hard at work planning a second book and is an occasional writer for Doctor Who Worldwide.

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Categories: Guest Posts, Urbane PublicationsTags: , , , , ,

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