Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Hitler and the Mars Bar by Dianne Ascroft
'Hitler and Mars Bars' by Dianne Ascroft
Published by Trafford Publishing Ltd
Genre: Historical Fiction
What is your book about? It is the tale of a remarkable child and era - the story of a German boy's journey to manhood in war-torn Germany and post-war rural Ireland. Set against the backdrop of Operation Shamrock, the little known Irish Red Cross project which aided German children after World War II, it reveals a previously hidden slice of Irish history.
Erich, growing up in Germany’s embattled Ruhr area during the Second World War, knows only war and deprivation. His beloved mother’s disappearance after a heavy bombing raid leaves him responsible for his younger brother, Hans. When the war ends the Red Cross transports him, along with hundreds of German children, to Ireland to recuperate from the appalling conditions in their homeland. During the next few years he moves around Ireland through a string of foster families. Separated from his brother, he experiences indifference, brutality, love and acceptance in varying measures. He finds a loving home with one farm family but is unable to stay with them.
This is the story of a German boy growing up alone in a foreign country. He dreams of finding his mother. He yearns for a family who will love and keep him forever. He learns his brother is his ally not his rival. Plucky and resilient he faces the challenges his ever changing world presents.
Why did you write the book? I didn’t initially set out to write this book. The idea gradually evolved. Several years ago I met a man who was one of the children helped by the Red Cross endeavour, Operation Shamrock. His life story intrigued me and spurred me to research the project. I used my research to write a non-fiction article for a Writer’s Bureau course assignment; the article was printed in Ireland’s Own magazine. With my course assignment completed, I thought that was the end of it. But family members insisted that the story would make a good novel. Initially I wasn’t interested to pursue it but, the more I thought about it, the idea grew on me. Eventually I got excited about it and, then before I knew it, I had begun writing the book.
Where did you get your inspiration from? As I said, I heard about a boy helped by Operation Shamrock and his story started my imagination racing. It was the first time I’d heard of this Red Cross endeavour and I wanted to know more about it. I read the few articles I could find and watched an RTE television documentary about the project. I also spoke to people from communities that had hosted these children; I spoke to the evacuees themselves, their foster families, their classmates and neighbours. I gathered a lot of information and I wanted to use it to re-create the experiences of these people. Even though I was writing a novel, I tried to portray the people and events as accurately as possible.
How does your book differ from others that are similar? As far as I’m aware, the events of Operation Shamrock have never formed the basis for any other novel. And no other novel explores Irish life in quite the same way. There have been many books written that nostalgically recall the people and way of life in rural Ireland half a century ago. Maeve Binchy in ‘Light A Penny Candle’, Alice Taylor and Michael McLaverty all capture country and village life well. But none of them look at Ireland from the point of view of an outsider who cannot even speak the language when he first arrives. My novel looks at the same people and places but through a foreign child’s eyes. It is a unique window into this bygone era.
Why did you choose POD? I didn’t actually make the decision; I was fortunate and the opportunity fell into my lap. Soon after I began writing the book, before I even started to think about finding a publisher, I saw an ad in Ireland’s Own magazine for a Book Deal competition. I submitted the synopsis and one sample chapter to the contest. Then I continued writing; I didn’t think much about it. A couple months later I was notified that I had won. The contest was jointly run by the magazine and Trafford Publishing; the prize package included the free design, printing and production of the book as well as review copies and promotional material. So I was spared the task of submitting my manuscript to countless publishers, hoping to be accepted by one of them. I never even explored the possibility of submitting the book to a traditional publisher.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method? One of the greatest advantages of POD is that the book is always in print. There’s no time limit; it can be marketed and sold for as long as the author wishes. There also isn’t a large inventory taking up space anywhere, slowly yellowing and aging. Fresh, new books can be produced, in any quantity, whenever they are needed. POD also gives the author total control over the layout of the book, cover design and content. One of the greatest disadvantages it that the author is responsible for most of the publicity and promotion. While it can be fun, it is also time consuming. The inexperienced author will have much to learn about marketing to promote a book effectively. POD authors will also find it’s an uphill battle to get their books stocked in bookshops. If they are accepted, invariably it will be on a sale or return basis. Getting the book reviewed by most major newspapers and magazines is also difficult.
How do you market your book? One of the most important things I’ve done is to seek feedback about the book from readers and reviewers. Positive comments can be used in my marketing efforts. Although it is difficult to get a review by a major newspaper, it isn’t impossible. It is worth sending copies to any newspapers that agree to consider reviewing it. Positive reviews by Brian D’Arcy, BBC broadcaster and Sunday World columnist, and the News Letter, a Belfast daily newspaper, were very beneficial to my marketing campaign. I’ve been promoting the book in ever widening circles. Initially I concentrated on the counties of Ireland where the book is set. I sent press releases to local newspapers then I contacted local bookshops and libraries to offer the book for sale. Most bookshops agreed to stock the book on a sale or return basis; libraries said they would contact their regular suppliers to order it. I then widened my marketing campaign to include the rest of Ireland. I sent press releases to newspapers countrywide. Since it isn’t profitable to have too much stock tied up in bookshops, on a sale or return basis, I encouraged shops throughout the rest of the country to order it from their distributors. Next I concentrated on my internet presence. The book is listed on Amazon and other online bookshops. I also sell copies on my own website at www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft. Information about the book and upcoming marketing events can be found on my Bebo (www.bebo.com/hitlermarsbars) and MySpace (www.myspace.com/dianne_ascroft) pages as well as my blog, ‘Ascroft, eh?’ (http://www.dianneascroft.wordpress.com/).
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome? Apart from finding time to write the book while juggling the rest of my life and responsibilities, marketing was undoubtedly the greatest challenge. I had so much to learn and then had to spend the time to apply it effectively. Most days I wished I had at least a 48 hour day to complete even half of my ‘To Do’ list.
What would you say to others considering POD? If you are willing to put the effort into marketing your book then POD is a viable option. It is very satisfying to be in control of every aspect of your book’s creation and printing. But you need to look at the business aspect carefully - price the book realistically to make a profit then find every possible sales avenue. POD isn’t for anyone who is only interested in the creative side of writing. You need to have a strong business sense and not be a timid salesperson.
Where can I get a copy of your book? ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ is available from the publisher, Trafford Publishing (www.trafford.com/07-1955) and from my website (www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft). I offer a special discount price for books bought on my own website. It can also be ordered from online bookshops, including http://www.amazon.co.uk/, and any high street bookshop. My website’s homepage features professional book reviews and readers’ comments (click the heading, ‘Reviews’, to read the full reviews). Chapter excerpts can be found at www.geocities.com/dianne_ascroft, www.bebo.com/hitlermarsbars, and http://www.freebookexcerpts.com/.