SRP: Where did you come up with the idea for After Dunkirk?
Lee: I have to give my publisher credit for pointing me toward writing World War II historical fiction. I had recently seen the movie “Dunkirk” and one element of the story that I had never heard before was the question of what happened to the roughly 200,000 left behind.
SRP: What can you tell us about the plot?
Lee: The story is as intriguing as the evacuation at Dunkirk itself. To evacuate 330,000 troops, Great Britain needed a rear-guard to provide protection as the evacuation progressed. Many of those troops composing the protective force, were green troops, just arrived in France. Others were non-combatants suddenly thrown into a combat role. I wanted to know what happened to them. My research revealed stories that were not only intimate to individual players, but also on a grander scale—i.e. small details led to a huge impact on the war. In the case of the Dunkirk, the effort to rescue those left behind led to Britain’s biggest maritime tragedy of all time eclipsing the Titanic. How that came about is detailed in After Dunkirk.
SRP: How did you choose this setting?
Lee: The story chose the setting, and it is larger than Dunkirk. The French Resistance (a term that describes loosely affiliated and independent groups) started up even before Germany crossed the Maginot by intelligent people who read the tea leaves of world events. Immediately, they were faced with hordes of British soldiers left behind who needed help to stay alive, healthy, and get home.
Getting home meant evading capture in sometimes overland treks across France to other places south of Dunkirk. Without food or shelter, those soldiers had no choice but to ask for help from French families, who aided them in abundance at great personal risk. And, as it happens, Winston Churchill had foreseen that this might occur and set up an organization to assist. The cooperation between those elements of British intelligence and the French Resistance is a large part of the story.
SRP: What was the most difficult part of writing this book?
Lee: Boiling down the individual acts of courage and self-sacrifice in the context of the “big picture” was a challenge. For example, Neville Chamberlain is reviled for his appeasement of Hitler at Munich. However, much to my surprise, I found that a credible argument can be made that precisely that action bought Great Britain time to develop an advanced defense system that saved the country in its darkest hours. Simultaneously, they developed an intelligence system that, although it did not predict German actions regarding the invasion through the Netherlands and Belgium, it might have supplied information that led to the notion that the invasion at Dunkirk was feasible, with limited time to execute.
SRP: What’s next for the series?
Lee: The story, as I have written it, centers on a family of British subjects whose home is on Sark Island in the English Channel Islands. The Germans did, as a matter of fact occupy those islands for PR reasons—for bragging rights over taking British territory. The family on whose story I based this series has three sons and a daughter, all engaged in the war effort.
Jeremy, the central figure and youngest son in the family, finds himself on the beach at Dunkirk when the evacuation there is complete. His middle-brother, Lance, is only a few miles away. A very different personality, he relished the army and the thought of combat. Claire, their older sister, is a decoder for British Intelligence in London and struggles with national secrets that she cannot divulge which affect her brothers. Paul, the eldest son, is also in British Intelligence. He is diligent, intelligent, inquisitive, and does not hesitate to prod superiors to take action where it might shed light and assist with his brothers’ individual plights. Their parents, still on Sark Island, confront a different kind of Nazi threat— one that is more subtle.
The next book in the series, Eagles Over Britain, is a progression from After Dunkirk as the family continues to hold together as best they can while Hermann Göring unleashes the full might of his bombers against British airfields, and “the Few” struggle against overwhelming strength to fight. They fight for king and country, not knowing that the stakes are much higher than just losing England to a tyrant.
SRP: What are you reading now and/or what good books have you read lately?
Lee: Writing this series required an enormous amount of research, but I find it rewarding. The challenge then becomes incorporating salient points into a story that is as historically accurate as possible without burdening readers with pointless detail. To that end, these are just a few of the books I’ve read in recent months researching for After Dunkirk:
Dunkirk: The Men Left Behind by Sean Longden
A Life in Secrets: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of WWII by Sarah Helm
When the Germans Came by Duncan Barrett
A Man Called Intrepid by William Stevenson
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan
SRP: As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot?
Lee: The American Eagle
After Dunkirk by Lee Jackson is available now. Get your copy here.