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Thursday, December 22, 2016

GUEST POST: Mixing History & Thrillers by Michael Bolan


I was drinking cheap Beaujolais at a cocktail reception for corporate lawyers, when an unexpected question caught me off guard. Why would you use the Thirty Years War as the backdrop for a thriller and not write a ‘normal’ historical fiction book? I looked so shocked that my interlocutor frowned, concerned that she had caused offense. I hadn’t even realized that anyone there knew that I was an author (I have an alter ego who’s a businessman), let alone knew anything about my books. Scrambling to refocus my mind on the question, I blurted the flippant response, “Why not?” and realized I would have to come up with a better answer than that.

The Devil’s Bible Series is set at the end of the Thirty Years War, perhaps the most violent conflict in history, and yet desperately under-represented in the English language. The war started with a bang: three men were thrown out of a seventy-foot window because of their religion. They survived, thanks to a soft landing in a dungheap, but aggrieved Catholics began arming for war with their Protestant neighbours, like the Empire going after that pesky Rebel Alliance. So there are immediately two sides to the story and a basis for conflict, which as Donald Maass (just google him) points out, is the number one ingredient for any thriller.

The 17th century itself was a century of discovery. The Reformation allowed even devout Catholics to challenge the Church’s repression of science. From astronomy to anatomy, to zoology and zymology, the next few generations saw the life expectancy of the common man more than double. This spirit of innovation was driven (slightly ironically) by the desire for more sophisticated ways of killing one another. The advent and development of the gun led to the decline of the sword as the weapon of choice, but the middle of the century was a heady mix of pistols and muskets, swords and halberds. And cavalry. Lots of cavalry. And cannon. Lots of cannon.

With this change underway, there would have been an advantage in mastering all forms of weapon and tactics. We know there was a competitive industry in mercenary companies: most were formed on a military basis, and often led by noblemen. In the services sector, training of staff is key to success – the companies which performed most consistently were those that invested in their people and other assets. Just like The Sons of Brabant, who are ready to kick ass at the drop of a hat.


And as for the scene-setting, I can’t imagine a more exciting backdrop. In the time of the Devil’s Bible Series, there was no Germany, no Italy, no Belgium, just a big Spain and a big Austria. The Netherlands was divided: brother fought brother as half the country struggled for independence. Tensions in England led to the Pilgrim Fathers epic voyage to colonise America, and ultimately to a bloody Civil War. They chopped the king’s head off! You don’t get much more thrilling than that.

But all was not rosy. The average life expectancy was approximately 30 years. Continuous war led to chronic famine across the continent and displaced millions from their homes. Cities became the only home for hordes of refugees, who eked out a living in abominable squalor. With hundreds of thousands crammed into tiny spaces, it’s small wonder that rats were able to spread the Great Plague, which caused millions to die in agony.

So upon reflection, my blithe “why not?” is actually a measured response. With a wealth of characters, world-changing discoveries and events, two sides at war, and yet enough freedom to bend the rules slightly, the 17th century seemed like the perfect place to set a thriller.

What do you think?

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Official Author Website 
Order The Stone Bridge HERE

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: It took Michael Bolan over two decades of running in the corporate ratrace to realise that all he actually did was tell stories.

There was no Damascene revelation for Bolan which caused him to pen his first work of fiction, "The Sons of Brabant". An avid reader, he simply felt that he could do as good a job as many of the authors he read and decided to put his money where his mouth was. Living and working in many countries left him with smatterings of a dozen languages and their stories, and his love for history focused his ideas on the Thirty Years War, the most destructive conflict that the continent has ever seen.

Now living in Prague (again), Michael brings alive the twisted alleys of the 17th century and recreates the brooding darkness of a fractured Europe, where no-one was entirely sure who was fighting whom. Michael writes while liberally soused in gin, a testament to Franz de le Boƫ, who was mixing oil of juniper with neat spirit while the thirty Years War raged around him.

His website is a place where he can post his thoughts and feelings – along with reviews of books he finds lying around the internet.

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