21 April 2021

Special Guest Interview with Philipp Schott, Author of The Willow Wren


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The touching and nuanced portrait of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany through the eyes of a resourceful German boy.

I'm pleased to welcome author Philipp Schott to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book.

The Willow Wren is a memory of memories. It is the story of my father's childhood in Nazi Germany, before, during, and after the war. He had always meant to write his memoirs, but he died too young, so I took it upon myself to reconstruct what I could remember of the stories he told and the memories of other family members. I filled in the details from historical research and reasonable conjecture. I call it a novel, but it's bones are non-fiction.

In the book, my father, Ludwig, is an odd and introverted child. His father, Wilhelm, is a senior official in the Nazi Party in Leipzig, while Ludwig escapes the unfolding catastrophe by withdrawing into nature and books. Eventually the devastating Allied bombing campaign makes this impossible. Wilhelm uses his connections to evacuate the family from Leipzig. Ludwig is sent to a Hitler Youth camp, where his oddness makes him a target for sadistic bullying. Here, however, the first signs of inner strength also begin to show.

As the war turns against Germany, the Hitler Youth camp is run on ever more severe and militaristic lines. With Wilhelm presumed dead, and Ludwig’s mother descending into depression, the eleven-year-old bears increasing responsibility for the survival of the family as starvation sets in under Russian occupation. where it is becoming clear that one form of totalitarianism is being replaced by another. Soon, it will be impossible to leave the Russian zone, so Ludwig decides that he must rally his despondent mother and lead her and his three younger siblings in an escape attempt to the west.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I'm a morning person, so I'm able to get an early start, but I find I can only sit at a computer for an hour or so before becoming antsy, so I alternate writing with walking. Walking is also brilliant for getting my mind unstuck and generating new ideas. I'll be thinking about nothing at all, or the birds and the trees and the sky, and then suddenly a phrase or a plot point will come scuttling in, crabwise, from the side.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Silence your inner critic and just get words on the page. Set a modest daily or weekly word count target and then do your best to hit it, no matter how uninspired you feel. You'll often find momentum building once you get going. It can be like a rocket trying to achieve escape velocity - most of the energy is needed in the first few minutes. Sometimes that rocket crashes back to earth, but that's ok, just clean up and launch again.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Engaging with the Goodreads community and getting to know your local bookseller are good places to start. For the former, claim your author page and make yourself familiar with all the tools they offer. For the latter, be a friendly cheerful presence in their shop and attend other author's events.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

The denazification process that my grandfather went through surprised me. The Western Allies knew that they needed former Nazis to help run West Germany because most of the educated class had been in the party, but they had to figure out a way to change their views. How they did this and how they learned from the mistakes after the end of WWI was fascinating.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The first time I had to write my grandfather spouting extremist Nazi views. It was so at odds with the kind, gentle, cultured, sophisticated grandfather I knew when I visited Germany as a child. I didn't fully understand the reasons for the distance between my father and him until I began to write this.

What are you planning to write next?

I've almost finished the third in my series of collections of veterinary stories (my day job is as a small animal veterinarian), and I'm also close to finishing my second mystery novel (the first will be published by ECW Press next spring). But in my head I'm already writing a historical novel based on the life of the Danish explorer, Jens Munk (1579-1628). And recently I suddenly had a vision of a secret underground city, deep under Winnipeg, so I may explore something more fantasy-tinged as well...

Philipp Schott

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About the Author

Philipp Schott was born in Germany in 1965. He emigrated to Canada and grew up in Saskatoon, regularly returning to Germany to visit. Philipp studied biology the University of Saskatchewan before switching to veterinary medicine. After graduation in 1990 he moved to Winnipeg with his future wife, Lorraine. Except for a year taken to backpack around the world, he’s been in the same Winnipeg small animal practice since 1990. His writing began with blogging about travel and veterinary medicine, and his first book, The Accidental Veterinarian, was published by ECW Press in 2019.A particular fan of long-distance walking, Philipp has completed the West Highland Way, Hadrian's Wall, and the Inca Trail, among others. Find out more at Philipp’s website https://www.philippschott.com/ and find him on Twitter @philippwschott

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