Interview with novelist Michael G Bergen

Historical novelist Michael G Bergen joins me
today to chat about his book,
Storm Over South Africa, The
Rutherford Chronicles Part 1.
Bio:
Of the author’s many interests, history has always ranked
highest. It started when he was ten years old, and an inspirational primary
school teacher awakened this passion by introducing him to the Romans and their
prowess in warfare. History and culture have occupied the author’s interest
ever since that induction.
Born in England and raised and educated in Canada the
author has been living in Europe and Africa for most of his adult life. After
half a lifetime of pursuing various business interests, the author began a
personal voyage of discovery. He started by fulfilling a long-standing
curiosity of his ancestry and heritage. One small discovery led to another, and
another, until it developed into a burning desire to write historical fiction
based on his research. From this passion, a series of historical stories emerged, inspired by the lives of his
twentieth-century ancestors and their more famous contemporaries. Storm over South Africa, set during the
Second Anglo-Boer War, is the first book in that series. This journey continues
throughout the 20th century, a tumultuous period in history, documented by him
as The Rutherford Chronicles.
Welcome,
Michael. Please tell us about your current release.
Storm
over South Africa
follows the lives and tribulations of a
diverse group of characters from both sides of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War from
1899-1902 in South Africa. The reader experiences the various twists and turns
of the first major British conflict of the 20th century from its beginning
through to its end. It began as another glorious Victorian war. But the
successes and failures, sufferings and disillusionment soon emerge. It is a
tale of imperial arrogance and determination, of stubbornness, innocence, love
and loss experienced in a rugged and alluring land far from the heart of the
British Empire.
What
inspired you to write this book?
Curiosity, my passion for history, travel and adventure;
the desire to discover where my ancestors
had been and how they had lived and who they had shared their lives with through tough times.
Excerpt
from
Storm over
South Africa:
With that, the serjeant led Joe through the labyrinth of
the tented camp’s walkways to a large, open tent used as a field hospital.
There he was received by a nurse, who led him past beds occupied by recovering
wounded soldiers to a treatment centre. There, to his amazement, he was led to a nurse who he knew from home.
“Jenny? Jenny Ambler?” he exclaimed, “Is that
really you?”
“Hello Joe,” she said, “Indeed! Fancy us meeting here in
the middle of the desert! I see that, as usual, you are in a spot of bother.
Now come here and lie down on this table where the doctor can examine you.”
The damage was soon repaired, and Joe was even given a
brand new pair of trousers and socks to replace his bloodied clothing. He was
also given a shot to sedate him and led to a bed where he could recover from the
minor shock of being shot for the first time. Before five minutes were over, he
was in a deep sleep.
When he awoke, he realised it was almost time for his
next watch, so he started to rise. However, before he could, Jenny was upon him
and told him he was under doctor’s orders to rest for a day before going back
to his duty.
What exciting story are you working on next?
The adventure continues in Part 2 with a journey to India
with the British Army under the Raj at the beginning of the 20th
century. Then after starting a family back in England, the hero (actually an anti-hero) finds himself in
the trenches and horrors of World War One.
The third book in the series is what I am busy working on
now. It covers the painful aftermath of World War One and the so-called
Interwar Years – including life in the Roaring Twenties, the collapse of the traditional British industries and the
Great Depression – then the second major war of the twentieth century – World
War Two – including four years in German POW camps.
The fourth and final book in the series is planned to be
my autobiographical work covering the last half of the twentieth century.
When
did you first consider yourself a writer?
I first developed an interest in writing in university.
While studying, I learned the basics of researching various topics and my
resulting projects and papers were well received by my professors. Those topics included history as well as economics,
mainly involving India, a passion of mine at the time. At the time, I also
started writing poetry and short stories and had the ambition to continue
writing.
But, as often happens in life, I was then distracted by a
career and raising a family. My writing was restricted to that required by my
business career, and I did a lot of it. But along the way, I did extensive
travelling and enjoyed an exciting life. I have lived and worked in a lot of
different places on three continents. My travels began in earnest during my
three years in the Canadian Navy as a young man, then continued for the rest of
my life. I’ve done close to four million kilometres of travel, roughly the
equivalent of flying to the moon and back five times! I have visited some fifty
countries and at least three to four hundred different cities and towns.
I love the sea and mountains and am also an avid angler
and naturalist. I have sailed and fished in some of the most beautiful places
on the planet in roughly twenty different countries, and I have done photo
safaris in most of the key nature
reserves of Africa. I have made canoe trips down the Zambesi, rode horses,
hiked and fished in the African bush and elsewhere. I have studied geology,
palaeontology and flora and fauna in the field. I am also passionate about
music, movies, reading, architecture, archaeology and astronomy. So all of
these activities distracted me from my original plan to write, but I always
swore that I would get back into it eventually.
Finally, a decade ago when I found enough time and
motivation, I started to document my life and research my roots. From that my
interest in creative writing was re-awakened. I wrote a personal collection of
autobiographical records which I called Notes on my Life and Family History. It
was then that I became inspired to write a series of historical fiction novels
based on my grandfather’s life, which I called The Rutherford Chronicles. Storm
Over South Africa is the first book of that series. That is when I became
serious about writing and publishing, and it has taken over a huge part of my life. I had very little to go
on at first since my ancestors rarely talked about or recorded their life
experiences and times in the military. So I was compelled to do extensive
research into where they may have been and the lives they may have lived. This research laid down the foundation and structure
for my stories.
Do you
write full-time? If so, what’s your workday
like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to
write?
I am only writing part-time since I am still working. But
I do have a great deal of spare time for research and writing.
What
would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Sticking as much as possible to the idiosyncrasies of language and spelling of the
time being written about.
As a
child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A sailor, inspired by meeting a cousin who was in the
British Navy when I was seven years old. Later I wanted to be an economist
saving desperate Third World countries. I ended up as a businessman and an
aspiring writer of fiction.
Anything
additional you want to share with the readers?
My preface to the book:
Rudyard Kipling once said, “If history were taught in the
form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” For me, the best thing about
being a writer of historical fiction is recreating the past and bringing lost
souls and situations back to life. The Rutherford Chronicles is a historical
series that follows one otherwise nameless working-class family’s journey
through some of the most dramatic events of the twentieth century. Storm over
South Africa is the series’ opening episode. It is centred on the first major
British conflict of the century, the
Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa from October 1899 to May 1902.
Sometimes called the “last of the gentlemen’s wars”, it
began at the very end of an ambitious and relatively peaceful era of worldwide
expansion of the British Empire known as the Pax Britannica, which covered most
of the nineteenth century. But the Anglo-Boer War also opened the twentieth
century for the British in Africa, as well as a traumatic time for the Boers
and other inhabitants of that part of the world. It began as another “glorious”
Victorian war, but the successes and failures, sufferings and disillusionment
soon emerged. It is a tale of imperial arrogance and determination, of
stubbornness, innocence, love and loss experienced in a rugged and alluring
land far from the heart of the British Empire. The book reawakens that period
and is based on the actual flow of the main phases and events of this conflict
as an introduction to a unique period of
British imperial history. It follows the exploits of the seventeen-year-old son
of a Boer president; a young shipbuilding dock worker and his military nurse
sweetheart from the industrial north-east of England, and a young Canadian
soldier who volunteered for Canada’s first campaign outside its borders.
Involved too are such illustrious British participants as War Correspondent
Winston Churchill, Field Marshals Frederick Roberts and Herbert Kitchener, Generals
Ian Hamilton and Robert Baden-Powell, as well as Arthur Conan Doyle among
others. Boer leaders involved include Generals Christiaan de Wet, Louis Botha,
Koos de la Rey and Jan Smuts. It is a story of adventure, discovery, tragedy
and romance.
I am forever grateful to these great eye-witness authors
and historians without whom I could never have recreated this story. I would
also like to thank friends and family members who gave me useful feedback after
reading early versions of the book and my editors and graphic designer for
their invaluable contributions. I must also thank them for accepting my
insistence that certain words are spelt as they were at the time. Hence, for
example, Capetown, Karroo, Matjesfontein, waggon and Afrikander are used, rather
than the modern versions of Cape Town, Karoo, Matjiesfontein, wagon and
Afrikaner. Quoted passages have been left in their original form and not
corrected according to modern English conventions.
To quote the prolific frontier author Louis L’ Amour, “For one who reads, there is no limit to the
number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an
inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of
time.” He also claimed that “Historical novels are, without question, the best
way of teaching history, for they offer the human stories behind the events and
leave the reader with a desire to know more.”
I sincerely hope you enjoy the experience as much as I
have enjoyed discovering and reawakening it!
Links:
Thanks
for being here today, Michael. All the best with your writing!

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