Interview: Brian Falkner talks about Katipo Joe
Joseph St George is a young New Zealander, the son of diplomats in 1930s Berlin. But the Nazis are on the rise and the world is on a spinning path to destruction. Joe’s world is about to change, violently. After a narrow escape from Germany with his mother, Joe is recruited by British Intelligence and given a mission to infiltrate the Hitler Youth movement. From vital convoys across the frozen North Atlantic, to the terror of the London Blitz, to the shadowy world of the French Resistance, this is Joe’s world.
Inspired by true events, Katipo Joe is a story of incredible heroism, unlikely friendships and unbearable tragedy, set against the backdrop of World War II.
Author Brian Falkner talks to NZ Booklovers.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have always been fascinated by World War II. It was such a momentous event in our history, and is largely responsible for shaping the world as we know it today. It was also a time of tremendous heroism and sacrifice.
These aspects have always painted WWII stories in vibrant colours, the drama is more intense, the emotions more vivid. And of course the fight between good and evil was clear cut.
The seed for the story came from a book (and a movie) called ‘A Bridge Too Far’ by Cornelius Ryan.
The story starts with a Dutch boy spying on German troop movements. It is a minor part of the story, but made me start to think about the bravery of children during the war.
What research was involved?
A tremendous amount. More than for any other book. I had thought that I had reached my research pinnacle with my Battlesaurus series, for which I had to become an expert on the Napoleonic wars, and on dinosaurs, but the research for Katipo Joe was even more intense.
Everything in the book is based on fact, although the main characters and the events are fictional. But those facts had to be right, even when they seemed unbelievable, such as the escaped zebra in London.
I did alter the timeline of some actual events, just slightly, to fit the storyline, but other than that the world Katipo Joe is set in is as real as I could make it.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t make a few mistakes, and I am sure some WWII scholars will point those out to me.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I started this book many years ago. My first draft of the manuscript is date June 2006. I realised it would be a massive project, so the book went on the backburners while I gradually amassed all the research, developed the characters and worked out the intricacies of the story.
(During that time I also wrote sixteen other books, so I wasn’t only working on Katipo Joe!)
When I finally sat down to complete the story, last year, I worked very intensely on it. Morning, noon and night, seven days a week. Scholastic wanted to publish it early in 2020, and that was quite a tight deadline. Fortunately all the years of research, planning and partially written chapters, enable me to finish the book on time (nearly).
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
They would be songs from the era. There are quite a few songs referenced in the book, so probably some of those.
Just picking two of them that do have significance in the book, I think: ‘Run Rabbit Run’ by Flanagan and Allen, and ‘I Did What I Could With My Gas Mask’ by George Formby.
If I was picking more modern music for the action sequences, I think: ‘Uprising’ by Muse, and ‘This ain’t a scene, it’s An Arms Race’ by Fall Out Boy.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Hmmm. If I could pick actors from any era…
I could imagine a young Ryan Gosling as Joe. Or perhaps Tom Holland.
Alexander Ludwig (Cato from the Hunger Games) could make a good Klaus
I’d have Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger in Oliver, as Eddie.
Young Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) as Peggy.
I’d have to think on the others.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
The more research I did, the more facts and events emerged which fitted perfectly with the story as I had outlined it. The Café de Paris explosion is an example of this.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
‘Where the Crawdad Sings’ by Delia Owens. Such beautiful writing and wonderful realised characters.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Katipo Joe: Spycraft. Joe’s journey continues…
Katipo Joe is published by Scholastic