Monday, September 11, 2017

Quentin Smith ~ an interview and his novel ~ 16mm of Innocence

Quentin Smith

TITLE: “16mm of Innocence”
RELEASE DATE: April 15, 2017
AUTHOR: Quentin Smith
CATEGORIES: Historical/Mystery/Suspense
ISBN: 978-1543023480
IMPRINT: Black Hawk

In addition to being an anaesthetist, Quentin Smith has a long-standing passion for writing. He has published articles and papers in The British Journal of Anaesthesia, Anaesthesia News, Anaesthesia and Critical Care, Hospital Medicine, Today’s Anaesthetist, Spark, and Insight.

Following a five-year term as editor of Today’s Anaesthetist, he undertook creative writing study through The Writing School, New College Durham, The London School of Journalism and then a coveted place on the Curtis Brown Creative fiction course in 2014.

He is the author of three previously published novels: The Secret Anatomy of Candles (Matador 2012); Huber’s Tattoo (Matador 2014); 16mm of Innocence (Matador 2015). Huber’s Tattoo was runner-up in The People’s Book Prize 2015 and 16mm of Innocence was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2016. His recent novels reveal his interest in European history and the Second World War in particular.


Q: How would you describe yourself as a color? Think personality here. Are you a light

and airy pastel person, or more of a deep, dark, sultry and mysterious color?
A: Though I love the colour yellow, so bright and cheerfully optimistic, I believe I would
be more of a crimson, blue-purplish colour, sort of hard to describe exactly in a single

Q: Are you a morning person, or a midnight candle burner?
A: Everyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a morning person, and certainly
when it comes to my creative writing bursts they are most definitely during the midnight
hours. I have reached the conclusion that having the day to consider and plan what I’m
writing next means that by the time I get to writing late in the evening I’m bursting with
fresh ideas.

Q: Tell me one thing about each of the four seasons you like. It can be anything.
A: Winter = Log fires
Spring = Blossoms
Summer = Eating outside
Fall = Colours

Q: When you think of a garden, do you picture vegetables or flowers?
A: Definitely flowers: bright colours, lots of yellows and cornflower blue, wild flowers
remind me that not everything about the world has been domesticated.

Q: How do you feel about exercise?
A: I enjoy exercise and try and work out at least 3 times a week, where time permits. If it
gets me outdoors as well then all the better. I feel better for it and I know it does me
good, plus it frees my mind to explore those tricky difficulties I may be experiencing in
my writing, and this can be very cathartic.


Q: Do you write long hand first, or does it go straight into the computer?
A: I always write on the PC in word, it’s so easy to edit and change, but before starting I
love writing planning notes in HB pencil on a sheet of paper. Somehow, ordering my
thoughts is still more easily done in hard copy.

Q: Are you a sit down and play it by ear kind of writer, or do you need a structured

guideline, or maybe a little of both?
A: I (almost) always work off a clear plot plan with characters worked out and an
pre-determined idea of where I am heading. But once the characters come to life they
frequently go off on their own and things change. I don’t think a single story I’ve written
has ended as I planned it from the outset.

Q: What geographical locations are your favorite and why?
A: I am drawn to unusual and unfamiliar locations that will resonate with readers, much
like exotic set locations do in movies. On top of this I like a location with historic or
contemporary significance that is relevant to the story. So all of this takes some planning
and usually a fair amount of research during the development phase.

Q: Generally speaking, is your work based on real life experience? If it's not would you

want it to be?
A: To a large extent, yes, and I think that’s unavoidable when you’ve had memorable or
influential experiences that have shaped the way you perhaps have turned out. That’s
not to say there isn’t a lot of fiction, but I think every writer leaves a huge part of
themselves on every page.


Q: What are you working on now? Would you like to share anything about it?
A: I am returning to my roots having written several historical novels centred on 20th
century history and its major wars, and I feel drawn now to revisit my medical roots and
see if I’m better at writing medical thrillers now than I was when I was younger.

Q: Do you have a new book coming out soon? Tell us about it.
A: Sweet Bergamasque is being released in June 2017, a story set against the German
occupation of the French winelands of Bordeaux in WW2. Based on historical accounts
of the time, the plot follows the struggles of the winemakers to both produce and then
keep their wines out of German hands, collaborating with the resistance in dangerous
games of cat and mouse. There is loss, romance, betrayal and tragedy.

Q: How can we find you? Do you have a web page, FaceBook page or any buy links?
A: Yes, I do . Here are the links. ~ 

http://www.twitter/Quentin Smith

KEYWORDS: War, history, family drama, forbidden love, colonial Africa

Imagine discovering that your father was a Nazi war criminal who escaped justice; imagine if that was not the worst secret in your family.

What do we really know about our parents? How clearly do we remember our childhoods? Following the shocking discovery of a human skeleton at their childhood home and their aged mother’s subsequent death, three estranged siblings reluctantly return home for the funeral in the former German colonial town of Lüderitz. Watching long forgotten reels of old home movies the siblings discover shocking truths beneath their patchy childhood memories: secrets about their family, their parents and the reasons behind their estrangement. Set in 1985 on the Skeleton Coast of South West Africa, bathed in dense fogs that have wrecked thousands of ships over the years, and in Lüderitz, built on black rock trapped between the vast Namib Desert on the east and the cold Atlantic Ocean on the west, this suspense novel reaches back into South West Africa’s colonial past and the harboring of Nazi war criminals.


6 April 1985

“Mum’s in trouble.”

Dieter fumbled with the receiver and struggled onto one elbow. The phone call had interrupted that awful recurring dream that he had experienced over so many years and it had once again left him feeling disorientated, unsettled and even worse, guilty. It was always the same.

“Who is this?” Dieter asked sleepily, his eyes gritty as he rubbed them blindly in the dark.

“It’s Otto…” Pause. “Your brother.”

Dieter exhaled. He couldn’t remember when last they had spoken. “Jesus, Otto, do you know what time it is in Hong Kong?”

“I’m sorry, I know it’s early, but this is really serious.”

Through the Venetian blinds Dieter could see a filleted image of dawn shimmering across the water of Repulse Bay, where he had lived since the late 1960s. He loved Hong Kong: city of enterprise, and for him personally, city of escape.

“What’s wrong with Mum?” Dieter asked.

Otto sighed heavily. “Nothing wrong with Mum, per se.”

“What then?” Dieter said irritably.

Otto paused, as though mustering courage. “They found a body in the garden of our old house, Dieter.”

Dieter’s skin felt clammy as a vision burst forth instantaneously from the vagueness of his dream, churning his stomach.

“A body?”

The sleeping figure under the duvet beside Dieter stirred, and in a low voice asked who it was. Dieter hastily covered the mouthpiece.

“Who’s that?” Otto asked.

Dieter glared at his bed companion and pressed a finger against his lips.

“When did this happen?” Dieter asked.

“Mum’s just phoned me.”

“You’re talking about a… a human body are you?”

“Yes, but I don’t know the details. Mum’s pretty shaken by it all… she didn’t say much.”

“But I don’t understand… where was it found?” Dieter said.

“The big tree, remember it?”

“Uh-huh, the camelthorn.”

“Mum said a storm blew it down, and the roots must have exposed… I don’t know… bones.”

Silence for a moment, just the sound of Dieter’s breathing and a distant foghorn in the bay.

“Well, who is to say it has anything to do with Mum?” Dieter said emphatically. “I mean, it could have been there long before we arrived.”

Otto rubbed his temples. He was sitting at his desk in Durham watching his children, Max and Karl, replenish the birdfeeders under the vigilant gaze of their mother, Sabine, as darkness enveloped the grounds of his riverside garden. The boys looked up and, seeing him through the window, waved animatedly. Little Karl dropped the birdseed in his enthusiasm, spilling it all over the frosty grass.

“Mum and Dad built that house, Dieter, and planted the tree,” Otto said.

“What are you saying? It’s probably just a local Herero, been there for years before we even arrived.”

“God, I don’t know. It’s all such a shock.” Otto paused. “I’m really worried about Mum.”

“Do they know who it is – the body, I mean?” Dieter asked.

“I don’t think so, but Lüderitz isn’t a big town, so…”

“Yeah, maybe. What happens next?”

“Well, the police are investigating. Mum thinks they may want to interview us as well.”


“You, me and Ingrid.”


“I think we should fly out to support Mum,” Otto said.

“What, to Lüderitz? Christ, I haven’t been there for years.”

“Not since Dad’s funeral, actually.”

“That’s a cheap shot, Otto. I am very busy here, you know that – with the business I’ve built up and everything. I’m in the middle of a massive merger. I don’t have much idle time on my hands.”

“You mean, unlike me?” Otto finished, bristling. Silence amplified the static waves of interference on the phone line. “You could at least call her, Dieter.”

Dieter sighed. “Yes, of course I will. What time is it in Lüderitz now?”

“Early evening. How are things?” Otto asked, to avoid another pause.

“Fine, fine. What about Sabine and the kids?”

Otto never went into detail. There was little point in telling him that Max was excelling on the piano and Karl had just started at school, because from one rare contact to another Dieter could never remember which child was Karl and which one was Max. Birthdays came and went unnoticed and Otto sometimes had to make a point of reminding them who Uncle Dieter was.

“They’re all well thank you. And… er… how about you?”

“Still single.”

“Not found the right girl yet?” Otto said.

Dieter snorted. “Not likely to, either.”

“I’ll phone Ingrid and tell her, if you prefer,” Otto said.

“Do what you like, Otto, but I won’t be calling her.”

“Have you two still not made peace?” Otto said, exasperated.

“Last time we spoke, years ago, she called me a parasite or something, living off the success of others.” Dieter made a guttural sound of disapproval. “The nerve – how many sugar daddy alimony settlements has she pocketed up to now?”

Otto was not in the mood for idle conversation and neither, it appeared, was Dieter. With the phone call terminated Otto sat in silent contemplation. He had always felt that his older brother dismissed his work as a general practitioner. It seemed to him that Dieter believed that his fortune had been forged out of determined hard work, whereas Otto was merely a public servant living off the state.

Otto heard his family entering the house, taking refuge from the biting cold outside, stamping their feet and removing coats, hats and scarves - familiar sounds of family life that cast his mind back to his childhood home in Lüderitz, and fragmented images from so many years ago.

How on earth could a body have lain buried beneath their feet all that time? To think that he and Dieter used to climb that very tree, the desert-loving camelthorn, dig holes all around it, playing with their lead soldiers and building makeshift dams in the sandy soil. He shivered. How close might they unwittingly have been to a truly macabre discovery?

Then an uncomfortable thought entered his mind. Had Mother known as she watched them playing outside? What if it was not pride and contentment that they had seen on her face as she watched through the kitchen window while they dug holes and played? What if it had been anxiety, apprehension? Could they have known the difference at their young age? And what about Father? Well, he was hardly at home often enough to have even seen them.

There surely must be a rational explanation for all of this. Dieter was probably right: Lüderitz had existed for at least sixty years before their arrival and the body could have been there all along. It was in all probability a local Herero.

“Daddy!” came the shrill call of an enthusiastic youngster bounding up the stairs.

Otto glanced at his watch. It was nearly 8pm, still early afternoon in New York: plenty of time yet to call Ingrid. For now he would play with Karl and try to banish the worries from his mind.

A beaming young blonde boy sprinted into the room with a flash of his red and yellow striped socks, flinging himself into Otto’s arms.

“Did you feed the birds?” Otto asked.

“Yes. Mummy said they must be really hungry.”

Otto smiled and kissed Karl’s fair head. The warmth and love of his children constantly surprised him. It was not something he had been accustomed to in a family. He never understood why.

29 July 1945

Resembling a mythical sea serpent amidst the clinging fog, the rusting grey conning tower of U-977 broke through the mercurial waters off Lüderitz, followed soon after by the rounded bow. When the hatch opened it was as though a seal had been broken, allowing the salty sea air to rush into the malodorous metal tube, submerged for nearly sixty days since hastily leaving the North Sea.

Several bearded submariners wearing soiled blue denim Kriegsmarine jackets emerged onto the small deck of the conning tower and peered through the swirling fog. One of them began to send a coded message with a shuttered signal lamp. No-one spoke. Submariners were accustomed to maintaining prolonged silences, as if they had forsaken the art of idle conversation. The solitary sound of the bracing South Atlantic waters lapping against the grey hull, streaked with rust, remained unchallenged.

“There it is!” one of the men said, pointing to a flashing light dimly visible off the starboard bow.

“I see it. Did they use the password?”

“They did, Oberleutnant.”

“Signal for them to approach immediately and call the doctor from his bunk.”

“Yes, Oberleutnant.”

The commander peered over the waters surrounding his vessel with narrowed eyes, fidgety body language betraying his discomfort as his dirty fingers twiddled his unkempt beard.

The flashing signal light drew closer until a small rowing boat began to emerge from the shadowy protection of the fog. Now the sound of water lapping against the submarine hull was joined by the rhythmical splash of oars.

A man wearing a black leather jacket and carrying a brown canvas holdall appeared on the conning tower. He took a deep breath as he contemplated the approaching rowing boat. Then his searching eyes settled on the commander’s unwashed face as the two men squared up to each other. They shook hands firmly.

“Oberleutnant Schäffer, I am forever indebted to you.”

“Please, the war is over now. Call me Heinz,” Schäffer said.

The two men seemed oblivious to all around them.

“May God be with you in your new home, Doctor. Good luck.”

“Thank you, Heinz.” The doctor forced a little smile. “My friends call me Ernst.”

The two men stared into each other’s eyes as though letting go might signal the end of everything they knew in this world.

“I will admit Lüderitz looks a little foreboding at first appearances,” Ernst said.

“They don’t call it the Skeleton Coast for nothing,” Schäffer replied with a little chuckle.

“When do you expect to reach Argentina?”

“We should be there by mid-August, if the engines don’t fail again.”

The two men nodded to each other, still gripping each other’s hand, afraid to let go, to break with the familiarity of the past and embrace the uncertainty of the unknown. By this time the rowing boat had drawn up to U-977 and bumped against its hull on the ocean swell. Three men in civilian clothing were huddled together in the wooden vessel, one holding aloft a shaded lamp that scattered halos in the swirling fog. Ernst clambered down the steel rungs of the ladder, his boots scraping on the metal. Schäffer tossed his canvas holdall down to him and raised a hand to wave.

“Where are you headed?” one of the men in the rowing boat shouted up to Schäffer.

“I cannot tell you,” Schäffer yelled back. Then, in a softer voice, “Better that you don’t know. Look after Dr Adermann, he is a good man.”

“I wish you all a safe journey. Goodbye Heinz,” Ernst shouted as he settled into the rowing boat.

Schäffer rested his arms on the metal railing and watched Ernst, sitting with the canvas bag in his lap, looking up somewhat mournfully at the faces not only of his companions of the past two months, but of a life he was leaving behind, forever. The small rowing boat began to move away as the oars sliced into the water.

“Goodbye Ernst.”

Ernst waved. He looked so insignificant in the rowing boat. How things change, Schäffer thought to himself.

11 April 1985

Ingrid, holding several large Bloomingdale’s shopping bags, stepped out of the yellow cab on the upper east side of Manhattan where she was comfortably settled into a privileged world of old money, even though she was a relative newcomer.

The doorman tipped his hat and held the polished glass door open for her. “Afternoon Mrs Forsythe.”

Ingrid ignored him, flicking her bouncing ash blonde hair as she strode past. She kicked the door to her third floor apartment shut behind her and dropped the shopping bags onto the sofa. Her apartment was in Yorkhill near the corner of Lexington and 77th, not far from Central Park Zoo and her favourite department store. The heavily framed mirrors, cream high-backed sofas and brushed aluminium lamps revealed her taste for Bloomingdale’s classic styles. She prised off her Ralph Lauren heels and flopped into an armchair still wearing her fur-lined coat. The phone rang.

“Oh God!” she mumbled.

She watched the phone with a disdainful look until the answer machine eventually clicked in.

“Hi Ingrid, it’s Otto. I’m not sure if you’ve been getting my messages…”

“Shit!” Ingrid muttered as she heaved herself up and strode towards the phone. “Hi Otto.”

“Ingrid?” Surprise in Otto’s voice.

Ingrid glanced at her gold wristwatch. “It must be very late in England, little brother.”

“Yes, it is… quite. I really need to speak to you.”

Ingrid picked up the phone and dragged the lengthy cord with her to the sofa where she resumed her original pose.

“Sorry, Otto, it’s been hell here.”

“Did you get my messages?”

Ingrid hesitated, examining her nails. “Yeah. Look, Otto, I don’t know what I can do. I haven’t spoken to Mum since…” Ingrid lifted both feet onto a cream pouffe and crossed her ankles, wiggling her painted toes. “She never did approve of my… lifestyle.”

Ingrid remembered the men she had brought to the house: successful, rich, usually divorced and universally disapproved of by both Mother and Father. In the end she married Frederick, who had taken her to New York. Ever since she considered that things had never been the same between her and the rest of the family again.

“How is Maurice?” Otto asked.

Ingrid pulled a face. “I divorced him six months ago.”

“Oh, sorry. No-one tells me anything.”

“Don’t be sorry, Otto, I got his lovely apartment,” Ingrid said with a smile as she glanced around the spacious living room.

“I thought you got Larry’s apartment?” Otto said.

“I got his money, and so I should have for putting up with the bastard. No, it was Newman, my second husband’s apartment that I got, but this one is better so I sold his. That really pissed him off.” She snorted.

Otto sighed. “Can we get back to Mum and this business back home?”

“That is not my home any longer, Otto; hasn’t been for a very long time. But I did get your message about finding a body or something. What the hell’s that all about?”

“We don’t know yet?”

“They identified the body?”

“No. It’s been sent to forensic labs in… er… Windhoek, I imagine.”

Ingrid raised her waxed eyebrows. “I can’t help you with this, Otto, and Mum certainly hasn’t called me about it,” she said, sounding indifferent and cold. “As she pointed out to me after I married Larry - or was it Frederick? – we all have our crosses to bear.”

Otto sighed irritably. “Ingrid, Mum has suffered a massive stroke.”

Ingrid’s feet dropped off the pouffe as she sat forward. “Stroke?”

“Yes. Quite a bad one, I’m afraid.”

“Why? How?”

“The stress, I expect. The discovery of the body really affected her.”

“Did she tell them anything?” Ingrid’s voice was suddenly a semitone tauter.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” Ingrid said, trying to sound nonchalant.

“I’m flying out tomorrow to see Mum. I’m really worried about her. I think Dieter is coming too.”

“Did Mum phone him?” There it was again: that insecure, bitter edge to her voice. She seldom referred to Dieter by his name, not since he had called her a gold-digger when she met Newman and divorced Larry. That was years ago, even before Father died.

“No, Ingrid, I did, the same day I left my first message for you.”

“Is Mum really that bad?”

“Yes. She’s in hospital in Swakopmund and she’s not waking up.”

Ingrid managed to cradle the phone against her ear and bury her face in the open palms of both hands, her eyes staring over her fingertips into her past.

“Will you come out and join us?” Otto asked.

Ingrid took several deep breaths, feeling her eyes twitching. In the background a distant NYPD siren filled the silence.

“I don’t think I can go back there. Lüderitz is such a dump and that house is filled with too many—”

“Come on Ingrid, we haven’t all been together for… I can’t even remember when last it was,” Otto pleaded.

Ingrid snorted. “Together? What’s ‘together’ about our family, Otto?” she said sharply.

“Let’s not get into this now. Mum needs us.”

“I have nothing to say to Dieter, you know that.”

Otto tactfully ignored the Dieter issue. “Let’s not have a repeat of Dad’s funeral. Come out this time, before it’s too late.”

Ingrid’s chest rose and fell with bottled-up emotions. “You really think there might be a funeral?” she said eventually.

“It’s a distinct possibility I’m afraid.”

Ingrid rubbed her temples. “I don’t know. What’s the point? The past is in the past.”

“Mum – your mother – may well die, Ingrid, that’s the point. Perhaps you could see her one last time, even speak to her. Eventually you will be free from the past that you seem to so despise, and then you can get on with your New York lifestyle unhindered.” Otto’s voice rose, a sudden loss of composure.

“Don’t lecture me, Otto, you of all people. You don’t know the half of it,” she replied venomously.

“Well then, after all these years of sniping and bitterness, come and explain it to me. I’ll be there from tomorrow night.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“You’ll be pleased afterwards if you make the effort,” Otto said, sounding much softer again. “It’ll be good to see you.”

Ingrid emitted a derisive nasal sound. “I wish I shared your optimism. Where the hell do you get it from, Otto?”

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