The entire world never recovered from the trauma of the World Wars: Glenfiddich Inn author Alan Geik
By Prabalta Rijal
Feb 8, Oslo:Glenfiddich Inn was one of the most liked novels of 2015 The Oslo Times Chief International Correspondent Prabalta Rijal spoke to it's author and journalist Alan Geik about the book, the history of the radio and the effect the wrld wars have had in shaping the world as we know it today.
Alan, your first book GlenfiddichInn was one 2015's most loved books and it received wonderful reviews from its readers, could you tell us what inspired you to write this book?
AG: I have been interested in the World War I era for many years. I believe this war was the seminal event of the 20th Century. When it started in August 1914 America was a debtor nation—a vast land filled with resources and an energetic people—today it would have been called an emerging nation. By the time the United States entered the war in the third year of fighting, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland—the former creditors—were now destitute debtors.
The war had inflicted such pain on the Western nations of Europe and their colonies that fought so bravely on many fronts that it is safe to say that the entire world never recovered from the trauma of this horrific event. World War Two—and more positively, the seeds of independence in the colonies—can be traced to this more than four year long war.
Ironically, wars have always led to major advances in science and technology—not to mention political upheavals. The Great War as it was called was no exception—radio, the seeds of television and atomic energy, Hollywood and the silent movies, public health initiatives, the Russian Revolution, and so much more developed during the war years.
Many of the people who greatly influenced the rest of the 20th Century were affected by the war—Franklin Roosevelt, Hitler, Churchill, Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, Walt Disney,Madame Curie, Ernest Hemingway, Eleanor Roosevelt, Chairman Mao and others.
Having said all of this, World War I has been far less visible in modern media than its equally brutal successor—World War Two. Part of this of course is because WWII was so much more photogenic due to the great advances made between the two wars in documentary film coverage and mass communications. One can only imagine how much more indelible the sinking of the Lusitania or the effects of the chemical weapons used would be, for examples, if there had been on- camera news coverage of the events surrounding WWI.
All of these reasons have drawn me to an enduring interest in this event.I suppose I always knew that I one day would write a historical fiction set in this era.
“Margaret, Chief Henderson is curious how you became involved with these radio experiments,”(quote from Glenfiddich Inn)— I too am curious about the radio experiments. From what I know radio before and during the onset of WW1 was in its infancy and was mostly used for military purposes, so could you tell us a little about the broadcasting experiments that were carried out in those days?
AG: Wireless Morse code had been developed only a few years before the start of the war. It's use allowed the doomed Titanic in 1912 to send for help—otherwise those many survivors, and their stories, would have been lost to history. Wireless transmission of the human voice—even perhaps, it was thought at the time, music—became the next communications frontier. Engineers and enthusiasts were attracted to this new magical technology both in the United States and Europe. They called it “radio” and the actual transmissions “broadcasting” as it seemed to replicate the casting of seeds into the wind.
Unlike Morse Code that was a breaking of an electrical current into short and long strokes, radio required a consistent current. Further the current needed to be small enough for sound to pass through a microphone, then amplified to a transmitter and broadcast through the air. On the receiving end the current would again have to be folded down in strength to be compatible with the small speakers of the day. Right before the war, the Audion tube was developed which contained all of these processes in one bulb—a truly remarkable invention.
In Glenfiddich Inn, Margaret, who is being addressed in the quote you just mentioned, and her friend Helen, are the two characters who are absolutely certain of radio's ability to connect the world in ways never before imagined—despite the skeptics who doubted that it could ever be relevant. After all, asked the detractors, who would invest in a radio station if they could not charge a fee to the listeners?
Of course, the very same question was to be asked seventy years later in the early days of the internet—who would pay for something that can be received for free? The simple answer was the same in both cases-—advertising.
I personally adore Margaret. What made you create her, how did the characters in your book evolve?
AG: Margaret, as did all of the characters to different degrees, evolved in their own fashion. I had heard from writers and actors how a character would sometimes take on its own life—its mission, its eccentricities would diverge from the intended trajectory. I thought that to be a somewhat romantic view of character development. However, this independence of character if you will, occurred regularly during the writing of Glenfiddich Inn, to my delight—at least once I became used to this.
Another interesting aspect is that in a historical novel the actual events both large and small create whirlpools that affect each character to varying degrees. I could give you many examples but I don’t want to ruin those moments for new readers.
Just coming back one more time to the radio, what are the similarities between radio broadcasting today and back in those days?
AG: One of the attractions of the radio experiment theme to me was that I was a public radio host in Los Angeles for over twenty-five years. I was always amazed by the power of radio—especially before the internet and smart-phones. Radio alone had the capacity to be inside a listener’s head. Movies and television are far more limited in this regard—radio was for decades unique in its ability to be present in the car, at the beach, in the bathroom and bedroom. It woke us up in the morning, accompanied us on hikes and jogging.
While hosting live radio, I was lucky enough to have had an ongoing interaction with a large audience. Phone callers from all over the city requested songs, corrected my mistakes, stated their views about concerts, and commented on the politics of the day. Curiously, I felt I knew them as well as they did me—even though we never met even after several decades of phone conversations.
While reading the book I came across various historical facts, like the sinking of the Lusitania on 7 May 1915, to the 1916 presidential election results being announced on radio for the first time so intricately embedded into the story. How much time did you work on researching the facts for this novel, and how long did it take you to finish it?
AG: As the story began to take shape I read many biographies and non-fiction accounts of various aspect of the story—skyscraper architecture, arcane political battles in Boston or New York, the volunteer ambulance drivers at the Western Front, the long struggle for women’s right to the vote, and the Mexican Revolution.Also, the more I read about real life characters such as Babe Ruth, President Woodrow Wilson, Pancho Villa and others the more doors opened to new story possibilities.
As the story came into sharper focus I found myself using the internet, the vast resources of the U.S. Library of Congress and the New York Historical Society, to fact check and re-read accounts of WWI battles, the sinking of the Lusitania and so many of the other events that affected the characters. The research was ongoing until the novel was actually published.
The story evolved over several years. I attended to it with varying intensity, then periods of leaving it alone. The characters would come back to me and somehow urged me to continue their journey.
Talking of which, what are your views on the ongoing presidential elections, after the Iowa how do you think things will shape out between Cruz and Trump in New Hampshire?
AG: My guess is that probably Marco Rubio, possibly Trump will be the Republican candidate for President of the United States. In a sense it may be the self-immolation of the Republican Party—regardless of who gets the nomination—they all represent a segment of the American population that was once marginalized as political quacks. It was not too long ago that these people could have never run on a major party ticket. If there is blame to cast out, it would have to be toward the growth of the “conservative” media—specifically talk radio and Fox News.
They have created a cult that demands no compromise with those, who after twenty-five years of their constant, often laughable attacks are now considered the “conservatives’s”mortal enemy. Of course, the right wing commentators never have been elected to any office and so have no need to be effective leaders, a position that requires pragmatism—so they can simply shout their fidelity to an angry, often nonsensical orthodoxy. Underlying their beliefs is an ever-growing strain of racism that has been fueled by their eight years of unrelenting opposition to a black president.
Donald Trump has become the media favorite and though we know so much about him and his thinking, we hardly ever hear him talk about his policies as the next president. In fact, I haven’t even heard him talking about policies. Every time a question is raised all he says is “I can't comment on that.” How do you see his evasiveness towards real world issues? Do you think the media should be asking him more responsible questions?
AG: The media is asking him the same questions it asks the other candidates. Trump understands better than any of them that answers are not necessary to his following. As I mentioned, their views have been solidified over twenty-five years of hearing the same alienated “conservative” message. They now speak in simplistic code words, such as “liberal,” “biased media,” “immigration.”
Trump is touching the core of an angry white base of support that embraces his “I don’t have time to be politically correct,” and “you can’t say anything anymore.” Of course none of these people can verbalize exactly what it is that they “can’t say anymore.” Maybe they just want the freedom of telling gay, black, Muslim, and Jewish jokes just like the Good Old Days.
Today only 14 percent of the global population enjoys freedom of expression, as an author and one who has worked in the media how important is freedom of expression to you?
AG: The greatest leaps forward in culture and economic growth have always happened in societies that fostered various freedoms. The Industrial Revolution, with all of its awful inequalities, happened where governments left the press and the business community to its own devices.
Your figure of 14 percent is a surprise to me but, on second thought, it is no doubt true. Even the United States, where we applaud ourselves for freedom of expression—has the largest per capita prison population in the world, and not just a few should be considered political prisoners.
“A lot of people are dying because some old kings want just one more war before they die," (quote from Glenfiddich Inn)–this statement still holds true today, it actually made me think about what's happening in Syria, how do you think conflict, in general, can be resolved?
AG: The reality of WWI was a ghastly destruction of human life. The male populations from every village and hamlet in England, France, Scotland, Germany and the other combatants virtually disappeared. It is striking to me that the rulers have always, and continue to, incite the populace and send the young off to die—while they themselves stay behind and reap the profits.
The senseless Iraq War was started by a handful of colonialist-minded men in the United States and Britain. It should always be noted that few of the Bushes, Blairs, Cheneys, and Wolfowitzes ever had the courage to participate in any war. Neither did their right-wing media accomplices such as the cowardly O’Reilly, Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh et al.
I don’t think this mindset will change in our lifetimes—it seems too easy for those in control of the media to incite the populace against whom ever they, while profitable for themselves, deem to be the enemy.
So, Alan, have you thought about writing your next book and if so what are you planning to write on?
AG: I would like to write the sequel to Glenfiddich Inn.I already have a rough outline of the story. I’d like to bring the characters into the 1920s—another period of great interest to me. Radio found its way into every home. The stations found the way to make an enormous profit—advertising—it seems so obvious to us now. The automobile, which only a decade earlier was a luxury item started to be more affordable all over the world.
And sadly, the origin of the Second World War evolved—as did the Depression.On the brighter side music, art and, above all, the silent movies brought the world closer together.
Finally is there anything that you would like to say to all your readers out there?
AG: It has been a wonderful surprise for me to have conversations—such as we are having right now—about characters and situations that I set down in Glenfiddich Inn. When I started the novel it never occurred to me that the story would take on a life of its own, both on the page and amongst the readers who breathed even other interpretations into it.
I’d like to thank all of the people who encouraged me as I was writing as well as the many people who gave me feedback after it was released.
Of course, I’d like to thank the Oslo Times for giving me this opportunity to speak with you and for your interest in Glenfiddich Inn.
By the way we have a Facebook page, I’d be happy to send a complimentary Kindle, ibook or pdf version to any of your readers. All they need do is leave me a comment to this interview here or on facebook.
The paperback and Kindle are available at Amazon and at itunes.
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