Meet the author: Owen Sheers

Resistance by Owen Sheers

First reading group “meet the author” event to be included in the Berlin Literature Festival progamme. I took a risk in recommending Resistance. But I had heard such fulsome praise for Resistance on the BBC progamme “Open Book” that I had wanted to read it myself . But would it prove to be suitable for a German readership?

I found it to be a beautifully written and sensitive first novel which imagined a credible alternative outcome to the second world war. I so enjoyed Owen Sheers’ poetic and lyrical style that I decided to share Resistance with the groups.

But the choice of Resistance met with some groans of disapproval. “Please, not about the war.” Others said they trusted my judgement and would try the book. The groups were smaller than usual. Was my choice a mistake? I think not. The discussions arising from the book were some of the most rewarding we have had. And the most challenging for me personally.

An added bonus was that Owen Sheers accepted my invitation to meet the groups in Berlin. I found him to be charming, witty ,warm and friendly and very approachable- I knew it would be a pleasure to moderate the event. He proved to be very insightful and entertaining. I’m convinced he will go far as a writer and a TV presenter. Watch this space.

Feedback from the audience

It was very interesting to see Owen’s views on his book, the plot and his characters. There was a lot to think about afterwards. We especially enjoyed the evening as it was totally in English.

We hope that similar events will be part of the Literature Festival in future. Thanks again for this fantastic evening!

I feel very lucky, to have joined the reading group on Monday and then met the author on Wednesday! Excellent evening yesterday, interesting insights into the book. It would have been nice to ask more probing questions, but that would have given it away for those who had not read the book.

Thank you very much for this event! I and my friend really enjoyed the last evening and we were really glad that the event was even part of the Literature Festival programme. It was very interesting to see Owen’s views on his book, the plot and his characters. There was a lot to think about afterwards. We especially enjoyed the evening as it was totally in English.We hope that similar events will be part of the Literature Festival in future.

Thank you for your appreciation of Owen Sheers presentation of his book. I found him a very sympathetic young man, intelligent, thoughtful and quick at ironical, especially self-ironical remarks. It was more than worthwhile listening to him – and to you, too. By the way, Owen Sheers reminded me of the only Welsh man I ever had the opportunity to get aquainted with. His name was Robert Price. I met him in 1969 in Paris, he was assistant teacher like me and we lived in the Cite universitaire in the same room for some time. He resembled strongly Owen Sheers physically and he wrote poetry,too! But I fear his poems never got published.-

I asked Owen Sheers: You are a novelist, but you are a poet,too – perhaps even in the first place. Were you ever tempted to write a poem (while writing ‘Resistance’) concerning a situation in this novel? And what are the differences in your mind between writing a poem and writing a paragraph in a novel, i.e., finding the exact wording for that paragraph?

Owen Sheers answered: Writing a poem and writing a novel are for me quite different affairs – concerning two different areas of the brain (?). In a poem, each word counts, and there may be only a very small difference between a good and a bad poem. On the other hand, a heap of boring words may make a good novel. As for the second part of the question: as I said, making a poem and writing a novel are just things that belong to different worlds. But in working on the final phrasing of a paragraph, there may be some resemblance to the kind of activity that is necessary for making a good poem: you will try to find the right word, the right sound, the right melody of a sentence.

Owen Sheers was great! and his book, too. When I first started the book I got the impression as if things had really happened. Might be there had been an invading German army, small as it might have been… It all sounded so real, so plausible. Resistance to reading !

Never having bought the book ‘Resistance’ myself, due to the misleading cover and it’s blurb, I (again) trusted Jan’s advice and now I am very happy I did so. I enjoyed reading the book immensely, despite the fact that I usually don’t like the ‘utopian’ or the ‘war’ genre. Dealing with a delicate topic, considering how difficult the relation between British and German people today still can be, I enjoyed the novel not only because of the gentle and human way M. Sheers dealt with these tense attitudes in occupants and also in occupiers. I was also impressed at how delicately the author painted the characters – also those of the intruding ‘enemies’.

There were some really brutal passages, necessary in order to keep the story credible, but luckily they never became sensationally. That I had been afraid about, when I looked at the book for the first time and I am happy that this expectation was not met. Very impressive to me was also, how the author managed to enliven the landscape. I was drawn in, really feeling the atmosphere, the ancient myths and the rough but honest living ground after which the characters were shaped.

I also like M. Sheers’ style of writing. I very much enjoyed the precise and sometimes even poetic language he used and especially the beautiful metaphors strewn in. Thus, I was curious and really looking forward to the reading, Jan had managed to arrange. To me, it was really a great evening, because M. Sheers was not only good to look at ;-), but also very nice, – charismatic even. In contrast to some of his more famous colleagues, he behaved not a bit arrogant. Instead, he very willingly invited us, the audience, to participate in the process of his work on his latest book. He answered every question very detailed and with a fine sense of humor.

With the sensitive aspect of it, he dealt emphatically and remained pleasantly interested and open-minded throughout the whole lively event. When it came to the signing of the books, he answered a lot more questions from his readers. Asking him how long it had taken him to write the book, he replied that it took him two years, but that the main part was written in the last six months before its being published. He also talked about having already sold the film rights to an independent British producer and that the director chosen for the job, was a newcomer concerning full-length movies. So far he had only directed short-films.

M. Sheers also mentioned that he wasn’t able to find a publisher in Germany who wants to launch a translation of ‘Resistance’.

This is a great pity to me and I am wondering if we as readers should collect our opinions and signatures and send them to several publishing houses in order to try to make the book available on the German market. I consider that important due to the fact that the novel conveys a human, as well as understanding and conciliatory tone which is important to spread as far and as often as possible. Especially in times like ours, in which xenophobia is still far from being overcome and neonaziism in some places even growing stronger again, this can not be done too often.

Concerning the moderation, I liked the vivid style very much, compared to other readings, where the main part consists of just reading aloud long parts of the book, which everyone could better read by oneself. The initial statements were a helpful reminder of the story as well as a description of the circumstances of the writing situation and his personal motivation. So the actual reading was a just a necessary composition of some paragraphs illustrating his live and authentic talk.

My first question was about the extremely positive character of Albrecht, the German captain. Emphasising that I love the novel and encouraged by Owen Sheer’s casual start, I chose the winking formulation, which German organisation had paid him for writing the novel, in view of this somewhat unusual British judgement of German soldiers. Obviously the author was more interested in the intellectual, cultural and psychological human behaviour even during the war than in beating the bad guys.

I absolutely loved the event; it was really the best author’s event I’ve ever been to. Not only was it very interesting and informative, but also a lot of fun. I thought you asked exactly the right questions, about just the things I wanted to know more about. And Owen Sheers is indeed a very talented speaker and a fantastic storyteller – even when he talked about the process of writing his book, it was entertaining and poetic and not at all dry or technical – a bit like a story in itself. I learned such a lot about why and how he wrote this novel, it made me appreciate the book, which I had sometimes been reluctant to read because of its topic, so much more. Thank you so much for a great evening – I wish we could have an author’s event with every writer whose book we’ve read in the groups!!

I too, enjoyed the evening, the only flaw was that it was too short J. I thought Owen Sheers was very smart and intellectual, a good speaker and yet charmingly unpretentious, answering all questions carefully and detailed. In the signing session he was very friendly and approachable.

I asked him how and why he had chosen the Hereford Mappa Mundi as the patrol’s mission and he answered this as follows:

Obviously, there had to be some mission for the patrol and his idea had evolved from the fact that most or all of Britain’s historic treasures had been taken from their respective depositories and hidden in safe places to protect them from air raids or enemy looting. So in the event of an invasion, the German army would very likely have sought for these treasures. And the Hereford Map had offered itself as one of the great treasures of the area. Furthermore, it had actually been been hidden in a mine somewhere in the mining villages near the Olchon Valley which fit nicely into his storyline. He also said he thought this was a nice connection to the tale of the sleeping king and his army, not just them (in other words the Auxiliary units) lying dormant under the mountains to await their call, but also the treasures of Britain being hidden there. Something that had apparently not originally been his intention, but offered itself later – maybe only when he considered my question, it sounded as if it had only just occurred to him -, was that the word “MORS”, Latin for death, written at the corners of the map outside the circle of the world, symbolised in a way how death lurks outside the borders of the Olchon Valley. I liked this interpretation particularly.

When Owen Sheers recently came to Berlin, I was thrilled to meet the author of such an interesting book. “Resistance” immediately grabbed my attention because a few years ago a friend of mine where I live, in Canterbury/UK, had told me “my father was trained as a terrorist”. My friend’s father (and his 3 brothers), all farmers in East Kent, had been recruited in 1940 and sworn to secrecy, and given training for the counter-invasion measures had the Nazis invaded England, as was expected in the early months of World War II.

I found the book very credible – extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures – and thought the detail about the individual Welsh women and the members of the German patrol welldetailed.

I asked Owen Shears whether it had been difficult to get information about the Auxilliary Units and he said the MoD still doesn’t like to talk about them much.

I think that although this was, essentially, a work of fiction, it was good to know that there was a real historical basis for it and I look forward to this young author’s next book.


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