Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Michael G Bergen, and I am 74 years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born in Croydon, England to a British mother and a Canadian father. I was raised in Montreal, Canada.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I studied economics, with a particular focus on India. I am married to my second wife, have four children from the two marriages and three delightful grandchildren. I have four sisters living in Canada as well as a fair number of nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
I guess my latest news is that after fifty years of travelling, living and working abroad, I am planning to return to Canada next year.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I first developed an interest in writing inuniversity. While studying, I learned the basics of researching various topics and my resulting projects and papers were well received by my professors. Those questions 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 to earn a living for 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 principal nature reserves of Africa. I have made canoe trips down the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia, rodehorses, 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 considerable 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 study laid down the foundation and structure for my stories.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Only once I had actually published and saw my first book in print did I tentatively consider myself a writer. Only once my writing has been more widely appreciated will I find myself worthy of being called an author.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
What inspired me to write was the recognition that everyone has stories to write about. In my case, it has started with a combination of ancestral and historical interest. Writing historical fiction brings places, events and people back to life and that has captivated my imagination and the will to write it all down.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My stories are set during the tough timesand wars of the twentieth century. The first book is about the Second Anglo-Boer War,also called South African War. Conflicts are man-made storms. So I carried that to its logical conclusion by calling the book Storm Over South Africa.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
This is a tough one for me as the writer to answer. I would say that my style is a combination of descriptivehistorical prose and creativeinteractions and observations by the characters within the historical framework. I think my biggest challenge is knowing what to leave out. For me, everything is relevant and exciting, but I realise that I can challenge, but not overload, the reader.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
My books are created by first researching the movements and events involving the characters through available historical records, as well as the actual historical framework. I then add the fictional content through the interactions and observations of the characters as they experience the sequence of situations and places they find themselves in.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
In fact, I have been to most places described in my works, but where I haven’t actually been I fill in the gaps through my research.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Artist Esther Boshoff
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think the central messages I want to get across revolve around the naivete of youth, the greed and arrogance of leaders and the futility and tragedy of war. The tragic thing is that each generation insists on experiencing these facts for themselves and thereby discover that history consistently repeats itself.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
Now you are taxing my memory! I have read a lot and enjoyed a lot of authors. I read more non-fiction than fiction. Over the past few years, I have been reading mostly history, and among those, one of my favourite authors is Byron Farwell. Others I have enjoyed recently are Richard Steyn and Robert K. Massie. What strikes me about their work is the thoroughness of their research and their clarity. Another older favourite of mine is Rudyard Kipling.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
Well, a few friends have encouraged meoroffered a critique or two of course, but apart from that no one. I have been working pretty much on my own and with very little feedback.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
In the few years I have left, yes.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not really, but I am definitely open to suggestions.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I have learned an incredible amount since I started writing, both regarding historical detail as well as where my characters actually were and what they might have experienced, but also regarding writing as an artform!
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Ewan McGregor perhaps?
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Only “stick with it, and never give up, no matter the odds, even if it’s only for your own creative fulfilment and satisfaction”!
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Please see the preface for my book at the end of this questionnaire.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Testament of Youth, by Vera Brittain.
Education of a Wandering Man, by Louis L’Amour
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Probably The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
With the state of affairs in the world these days I laugh less and less and cry more and more.
But good British comedy still makes me laugh, John Cleese, Billy Connelly, etc. I also enjoy some excellentAmerican humour such as Mel Brooks, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Bill Bryson, etc.
I cry over the lingering injustices in this world: vast discrepancies between the very wealthy and those stricken bypoverty, high mortality rates in more impoverished areas of the world still caused by disease and famine. I mentioned that I studied the economics of India when in university, At the time it was a basket case. So much has improved in India in the interim that it is now becoming a world power, but only the highest castes of that society are benefiting; the vast majority of Indian peasants are still starving and dying of various diseases.
I also cry over what we are doing to our planet: our dwindling animal species and resources, our overdependence on petroleum and plastic and the damage that it is causing, etc.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
Rudyard Kipling. He was a literary giant in his time and would have been an enormously exciting man on many levels to converse with and learn from. If Kipling isn’t available, then Jack London or Winston Churchill, but only if I were on his social level.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I have had many hobbies, including travelling, collecting art, antiques and fossils, as well as gardening and cooking. Right now it’s definitely writing.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Current Affairs, documentaries, cooking and gardening shows, good historical series and gripping new and old movies.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
Mediterranean, Chinese, Thai and Indian food; blues and greens; classical, folk and easy listening jazz music.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Travel, reading, meeting interesting people, listening to music and gardening.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
“Don’t even think about it!”
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
Not yet, but certainly considering it.
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