Anne Barwell’s father once told her stories that he sucked on lemons in front of brass bands during WWII. Now a Dreamspinner Press author with the WWII era story “Shadowboxing,” Barwell, a librarian by trade, considers herself a woman of many talents. She’s authored four titles with Dreamspinner, is 2nd violin in New Zealand’s Hutt Valley Orchestra, and can knit a mean scarf despite her repetitive strain injury.
“Shadowboxing,” previously released in January 2012, is the first in a series transporting readers to Germany in 1943 at the height of WWII featuring two unlikely heroes.
Barwell elaborated on the premise.
“Kit is a scientist who discovers that the Nazis propose to use his research to create a terrible weapon with the potential to win the war,” she said via an e-mail interview. “Michel is an undercover Resistance operative who helps Kit escape after his conscience will not allow him to ignore reality of the situation any longer. Add to that mix the Allied team sent in to retrieve the plans, and everything going to custard very quickly, and the scene is set for an action/drama with very high stakes.”
When concocting a title, Barwell explained why the title “Shadowboxing” bore such significance for her story.
“Kit is fighting himself in a way at the beginning of the story, boxing with his conscience and being true to himself, in regard to his sexual orientation so the imagery of shadowboxing fit rather well,” she said. “He and Matt, the leader of the Allied team, have dealt with their sexual orientation in different ways, both fighting being true to themselves because of what was acceptable, and not, for the time.”
Barwell continued how the elements of the characters fighting their nature bore such importance.
“While Kit has buried himself in his work and walked away from someone he had feelings for, Matt became involved in a romantic relationship with his best friend, Elise,” she said. “It was only when she wanted to settle down that he realized he couldn’t go through with it. While he loved her as a friend, he wasn’t in love with her.”
The story of “Shadowboxing” did not come easily to Barwell, she said she had conceived of the idea ten years ago and had a love for stories set in the WWII era. She explains what took so long to finally cross the finish line.
“I got so far with this story, and stopped and it sat there at a nasty cliffhanger for literally years,” she said. “The thought of all the research was daunting and I got distracted by easier shinier stuff. Finally, after my first novel was published with Dreamspinner—and several people nagged me to continue with it—I got back on the horse, rewrote what I’d already written, kept going and submitted it six months later.”
The “easier shinier stuff” Barwell refers to was her dalliances with writing fanfiction, playing online story roleplaying games, and writing other titles for Dreamspinner. She talked about her new project “A Knight to Remember.”
“There is so much less research in writing about dragons and making up another world,” she said. “It’s still research but at least as long as I keep to my own continuity it’s not going to be ‘wrong.’ Even my beta readers said to me, ‘You’re procrastinating “Winter Duet” and “Comes a Horseman” aren’t you? Umm, yeah.”
For recreating the world of 1943 Berlin, Barwell related her peculiar finds during the research process.
“One of the pain in the neck bits of research was trying to find out about telephones in Germany 1940’s and how they were attached to the wall,” she said. “You’d think something like that would be easy to find but no.”
And for the locations, Barwell had her own riddles to solve.
“A lot of the locations and buildings used in the story are real and were standing at the time, even if they were destroyed shortly afterwards,” she said. “I was looking for a park at one point, and found a wonderful location on Google Maps then discovered that in 1943 it was railway station! Back to the drawing board.”
Barwell further explained how the happy discoveries of historical events aided her.
“The Allied bombing of Berlin became the answer to an important plot point,” she said. “Once I shifted my original dates so it happened at just the right time I needed it to. I figured why not let history work for the plot, and it also gives it realism.”
Barwell said the true origins of “Shadowboxing” were inspired by an alternate universe fanfiction she dabbled in. With so many bestselling authors with titles that are repurposed fanfiction such as the blockbuster “50 Shades of Grey,” Barwell explains the difference between originality and capitalizing on an established universe.
“I wouldn’t write original fiction that is set within the canon universe of a show,” she said. “That’s still fanfic. But taking inspiration from existing characters and dropping them into a completely differently scenario, that’s a different ball game. Most writers draw character inspiration from somewhere, fanfic is just one source.”
She further explained how radically altering the source material is challenging.
“Changing something from alternate universe fanfic to original takes a lot of work as it’s way more than just find/replace for the names,” she said. “In fanfic, you can get straight to the plot as the readers know who the characters are. In original stories, you have to spend time introducing the players, who they are, and why they react the way they do.”
Barwell said she has stories to tell that could keep her going for years. She divulged some of her upcoming projects. “A Knight to Remember” she said is “a fantasy story about quests, swords and dragons and I had a lot of fun writing it especially as there are a few twists in the tale.”
Following “A Knight to Remember” is “Shades of Sepia,” the first book in “The Sleepless City” series that she’s co-authoring with Elizabeth Noble.
“We’re writing alternative books in this urban fantasy series which features vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and humans,” she said about “Shades of Sepia.” “I’m really looking forward to it.”
But the book she really wants to write? Barwell answered.
“The other book I want to write, or at least get started on this year is “Winter Duet,” she said. “This is the sequel to “Shadowboxing” and the next chapter in the characters’ journey as they try and escape Germany with the German officer Holm still tracking them. I’m planning a few new complications for them to deal with in this one like a downed Kiwi pilot who needs their help. I also like including Kiwis in my stories just because I can.”
Where To Buy
“Shadowboxing,” the first book in the “Echoes” series is available at Dreamspinner Press in eBook format for $6.99 and paperback for $16.99. An M/M historical with action, drama, and as Barwell said “a good dollop of romance.” All of her titles can be found on the Dreamspinner Press website: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/index.php?cPath=426