My interest in the Cold War began back in 1986 when I visited West Berlin on, of all things, an orchestra tour. We were playing a series of concerts in the city and on a day off we made the trip through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. We’d already been warned not to muck about as we crossed the border and that was reinforced when a sub-machine gun toting border guard made their way along the aisle of our coach, carefully checking everyone’s passport. Despite having an official guide showing us all the ‘good’ bits, it was clear to all that the East was very different to the West.
Roll on 30 years and having finally escaped from a career in marketing, I began researching the Cold War as a hobby. If my parents’ generation had been influenced by the Second World War, my generation’s collective consciousness had been formed by the Cold War, and I realised that I had some big gaps in my understanding of that key conflict. Some months into my research, I began to notice that one city was being mentioned more than any other, and that city was Berlin. I was obviously aware of the Berlin Wall but didn’t really understand how it came about and how it famously came down in November 1989, only three years after my orchestral tour.
With all roads seemingly leading to Berlin, I figured that building a timeline would be a good place to start. I hasten to add that I’ve no academic training in history, and actually gave the subject up at the age of 14, so I was literally learning on the go. Over time, scholarly articles and reference books showed me the methodology I needed to adopt, my timeline alerted me to many events, organisations, personalities that needed further investigation, and the project snowballed from there. In terms of source material, my own bookshelves are groaning under the weight of hundreds of books on the Cold War, supplemented by more from my local library which kindly purchased many obscure titles for me. Living in the far south west of the United Kingdom, I’m not able to travel up to London very easily, and not being associated with a particular academic institution, you have to get very creative with finding good material. Thankfully you can access some academic journals on-line and it’s possible to access a lot of fascinating original documents, if you know where to look. Certainly, the Americans are very good at digitising primary source material, an area in which the UK lags far behind.
After a while, various themes began to appear in my research, and I began to consider whether they would work in a book. Using some of my old marketing skills, I researched possible publishers and put my thoughts down in the form of a pitch. I had used LinkedIn, a sort of professional social network, a lot in the past and used it to seek out and ‘cyber-stalk’ publishers, editorial directors and commissioning editors in half a dozen or so target companies.
And that’s how I came to be sitting in my favourite café on a cold and miserable Friday afternoon in November 2019, messaging my target list on LinkedIn. I got a couple of good hits, and with a lot of help from the commissioning editors, I worked up my ideas into proposals which were passed up the line. Amazingly, I landed a five book deal from the first publisher I contacted, all signed and sealed by the end of the year. By March 2020, I’d got a second deal from another publisher, this time for two books, just as we entered the first lockdown.
My writing regime didn’t change much with lockdown – just more time in my home office and less time in coffee shops, and it was a welcome distraction from all that was going on in the world. I’d begun with the idea of a single volume covering Berlin’s role in the Cold War, but my commissioning editor persuaded me to split the story up into smaller ‘bite-size’ pieces, taking my Berlin story from what would have been a huge, over ambitious, and prohibitively expensive project into five smaller and more manageable books.
After a very steep learning curve and a lot of help from my editors, my first book finally made it to market, some fifteen months after that wet Friday afternoon in the café. Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 1, The Birth of the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift, 1945-1950 was published on 11 March 2021 by Helion & Company in their Europe@War series. I’m now working on the second book in the Berlin series, Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 2, Scar across a city – the Berlin Wall, 1950-1961 which will be published later this year. I’m also working on a book on Cold War espionage for Pen & Sword, which should be out autumn 2022.
It’s been a fascinating journey and I’ll be able to apply the skills and techniques I picked up en route to my future projects. I’ve a busy couple of years ahead of me.