Sunday, 14 February 2010

Creative Writing Software.

Creative writing software should be really be viewed as a organiser to your own writing and not a one-size-fits-all... fill-in-the-blanks exercise. A program that allows you to keep track of your characters, settings, plot points, etc. may be a good idea. But, then again; why not just use good old MS Notepad and index the information in the order you want to use it?

The main key to writing a novel is to sit down and write.

Book writing software does not make an "untalented writer talented," but it can be a better tool than Microsoft Word. At best; it will organise things logically.

I have included a few useful tools in previous posts. Check them out. (A cunning ploy to get you to read more of the blog!)

Here are a few of the more popular Software applications. (In no particular order of cost or popularity.)

Dramatica Pro.
StoryBase.
WriteItNow.
Newnovelist.
Writer's Cafe.
Book Writer.
Final Draft.
Liquid Story Binder.
Rough Draft.

It's all down to personal choice; you may prefer a structured software to the "Make it up as you go along" method, but remember; not one of these programs is the "Magic Bullet."
If you have enthusiasm and really enjoy what you are creating... go for it! Your enthusiasm will shine through to the person who reads it... and you can always polish your creation after you have written the final word.

The length of an average novel is something like 320 pages. If you create one double-spaced page of your novel every single day, you will have 365 pages... an entire book... at the end of one year.
But remember:  if you have a really creative session and turn out seven pages at one sitting, it doesn't mean that you can abandon the book for the next week. You really should write something... hopefully, a page every day.... even if you bin it at the next session.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Print on Demand... Authors can beat the Catch-22 of Publishing.

We've all been there. You send your query letter to selected Literary Agents. You invariably get the reply, "I don't represent unpublished authors." You then try the publishers. The answers come back: "We don't represent un-agented authors." Welcome to the Catch-22 scenario!

Sadly, Literary agents and editors have little or no interest in un-established writers these days. It is a fact that something like 70% of traditional publishers are now Corporate-owned... and if you are not a Gold-plated cash cow... forget it!
(Joanne (J K) Rowling was a one-off... It's unlikely there will be another phenomenon like Pottermania.)

The Dreaded Corporate Suits.

These Publishers have effectively turned their backs on aspiring first-time novelists by refusing to read unsolicited manuscripts.They argue that a bestseller emerges, on average, only once every three years from the slush pile and they no longer have the time or the resources to wade through the remaining "dross." Mainstream publishers reject the bulk of manuscripts sent to them principally because they predict that they will not be able to sell the books in sufficient quantities to cover production and distribution costs.The bottom line is that a work must either "fit onto the shelves" of mainstream publishers or be penned by an author whose name will guarantee sales.

The mushrooming of E-books, Print on Demand, and Internet exposure inevitably means traditional publishers will probably have to change their business practices. It's only a matter of time before authors go from aspiring to be traditionally published to aspiring to be POD-published. When this happens, traditional publishers that don't adapt to the new realities could be in real trouble.
Traditional publishers were dismayed by the invasion of Print on Demand and other digital production and delivery technologies. Almost overnight, "Motor Cars had replaced horses and carriages." The playing field was effectively levelled. Independent  publishers could stand beside the Big, Bad, New York and London, Corporate-owned Publishing behemoths. CEOs reassured their corporate boards that digital publishing was just a fad that would soon go away. It didn't.
Corporate-owned publishers then arrogantly lumped together all of the online publishers and labelled their products "non-books."
"These non-books are written by amateurs," declared the traditional book industry. "Therefore they don’t deserve to be reviewed by mainstream media or shelved in brick and mortar bookshops." And in the mainstream book industry, their judgment became The Law.

Then the inevitable started to happen. Even established authors started to break their contracts with traditional publishers and form their own independent publishing companies. By now, a large percentage of the digitally published books not only matched traditionally published offset printed books in appearance; they were equal to, and often superior in quality. The writing was firmly on the wall.
As to whether the traditional publishers actually bother to read it... only time will tell. Blair and Bush didn't bother to read the signs... and we all know what happened to them.

Traditional Publisher versus Print on Demand Publisher.

The Traditional Process.
With the traditional printing process, a quantity of books are printed up in advance and then orders are filled from that inventory. This is the way traditional publishers generally manufacture their books because, on a per book basis, the cost is cheaper; but there are big trade-offs to doing it that way.
First, the traditional publisher must predict the quantity needed. In other words, they have to predict the market demand for a book – a potentially difficult task.
Second, traditional publishers have to come up with the up-front cash to pay the printer for all those copies of the book. That cash remains tied up in the form of unsold inventory until they can convert it back to cash by selling all the books.

The Print-On-Demand Process.
Print-on-Demand is the process of manufacturing a book when the customer orders it. Since the books are made to order, you don’t have the problem of predicting the quantity needed. And since you collect the money from the customer before printing the book, there is no need for an upfront investment, nor do you have money tied up in unsold inventory.
The only up-front cost is preparing the electronic file from which the books will be printed. But that is far less than what one would have to pay doing it the traditional way.
The downside of print-on-demand is the per book cost doesn't get cheaper the more copies one prints. It costs the same no matter if it is one copy or 100,000 copies.

What is the difference between a print-on-demand publisher and a traditional publisher?


Traditional Publishers.
Traditional publishers buy all rights to your book in exchange for an advance (many authors don't get advances anymore) and royalties ranging from around 8%-12%. You no longer own the book.
The royalties are usually paid to you annually after the accumulated amount is greater than the amount of the advance. In exchange for you giving them all rights, they take your manuscript and turn it into a professionally edited and designed marketable product. (Caution! This is the point at which they can effectively butcher your masterpiece.)
They pay for a print run to produce copies of the book for distribution. They then negotiate with distributors sell the book to stores, which then sell it to the consumer.
Traditional publishers usually accept returns (buying back unsold copies from bookshops) and offer larger wholesale discounts; thus making the books more tempting for bookshops to stock. But if those books don't sell, the returns will be taken out of the author's future royalties. And though it is rarely enforced, and even more rarely mentioned; most traditional publishing contracts have a clause that allows the publisher to request that the author even pay back the advance if the book doesn't generate enough sales.

Some publishers have actually admitted that return rates have topped 50%, and the numbers have been rising for some time. This means that half of all books printed in the UK are never read... and they’re not redistributed either, but returned to the publishers or otherwise disposed of, usually by pulping; or simply dumping in landfill sites.
The sale-or-return system is outdated and thoroughly wasteful. It is not uncommon for bookshops to return copies of a title to a publisher on the same day that they reorder more copies of the same book.
(Something like 52,000 individual titles were pulped in 2009.)

Print-on-Demand Publishers.Print-on-Demand publishers provide the infrastructure to print and market the book; as an addition to their portfolio, or by yourself... or both; depending on the Publisher.
You own all rights to the book (with the possible exception of print rights... dependant on the context of the contract) and can sell them whenever and however you want.
Royalties are much higher. (My publisher: New Generation Publishing contracts for up to 60% of the cover price.) The book is sold directly to the customer via my publisher's Web site ... and, with the distribution package; is added to the Nielsen Book List for inclusion to online and offline retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones etc, to make it widely and internationally available to customers.

Seeing that copies are printed as ordered; there are no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and certainly no loss on returns. There is also no Literary Agent fee creaming 15-20% off the top.
So there you have it. Print-on-Demand could well prove to be the answer to the unpublished author's nightmare... and the David to the Traditional Publisher's Goliath.

Another little example of In-depth researching...

One more problematic researching task for "The Vanavara Protocol" involved locating the NKVD killing ground of Kurapaty, in Brod woods to the north of Minsk. The reference "Brod woods" is used twelve times in the body of the novel... "Kurapaty" is used only twice. So; I needed to establish place names for the accuracy of the following passage:

"If they were to do anything, then it was certain that their next car ride would be a one-way trip in the back seat of one of their own "Black Ravens."A one-way trip out to Brod Woods in the forests north of Minsk.
A few kilometres to the north of Minsk; to the left of the Lahoj highway, there was a village called Zialony Luh. Two kilometres north of the village, in the forests to the south of the Zaslauje Road, they shot people... both men and women; who were brought there every day and every night on trucks, or in the sinister "Chyornye Voronki." For these victims, it was a one-way trip and the inescapable Nagan, or Tokarev bullet in the nape of the neck.
On the hills there was an area known locally as Kurapaty… an old stand of conifers, surrounded by broadleaf trees and thickets. Some hundred or so, verst of this coniferous stand had been surrounded by a fence, more than three metres high, made of closely fitting, overlapping, wooden planks, surmounted with barbed wire. Outside the fence were guards and dogs. The people were brought there along the gravelly, cobbled road that ran from the Lahoj highway to Zaslauje. The local villagers called it the "Road of Death."


The villages have long since disappeared... either under the Minsk Ring road, or have been swallowed up by the city. Zialony Luh... the village mentioned in the novel is now a suburb of Minsk.
Googling "Kurapaty" turned up over 70,000 references. "Brod woods" returned nothing.
"Zialony Luh" returned 72 results... mostly from the same article by  Zyanon Paznyak and Yauhen Shmyhalou... "Kurapaty-Daroha Smertsi"... "Kurapaty, the Road to Death."

Eventually, I found a possible lead from a Google Image search for "Minsk Maps."
On an obscure Russian forum website I discovered a detailed map of Minsk dating from 1933...

The road running straight up the illustration and curving sharply to the right is the Lahoj highway. The wooded area at the centre top of the illustration is Kurapaty, otherwise known as Brod woods. The small road bisecting the wood approximately two-thirds up its length is the route of the present Minsk Ring road.The road running across the top of Brod woods is the Zaslauje Road.
The small road running from the Lahoj highway to the Zaslauje Road passes the village of Zialony Luh before it turns to the north to pass east of Brod woods. This road is the gravel road the villagers called  the "Road of death".
The execution transports followed this track up to the little road that follows the line of the modern Minsk Ring road. Here they turned onto it for the last half-kilometre or so, to reach the killing grounds.

A very useful find! At least the passage was now accurate. Had I not discovered this particular map; I would have had to rely on my own deduction by interpreting the description in the passage onto a Google Earth Satellite image:

I have added the labels for clarity of location... and the pale line going diagonally across the image is an aircraft contrail caught by the satellite imaging system!

A poignant confirmation to the  location was found in a Kurapaty memorial site. It pinpoints the position of discovered remains in the surviving fragment of  the dreadful Brod Woods:

And, just to finish off; and again, to offer a cautionary word that what you find is not necessarily what you are searching for; here is a segment of the same location, taken from a modern Minsk map. (Again; the labels have been added for clarity of location.)


You might think that all this is a tad obsessional for a very small, and insignificant part of the story. I couldn't agree more!... but, as I said before; there is always Someone out there ready to pick your baby to pieces; especially if it is a historical work set within living memory.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A specific research subject.

Further to my note on researching; for an intrinsic part of the extract in the previous post... and for inclusion in subsequent passages of the story; I needed to establish what sort of transportation the NKVD operatives utilised. I found several references to vehicles known as "Black Ravens"... "Chyornye Voronki," in Russian.
What were these ominous vehicles? Cars? Vans? Trucks?
A Google search turned up only five references. An image search proved useless. OK; let's try "Russian Black Ravens".... Bingo! Two drawings of what appeared to be Ford-type saloons with an illustration of a Gulag in the background; painted in the 30's by Boris Jeremejewitsch Wladimirskij...

Further research identified the cars as being examples of the GAZ M1... a Russian-built vehicle based largely on the American 1933 Ford V8 Model 40...

 

All fairly straightforward then.... wrong! This tiny piece of research took something like two hours; cross-checking and confirming details from Russian sites (again!)
The rule of thumb is, if at first, you come up with nothing... start thinking outside the box!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

A word or two about researching.

I have been asked to give a few tips on research.
Research for the content of such a book as my fourth novel "The Vanavara Protocol" needs to be in-depth and exact. (There is always someone out there who will challenge facts if there is the slightest possibility those facts are inaccurate!... especially with a historical novel set within the time-frame of living memory.)
First and foremost; by far the best bet is good old Google... but there are ways to use Google for much more accurate results:

A standard search for Pre-War Berlin Streetnames returns 3,420 results.

Whenever you search for more than one keyword at a time, Google will search for all of them. If you search for
Pre-War Berlin "Streetnames"... (79 results.)
Google will search for all the words. If you want to specify that either word is acceptable, you put an OR between each item...
Pre-War OR Berlin OR "Streetnames"... (219,000,000 results.)

If you want to have definitely one term and one of two or more other terms, you group them with parentheses, like this:
Pre-War (Berlin OR "Streetnames")... (1,250,000 results.)
This query searches for the word “Berlin” or phrase "Streetnames" along with the word "Pre-War" A Hotkey for OR borrowed from the computer programming realm is the | (pipe) character, (next to the Shift key on the left side of the QWERTY keyboard) as in...
Pre-War (Berlin | "Streetnames")

If you want to specify that a query item must not appear in your results, use a -.(minus sign or dash).
Pre-War Berlin -"Streetnames"... (12,300,000 results.)
This will search for pages that contain both the words "Pre-War" and "Berlin" but not the phrase "Streetnames"

Of course, most of these results will be irrelevant, or tenuous. You will then need to sift the results for the required information; but it is a good indicator of the different methods of search available.

In addition to the basic AND, OR, and quoted strings, Google offers some rather extensive special syntaxes for honing your searches. Google being a full-text search engine, it indexes entire web pages instead of just titles and descriptions. Additional commands, called special syntaxes, let Google users search specific parts of web pages or specific types of information. Specifying that your query words must appear only in the title or URL of a returned web page is a great way to have your results get very specific without making your keywords themselves too specific.
Here are some of the common keywords that you can add to your query in Google:

intitle, allintitle
Restricts your search to the titles of web pages. The variation, allintitle: finds pages wherein all the words specified make up the title of the web page. It’s probably best to avoid the allintitle: variation, because it doesn’t mix well with some of the other syntaxes.
Eg: intitle:"Heinrich Himmler"
allintitle:"Gestapo"politics.

inurl, allinurl
Restricts your search to the URLs of web pages. This syntax tends to work well for finding search and help pages, because they tend to be rather regular in composition. An allinurl: variation finds all the words listed in a URL but doesn’t mix well with some other special syntaxes.
Eg: inurl:Reichstag
allinurl:search Reichstag

intext, allintext
Searches only body text (i.e., ignores link text, URLs, and titles). There’s an allintext: variation, but again, this doesn’t play well with others. While its uses are limited, it’s perfect for finding query words that might be too common in URLs or link titles.
Eg: intext:"yahoo.com"
allintext:html

inanchor
Searches for text in a page’s link anchors. A link anchor is the descriptive text of a link. For example, the link anchor in the HTML code O’Reilly and Associates is “O’Reilly and Associates.”
Eg: inanchor:"tom peters"

site

Allows you to narrow your search by either a site or a top-level domain. AltaVista, for example, has two syntaxes for this function (host: and domain:), but Google has only the one.
Eg: site:loc.gov
site:thomas.loc.gov
site:edu
site:nc.us
You can also use site: operator to exclude certain domains from a search
Eg: google -site:google.com
This is particularly useful for ego searches. You can find out all those sites which mention your name exept your site.
Eg: dave mace -site:blogger.com -site:wikipedia.org

link
Returns a list of pages linking to the specified URL. Enter link:www.google.com and you’ll be returned a list of pages that link to Google. Don’t worry about including the http:// bit; you don’t need it, and, indeed, Google appears to ignore it even if you do put it in. link: works just as well with “deep” URLs-http://www.raelity.org/apps/blosxom/ for instance-as with top-level URLs such as raelity.org.
Eg: link:www.google.com

cache
Finds a copy of the page that Google indexed even if that page is no longer available at its original URL or has since changed its content completely. This is particularly useful for pages that change often. If Google returns a result that appears to have little to do with your query, you’re almost sure to find what you’re looking for in the latest cached version of the page at Google.
Eg: cache:www.yahoo.com

filetype
Searches the suffixes or filename extensions. These are usually, but not necessarily, different file types. I like to make this distinction, because searching for filetype:htm and filetype:html will give you different result counts, even though they’re the same file type. You can even search for different page generators, such as ASP, PHP, CGI, and so forth-presuming the site isn’t hiding them behind redirection and proxying. Google indexes several different Microsoft formats, including: PowerPoint (PPT), Excel (XLS), and Word (DOC).
Eg: homeschooling filetype:pdf
"leading economic indicators" filetype:ppt

related
Finds pages that are related to the specified page. Not all pages are related to other pages. This is a good way to find categories of pages; a search for related:google.com would return a variety of search engines, including HotBot, Yahoo!, and Northern Light.
Eg: related:www.yahoo.com
related:www.cnn.com

info
Provides a page of links to more information about a specified URL. Information includes a link to the URL’s cache, a list of pages that link to that URL, pages that are related to that URL, and pages that contain that URL. Note that this information is dependent on whether Google has indexed that URL or not. If Google hasn’t indexed that URL, information will obviously be more limited.
Eg: info:www.oreilly.com
info:www.nytimes.com/technology

define
Will get the definition of the term that you have entered. This syntax can be used to get the definitions of words, phrases, and acronyms
Eg: define:dreaming
This query will get you the definition of the word dreaming.

numrange
If you want to search for a range of numbers then you can use two dots (without spaces) to represent a range of numbers
Eg: inventions 1850..1899
This query will get you all the inventions between 1850 and 1899

safesearch

If you include safesearch: in your query, Google will exclude adult-content.
Eg: safesearch:breasts
This will search for information on breasts without returning adult or pornographic sites.

Fetch only Fresh results
First one is to narrow down your search to only the most recent web pages. This is particularly important, since Google has started serving fresh results.
Alex Chitu from the unofficial Google Operating system blog has found that we can use as_qdr query parameter to search only for fresh pages.
In order to use this you have to add a new parameter as_qdr at the end of the url like below
http://www.google.com/search?q=ipod&as_qdr=d
The as_qdr parameter can take the following possible values.

    * d[number] – past number of days (e.g.: d5)
    * w[number] – past number of weeks (e.g: w5)
    * y[number] – past number of years (e.g: y5)

I also use Copernic Agent Pro... a nice application that gives you the ability to cover more of the Web and to get relevant, high quality results grouped into categories. From a single query, Copernic Agent gives you better search engine results by consulting multiple search engines at once, combining their results, removing duplicates and keeping only the very best of the information gathered from queried search engines. ranked as per-cent accurate. http://www.copernic.com/en/products/
Here's a Screen-shot:

 

Now, a cautionary word about not necessarily believing that what your research turns up is actually what you want. In the following extract from the book; mention is made of the hotel where the heroine stays. I needed a visual reference of this building for the developing story a little later on. 

Aleksandr Anatoly Sergeyev hurried across Zakharievskaya Street. As he approached the massive, curved colonnade that spanned between the two wings of the building, bordering the wide courtyard in front of the Academy; he glanced across the broad, main thoroughfare of the city that stretched dead straight for eleven kilometres, linking the Borisov highway with the Warsaw road. Across the broad avenue, he saw the black GAZ four-door saloon parked in the shadowy darkness between the boundaries of the pools of light cast by two adjacent street lamps.

He shivered; it was one of the dreaded "Chyornye Voronki," the NKVD "Black Ravens"… the Government's notorious black cars that were used to arrest suspects, often on false charges of being "Enemies of the People." These "Political criminals" were usually imprisoned, sent into exile, or executed. Surprise arrests were often made in the small hours of the morning. He caught a glimpse of a glowing cigarette tip, and could almost feel the cold eyes watching him from the impenetrable darkness of the car's interior. They were there every night. He should be used to them by now.
They had watched him for three months as he came to escort Karyn back to the Hotel Europe. They watched all foreigners, and especially her. They shadowed her everywhere; not that she chose to wander too far. Most foreigners were forbidden to roam about. She, however, was not. Fräulein Doktor Karyn Helle von Seringen; Graduate Doctor of Archaeology with a chair at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt-am-Main, was untouchable. Much as it might rankle them, those evil NKVD bastards dare not lay so much as a finger upon her. If they were to do anything, then it was certain that their next car ride would be a one-way trip in the back seat of one of their own "Black Ravens." A one-way trip out to Brod Woods in the forests north of Minsk.


A few kilometres to the north of Minsk; to the left of the Lahoj highway, there was a village called Zialony Luh. Two kilometres north of the village, in the forests to the south of the Zaslauje Road, they shot people... both men and women; who were brought there every day and every night on trucks, or in the sinister "Chyornye Voronki." For these victims, it was a one-way trip and the inescapable Nagan, or Tokarev bullet in the nape of the neck. 



OK; so fire up Google images and do an advanced search. Great! Lots of pics... but, hang on a moment... the pedestrians are wearing modern clothes, and that little red car?

  

I knew from previous research that this hotel had been totally destroyed during the war. True, the old centre of Minsk (including the hotel) was re-built after the war in the original style; but was the new hotel an accurate copy?
After much in-depth research across countless Russian sites, I found the only photo of the original building that seems to be available:

Spot the differences. The new building has SEVEN floors... the original has SIX! The frontage is wider on the new building, with two extra windows per floor on each side of the central balconies. There are only THREE gable windows either side of the central arched portico on the very top floor of the building... whereas the modern version has FIVE at either side.
This is a classic example of the trap you fall into if only a cursory research is carried out! Accurate researching takes time and patience... but it ensures your writing doesn't end up looking sloppy  and unprofessional!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A little more Vanavara.

I thought I'd post a little more of the fourth book "The Vanavara Protocol" for your delectation. It's up to just under 136,000 words at the moment... and likely to be a fairly substantial word-count upon completion.

As ever, the research is difficult... pre-war Stalinist Russia is a very secretive place, even today!

Anyway, here's another taster...

The two SS-Sturmscharführers stood idly on the western arrival platform of the Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof, smoking their pungent Korfu Rot cigarettes. It was a dirty night, the 24th May, 1937. The few passengers awaiting their late trains glanced nervously at the pair, in their ominous black uniforms with the SS brassard… the blood-red Hakenkreuzarmbinde on their left arms, Frightened eyes glanced at the feared, plain black SD-collar tab; the SD Ärmelraute… the diamond lozenge badge on the left sleeve… edged with silver piping indicating they had Gestapo affiliation; and worse… the even more feared SD-Hauptamt Cuff band below it. They could only be from Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse 9, Sitz des SS-Hauptamtes… Reichsführer-SS Himmler's personal Iron-heads! Some poor bastard was in real trouble, having these two waiting for them. The bright glare from the overhead platform lamps reflecting back from the great arched, glass roof of the station glittered ominously on their Totenkopf Death's-head cap badges.

As the ominous, black-uniformed goons gazed around the sparsely occupied platform, those on whom their gaze descended, shivered, and quickly looked away. As sure as hell, these two evil-looking bastards were from "Amt für Sicherungsaufgaben"… The SS Security branch of the SD-Hauptamt Command Administration. They prowled up and down the platform, the hob-nails in the soles of their shiny black "Schaftstiefelen"… knee boots, which would become derisively, and universally known as jackboots; clicked ominously on the flagstones. Up and down... up and down. They were waiting for the night express from Frankfurt-am-Main. The big Steinheil station clock minute hand was creeping round to eleven o'clock. The night express was due in at 11.05pm, and the Deutsches Reichsbahn Gesellschaft always ran on time, these days.

As the two SDs strolled back down the platform with creaking jackboots and cold, reptilian eyes; there came the distant, mournful sound of a locomotive steam-whistle somewhere out in the darkness. They turned to stare out into the night. As they peered into the darkness of the rainy Berlin night, the lamp on the signal gantry, some thirty metres beyond the three huge, end wall arches spanning the incoming tracks on the permanent way side of the station, flicked to green.
The two SDs tossed down their cigarettes and ground them into the platform. Out of the night came the bright glare of the three head-code lights reflecting back off the silver ribbons of the rain-soaked tracks, as the big, black and red, 4-6-2 Borsig locomotive coasted into the platform, with the coach, and locomotive brakes squealing, and clouds of hissing steam billowing from the double cylinders as the engineer vented the cylinder steam chests.

                  A typical Borsig locomotive leaving Anhalter Bahnhof.                    
The Two SDs stepped back into the shadows as the express came to a standstill. The doors were flung open, and the passengers of the Frankfurt-am-Main night express stepped down from the rain-glistening, dark-green liveried coaches onto the Anhalter Bahnhof platform. They watched, as the passengers hurried past them trying to avoid eye contact... such was the uncomfortable feeling those ominous black uniforms gave to even the most innocent travellers. But then; these days... who is truly innocent? The slightest word out of place and you are just as likely to find yourself doing the Gestapo two-step in the "Dienstzentrale der Gestapo" offices at Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse 8... the notorious Gestapo "Hausgefängnis"… "house prison." Such is the paralysing fear that grips the hearts of even the most patriotic Germans at something as trivial as an unconscious stare from some passing uniformed Nazi on the streets.

 
Anhalter Bahnhof on Askanischer Platz, Berlin.

Out of the clouds of wreathing steam came a slender figure on tapping high heels. She would be about twenty-five; a tall, blonde, blue-eyed Aryan. She wore an expensive grey, two-piece suit and a jaunty little hat complimenting her pale blonde hair, swept back into a severe chignon that emphasised her high Saxon cheekbones. She carried an old, and battered, but expensive leather "Würzl" suitcase. As she walked down the platform, the two SDs stepped out into the light. The other hurrying travellers glanced sideways at her. Poor cow!... she's had it. But then... the great arched, glass roof of the Anhalter Bahnhof echoed as the two SDs snapped to attention, and crashed their heel-irons together in the regulation manner.
Heads swivelled around as the scurrying travellers gaped over their shoulders. She stood before the two SDs as their right arms shot out in the theatrical Hitlergruss. As she turned, the platform lights glittered on "Das Goldene Ehrenzeichen der NSDAP"… the Golden Honour Badge... a round badge consisting of black, white, and red cloisonné enamel enclosed within a golden oak-leaf wreath. The wreath encircled the words: "National-Sozialistische-D.A.P." around the circumference of the enamel, with a swastika in the centre... that was pinned to her left lapel.
 
Das Goldene Ehrenzeichen der NSDAP.

She returned the salute by merely raising her forearm and hand from the elbow... just as the Führer did at the Party Rallies. So, she must be important... otherwise, such a slovenly salute would be seen as insulting, if dared to be done by anyone else; and would have brought a swift, and harsh retribution.The two SDs didn't even flicker. The taller of the two snapped out,

'Heil Hitler! Fräulein Doktor von Seringen? Welcome to Berlin. We have a car waiting.'

One of the SDs took her suitcase, as the other escorted her down the platform towards the ticket barrier. The crush of passengers miraculously parted; and the bustle and clamour diminished. The old ticket collector held out his hand for her ticket, but was brushed aside. He looked at the ominous black uniforms and wondered what he should do. His task was to check tickets and no exceptions; but, this... if he dared to challenge them, he might well end up doing five years in KL Konzentrationslager Dachau for insulting the SS. He chose that prudence was definitely the better part of valour and waved them through.
In the bustling great, outer atrium of the station, there was suddenly, complete silence, save for the soft hiss of steam from the locomotives, and a faint hum of traffic out on Stresemannstrasse. As the party crossed the echoing marble floor to the sweeping staircases that led to the main entrance of the Anhalter Bahnhof, the only sounds to break this fearful stillness were the clacking tread of two pairs of glittering, hob-nailed jackboots playing counterpoint to the elegant tip tapping of her high heels.