Interview with Robert P. Wells

The product description of "Overlord, Underhand" says your novel is "based on an amazing and inspiring true story". What do you mean by that?
"Overlord, Underhand" is based on the experiences and achievements of a real-life MI5 operative, a (mostly) unsung hero who became the most successful double agent of WWII. He was a civilian, not a military man, a Spanish national brought to London, and a pacifist. Yet he believed so fervently in opposing Nazi Germany that he worked with the British to plant calculated deceptions on the Nazi war machine from 1942 through the end of the war. What he and his MI5 case officer accomplished was amazing in that their campaigns of deception had a real effect and influenced the outcome of real events -- most importantly helping to ensure the success of the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Our spy is inspiring in that he had to overcome many obstacles by his wits alone in order to become a confidential agent for the Germans before being accepted as a double agent by MI5; and then he successfully met the challenge of keeping up the pretense for years, in the process becoming the most valued spy for both sides in the conflict.
So the extraordinary events related in "Overlord, Underhand" really happened?
For the most part, yes. The facts cited are true; and most of the characters on either side of the conflict, even those who are composite portraits and shaped to the dramatic needs of fiction, are based on real individuals. Once in England, our Spanish hero and his MI5 case officer build -- as my real-life models actually did -- a notional network of almost two dozen imaginary "agents" to feed the Germans plausible misinformation; and their small team plays a role in all the major Anglo-American invasions of German-occupied territory -- North Africa, Sicily, and most significantly, Normandy on D-Day. Truth IS stranger than fiction. The most frankly incredible events -- such as fooling even Hitler about the "real" D-Day landing, delaying the full V1 rocket campaign, and receiving both the Iron Cross and the MBE from both warring governments in 1944 for the same work -- really happened. Part of my happy task as a novelist has been to create the context and make plausible the circumstances in which these real events could understandably occur.
So if your war hero is a pacifist, what is his greatest weapon?
His intellect -- his wit and imagination, his righteous faith in democracy's cause, his unflagging resolve to help defeat totalitarianism, and his fervent desire to save lives. Also his credibility, which he builds and maintains carefully, for without this their whole facade would topple over. Because "Overlord, Underhand" is based closely on fact, we operate "behind the scenes" much of the time, working out ways to trick the Nazis and influence their behavior as events unfold. James Bond, he ain't -- whizzing around the world, blowing up bad guys with cool gadgets and bedding glamorous femmes fatale -- unfortunately the popular image of the international spy for the past fifty-odd years. I hope readers will find it as refreshing as I did to discover how it was really done, and live day-to-day with real characters who didn't know how it would all turn out. But don't misunderstand: though much of his deception work with MI5 was done in a London office, in this battle of wits and wills there are still plenty of surprising plot twists, action, intrigue, humor, suspense, real danger, and sex and romance in this true-to-life tale of outwitting a cunning enemy when the stakes for free people everywhere couldn't have been higher.
Your war novel is also described as an "epic." What are the challenges of working with so big a canvas?
"Overlord, Underhand" is an epic in two senses: first, it's an epic story in that, over a period of eight war years (Spanish Civil War through 1944), it follows a number of characters, in different countries and multiple settings, who are engaged in actions that shape significant events of global consequence. Second, it's an "epic" as simply defined by eBook publishing mechanics: any novel over 100K words is considered an "epic." At 270K words, "Overlord, Underhand" is almost three times that long -- essentially three novels in one, which I hope readers will regard as a bargain, a bonus. But although "big" in every sense, "Overlord, Underhand" reads quickly. It's in four parts.The first part is "the making of a spy," our hero's misadventures during the Spanish Civil War, sufferings which determine his active anti-Nazi fate. The second and third parts, which introduce many of the main characters, center on our hero building his imaginary spy network from London, building his reputation for reliability, and cementing his position as Nazi Germany's chief spy in England; and the final part focuses on D-Day and its aftermath. It's huge, I know. But every time I thought of taking short-cuts, the narrative suffered, and the reader lost information essential to understanding the outcome. It's definitely worth the journey.
If many of the main characters aren't introduced until the hero gets to London, is the "look inside" sample of the book a fair way to judge the whole novel?
Unfortunately, no. I tried to offer my own "sampler," half a dozen chapters that offered a better feel for "Overlord, Underhand" as a whole. But online retailers of eBooks really aren't set up for that just now. Their systems automatically offer up the first 20% of a book's contents as a sample for interested readers. And, to be fair, that's often a good enough indicator. But in this case, the novel's so "epic" that the reader dipping into the first fifth of the book doesn't see the hero past the Spanish Civil War and the experiences that motivate him to join MI5. The early focus is on his difficult, not to say bizarre, quest to become a double agent. We don't even get our hero to London by then, where the main events take place. So a slice like that from the opening really doesn't give readers a strong sense of the pleasure they'll get from the whole story.
It's common practice today to produce "off-shoot" stories derived from the original novel. Any plans there?
Yes. Unbelievable as it may seem, despite the epic length of "Overlord, Underhand" there was still significant material that had to be left out. For instance, our Spanish hero falls in love with an English colleague, a WRNS officer with a troubled past. Her back story, a "prequel" involving her misadventures with the Nazis during the defeat of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940, is the subject of a shorter novel, "Judith in Hell." I expect to publish this novel in the spring of 2014. And there is the Cold War follow-on story of our Spanish hero, as yet untitled, which pits him against Soviet agents this time. So you're right, there is more to this story, as well as other projects banked up in the queue.
Althought there is still a lot of reader interest in WWII, isn't writing historical fiction something of a risk these days?
Yes and no -- but I think mostly yes. With a forward-looking pop culture, emphasizing advancing technology, comes a sense that the past is less relevant. We aren't as interested in our history any more, nor do we take the long view, at least here in the US. When magazines or TV specials review "The Greatest Hits of All Time," whether it be music or films or TV shows, etc, "all time" tends to mean stretching back no more than fifteen or twenty years, highlighting whatever the current generation might recognize. Many film entertainments based on historical themes have been excellent, but haven't done well at the box office or drawn big TV ratings; and as a result, fewer of them are being made. Caught up in this general decline, historical novels seem to be at some risk too. But, as you say, there is a strong group of readers still interested in WWII. And we are coming up to the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014, so I hope readers will find "Overlord, Underhand" intriguing, especially as it covers familiar ground from a unique "behind-the-scenes" perspective, and is based in part on materials that were still classified by the Official Secrets Act until recently. So I'm confident readers will be rewarded with new wine in old bottles.
Your publishing house is called "Auld Makar Publications". What's the story there?
Auld Makar Publications is a wee, independent publisher of handmade entertainments for the digital age, taking advantage of the opportunities supported by eBook publishing and online global retailing. It's more a "publishing cottage" than a "publishing house" -- part of the true cottage industry that is independent publishing today. With millions of businesses online now and yet with only a finite number of URLs available, it's hard to find a ".com" name that hasn't been taken. "Auld Makar" was available. It is Middle Scots for "old poet." The Scots, in turn, got the concept from the ancient Greeks, whose word for "poet" meant "maker" or "creator." Once upon a time, I studied Middle Scots poetry at the University of Edinburgh, so I was aware of the definition. During that same half-decade, I also enjoyed a brief but spirited career as a poet in the UK, out of which came "Journeyman: Selected Poems," also available as an eBook through Smashwords and other digital book retailers. So, with all due deference to self-deprecation, I am that "old maker" of Auld Makar Publications. And now you know.
So you're a fan of today's independent digital book publishing phenomenon?
Definitely. The journalist A.J. Liebling once observed: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." Now, thanks to the Internet, all of us have access. Digital publishing has literally opened up the world to thousands of independent authors who might not otherwise have had a chance to find a market for their work. In this country, the Big Seven publishers have proved to be a very narrow "eye of the needle" through which authors could get published, and enjoy an organized marketing push, get reviews and recognition for awards, and so on. Those artificial barriers have been pushed wide open through eBook retailing online; and no trees need die for every publishing experiment. Of course, the flood of new titles emerging every day does mean it's hard for authors to get proper attention. There's a lot of noise out there, making it tough to build your "brand.". That means authors also have to be their own marketing organization, finding and cultivating readers interested in their genres, their products -- a challenge, despite that collateral boon of the Internet, social media tools. I am quite conscious that time spent marketing my work is time taken from finishing the next project. But I am also conscious that many traditional publishing houses are putting more of the burden on their own authors to market themselves; so the advantages of the old system have faded there too. In many ways, you might as well do it yourself. I think the good brought to independent publishing through digital media most definitely outweighs the burdens imposed.
You're rather old to be a first-time novelist, aren't you?
Perhaps. [Laughs.] But I'm not new to writing, not at all. I wrote some short stories and poetry as a teenager as well as at university; and, way back when, I wrote a script for an old television show that almost got me a Hollywood agent -- until they found out I was only fifteen. I've spent years in academe, and many years in the commercial world of non-fiction book and magazine publishing; and as an editor and contributor to my own and other publications I wrote constantly -- but for commercial or scholarly purposes, of course. Now, semi-retired, I get to write what I want, stories that fascinate and mean something to me, stories I trust will entertain others. The freedom, and the challenges, are exhilarating. And, having honed my writing skills over a long, long period, I feel like my "instrument" is ready, as the saying goes. So creative writing has become the best job I've ever had. I love going to work every day. And I do mean every day. The boss is a slave-driver, admittedly; but I understand him, and we get along pretty well.
Published 2013-12-17.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Veteran's Day
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 13,770. Language: English. Published: October 2, 2016. Categories: Plays » American / African American
A Dark Comedy in One Act, based on a true story. Set in Southern California just after the fall of Saigon, three ex-Marines, now butchers working at an Alpha Beta Supermarket, are on strike, manning the graveyard shift picket line. As they talk while playing poker, comic confessions and darker secrets emerge. And these aren’t the only surprises that happen in the dead of night.
Three True Tales
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 45,200. Language: English. Published: August 16, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Historical » USA
A short stack of long short stories, three character studies set in Southern California in the late 1960s/early 1970s, men at work telling each other stories from their lives – whether funny, poignant, or dark secrets – lives that are about to change. All tales are based on true stories, fictional accounts of actual events, and that includes the tales inside the stories the men tell one another.
Judith in Hell - WRNS Officer Judith Burroughs, P.O.W.
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 148,910. Language: English. Published: November 23, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Women's fiction » General, Fiction » Historical » United Kingdom
A novel of WWII: Set in the spring and summer of 1940, the Royal Navy’s Judith Burroughs, assigned as a Liaison Officer with the British Expeditionary Force on the Continent when Hitler’s blitzkrieg begins, is captured by the Nazis during the Allied retreat to Dunkirk. Her fight for survival and to get home is just beginning. Prequel to "Overlord, Underhand." Historical fiction/feminist fiction.
Journeyman: Selected Poems
Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 12,740. Language: English. Published: December 7, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Themes & motifs
"Journeyman: Selected Poems" is a poetry collection from author Robert P. Wells shaped on two ideas – travel experiences (including inner journeys), and the craft of poetry, a “new wine, old bottles” trial of many forms of poetry, from free verse to highly structured traditional forms, exploring many different themes. Out of print for years, Journeyman is newly recast in eBook form.
Overlord, Underhand
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 273,560. Language: English. Published: November 25, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage
(5.00 from 2 reviews)
Overlord / Underhand is an epic WWII novel filled with surprising twists and turns about espionage and counter-espionage, the gripping true-to-life story of the clandestine war of deception waged by British Intelligence against the Nazi war machine in a high-stakes battle of wits and wills that could make or break D-Day, led by the most unexpected spy the world has never known – until now!