Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Reference Library Writer’s Room’

Digging up the facts on history

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m at the Toronto Reference Library where the British military historian, Antony Beevor, is being quizzed by Ian Brown of the Globe and Mail in a “Writer’s Room” special event.

These meetings are part of a new outreach program by the Toronto Public Library. A couple of hundred people are enjoying the new Bram and Bluma Appel Salon, financed in part by a $3 million dollar contribution from these generous donors.

Miracle of miracles — you could buy a glass of wine at this event. I never thought I’d be able to get a drink in a Canadian library!

Beevor is the author of 13 books, both novels and works of non-fiction. His latest, D-Day: The Battle for Normandy, is threatening to outsell his Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege. In total, his sales are nudging the 4-million mark.

Who said people don’t care about history?

You can see Beevor discussing his Normandy book on You Tube:

I always look for writerly advice on occasions like this. Beevor had lots of it. A couple:

  1. Never, never,never start writing until you’ve done your research. “Spend three months on your first sentence.”
  2. Writing is a lonely life. If you’ve got a spouse who can be your “first editor” (he does) you’re lucky.

Beevor had some hilarious stories about cracking the Russian military archives, which sadly are now closed to outside researchers. The most reliable source of information about the battle of Stalingrad, according to Beevor, was the nightly reports flown out by plane for the personal edification of Joseph Stalin. Beevor found they recorded in intimate detail the day’s heroic (and traitorious) events.

On the German side, according to Beevor, were reports written by doctors and priests attending the soldiers. When he mentioned this to the Russian archivist, he was reminded, “There were no priests in the Soviet Army.”

Beevor told him, “I know, but you had political commissars.”

There’s one book on Beevor’s list I’ll be especially interested in reading: Paris After the Liberation, 1944-49. Those years must have set the tone for everything that’s happened in France since. Beevor reminded us that more French died from Allied bombing that did Brits from Luftwaffe assaults. That single fact, he says, helps account for the tension that has since characterized French-American relations.

Among the dozen people who lined up to ask Prof. Beevor a question (all men) was Brian Stewart, the CBC commentator. I was impressed that he’d get in line with the rest of us, and I told him so when we chatted for a few moments afterwards.

Stewart is off staff at the CBC now, but you’ll be seeing him frequently in ad hoc appearances.

For more information on the TRL Writer’s Room program, go here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 32 other followers