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EDUCATION


Re-writing history


ate irana fi ns imleon rime author Philip Kerr turning his han to hilrens fi tion


© Joanna Bretts


In 1989 Philip Kerr introduced the world to Bernie Gunther, through his best-selling detective series. And now, the Wimbledon- based author of more than 30 books introduces the world to a prehistoric and endangered species called Przewalski’s horses. The new book, The Winter Horses, is set in 1941 in a wildlife reserve


in the Ukraine in deepest, darkest winter. It is a tale of survival, endurance and the sheer will of the human spirit to survive against the odds. The heroine, 14-year-old Kalinka, is the sole survivor of her village following a Nazi invasion. After witnessing the death of her entire family she walks hundreds of miles to escape and comes across the wildlife reserve, which is also occupied by Nazi soldiers sent to eliminate the remaining wild but wily Przewalski horses. The Jewish teenager befriends two of the wild horses. As they are hunted by the Nazis, Kalinka must guide the horses to safety to save the species. The book is written for children aged between about 11 and 15.


Having read the book, I met Philip in Wimbledon Village for coffee. He lives locally with his three teenage children and wife, Jane Thynne, who is also an author. These are quite dark themes in a book intended for children, I suggest. ‘It is important that children read books about real history and things that happened to real kids,’ Philip answers.


The Winter Horses, published on 1 January, is an intriguing tale of a little known prehistoric species that still remains endangered today. ‘I was really fascinated that these Przewalski horses are a living fossil. I love the connection with what we were like 20,000 years ago, as there is very little left.’


I was curious to know why Philip decided the main character should be female. ‘There is more of a bond between girls and horses,’ Philip replied. ‘She also seemed more vulnerable, being a girl rather than a boy.


62 . January 2015 . timeandleisure.co.uk


A lot of the time I write fairly masculine stories so it was nice to focus on a heroine. At the time I started writing this, my daughter was about 12 and I was hoping to write something that would appeal to her directly.’


Born and raised in Edinburgh, Philip read law at university and completed a postgraduate degree in German Law and Philosophy, which is when he first became interested in German history, and in particular, Nazism. ‘It got me interested in the philosophical background of Nazism. How it was that a nation became as anti-Semitic as the Germans and how they came to believe in the pre-eminent idea of Germanness. I’ve been interested in it for thirty years.’


He is a frequent visitor to Germany – and Berlin in particular, endlessly fascinated by its history. ‘It’s one of my favourite cities. Berlin has lots and lots of layers and not many people know that it also has the nicest white sand beach in Europe.’


The Bernie Gunther detective novel made Philip a New York Times bestselling author. In 2009, he won the British Crime Writers’ Association Ellis Peters Historical Fiction Award and Spain’s RBA International Prize for Crime writing for the Bernie Gunther series.


Philip is disciplined and motivated, writing most days from the study in his basement, deliberately avoiding large windows and scenic views as they are far too distracting. He is a prolific author, having just published January Window, the first book in a new series about a football manager who witnesses a murder at the club. ‘It is my holy grail to bring men back to reading,’ he states. He has also just finished another Bernie Gunther novel, which will be published in May.


As he heads off to a book signing in the city, he imparts one final reflective thought. ‘To be a writer, you need to be a reader. When I grew up in Edinburgh, we were poor, I read a lot. There was nothing else to do. I think reading is in danger. It’s under threat as there is so much competition.’ Too true. t&l


The Winter Horses Available 1 January 2015, Walker Books £6.99 paperback www.philipkerr.org


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