A ringside seat under the kitchen table

War makes an irresistible setting for fiction, as the never-ending flood of WWII novels and movies shows. Gulf War thrillers are almost a genre in their own right.

The Yom Kippur War has its novels – Herman Wouk and Tom Clancy both weave stories around it. But I wanted to do something different – my novel set during the Yom Kippur War Cairo Mon Amour, is set in Egypt – not Israel.

I felt especially well qualified to write this book: I was a student at Cairo University when the war broke out in October 1973, and I had a ringside seat – or sometimes a seat under the kitchen table when the air-raid sirens went off.

If you can’t remember the main points about this particular conflict, Egypt invaded Sinai to reclaim land lost to Israel in 1967, and Syria attacked the Golan Heights. The conequences of the war included the 1978 Camp David Accords and the final withdrawal of Israel from Sinai in 1982.

What compelled me to write this book was the extraordinary lengths that Egypt went to in concealing the date of the attack. How did President Sadat keep preparations for a massive ground and air attack secret? And how could I spin a story of espionage and romance around this?

Details have emerged in memoirs and works of research: Hospital wards in Cairo were emptied under the pretext of epidemics in anticipation of floods of wounded troops; a military sports carnival was scheduled for the day of the attack; false stories were planted about the attack date. When I did my research, I found so many events that I could dramatise: The sudden evacuation of Soviet families just days before the outbreak of war; the last ship to leave Alexandria, crowded with Americans desperate to get away.

I also wanted to write a very human story, so I created a handful of flawed characters who all have a personal stake in finding out – or concealing – the date when the attack will be launched. We have a Cairo private eye of mixed Armenian and Coptic background; his childhood sweetheart who is now a notorious actress; a Soviet diplomat with divided loyalties; and two British spies who happen to be former lovers.

I made a decision to stick closely to the historical record: The chapters in the first part of the book follow exactly the days just before and after the start of the war. When the Soviet diplomat Zlotnik, drunk in his flat, hears the rumble of the huge Soviet aircraft flying in armaments, it is real; I heard them on that very night myself.

And I tried to capture the day-to-day atmosphere in the streets of Cairo, when, as a British student taking Arabic courses at Cairo University, I found myself in the midst of a populace that swung between elation at the first flush of victory, and distress as  the wounded began to stagger home.

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An earlier version of the blog article appeared under the title  ‘The Middle East conflict that inspired Cairo Mon Amour’.

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Five-star advance reviews rolling in for Cairo Mon Amour

Read what my advance reviewers are saying about Cairo Mon Amour.

… a clever, fast paced thriller full of twists, turns and blind alleys. Campbell’s knowledge of the Egypt of the early 70’s allows him to take the reader right there, tasting the foods, inhaling the smells, seeing the sights and gaining an intimate insight into Egyptian life. – Sarah Bourne, Australia

… a brilliantly written work of “faction.” Cairo Mon Amour is a great read, and it was intriguing to learn about the goings on in Cairo in one of the most tumultuous periods in Middle Eastern history. – Peter Ralph, Australia

… brilliant in so many, many ways. As I read, there were times that I felt as though I was walking out on a narrow gangplank. I couldn’t breathe, then I gasped for breath. – Fran Guenette, Canada

… sharp and incisive prose … The book is a tour de force. I can’t wait for the promised sequel. – Kerry Donovan, France

Full versions of the reviews can be found at the Cairo Mon Amour Facebook page  here.

Cairo Mon Amour will be available at the end of June 2017.

A villainous brew

Stuart Campbell author

I ordered a cappuccino for my Mum on a recent visit to England, and she was presented with this baby’s potty of suds. It wasn’t unlike the coffee that Francis ordered in the following extract from An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity. The narrator is Thea.

megachhino

I pointed to a coffee shop and we went in. He ordered what looked to be a litre of coffee foam, a supermegaccino I think it was called. I had Earl Grey. I waited for him to speak.

“I never forgot you Thea.”

“Why did you pick on me all those years ago? You did target me, didn’t you? It wasn’t just random?”

“I did. I picked on you on purpose. I wanted what Jack had. What they owed me.”

“You wanted me as part of his chattels?”

“No, it wasn’t like that. First of all I just wanted a life like his, wife, children…

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Tram ride to evil

I just binge-watched Deutschland 83 and I’m pretty sure that some of it was filmed in the Stasi headquarters in Berlin. This is a little blog piece I wrote last year about that particular remnant of the Cold War.

Stuart Campbell author

tram2The M13 tram snakes its way from Warschauerstrasse station through the uninspiring suburb of Lichtenberg. There are no signs for the Stasi Museum when you get off at the town hall. We had to ask directions in a bakery, and had almost given up when I spotted the modest sign.

The headquarters of the Stasi secret police – now a museum – is in a dull office block at the back of a medical centre where old folks have their knees and hips fixed.

The interior of the museum seems fixed in time, expect that the spookiness is tempered by the almost apologetic air of the staff – are they volunteers, perhaps? There’s no fancy till or flash tickets. In the café, a kindly lady serves filter coffee and marble cake as if at a church craft market.

In the entrance is a Stasi prison van, a people mover containing tiny…

View original post 141 more words