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DULWICH AUTHOR SPINS THE BLITZ INTO GRIPPING FICTION

Dulwich resident and author James MacManus weaves the spirit, horror and love stories of London in the Blitz into gripping fiction with his new book, Sleep in Peace Tonight

Words by Victoria Purcell

From his home on Underhill Road, which grants him ‘panoramic views over the whole of London’, James MacManus – managing director of The Times Literary Supplement by day – created Sleep in Peace Tonight. One of the most prominent characters in this uplifting tale of romance during the chaos of The Blitz, is London itself.

‘For nine months from September 1940 to May 1941, social morals crumbled and people lived like there was no tomorrow,’ says James. ‘Lightning affairs in the blackout, love, lust and betrayal, all gave Londoners some solace in the dark nights while the city crumbled around them.’

Lightning affairs in the blackout, love, lust and betrayal, all gave Londoners some solace in the dark nights while the city crumbled around them

The book, which depicts love, high diplomacy and Britain’s struggle to survive that bitter winter, was born of James’ fascination with Harry Hopkins. Hopkins, one of President Franklin D Roosevelt’s closest advisers, was sent to Britain to asses the seriousness of war, since Churchill was appealing to America for help.

‘He’s completely unknown in this country,’ says James, ‘but when I was at university I had a teacher from Texas who said, “Harry Hopkins has fallen through a trapdoor in history, everyone has forgotten him, yet he did more than most to save us in that bleak year of 1941.” That’s always stayed with me.’

James, who meticulously researched the novel, found himself intrigued by what he was reading – the fact that, while Churchill always left behind wafts of cigar smoke and port, he didn’t drink that much (he was a sipper); and the extent of The Blitz.

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Sleep in Peace Tonight, by James MacManus

‘Fires were raging. Some 400,000 homes were destroyed and 40,000 people died in London alone. It’s astonishing what people went through. Yet industry kept turning and we survived. They could not bomb us into submission.’

And should writer’s block strike, James finds solace at ToastED on Lordship Lane: ‘I’ll go sit at the bar, have a glass of red wine and just chill for half an hour. I take a notebook with me because ideas float up, but I don’t have much problem with writer’s block. It’s almost the reverse problem!’

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