Picture the scene; the night skies over Britain, 1942. An RAF Mosquito night fighter stalks an unsuspecting Luftwaffe bomber, closing in before destroying the German aircraft with cannon and machine gun fire, sending it spiralling down in flames. It’s a scene that was played out hundreds of times, but this time is different. The Mosquito doesn’t have any radar. It doesn’t need any, because its pilot can see in the dark. Welcome to the world of Robert Lassen’s Wrathful Skies, where the Luftwaffe faces a new enemy – RAF vampires. Wycombe World speaks to the author, Flight Lieutenant Rob Smith, about blending wartime fact with fiction.
WW: So straight away we have to ask – why the pseudonym?RL: Have you ever tried Googling “Rob Smith”? You get something like 175 million hits!
WW: But why Robert Lassen?
RL: I was going to name a character in my next book in honour of Major Anders Lassen, who died winning the VC in Italy in 1945. If Hollywood created a character based on his true-life exploits, people wouldn’t be able to take it seriously – he did some incredible things. Once I made the decision to use a pseudonym, I decided that I’d take the Lassen name myself. It’s a tribute, really. It’s also a lot more distinctive, which is nice.
WW: Vampires in the RAF – it’s an unusual concept. How do you go about blending vampires with historical air combat?
RL: The trick was to make it believable, as if this could really have happened and the truth buried in a vault somewhere in Whitehall. I tried to make the vampires as scientifically credible as possible – they are men with a genetic condition, not supernatural creatures. The idea is that their condition, which has existed for millennia, inspired all the future myths of vampires – but all the myths are embellished. ‘Real’ vampires don’t have sharp teeth, for instance, and they certainly don’t sparkle. Twilight has a lot to answer for…
WW: You’ve been in the RAF eleven years now. Weren’t you tempted to write this story in a modern setting?
RL: I may write a modern war novel one day – I hope to write dozens of novels by the time I’m done – but this was a particular story I wanted to tell. World War Two was the perfect time to set it – radar technology was in its infancy, the UK was living under a nightly blackout, and both sides were looking for anything that would give them an edge, however outrageous. What good would being able to see in the dark do a Typhoon pilot with NVGs and radar? Besides, has there ever been anything cooler than the Spitfire and Mosquito? There’s also a reason that so many books and films use the Nazis as the bad guys. Vampires versus Nazis – what’s not to like?
WW: The shadowy British Government organisation behind the vampires is K Department – do you think something like that could have really existed?
RL: Possibly. It’s not conspiracy theory stuff to think that the UK would have investigated all options. There’s plenty of historical data on interest in official interest in the occult, both within the UK and in Germany, such as the Thule Society and Dietrich Eckart. It’s not just WW2, either – after all, it’s only three years since the MOD closed its UFO desk. The sequel to Wrathful Skies revolves around ‘remote viewing’, which the CIA spent a ton of money researching during the Cold War before declassifying the programme.
WW: How historically accurate is Wrathful Skies, apart from the Vampires!
RL: I have had people ask me if it’s non-fiction – I just point to the word ‘vampire’ and that normally does the trick. But if you leave the vampires aside, everything else – the RAF and German aircraft, the Kammhuber Line, right down to things like Churchill’s ashtray and the timing of his meeting with the Canadian PM – is as accurate as I could make it. I also wanted to write a story that worked as a straight RAF fighter pilot novel, even if you glossed over the fact that several of them have a violent sunlight allergy.
WW: They probably came to the right place in England, then
RL: They wouldn’t have much fun on ops in the Middle East, true. They could probably work in the bunker like me – that would solve the daylight problem.
WW: Do you hope to be a full-time writer one day?
RL: One day, yes – but a little way down the line. It’s been a fantastic journey over the last few years, getting Wrathful Skies out there, writing for Sony, learning about the publishing industry, getting to know people in the business like Maxwell Alexander Drake and Larry Elmore. As well as WS and the Sony stuff, I have a bunch of other projects in the pipeline, including a whole series of K Department sequels. I’m also writing the memoirs of Sqn Ldr Ian Blair DFM, a Spitfire veteran who was the face of the “Careless Talk Could Cost His Life” poster campaign from 1942 – meeting with him to discuss his wartime life is always a humbling experience. Making my living as a novelist has been a dream since I was a kid. Right now, though, I’m very happy in the RAF – another fantastic journey – so the writing will stay a fun and interesting sideline for a few more years.
WW: If you can just persuade someone to make novel writing an official secondary duty, you’ll be laughing…
RL: I won’t lie to you – that would be awesome…
For more information, and to contact Rob, go to www.robertlassen.com