By Andrew Long
My interest in the Cold War began back in 1986 when I visited West Berlin on, of all things, an orchestra tour. We were playing a series of concerts in the city and on a day off we made the trip through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. We’d already been warned not to muck about as we crossed the border and that was reinforced when a sub-machine gun toting border guard made their way along the aisle of our coach, carefully checking everyone’s passport. Despite having an official guide showing us all the ‘good’ bits, it was clear to all that the East was very different to the West.
Roll on 30 years and having finally escaped from a career in marketing, I began researching the Cold War as a hobby. If my parents’ generation had been influenced by the Second World War, my generation’s collective consciousness had been formed by the Cold War, and I realised that I had some big gaps in my understanding of that key conflict. Some months into my research, I began to notice that one city was being mentioned more than any other, and that city was Berlin. I was obviously aware of the Berlin Wall but didn’t really understand how it came about and how it famously came down in November 1989, only three years after my orchestral tour.
With all roads seemingly leading to Berlin, I figured that building a timeline would be a good place to start. I hasten to add that I’ve no academic training in history, and actually gave the subject up at the age of 14, so I was literally learning on the go. Over time, scholarly articles and reference books showed me the methodology I needed to adopt, my timeline alerted me to many events, organisations, personalities that needed further investigation, and the project snowballed from there. In terms of source material, my own bookshelves are groaning under the weight of hundreds of books on the Cold War, supplemented by more from my local library which kindly purchased many obscure titles for me. Living in the far south west of the United Kingdom, I’m not able to travel up to London very easily, and not being associated with a particular academic institution, you have to get very creative with finding good material. Thankfully you can access some academic journals online and it’s possible to access a lot of fascinating original documents on-line, if you know where to look. Certainly, the Americans are very good at digitising primary source material, an area in which the UK lags far behind.
After a while, various themes began to appear in my research, and I began to consider whether they could be structured into a book. Using some of my old skills, I researched possible publishers and put my thoughts down in the form of a pitch. I had used LinkedIn a lot, a sort of professional social network, in the past and used it to seek out and ‘cyber-stalk’ publishers, editorial directors and commissioning editors in half a dozen or so target organisations.
And that’s how I came to be sitting in my favourite café on a cold and miserable Friday afternoon in November 2019, messaging my target list on LinkedIn. Tom Cooper from Helion, who would become my editor, responded positively and with a lot of his help and advice, my proposal was forwarded to Duncan Rogers, Helion’s owner, and by Christmas I had my first publishing contract.
I am very grateful to Tom, who invested a lot of time introducing me to the strange world of publishing and helping shape and sell my proposal to Duncan. I began with the idea of a single volume covering Berlin’s role in the Cold War, but Tom steered me to Helion’s @War series, which tackle important areas of military history, but in smaller ‘bite-size’ pieces, and my Berlin story went from what would have been a huge, over ambitious and prohibitively expensive project into five smaller and more manageable books.
- Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 1, The Birth of the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift, 1945-1950
- Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 2, Scar across a city – the Berlin Wall, 1950-1961
- Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 3, Cold War Battlefield, NATO vs The Warsaw Pact 1945-1990
- Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 4, The Decline and Fall of the Wall and the Soviet Union, 1985 to 1990
- Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 5, In the Shadow of the Wall, the East German Police State, 1946-1990
The @War series, and in particular the Europe@War series, which is relevant to my work, is the ideal format for a new author. The dreaded blank sheet of paper is replaced by a well proven and successful formula, which helps structure your thoughts.
Firstly, the series demands academic standard research and quality writing, which is presented in a very accessible format. The A4 page size means that photos, maps, charts and tables can be large for maximum clarity and impact. Helion encourage lots of images, which may scare some authors, but I was pleased that I could support the narrative with numerous visual cues in line with the text. The @War books have black and white images throughout, plus a colour section which follows a common format: colour profiles showing aircraft or vehicles relevant to the text, colour illustrations showing military uniforms and lovely big colour maps. The books are also printed on glossy paper, which improves the resolution of the images – particularly useful when your images are 70+ years old and often in poor condition. That said, searching for suitable images was probably the hardest part of the process as many libraries hide behind very expensive paywalls.
With help from Tom and latterly Andy Miles from Helion, plus a talented group of artists, cartographers and researchers, Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 1 made its way to market, launching in March 2021, some fifteen months after that wet Friday afternoon in the café. It’s been a fascinating journey and the skills and techniques I picked up en route will hopefully make writing Volume 2 and future publications much easier for me, and the great team at Helion.
Cold War Berlin: An Island City Volume 1: The Birth of the Cold War and the Berlin Airlift, 1945-1950 is available to buy here.