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The International Writers Magazine: Researching the Novel
SCILINGO - MASS MURDERER
James Skinner on researching
assume that most of you out there have never heard of this man.
Neither had I until I read recently about his crimes and his subsequent
conviction. He is just another one of my characters. OK, I guess
I ought to go back to the beginning. It all started as a short
story. It then developed into a motion picture script, and is
now about to be completed as a full blown future best seller.
Im talking about my book of course, The Goa file.
The Argentine Government,
in April of 1982 invaded the Falkland Islands, a British colony in the
South Atlantic. Hundreds of books, both fiction and fact have been written
about the event. The Battle for the Falklands, a joint account
written by Simon Jenkins, a former editor of the Evening Standard and
Max Hastings, world renowned and scarred war correspondent, is probably
the best documentary that describes the background that lead up to the
event, and the facts on the war itself. I had been toying for years
of writing a fictional account about the conflict but using a different
angle. I had to somehow involve the Anglo-Argentine community who suffered
for months as both Argentine and British forces battled for the islands.
I created Colonel David Jones, an Argentine army officer, descendent
from the Patagonian Welsh who finds himself, literally in the wrong
place at the wrong time. This was my original attempt at becoming a
novelist. I then went to Falmouth College of Arts to study professional
writing, met up with Hackwriters editor, Sam North and the rest is academic
history. Anyway, back to the essay.
My short story was relatively simple. The Argentine military dictatorship
is plotting to invade the Falklands. This guy Jones is in a senior position
in the Presidency but gets caught up in a sub-plot to blow the lid on
the scheme by a bunch of Anglo-Argentine quasi-terrorists. He is eventually
caught out and has to run for it across the river to neighbouring Uruguay.
Irrespective of the known historical conclusion, my second attempt,
the script, fell flat on its face. I had submitted it to various agents
and one was kind enough to write back with: Good story, dull character.
Try a book version.
Despite my tutor giving me a pass as it was part of the
Falmouth college diploma course, I chucked it in the bin.
Months went by and although I did nothing about it, I was determined
to write a story about one of the most stupid wars of the XX century.
It continued to fascinate me. The thought kept coming back to that last
statement from the agent, try a book version. This time
I was not going to screw it up, so I began to really investigate the
facts about the war and the events that lead up to the original invasion.
That is when I realised that I had embarked on what all writers know
is essential in a project like this. I started to do serious research.
Before I realised it, I was navigating for hours on the Internet, purchasing
more books on the contemporary history of Argentina, rummaging through
the myriad of stuff out of my own closet such as various weird and bizarre
booklets, old travel brochures, maps and economic reviews of the time
period. I even suggested to my wife that we take a short
trip back to Buenos Aires to check on the minute details for my book.
I had to stop there. Falmouth was enough, she said.
Im probably preaching to the converted if any of you are real
writers, but let me give you a few example questions on my list.
Where was the British Embassy located in Buenos Aires twenty years ago?
How long did it take on a train journey from Buenos Aires to Cordoba
What was the exchange rate of the US$ to the Argentine peso in 1968?
Was the Argentine Air force still using DC3 aircraft
in the early nineteen seventies?
These are the incidentals. How about the bigger issues?
Who was the head of the CIA in 1979?
When did Jimmy Carter become President of the USA?
Where was the School of the Americas, the infamous US military training
centre in Panama, actually located?
After a while, however, I began to realise that my research was actually
running the story line. The deeper I delved into the history of Argentina
in the latter part of the last century; I was creating and building
my characters. It suddenly occurred to me that the Falklands war itself
was just the climax. What was going on in the country dating back to
the mid-nineteen forties was the real important issue. I was subconsciously
altering the main theme and although my Colonel David Jones continued
to appear, at least during the first three quarters of the book,
as a naïve twit. The real plot began to centre on the whole of
the dirty war. Thus a new character was born known as Commander
Fernandez, a ruthless yet clever military secret service agent.
Lets return to the results of my research.
Pieced together are all the historical events that occurred in the whole
of the continent dating back to the mid-fifties, coupled with the tremendous
influence of big brother up north. This is what really constitutes
the backbone of the plot. Ever since Fidel Castro took over in Cuba,
and his Lieutenant Che Guevara embarked on a campaign to
spread communism throughout the continent in the early sixties, the
CIA and the Pentagon continually waged war against any type of subversion
that smelt of Marxism. Thus the Generals in practically every corner
of Latin America, trained by the US military, began a so called cleansing
campaign that stretched from the cacti on the Texan border down to the
penguins in Tierra del Fuego.
I had no idea of the filth and human carnage that took place, in the
name of democracy and freedom, to purge out the reds of
the American continent. Apart from Jimmy Carter, every other US president
from Kennedy to Reagan was on the bandwagon, although they were not
entirely aware of the details of the atrocities that were being committed.
The worst crimes took place in an area known as the Southern Cone that
comprised Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.
So who was Scilingo?
This guy was a junior officer in the Argentine Navy who, between 1976
and 1983, used to bump off young innocent men and women who did not
conform to the so called Christian ethics imposed by the
military junta at the time. He would accompany groups of them, drugged
and stripped naked, on a plane journey out to sea. Once over the ocean
he would just throw them out. Adolfo Scilingo is the latest member of
original murderous lot to be convicted by the Spanish courts with a
640 year jail sentence for his crimes.
© James Skinner. 2005-7
Read an extract of James Skinner's
Goa File Author: James G. Skinner
(pp: 395) ISBN: 978-81-8253-079-9
Availability: In Stock (Ships within 1 to 2 days)
Publisher: Cyberwit.net, Allahabad, India
Pub. Date: Jan 2007
James G. Skinner, as he is know to his friends in Vigo, Spain was
born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a retired telecommunications
expert who has travelled the world over having worked for some of
the greatest of todayıs conglomerates such as Cable & Wireless,
US Sprint and British Telecom. Having lived in many different and
disparate countries spread across several continents, his knowledge
of and experience with people from different ethnic groups and social
backgrounds is second to none. He is a regular writer in Spanish
in the local papers of Galicia and is currently the Honorary British
Consul in the region. (read more)
James Skinner is
a journalist and commentator on contemporary Spanish affairs.
about book Research: When to stop reading and start your novel
A profile of three novels and the research behind them
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