Early in his career, David R. Gillham was trained as a screen writer at University of Southern California, and then moved irrevocably into fiction. After relocating to New York City, he spent over a decade in the book business, and now lives with his family in Western Massachusetts.
Gillhams writing reflects his lifelong love of history. My connection to history has always been palpable, especially to certain times and places. When I write about a place like Berlin in the 1940?s, I feel like I am walking around its streets. I feel at home there, at least in my head. I think Im especially drawn to dark periods of the past, when people were forced to make choices about whether or not they would live their lives in fear. And in particular, I write about women in the past. We have all read about how men go to war, for instance, but what about the experience of women? What wars have they fought on a daily basis? That is what lead me to begin City of Women with the character of Sigrid an ordinary woman forced to make an extraordinary choice and then not only live with the dangerous consequences, but also rise above them.
David Gillham's website
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Watch, Listen, Eat
David R. Gillham explains how he went about setting the scene in his novel City of Women
One way I tried to build the atmosphere of Sigrid's Berlin was by introducing wartime movies, music, and food into the narrative. Of course, when Sigrid attends the cinema, it is not really to watch a movie. She's looking for a small space of privacy, which is why she favors war movies. These didn't do very well at the box office in Berlin; the audiences for them were usually sparse. The average Berliner was less interested in seeing propaganda films such as Soldiers of Tomorrow than Heinz Rühmann in escapist fare such as The Gas Man, or Gustaf Gründgens in a lavish eighteenth-century costume drama. For more recent movies that capture either the essence of Berlin or the stunning contradictions of the war years, I'd recommend Cabaret and Europa, Europa.
You can still find a lot of popular music from the time period. In the book, Sigrid's mother-in-law is listening to Lale Andersen singing on the radio. Andersen's number-one wartime success was the ubiquitous "Lili Marleen" - a song that created such a stir that even British forces fighting in North Africa adopted it as one of their ...
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