I had a rough idea for a novel set during World War II rattling around in my brain for the past few months. I wasn’t really focusing on it as I was partway through another story already, a contemporary sci-fi novel. My work-in-progress seemed a bit stalled at the time, so it was rather a work-in-lack-of-progress until I could reconcile how to tie a few ends together in a way that wasn’t kitsch or stereotypical.
With the lack of progress on my sci-fi novel, I decided to put it to one side and start on the historical fiction story, with emphasis on fiction rather than historical accuracy. Yet I still hadn’t really found a context to base the story around.
However, a chance discussion with my twelve-year-old daughter on the way from school gave me the idea that I was searching for. She is currently into card tricks and magic in a big way and has collected various interesting decks of cards with her pocket money. As we were driving along, she asked me if she could read the information card that came with her latest deck.
As you can imagine, after having card tricks being done to you over and over and over, you tend to get a little sick of it after a while, so my first reaction was a snappy, “No, I’m really not as into cards as you are.” She was a little crestfallen and replied with a subdued “Ok,” which made me relent and told her “All right, you can read it to me.”
She then read me the story of the United States Playing Card Company, and how they had produced a very special deck of cards that could help prisoners of war escape from German POW camps, by having a map containing escape routes hidden inside the cards. By soaking the cards in water, the cards could be peeled apart, revealing a portion of the annotated map. The deck of cards that she had was the Bicycle Escape Map Playing Cards commemorative deck, that had the map printed on the faces of the cards.
Boy, did I have to eat my words about not being interested in decks of cards then! As soon as she read the story to me, I knew that I had found the context for my story, and I learned to be not quite so quick to dismiss it when my children say, “This is interesting!” When I told my daughters of my intention to use the Escape Map Deck in my next novel, they were both very enthusiastic and excited that they had helped contribute to my writing.
So my historical fiction story is finally coming to life. Note that while this story is set during WWII, I don’t pretend to make it entirely historically accurate about how the cards came into being. Given the secrecy around their existence during the war, it’s unlikely that too many people know the true story even now.
However, I am using them as part of fiction, and I hope that when done that this story honors those who conceived of, created, propagated and used the cards during the war, without claiming to accurately portray the sequence of events that occurred.
I am using a working title of “Escape on the Cards”, but I expect I will change it later on. I’m looking forward to writing this one as I have always had an interest in this era in our history.