THE CORONATION: An Interview with Justin Newland

Justin Newland
Justin Newland (Photo provided courtesy Justin Newland)

Russia hasn’t always been at odds with America. 260 years ago, the nation faced off with Prussia instead. Yet despite Russia’s immense power, a brave few were bold enough to stand up to them. In Justin Newland’s novel, The Coronation, you’ll encounter these unforgettable figures in a novel that blends history and philosophy in a truly unique literary experience. We hope you enjoy our interview with the author. —J&H

J&H: We frequently say that we love books which tell a story through a different lens and make us look at a situation in a way we may not have done before. In The Coronation, how do you examine the Great Enlightenment in a way that makes history fresh and interesting?

JN: Good question. Let me try and give my answer some context.

The Great Enlightenment was a ferment of intellectual ideas that occurred across Northern Europe in the 18th Century. It spawned advancements in the practice of medicine, mathematics, and physics; it led to the development of biological taxonomy and laid the foundations of modern chemistry. These were great achievements that brought the light of reason to the dark superstitions of Medieval times.

So, whatever happened to all this huge, purposeful advance in human affairs?

Why didn’t it continue and flourish into an enlightened modern world in which, for example, the scourges of war, disease, famine and crime were no more?

Why did it result in the Industrial Revolution and its outplay in modern technology?

These questions provided the framework with which I examined the Great Enlightenment.

J&H: When did you become interested in history and what was it about this period and place that intrigued you enough to write about it?

JN: I’ve always been an avid reader, not just of literature, but philosophy, as well as history. I’ve always wanted to understand why the world we live in is as it is. I found one way to do so is to examine the origins of our world by peering into the mirror of history.

J&H: While digging into your research for this book, did you get to travel to any exotic locations? If so, which were your favorites and why?

East Prussia
Map of East Prussia (Map provided courtesy Justin Newland)

JN: The novel is set in the defunct Baltic state of East Prussia, which is now the Russian province of Kaliningrad. In the 18th Century, its capital city was Konigsberg, which was home to the enlightened despot, King Frederick the Great, and the philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

In 2001 when I went there, it was a sad, gloomy place, which had suffered from a dearth of investment by its Soviet masters. A leaflet from the tourist agency said “It’s more fun than you think,” which betrayed a wicked sense of irony. Another time, travelling on a train in Kaliningrad, I was fined for having an oversize suitcase.

The compensations, though, were many – although the people were poor, they were spirited, and the landscape was rich in history.

The Samland Coast (Photo provided courtesy Justin Newland)

The highlight of the visit was the Samland Coast, where most of the world’s supply of amber is found. It’s the promontory that juts out to the west of Konigsberg in the map above.

You walk along the beach, and pick up these glistening pebbles of amber! It’s quite magical.

J&H: Tell us about Marion von Adler and Ian Fermor. What traits did you admire about them, and how did they challenge you?

JN: Marion von Adler was a pleasure to discover. Her character was based on a real-life German Countess, Marion von Donhoff.

She was brought up in a Junker family on the Friedrichstein estate in the early 20th Century. N.B. I changed the name of the estate in the novel for reasons of discretion.

I found her memoires, Before the Storm; Memories of My Youth in Old Prussia to be a rich trove of detail and a personal insight into a way of life that had hardly changed for centuries.

In my novel, the character’s faith and belief is tested to breaking point, and she … well, to tell would be a spoiler.

Countess Marion von Donhoff
Countess Marion von Donhoff
(Photo provided courtesy Justin Newland)

Ian Fermor was another fascinating character. For reasons that I can’t divulge (for fear of a spoiler), I needed to unearth a real historical connection between Russia, East Prussia and Scotland. And I found it in the real-life personage of General William Fermor, a Scottish immigrant who had settled in Russia. And he was also the Governor of Konigsberg when the Russians invaded it in the 1760’s, the time when my novel was set. His fictional relation, Ian Fermor, fought in the Russian army of occupation. The trait I admired about Ian Fermor was that he negotiated the seemingly-awkward transition from soldier to priest.

J&H: How would you categorize your writing? Do you consider it religious fiction? What types of readers do you think it will most appeal to?

JN: To frame my stories, I use the genre called a secret history thriller.

The ‘history’ bit is that I take real historical events and actual historical personages and examine them through a supernatural, spiritual lens – that’s the ‘secret’ bit. Then I add tension and intrigue – and that’s the ‘thriller’ bit.

Because my novels deal with what you might call higher entities or numinous beings, and look at the trace of human life as a deliberate and purposeful progression, then I guess this mix of ingredients could be seen as appealing to a religious readership.

My MC’s – my main characters – are often young men or women, in their teens or twenties, who are naturally exploring life and its meaning, which dove-tales well with the broad, encompassing themes that I explore.

In this sense, I would hope to appeal to readers both young and old, those looking for a thrilling, historically accurate story with a supernatural twist.

J&H: If Fermor could step off the page and chat with us today, how would he want us to remember him?

JN: In part, I based Ian Fermor on Colonel Nicholson, the main character of David Lean’s The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The character of Nicholson intrigued me, because at the finale, you don’t know what you think of him. That was the kind of ambiguous ending I wanted to configure for Ian Fermor, and to allow the reader to decide on the rights and wrongs of his actions.

Ian Fermor would want us remember him as a genuine person who tried his best to respond to a spiritual quest but was overtaken by force of circumstance.

J&H: The pandemic changed everyone’s lives over the past year. Did you learn anything about yourself during this time?

JN: The pandemic might have temporarily disrupted our daily routines, but there’s still a yellow sun, blue sky, four seasons, a lunar cycle, gravity and so on, meaning that these fundamentals haven’t changed, and nor have the profound questions that face us as individuals: Who am I? What am I? What are my values? What are my foundations? What do I want and why?

Apart from these considerations, I guess over the past year that I have developed the art of conversation and learned to be a little more patient.

J&H: What can readers look forward to next from you?

JN: I have a new novel coming out called The Abdication. This one is a light fantasy with supernatural and philosophical undertones. It’s a modern re-interpretation of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and their departure from the Garden of Eden.

Its primary theme is to explore the role of free will within the human condition. It features a young woman, Tula, who embarks on a spiritual journey of redemption and self-discovery.

Watch out for it, it’s due out in July, 2021.

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ABOUT THE CORONATION

Justin Newland's THE CORONATION
Matador

It is 1761. Prussia is at war with Russia and Austria. As the Russian army occupies East Prussia, King Frederick the Great and his men fight hard to win back their homeland.

In Ludwigshain, a Junker estate in East Prussia, Countess Marion von Adler celebrates an exceptional harvest. But this is soon requisitioned by Russian troops. When Marion tries to stop them, a Russian Captain strikes her. His Lieutenant, Ian Fermor, defends Marion’s honour, but is stabbed for his insubordination. Abandoned by the Russians, Fermor becomes a divisive figure on the estate.

Close to death, Fermor dreams of the Adler, a numinous eagle entity, whose territory extends across the lands of Northern Europe and which is mysteriously connected to the Enlightenment. What happens next will change the course of human history…

“The author is an excellent storyteller.” – British Fantasy Society

Justin Newland
Justin Newland

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Newland was born in Essex, England, three days before the end of 1953.

His love of literature began with swashbuckling sea stories, pirates and tales of adventure. Undeterred by the award of a Doctorate in Mathematics from Imperial College, London, he worked in I.T. and later ran a hotel.

His taste in literature is eclectic: from literary fiction and fantasy, to science fiction, with a special mention for the magical realists and the existentialists. Along the way, he was wooed by the muses of history, both ancient and modern, and then got happily lost in the labyrinths of mythology, religion and philosophy. Justin writes secret histories in which real events and historical personages are guided and motivated by numinous and supernatural forces.

His debut novel, The Genes of Isis, is a tale of love, destruction, and ephemeral power set under the skies of Ancient Egypt, and which tells the secret history of the human race, Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

His second is The Old Dragon’s Head, a historical fantasy and supernatural thriller set during the Ming Dynasty and played out in the shadows the Great Wall of China. It explores the secret history of the influences that shaped the beginnings of modern times.

Set during the Enlightenment, his third novel, The Coronation reveals the secret history of perhaps the single most important event of the modern world – The Industrial Revolution.

He lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills in Somerset, England.

To learn more, visit JustinNewland.com, like him on Facebook, and follow him on Goodreads.

THE CORONATION
By Justin Newland
299 pp. Matador. $17.87.

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Purchase The Coronation from one of these fine online retailers: Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Barnes & Noble.

The Coronation is brought to you in association with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

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About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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