Today, I’m delighted to welcome Alan Bardos to the blog with a post about the historical research he undertook to write The Assassins.
My main research process is to start by reading every book I can on the subject I’m writing about in order to get an overview of the period and an understanding of the events in the story. My aim is to write a work of fiction based on historical events so I try to remind myself that I’m not writing a textbook every so often. However, there is a lot of background information in The Assassins which was needed to put the events into context.
The first book I read on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was David James Smith’s, ‘One Morning in Sarajevo’, which proved to be a great place to start; providing a detailed introduction to the assassins, what motivated them and the volatile political situation in the Balkans at the time.
It also had an extensive bibliography that led me to Vadmire Dedijer’s, ‘The Road To Sarajevo’, which is the definitive books on the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. These two books were the foundation for my research. With other books providing more specialist information.
‘The Archduke and the Assassin’, by Lavender Cassels, is a particularly good biography of Gavrilo Princip and Franz Ferdinand and a gold mine of information about the Young Bosnia movement that produced the assassins and Austro-Hungarian intelligence’s failure to detect them; which is a major storyline in my novel. ‘Archduke of Sarajevo: The Romance & Tragedy of Franz Ferdinand of Austria’, by Gordon Brook-Shepherd, is specifically about Franz Ferdinand and Sophie’s relationship which formed the heart of the novel.
In terms of the events that led to the outbreak of the First World War: ‘Thirteen Days: The Road to the First World War’, by Clive Ponting, was my main book giving a day by day account of the diplomatic crises that led to the outbreak of the war, from the perspective of all the protagonists. There were other books that helped add detail, but these were my principal go to books in writing The Assassins.
Once I have a clear idea of a story I like to try and find first hand accounts. In my most recent books I’ve gone to the reading room of the Imperial War Museum and the National Archive. Unfortunately I did not have access to these type of resource when writing The Assassins, but the wealth of books on the subject do provide excerpts from primary sources. For example ‘The Road To Sarajevo’, gave extensive firsthand accounts. Including parts of Gavrilo Princip’s interview with the Police after carrying out the assassination.
The main problem I had when researching The Assassins was that some of the books often contradicted each other and repeated mistakes. So my mantra was, when in doubt do what was best for the story.
This was particularly prevalent when trying to work out where the Assassins were standing when they made their first attempt on Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. This is largely because the assassins themselves gave varying accounts and changed positions.
Once I have a clear idea of the story and where it is set I carry out research trips, to get a flavour of places and to pick up details you could never get from a book.
The centre piece of my research was a trip to Sarajevo, which helped me get a feel for the city and imagine how it would have felt in 1914. It was very humbling to stand in the place where Princip would have stood when he assassinated Franz Ferdinand and Sophie. The main thing that the trip brought home was how close everything was to each other. The boarding house where Princip lived is about 5 minutes walk from the corner where he assassinated Franz Ferdinand and Sophie.
However many of the streets and buildings had changed in the cities turbulent history. So I had to make educated guesses as to where some of the buildings would have been by studying maps, old postcards and photographs of the time.
1. Graf & Stift car
The Museum of Military History in Vienna, was also a fascinating place to visit, it has the Graf & Stift car in which Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were in when they were shot, as part of an exhibit about the assassination. This includes three of the assassins’ guns, some of the bombs recovered after their arrest, the chaise longue Franz Ferdinand died on and his blood-stained uniform.
Artstetten Castle in Austria, where Sophie and Franz Ferdinand are buried, is an incredible place to see. It has a museum established by Sophie and Franz Ferdinand’s great-granddaughter and has the feel of walking through a family scrapbook. It has a very good display on the assassination, including the official programme of events for the Archduke’s visit to Sarajevo which was useful when putting together those chapters.
Sophie and Franz Ferdinand’s favourite country seat, Konopiste Castle, is also a beguiling place to visit with a tour of Sophie and Franz Ferdinand’s private apartments. It features a few artefacts from the assassination including the ermine stole and bodice that Sophie was wearing on the 28th June 1914 and the bullet that killed her.
These trips helped to give colour and perspective to the novel, as well as brining home the terrible family tragedy the assassination was, as well as a world shattering event.
Thank you so much for sharing your research. It sounds as though there was a huge amount of source material to wade through.
Here’s the blurb;
Tensions are reaching boiling point in Europe and the threat of war is imminent.
Johnny Swift, a young and brash diplomatic clerk employed by the British embassy is sent to infiltrate the ‘Young Bosnians’, a group of idealistic conspirators planning to murder Franz Ferdinand. The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in a bid to liberate their country from the monarchy’s grip.
Swift has been having an affair with his employer’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Smyth. Sir George Smyth dispatches the agent on the dangerous mission, believing that it will be the last he will see of his young rival.
The agent manages to infiltrate the Young Bosnian conspirators’ cell, helped by Lazlo Breitner, a Hungarian Civil Servant.
However, Swift soon realises that he may be in over his head. His gambling debts and taste for beautiful women prove the least of his problems as he struggles to survive on his wits in the increasingly complex – and perilous – world of politics and espionage.
Desperate to advance himself and with the lives of a royal couple unexpectedly in his hands, Swift tries to avert catastrophe.
Praise for The Assassins
‘A cracking read, highly recommended’ – Roger A Price
‘Written with polished panache, it kept me gripped from the first to last. Five stars from me!’ – A.A. Chaudhuri
‘Part historical fiction, part thriller and part love story, this is a compelling and entertaining read’ – Gary Haynes
This book is available to read for free with KindleUnlimited subscription.
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Meet the author
Alan Bardos is a graduate of the MA in TV Script Writing at De Montfort University, he also has a degree in Politics and History from Brunel University. Writing historical fiction combines the first great love of his life, making up stories, with the second, researching historical events and characters. Alan currently live in Oxfordshire with his wife… the other great love of his life.
Despite the amount of material that has been written about the twentieth century there is still a great deal of mystery and debate surrounding many of its events, which Alan explores in his historical fiction series using a certain amount of artistic license to fill in the gaps, while remaining historically accurate. The series will chronicle the first half of the twentieth century from the perspective of Johnny Swift, a disgraced and degenerate diplomat and soldier; starting with the pivotal event of the twentieth century, the Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in ‘The Assassins’.
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