Thursday, 8 April 2010

Character Spotlight ~ Robert Elmer's Steffen & Hanne

Steffen & Hanne

Well know for both adult and kids' fiction (even a series set in Australia!) Robert Elmer's latest foray into adult fiction draws on his heritage and the ravages of war. The story behind these characters is fascinating and I'm sure the book will be, too!


Brief physical description


Rather angular features, with dark, wild hair. Sparkly blue Scandinavian eyes. Contrary to popular belief, not all Danes are blond.


Lovely and raven-haired, with hazel eyes. Her family is Jewish, and she's a little less fair-skinned than some. Her fellow nurse friend Ann-Grete calls her a "bulldog," which describes her personality well (but not her appearance).

Actor/famous person

Okay, this is pretty obscure, but I modelled Steffen on a well-known Danish pastor who spoke out against the German occupation, Kaj (pronounced "kai" as in "eye" with a "k") Munk.

And here's a Danish nurse image from the Royal Danish archives. I imagined her looking something like this, from a wartime I.D. card:

Strengths and weaknesses

Steffen is a bit of a slow starter, but dependable as anything once he figures things out, and loyal to a fault. He's laid-back and values safety, cautious. And at the beginning of the story could be considered a bit complacent.

Hanne is quick on her feet, compassionate and selfless. She usually thinks of others before herself, and is an excellent nurse. She can also be brash and over-dramatic at times.

Quirks (if any)

Steffen is partial to that unique salty black "salmiak" licorice, but in Denmark that's not considered quirky. He's a former Olympic-class rower, and took fourth place in the 1928 Olympic trials. He missed making the Danish team that year by just a half second. A bachelor into his thirties.

I wouldn't call Hanne quirky, exactly. But if she had to write down a "Little-known fact about me" for a party game, she might list that her favorite musician is Artie Shaw and his big band.

Your inspiration for the character

I wanted to have them both very dedicated and focused in their own ways. For Steffen, the inspiration was that courageous wartime Danish pastor, Kaj Munk. But to give him more depth I made Steffen way more hesitant to embrace the Resistance movement, and much less bold.

For Hanne, I gave her many of the opposite qualities as compared to Steffen. As an example I found photos of Danish nurses with their distinctive uniforms and hats.

For both of the characters I drew from actual testimonies of regular Danes during the war. Then as now Danes are normally very self-effacing, with an innate sense of underdog justice, a dry sense of humor, and a penchant for good food.

Background to the story

This novel finds its roots in stories my Danish parents told me as I was growing up, fantastic stories of what it was like to live in Denmark under German occupation. My uncle secretly worked for the Danish Underground, slipping out after dark. I was named after my father's uncle, who was shot by Nazis while riding his bicycle down a Copenhagen street. My father's Danish friend, Mr. Nielsen, drove a clandestine ambulance on missions for the Resistance.

So I was always awed by the courage and resolve of the Danish people during the war, and in the early 1990s was inspired to write my first series for young readers, called "The Young Underground." The series turned into eight books.

It didn't stop there, however. I knew that if I ever had a chance to write for an older audience, I would write about those war years in Denmark--particularly about how Danish Jews were rescued. And although Wildflowers of Terezin didn't turn out to be the first book I wrote for adults, this book about a Danish crisis of courage comes straight from my heart. It reveals my roots as best as I can weave them into a historical novel that I hope touches the hearts of readers.

Thanks Bob for sharing the heart of this story ~ appreciate it!

Come back Monday for a spotlight on Irene Hannon's Nick Bradley & Rachel Sutton from her just released final Heroes of Quantico series, In Harm's Way

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