Unbroken Silence looks like a great fictional book from the cold war era. What can you tell us about it?
It is a fictional book, but it is based on numerous actual events from this era. I am not making any claims that this book is completely correct, but with a bit of imagination, you could choose to read it as a theory of what went down in the Baltic Sea in the early 1980s.
What inspired you when writing Unbroken Silence?
I have had the idea of using this already exciting story as a basis for a novel since I left the submarine service in Sweden in 1998. As if the simple facts about what happened in the Baltic Sea in the 1980s are not exciting enough. When you add decades of debate, missing evidence and contradicting theories, the real story about this is absolutely fascinating, even without an author's imagination.
If you don't believe me, type "Whiskey on the rocks + submarine" into your search field and try not to be intrigued about what you find. This was Sweden's "Cuban missile crisis" and is described in the book's introduction.
In 2021, I found myself with six weeks between commitments, which turned out to be enough to pen the first, rough draft of what has now become "Unbroken Silence".
Is this a standalone book, or do you have plans for a series?
It started as a standalone book and ended as a book that will require at least one more to close out some of the issues that arise. I think that is suitable, not only based on what happens in the book but also that the issues of submarines in the Baltic Sea in the 1980s still are without a resolution, at least in the general public's eye.
How did you come up with the story and ideas in Unbroken Silence?
I have used a lot of actual events about what happened. U-137 actually ran aground in Sweden in 1981. The sketch described in the book depicts an existing drawing. Evidence has actually gone missing as well. The list is long. I have tried weaving events together in a way that turns them into a complete story, explaining what happened and why.
I tried to plot the complete story first but did not progress at all. I then abandoned the plotting with a late-night inspiration from a Stephen King YouTube video and just went for it. I wrote the chapters in the order they appear, plotting with bullet points about one or two chapters in advance with no firm view of how this would end. Needless to say, I loved it. Writing a story where you, the author, do not know how it will end is a somewhat weird feeling, but it was a lot of fun.
This happened forty years ago. Do you think the content is still relevant?
From a military standpoint, who operated in Swedish waters in the 80s is probably less interesting. I wouldn't know, but I would be very surprised if not both sides (Warzaw pact and NATO) have been sniffing around in the area. And as you say, who cares forty years later?
From a political perspective, I think it is still relevant to work out what happened. If, as some theories state, this was NATO posing as Soviet vessels to drive a political agenda, and it turns out that the Swedish military or opposition was aware. That is basically conspiring against the government and would be a major political issue, even today.
Do you think we will ever know what happened?
I don't know, but I hope so. It all has a 70-year confidentiality stamp so let's see if we are any wiser thirty years from now. Former Swedish Prime minister Carl Bildt was part of this back in the 80s and he did decline to be interviewed when the last commission looked into this in 2001. Maybe we could politely ask him again.
Did anything stick out as particularly challenging when writing Unbroken Silence?
Keeping the timing and movements in order. Every scene has a time and place recorded. It helped me keep track of things, and I hope it will help the readers. However, it also required me to be careful when shifting times somewhat or referring to a time or place in the text.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am not that interesting. I was born and raised on the Swedish island of Gotland. 19 years later, I was drafted and served on the Swedish submarine named after my island, the HMS Gotland. I was close to pursuing a career in the Navy but decided not to in the end. Mostly that was due to budgets. I had a feeling that the military was on a downward trajectory, and I would not be invested in. I don't know if I was right, but I did not regret leaving.
However, I kept a keen interest in submarines and what happened in the 1980s. Reading about it has been a hobby during my work-life and moved with me from Sweden to Switzerland to Australia.
I am keen to keep writing the next book on this topic, picking up where the first one left off almost.
Where can readers find out more about your work?
Best sources would be to either look me up on Linkedin or to visit henrikekstrom.com